Posts Tagged ‘ birth mother ’

Switched at birth – to know or not to know?

I was deeply moved by the following story, recently published on parent24.com. While I am an avid proponent of a child’s right to know their biological roots, I can’t help wondering whether this is one instance where it would have been better for the parties involved not to know…

Switched at birth

Moms faced with terrible decision after babies switched at birth.
twin babies

Image: via Shutterstock

Two SA moms only found out after 18 months that their babies had been switched at birth, leaving them with an agonising decision- swap the babies they loved for the ones they gave birth to, or simply carry on as if nothing had happened, according to mamamia.com.au.

For many parents, the choice would be easy- who wants to bring up another mom’s child? But for Sandy Dawkins and Megs Clinton Parker, the 18 months of intense bonding with each other’s babies made them each choose to keep the ‘wrong’ baby.

How did it happen?

23 years ago, both moms gave birth in the same hospital – Sandy, a struggling single mom, and Megs, a wealthier and more secure mom were handed each other’s babies. A paternity test 18 months later showed that Greg wasn’t Meg’s son…

That was when the two moms were faced with the decision which has haunted them. In a Channel9 interview, in response to the question “should you have swapped the boys back, as you look back?” Sandy replies: “In retrospect, yes. Because in time to avoid them getting hurt – in time to avoid a lot of people getting hurt. We’ve actually – I personally feel we’ve done a lot more damage.”

The damage took years to appear: At first, the two moms spent lots of time together, the boys growing up as friends. It was only as a teen that Robyn began to notice that he was losing out, as he was living with Sandy, the less financially independent of the moms.

She was left “with no son at all”

Wealthier Megs realised that her biological son was struggling along, and, when he was 15, invited him to come and live with her. This meant that both sons now lived with her, and Sandy was left with no son at all.

The decision made so many years previously had effectively left Sandy childless – she now has no contact with either one of the boys, who are now 23.

Waiting to adopt? Please don’t give up

“My earnest plea to all prospective adoptive parents is don’t give up. The adoption procedure is fraught with difficult obstacles but see it through. God has a special place in His heart for people who take care of orphans (James 1:27).”

I was addressing a group of around twenty at a meeting of the Pretoria Adoption Support Group. I wasn’t scheduled to speak. I had only been invited to sell copies of my book, the proceeds of which were to be donated to the Southern Africa Bible College.

But as I listened to the discussion going on around me, I began to sense a rising sense of frustration among the audience, comprised primarily of pre and post adoptive parents.

The topic under discussion was the latest amendments to the South African Children’s Act 2007 and how these affect the adoption process.

I listened as an experienced adoption social worker explained the rationale behind the extensive waiting periods prospective parents must endure before a baby is placed with its adoptive family, and how every decision made by a social worker has to be done with “the best interests of the child” in mind.

It wasn’t long into her presentation before someone in the audience posed a question, which was quickly followed by another, and another. Although the social worker responded well to each one, it soon became apparent that the Act, although an improvement on its predecessor, remains fraught with flaws.

Under the new Act, babies only “become adoptable” after 60 days, the social worker explained. After this period, the birth mother has an additional 30 days in which to rescind her decision to give up her baby. Factor in the time required by the Act to search for birth fathers, and that they are also afforded 30 days to give their consent to the adoption, and it can be months before a child is eventually placed in their adoptive parents’ arms for the first time. For abandoned babies, the waiting period can be even longer, as the Act affords the birth mother, father and even extended family members ample time to come forward to claim the baby. By then, adoptive parents may be faced with serious bonding issues with their adopted child.

“Government adoption agencies expect us to wait months before placing a baby in our arms, so who can blame couples for choosing to work with private social workers who give them a newborn baby immediately?” one father asked (I later learned that he and his wife are waiting to adopt their second child). Everyone could hear the exasperation in his voice and as he spoke other parents nodded their heads in agreement.

I could not remain silent. As an adoptee, I felt a responsibility to speak for the orphaned, unwanted and abandoned babies. After obtaining permission from the group co-ordinator I stood up after the final presentation and faced the group. I knew that all they wanted to do was give a loving home to an orphaned, unwanted or abandoned child, but complex legal procedures made it so difficult for them to do so.

“After listening to everything that has been said today I cannot help but feel thankful that I was adopted under the old Children’s Act, which enabled me to be placed in my mother’s arms when I was a few days old and stay with them while the adoption process was finalised,” I began.

“That said, part of me also wishes I had been adopted under the new Act, because then my birth mother would have been legally required to name my birth father on my original birth certificate and that piece of my life puzzle would not still be missing to today.

“What this has made me realise is that sadly, even though it is intended to protect children from being exploited, the Children’s Act will never be perfect. It is formulated by imperfect humans who will never be able to devise a law that will satisfy the needs of all the parties involved.

