is with deep regret that I find I am unable to continue writing
articles for this column. I have taken on a great load of
work which I need to accept because of the need to earn a
living. I now find myself without enough time to carry out
everything. - Joss Shawyer"
When my book Death By Adoption was published in New Zealand
in 1979, it caused quite a stir. There were many reviews,
some supportive, others downright scary, but one that stayed
in my memory was printed in a Catholic publication. The reviewer
berated me for what was described as my "angry and bitter"
stance against adoption, that sacred cow that had always been
off limits to criticism. You would have thought that I had
burnt the national flag or otherwise committed an act of unforgivable
sedition, instead of simply exposing the traffic of adoption
for what it was; a wholesale oppression of unmarried women
and the children born to us outside of formal marriage.
years previously I was asked to address a group of social
workers to present my views for single mothers and against
adoption. By the time I finished speaking, some of those social
workers were on their feet and screaming at me. One even cried
real tears as she tried to process what I had said. I could
see how very disturbed social workers were as a group and
what a vested, very personal interest they had in adoption.
But then they were almost like God, really - in the powerful
position of giving away other people's children. And of course,
they had never been challenged.
But in those days women were not supposed to think
or say things that were remotely political. That was the territory
of men. Women certainly never told the truth - about their
own lives; about unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, about
being a battered wife perhaps, or about having been raped.
'Good' women, that is, women that men approved of - were essentially
passive women. They kept their mouths shut about the crimes
committed against them, and especially about the traumatic
life experiences that were the lot of all fertile women. And
then, with the advent of women's liberation the entire social
It seemed that overnight
women were speaking out, rejecting the terrible, damaging
passivity that men had enforced in order to maintain gender
control for so long. What a relief it was to be a woman who
did not give a toss what anyone thought about what she thought,
or said. It was a wonderful freedom to be oneself and there
would be no going back.
I became one of those
outspoken, stroppy feminists tired of being oppressed, in
my case because I was a single mother. One who had rejected
adoption as an acceptable solution to a pregnancy other people
found inconvenient. My experiences of serial oppression perpetrated
on me throughout my twin pregnancy gave me the wonderful gift
of understanding that the condition of single mothers being
oppressed by every man and his passive hand maidens was universal.
What had happened to me was happening to all women in the
same situation. I began to seek answers. That led me to the
obvious starting place; sexism and social policy. I began
to research adoption. It gave up so much information, the
quest for the truth turned into a book.
People still ask about the title and why I chose
it. Here are quotes from the book in explanation as to why
the term 'Death By Adoption' summed up the mothers' collective
suffering for me, and still does.
"Death by Adoption is the death experienced by the
real mother. The baby she carried can actually die for her
at either the moment of birth or as she signs consent. It
would be more bearable if the child really did die, for then
she could grieve and so recover from the death. But although
the child died for her, it remains very much alive for someone
else. And alive for her too. Or it would be, if it weren't
dead. Although some adopted children die in childhood she
will never know if one of them is hers and will continue to
look in hope (when there is no hope) that one day her child
will try to find her. From the moment her child is gone, she
must hide the stretch marks and pretend she never had a baby.
We do not allow her to grieve and even if we did and she understood
why she feels the way she does the grief will always remain
unresolved for the simple reason that the child is not dead.
Some women recall vividly both the actual birth
and the signing of 'consent'. Although their pain has still
not diminished, by allowing themselves to feel the rage and
hatred, they somehow found the strength to face it at the
time. Some women suppress their pain so successfully that
they cannot recall a single detail. They know a child was
born and subsequently adopted but cannot recall the date,
year and sometimes even the season of the birth. No memory
of either hot or cold weather; not a single event connected
with the pregnancy or the birth, which is still lying dormant
in her mind.
Wanting her opinion on it as a possible dust jacket
for this book, I handed the official adoption consent form
to a woman who clearly remembered the birth in every detail.
Her hands began to shake as she realized what I had so casually
placed in them. No recollection of having seen it before.
No recollection of signing it. She supposed she must have
gone to a lawyer's office, somewhere. For the first time she
experienced the loss of her death by adoption. There are an
estimated one hundred thousand adopted people in New Zealand.
They all had mothers, women who, by being made to believe
they had no right to love the babies they carried and birthed,
were forced to relinquish all contact.
How many are set free?
How many remain trapped inside an emotional nightmare with
unresolved grief as a lonely companion. Only humane legislation
can ease the pain.
Alas, twenty five years after I wrote those words,
the 'humane legislation' that would permit a dual right to
search, and also allow a mother of a 'taken' child to have
contact with that child as of right throughout its early life,
remains on hold.
