Meeting my adopted brother

I’m not sure my mother knew how to tell me about the child that she’d adopted out prior to meeting my father. It wasn’t quite ‘pass me the salt and by the way you have another brother’; rather the words fell out amongst our idle chatter during the perfunctory act of changing a bed together. It wasn’t until I saw her tears that I understood the brevity of what she was saying.

My mother’s greatest fear, she would share with me later, was that my brother and I would reject her based on this revelation. Nearly three decades on, shame was still the overwhelming emotion associated with this event for my mother.

One Christmas in my early 20s, my mother was contacted by the son she had given up for adoption, revealing at the time that she had “sensed” that he was coming. It was organised that we would all meet on Christmas day.

It’s a surreal feeling to discover a new part to something that you believed was otherwise complete, such as family; though contrary to my mother’s fears I was exhilarated by the news that I had another sibling and began to re-imagine my life with an older, older brother.

Meanwhile, my mother was fraught with anxiety wondering if Shane (his birth name) would reappear in her life only to disappear again once his curiosity was sated.

My mother was twenty and still living at home when she fell pregnant to her boyfriend. When her parents found out about the pregnancy they enacted a two-step process to alleviate the burden: 1. Get rid of the boyfriend 2. Get rid of the baby.

My mother’s boyfriend’s fate wasn’t cement boots exactly but the outcome was to be the same with my grandfather coercing him to get on a ship with a one-way ticket back to Italy. He did just that and was never seen nor heard of again.

To understand the scorn that was levelled at unmarried pregnant women in the 60s and 70s, my mother was called a slut by her own mother when she expressed a desire to go out and socialise while pregnant but not showing.

To avoid further embarrassment, at three months pregnant, my mother was sent to a convent in Melbourne three hundred kilometres away from her home for a clandestine birth and face saving adoption. She would be amongst strangers in unfamiliar surrounds when she gave birth to her child.

After the birth of her child, my mother was given the option of spending five days with her baby, which she opted for. When I asked her recently what it felt like the very last time she saw her baby, I struggled to articulate the question because of the pain it might cause her. She said in no more than a whisper, “it was heartbreaking” adding that words just can’t describe the feeling. She went on to say that she felt she had no choice but to go through with the adoption because of the profound lack of support. Subsequently, she cried everyday for many months afterwards until she “just had to get on with it”.

My mother belongs to a stoic generation. She suffered chronic, debilitating headaches for twenty-five years and I sometimes wonder how much of this is attributed to the stress and trauma of losing a child through adoption.

The Australian Institute for Family Studies approximates that adoptions peaked at 10,000 in Australia between 1971-1972. As a result of advocacy in the 70s, the Supporting Mother’s Benefit was introduced which also offered support to unmarried women. With this reform and improved contraception becoming more widely available, a constant decline in adoptions can be noted with 5,000 in 1776 to just 384 adoptions in 2010-2011. The AIFS is still trying to ascertain the cumulative damages that the adoptive process has caused to many of those involved.

As women have persistently advocated for change and reform over the decades, we find ourselves today in a position where we have more autonomy over our bodies and choice in regards to unplanned pregnancy. If it needs to be spelt out again, this means that less women have to suffer the trauma of unsafe abortions or the gruelling experience of the adoptive process.

With a recent influx of articles on sexism and the inequalities that still plague women, I see a lot of comments from men expressing their disdain for “yet another article” on sexism or feminism. But you only need to get a whiff of conservatism to know that women do not need to shut up but rather they need to keep telling their stories and meanwhile advocate for a fair and equal world.

In terms of meeting my brother on that Christmas day, unfortunately, it did not spark a connection. We endeavoured to stay in touch over the years and had several other meetings, which failed to inspire any cohesive relationship. Nonetheless, my mother still uses a photo of Shane as a bookmark in each current book that she is reading which she keeps on her bedside table.

3 comments

  • Thanks for sharing your story Karla.

    I'm an adoptee with several half-siblings (a sister from my birth mother; and at last count two brothers and three others {sex unknown} from birth father).

    I've met two of my half-siblings and for me it has been a positive albeit intense experience. I've brought from it the simple lesson that life is precious, the circumstances of birth are multitude (esp in past 30 years with IVF, same-sex pregnancies, overseas adoptions etc) and the personal history of who we are can be immensely powerful.

    I found my birth mother after 10 years of searching and wrote a carefully worded letter signing it with my birth name - a day after recieving it she flew from the other side of the country to meet me and we've stayed in touch ever since. I learned of why I was adopted - a young single mother in a damp Sydney flat with no support, I became unwell and at the age of six months was adopted. (Not a forced adoption in the traditional sense, but not many options).
    As the article points out the situation has thankfully changed with better support for parents and children.

    Commenter
    Adoptee
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    December 03, 2012, 11:02AM
    • Hi Karla,
      My Mum was also subjected to what the world now knows as forced adoption. In 1961 at 20 years of age Mum's parents packed her up and drove her to a hospital in Annandale Sydney for pregnant unmarried girls. The babies father was ordered by Mum's parents never to show his face again. I can't imagine what Mum experienced during that time. My heart aches for her as i know it has done irreparable damage to her. I have no doubt at all that her anxiety and health issues are a result of her incarceration and the psychological abuse of that period. It took over 35 years before my Mum's first born child found her. Mum's child, who was taken back in 1961, who was given a new identity, had strangers for parents, people that my half-sister called Mum and Dad, people who had my Mum's first born child's birth certificate altered to show they were her parents. This country of ours has a deep sinister history of removing children and separating families. Is an apology enough ? .. no. The scars are way too deep for any apology to heal.

      Commenter
      Fiona
      Location
      Sydney gal at heart now in Perth
      Date and time
      December 03, 2012, 12:42PM
      • As an adopted child who has met biological relatives, I can understand why your relationship with Shane hasn't evolved into a stronger connection. You and he are strangers - a blood relationship does not a family make. I was a stranger to my biological relatives, and remain so. I have parents, I have a brother - this is my family, and it makes no difference that we are not in that family because we share DNA. Adopted children (and adoptive parents) have more cause than most to think about nature versus nurture, because we live it - and in my experience, nurture predominates. There is no mystical spark of connection when you meet someone who is bound to you by nature alone. The relationship has to be built like any other that starts from a meeting - the fact of shared biology doesn't provide enough of an impetus to keep that relationship going, there has to be something else at work, just as with any other friendship or relationship. But I also realise that it's difficult for anyone who isn't adopted to consider what it's like to meet a biological parent or sibling and not feel a connection, because that's not the experience of most people in the world.

        Commenter
        Sophie Anna
        Date and time
        December 03, 2012, 12:51PM
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