“My parents also went through a difficult screening process and had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to adopt me. But they did it. They never gave up and today I am so thankful, because were it not for their perseverance I wouldn’t be standing here today pleading with you not to give up hope.

“The adoption procedure may lengthy, complex and frustrating, but stick with it. Orphans all over the world need you and God will bless you richly for your selfless act of love.”

 

Letter to a birth-mother

In celebration of my birth-mother’s birthday this month, I am publishing this letter (with permission) from adoptee Shefalie Chandra, who wrote to her birth-mother this last Mother’s Day. Her words really moved me and echo so many of my emotions, which is why I wanted to share it… 

Mother…

I am really sorry that I never got to reach the stage in my life and yours where I could have emotionally adult responses and choices in a relationship with you. I am sorry that I never actually got the chance to have a relationship with you, except mostly in my head where I am writing all the scripts and narratives.

I wish I could have got to the place where I could have shown more respect and care for you, without having to change you into who I thought I needed or wanted, or become critical and judgmental.

I can now see that I expected you to be almost perfect in meeting my relational needs as a mother. I never got to be able to appreciate you for who you are/were as a whole individual and person in your own right. For the good and bad, and
not for what you could give me or make up to me, filling in the voids.

I have been learning how to deal with all the fallout of being relinquished and all that comes with being fostered and adopted and being raised by people who don’t reflect back to me who I am.

I am learning to take responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings, goals and actions, so that when I am under stress, I don’t fall into the victim mentality or blame game as I used to.

I am also learning to state my own beliefs and values to those who disagree with me, and that includes how others perceive adoption and birth-mothers and I don’t have to become adversarial.

I am learning to self-assess my limits, strengths and weaknesses and be able to freely discuss them with others who are swimming in the same waters. I am even swimming into the emotioanl world of others, meeting them at their place of need without getting sucked in and down. I think that means Mum, that at last I am becoming more emotionally mature; like more of a grown-up adult adoptee, and not the emotional infant or child I once was.

I wish you could have known me as this person. I wish I could have helped you learn to swim in these waters as well with me, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to then, so what I am going to do is try to help other people and I hope
you would have liked who I am becoming.

Oh, just one more thing, Mum, something else that I am learning to hear and know that I am loved by Christ, and that I have nothing to prove. And so that means as well, Mum, neither do you.

Happy mothers day Elizabeth, I hope you can hear me, because I mean it.

Shef

Letter to my ‘Prince of Wales’

Hello Rob

I am glad I am able to address you by your name. It’s about all my birth-mother knew about you; that and the fact that you were a Welsh naval cadet (when I heard you were from Wales there was a fleeting moment when I wondered whether you were the Prince of Wales). She also knew your surname, of course, but wasn’t sure of the spelling. She said she couldn’t remember the name of your ship that docked in Durban‘s harbour around September 1963. It had to have been then because that’s when the two of you conceived me.

After you found out she was pregnant you left, and she never saw you again. Which suited her as she didn’t want anything from you anyway. Not even financial support, although legally she was entitled to it. But that would’ve required her to name you on my birth certificate and she refused to do that. Unfortunately, naming the father of one’s illegitimate child wasn’t a legal requirement in those days.

I wish it had been. Because then I would have been able to conduct a state-assisted search for you, officially request a DNA test and finally fill in the missing piece of my life puzzle. I know nothing stops me from initiating my own private search , but for some reason I am hesitant to do that, although I think about it often. Almost every day, in fact.

Mostly, I wonder what you look like and whether I resemble you at all. And I wonder what personality traits, if any, I have inherited from you. When I was younger I wanted to join the Navy as a diver (yes, it’s true), until I found out that women weren’t allowed on ships but only permitted to do office administration work, so I discarded the idea immediately. Today I wonder whether there is any connection between you being a naval cadet and me wanting to join the Navy. But maybe that’s just me indulging in fantasy.

I wonder other things about you too. Like whether you ever think about the child you conceived all those years ago. Do you wonder whether you have a son or a daughter and whether my mother kept me? Would you be pleased to know that you have a daughter? And would you like to meet me? Would you like what you see?

Would I like what I see were I to meet you? I cannot help but have my doubts about someone who gets a girl pregnant and then leaves as soon as he is told about it. But, like my mother, you were young then, and not ready for the responsibilities that go with raising a child, so I guess I can forgive you for that.

The question is, are you still the same today? If you had the opportunity, would you change anything? If you had stuck around for my birth and perhaps laid eyes on me even for a few seconds, would you have changed your mind about not wanting to have anything to do with me?