While there have been legal gains to open records
in many countries for the adults adopted as infants, to enable
them to locate their natural mothers and through them, their
fathers, the mothers themselves remain locked into the pain
of what is a terrible, irresolvable grief, into reunion and
The mothers of the children taken into what is now
seen as a form of slavery, whereby an infant is stripped of
all its legal rights to identity, including the loss of its
entire genealogy through falsified birth records, continue
to suffer. Even in reunion, the symptoms of the various psychiatric
conditions directly caused by forced adoption haunt the mother
whose 'cure' depends on the resilience of herself and her
now grown infant, to forge a healthy relationship based on
the mutual trust and affection that has been denied them since
before the birth itself.
But even in the 'best case scenario' where there
is a successfully bonded reunion, those lost years and that
lost infant can never be regained. Both are gone forever.
This is crazy making stuff for the mother.
There is no doubt that many, many adopted people
suffer too - from a lack of identity, from a lack of a feeling
of belonging in the 'right' family i.e. their natural family,
from a feeling of 'unnaturalness' caused by being in a substitute
home, often based on a lack of the attachment that was always
supposed to happen according to the trite psychology applied
by trite social workers to the children they displaced. It
was believed - wrongly - that babies would automatically respond
to affection from a stranger. It was also believed - wrongly
- that the adopters would feel an automatic attachment to
their new acquisitions.
Sadly, the two way attachment process happened far
less often than was publicized by social workers covering
their tracks, or covering up what they believed to be their
own mistakes but were actually just a side product of adoption
itself. The inevitability of failed adoption is inherent in
the process of attempting to 'attach' people never meant by
nature to belong together in the first place, a process destined
It is well known that when records open the adoption
brokers panic. In the mid 1980's, when it became apparent
that the New Zealand government would vote legislation to
open birth records for adult adopted people, there were rumors
of dire action being taken by social workers around the country.
For instance, I was told at the time by a reliable source
that social workers at a public hospital were keeping busy
shredding adoption records.
Social workers were covering their tracks, including
their illegal acts. Destroying official records meant breaking
the law as well as professional ethics to obliterate records
that would reflect badly on themselves. That these were the
same people entrusted to place new born infants into sound
homes with substitute parents showed us just how flimsy and
how dangerous adoption law and practice actually is. It is
unsound, unsafe, and totally unjustified.
The mothers of the children kidnapped for adoption
during the 'baby scoop' era of thirty to forty years ago,
were so damaged by the experience they are only now starting
to speak out publicly about the crimes committed against them
by the adoption industry and that happened with the full collusion
of the state. Adoption has been proven to be a failed social
experiment that has left a trail of destruction in its wake.
Stranger adoption should be considered a crime against
humanity. It is experienced as an emotional death by the mother
who does not recover;"(For) the saddest and most horrifying
aspect of adoption is the amount of emotional damage inflicted
upon the natural mother. To call her the 'birth mother' instead
of the 'natural mother' allows her only the physical birth
and denies her those feelings she wasn't supposed to have.
By implication this makes the adoptive parents unnatural,
but secret adoption cannot be considered natural when the
real mother, the victim of this hit and run, is left battered
shocked and damaged. Nothing could be more unnatural".
Like everywhere else, stranger adoption North American
style can best be described as a 'hit and run', a non-accidental
crash site with two primary victims, mother and child. But
unlike everywhere else, it is apparent that what drives North
American adoption is the money made by the baby brokers, those
heinous people and their supporting organisations that traffic
in human beings. They buy and sell infants and children. They
import and export, just as the original slave traders did.
Misery and mental illness are their environmental side products
that are polluting the lives of their victims across generations.
One day there will be a reckoning. As North American
adoption records open - and it is inevitable that they will
open - the truth about adoption law and practice American
style will find its way into the public arena. And there seems
little doubt that in the future the mothers of all the children
forcibly taken for adoption will have their day in court.
It is also entirely probable that the Administration
of the United States will finally be forced to offer up a
public apology to the hundreds of thousands of American mothers
whose children have been redistributed for the purpose of
appeasing the right wing faction, that 'moral majority' that
is actually a minority, but with a power base far in excess
of their actual numbers.
But it is a certainty that a 'third wave' of North
American feminist theory will be crafted, defined and taught
by the first mothers of adoption slavery, who will lead the
'new woman' in a wave of political action to outlaw stranger
adoption and restore families torn apart by domestic slavery.
This third wave of feminism will replace that tired
old 'second wave' of feminists who have failed their fertile
sisters so badly, so knowingly, so willfully by taking part
so willingly in the terrible crimes committed against them;
stealing their children away and failing to stop it from happening.
"The revolutionary woman must know her enemies,
the doctors, psychiatrists, health visitors, priests, marriage
counselors, police-men, magistrates, and genteel reformers,
all the authoritarians and dogmatists who flock about her
with warnings and advice. She must know her friends, her sisters
and seek in their lineaments her own". Germaine Greer, The
Female Eunuch (1971)
From Exile March 2004 "Death By Adoption"
Copyright © 2004 Joss Shawyer