This month is a very special one for me as it celebrated 37 years since I became a mother. So what? Millions of women become mothers every day and I’m sure they celebrate that happening with great joy but for me it was very special as I was not able to actually bear a child. Thirty seven years ago my husband and I went to South Sydney Hospital to meet our new daughter. We were not allowed to touch her until we had watched her being bathed by a nurse – so that I’d know how to do it! – and she was changed out of hospital issued striped flannelette nightie and booties into the dainty garments I had so lovingly prepared for our first child.
How carefully we carried her out of the hospital, wondering just a little bit whether we might actually see her birth mother wandering the corridors in pyjamas and gown, without actually knowing it. We placed her tenderly into the Moses basket (no such thing as capsules in those days) and started on the business of raising a family.
My only initial fear about adoption had been that I might not love her enough since I hadn’t actually given birth to her, but that notion had vanished within hours of our precious bundle being placed in my arms.
Our family grew with the addition of two more special babies and we came to all intents and purposes a “normal family”. However, this normal family had an arithmetical problem. Three children had four mothers, three ways off in the background somewhere and one very much upfront.
Years passed in what seemed like a flash and suddenly the world and its perception of human needs and nurturing changed and with the changing perception came concern, agitation, action and changed laws. Although I thought I was a mature woman in her fifties I was amazed and shaken at the depth of my emotional response, when one of the shadowy mothers suddenly became a reality. All my well-intentioned expressions of support for my children meeting their natural mothers seemed to fall in on me like an avalanche and I was horrified at my own reactions.
I sought counselling and attended groups when I found myself among adoptees and relinquishing mothers where emotions were just as raw and real as mine and I realised that we all had traumas to deal with. I listened to anguished women talk of “living a lie” for so many years, unable to acknowledge their son or daughter born at a time of social and financial stricture. Then there were the adoptees who felt such a need to be acknowledged, to find roots, to come to grips with rejections, as they saw it.
Gradually I found that I could understand and sympathise with their grief, even as I tried to cope with my own. Sometimes, I could empathise with the “living a lie” concept as I grappled with the thought that I’d only been pretending – I had ‘mothered’ but I was not a ‘mother’.
Of course, I’m not alone in this predicament-there are thousands of adopting parents in Australia who have had to face all kinds of mental anguish over the years, particularly when they seem to be the “forgotten” side of the so called Adoption Triangle. Their stories are not so newsworthy or titillating as the stories of cosy reunions, joyful tears on finding or being found – they stand quietly, and sometimes fearfully in the background hoping that their children will be able to cope emotionally with the new pressures they have to handle; that the ideals and concepts they have encouraged in their families will stand them in good stead for any future problems.
And they hold fast to the idea, which applies to all families, that to keep your children, you must let go.
Many, many happy returns, dearest daughter.