I like to think of you as someone who, as a young man, had an adventurous spirit (like me) which led him to visit foreign countries. One of these was South Africa, where I happened. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind more than once that you may have had a girlfriend in every port and I may be only one of numerous illegitimate children.

But, as most young and irresponsible adventurous types do, you matured with age and went on to enjoy an illustrious career in the Royal Navy. Eventually you married, had children and now live quietly as a retired naval officer somewhere in the Welsh countryside where, on occasion, you allow yourself to reminisce on the days of your youth, when you stole young women’s hearts and indulged in all sorts of mischievous deeds for which sailors are so notorious.

Today I imagine you as a witty, lovable old rascal, who still has a keen sense of fun. Someone with a limitless number of thrilling stories to tell of his days at sea in the Royal Navy, but who also harbours a little sadness and regret behind his twinkling eyes. And I like to think that the sadness is for me – the child you never knew but dearly wished you had.

This letter is also featured on the blog 100 letters to you.

Related Articles

Interview on Adoption Journey Into Motherhood

Mary Beth Wells chats to Aurette about her discovery as an adult of her closed adoption, and her journey of healing.

The Interview Project: Interview with Von

Open Adoption Bloggers recently invited adoption bloggers to participate in The Interview Project as a means of getting to know other voices in the adoption world. I was once of the 60 bloggers who signed up and was paired with an adoptee called Von. She writes a very informative and thought-provoking blog entitled Once Was Von. This is my interview with her:

Are you one of the Forgotten Australians? Please tell me more about this (I can Google it but I prefer to hear about it in your own words).
Thank you, there is plenty to Google, but each story is so personal. I had a dear friend and neighbour who was one of the Forgotten Australians. He was sent from The Barnardos Homes to Australia as a young boy. He seems to have been one of the lucky ones, unless of course he never told the truth of his story, in order to protect us all from his pain. I admired him immensely for his fortitude, his humour and the success he made of his life despite it all.

My father and uncles were institutionalised as boys, although not transported. The repercussions of this have reverberated down the family. They are numbered amongst the 500,000. My Mother, Dorothy also of course was affected, as are all the descendents of these people, no longer forgotten

In your adoption story you mention that your birth mother nurtured you for some time before you were separated. How has this affected your life – are you better off emotionally than those children who are separated immediately after birth? Is your “primal wound” smaller (for want of a better word) than that of others?
Absolutely better off, which I have only recently come to fully appreciate. I have always had a sense of who I am. I think the “primal wound” is not smaller; separation is separation and that trauma is significant for us all. I too suffer from a multitude of effects from that time, but have been able to turn that into a survivor mode  for myself because I have had that sense of being who I am. Of course, as for all of us, there have been times of great distress and pain, still are, but I’m never felt I wouldn’t come through it. I was better off I believe, but of course the big question has to be, was Dorothy?

Having spent those few months with your birth mother, did you feel a connection with her (the second Dorothy) when you were eventually reunited?
I spent six weeks after birth with her, heavily supervised and restricted. I did feel a connection, respect and great sadness for her suffering, but sadly I never came to love her as I would have liked to. I tried to make up for the lost years, to treat her as well as possible, by making sure she felt like a mother and grandmother. I am grateful to her for the information she gave me, the family history, the awareness of her feelings and suffering and of course for my life.

Do you know anything about your birth father? Do you ever think about him?
I thought about him all my life. I didn’t know his name until I was 50, when Dorothy told me about him and their story. Once I had met two of my five half-siblings and talked to a cousin, I had plenty of information about his life and his history. I think of him more now, but have no regrets about not meeting him, despite that being the only missing piece of the jigsaw of my life.

Are you happy with what you have learned about your biological roots, or do you feel there is still something missing?
I am extremely fortunate and feel I now have a firm foundation for my life, which I did not have previously. I am very proud of my ancestors and knowing where I came from has explained much in my life. For instance I lived in Bristol for 14 years and knew Somerset well. I very often travelled within a few miles of where one side of my family lived from 1700, the side who’s name I bore originally. Of course I didn’t know that then!

Why did you choose to blog about adoption at this stage of your life?
My meeting with my half-siblings only happened last year. I believe I’ve pretty much travelled the whole adoption journey. I had already started blogging and thought it a good way to convey information that might be useful or helpful to others. I’ve always believed in turning what has been difficult into something useful.

Your blog contains many links to news articles and other adoption-related issues. What are you trying to achieve with your blog?
I feel very strongly that people who are not adoptees do not know the extent of the adoption industry’s harm and of the suffering inflicted on adoptees. Many do not grasp or ever think about what it means to be an adoptee and a minority of around 3%, in many places with no right to know who they really are. I feel fortunate to live in a country with a more enlightened attitude and I have the time in my life now, the motivation and commitment to open up information. I am committed to adoption activism for the sake of those who do not know and the ones to follow.

