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dear birthmother letters



'birthparents' views on adoption

March 2004

Death By Adoption


"Dear Friends, it 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.

Five 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 climate changed.

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 often beyond.

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 to fail.

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)

Voices From Exile March 2004 "Death By Adoption"
Copyright © 2004 Joss Shawyer



Voices From Exile Copyright © 2003 Joss Shawyer

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