Your blog topics capture beautifully and comprehensively the extent of issues adoptees are faced with . Although you write in the third person, are these posts a reflection of your own feelings about adoption?
I write in the third person because I find emotive issues are sometimes clouded by the personal. There is a place for the personal as long as it is not expressed as a call for sympathy or done in martyrdom. Burdening others with unresolved issues has never been my habit or practise. I greatly appreciate the blogs of others who research, resolve and can write about their experiences. Adoptees always have scars, it’s how we manage them that’s important. I never write about anything I don’t have strong feelings about.

Do you find blogging about adoption cathartic?
No, I find other ways for resolution. I do find it wonderfully empowering to be part of a blogging community where others understand, respond and are so generous with their comments and time.Like many of my generation, contact with other adoptees has been infrequent, my best time was decades ago on a training course being with three other adoptees! It can get lonely out there and blogging has provided such helpful contacts, validation and a sense of being part of a group. I appreciate it enormously.

How do you deal with the emotional pain when it strikes?
I front up to it, am pro-active and treat it like any other chronic pain It has been buried for so long by ‘the good adoptee’ and now having the space in my life to deal with it has been useful. Of course I have dealt with it a number of times previously…therapy, counselling, but this time I’ve really got to the nitty-gritty. I’m very lucky to have a wonderfully supportive family who are professionals and know what they’re doing. They don’t of course counsel or therap me, but know the right way to be supportive and the best way to ask the right questions. I’ve been a professional too, so I know the right questions to ask myself and I sometimes get good answers!

I find giving any difficulties full attention and working out what is going on and just recognising, honouring if you like and accepting that the wounds never go away, but there are always better ways to manage the pain, works for me. I’m learning all the time and expect to do that all my life.

Currently I’m reading the work of Evelyn Burns Robinson and am finding her books wonderfully helpful, informative and life changing.

I make full use of most of the techniques I’d recommend for physical chronic pain. Currently I use Bach Flower Remedies, Tibetan Healing Chanting and visualisation. Pain levels can always be improved and pain can be dealt with.

Despite the long journey and all it has entailed, I’ve always been very optimistic and had a ‘can-do’ attitude to life, it helps!

Click here to read Von’s interview with me.

If my father had seen me, what would he have done?

So I’ve been following this TV soapie (we all have our weaknesses, and this is mine). In it, a woman (let’s call her Jane) has a relationship with a man (Dick) and falls pregnant. After much soul searching she decides to keep the baby, even though Dick  doesn’t want her to, and even offers to pay for an abortion. 

Enter a good friend of Jane’s (who, in true soapie style, is also secretly in love with her). He (Tom) not only offers to marry Jane, but also publicly accept responsibility for fathering her baby. He also negotiates an agreement with Dick to adopt the baby. So far, so good.

Until the baby is born. It’s a girl. Dick goes out of his way to avoid visiting mother and baby in hospital, but then something comes up and he has no choice but to go. While there he gets to see his child and even hold her for a few minutes while Jane takes a call on her mobile. Father and daughter share a bonding moment.

Later, Tom presents Dick with the adoption forms, but is taken aback when Dick asks for more time before signing them. Reluctantly, however, he agrees. While perusing the forms Dick reads the following line: “the parent shall relinquish all rights to the child”. A light goes on. He realises that he cannot sign away all rights to his daughter. While Jane was pregnant with her he was able to convince himself that she was an abstract entity. But since holding her in his arms, everything has changed. He finally decides not to sign the adoption papers.

Watching all this unfold on my television set I felt my chest slowly begin to constrict until eventually I had to rub it in an attempt to ease the tightness. It’s what usually happens when an adoption issue touches me on a personal level.

When my birth mother told my biological father she was pregnant with me, he left her. She never saw him again.

I often wonder whether he ever wonders what happened to the girl he got pregnant back in ’63. Does he wonder whether she had the baby? Whether it was a boy or a girl? Or did he forget about the whole episode, as my birth mother told me he probably did? I have asked several men if they would be able to forget about an unplanned pregnancy they had been party to and the answer is always an unequivocal no.

Back then it was not uncommon for men not to want to face responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy. South African birth mothers were not legally required to name the father of their baby, nor was the father’s legal consent required, as it is today, for the baby to be given up for adoption.

But I can’t help wondering… If my father had stuck around while my birth mother was pregnant and then visited the hospital where I was born – would the sight of me have caused him change his mind?

Would he have wanted to know me, perhaps even to keep me?

Would he have wanted his name on my birth certificate?

Or would he have decided to walk away anyway?

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