As an older member of the adoptee community, I have yet to find an adoptee older than I am. I also find that most mothers are younger than I am, even if they are approaching my age. That may be because blogging and the use of social media has crept up on my generation slowly or that we older adoptees are less vocal and find it harder to break through the social taboos on speaking about adoption and in particular our own adoption. I sometimes find I am patronised by those who have made assumptions or challenged by those who question my experience or the understanding which comes from an adult lifetime of working with people, some of that in reunion work and from the personal experience of reunion and of finding my five half-siblings, the other family of my father. I don’t know it all, I never will and expect to keep learning, changing and being challenged by the adopted life until my last breath.
I have been lucky enough to live through times of great change, when adoption legislation changed in my country and attitudes to adoption information changed, to be part of the Inquiry into forced adoption here in Australia and to make a small contribution to the process of Apology, both nationally and in my own State. I was lucky enough to be working in England at the time the legislation changed there, pre-dating changes here is Australia where I was born and adopted. My mentor was a wise and knowledgeable man, who taught me a great deal and treated the adopted me with great kindness and compassion. I have witnessed the best and the worst of those damaged by adoption and seen the lengths to which some will go to try to get what they want, to suppress the words of others and to protect their own interests regardless of the damage and hurt caused. I have seen courage, altruism, dedication, change and optimism, hope for the future and the most touching examples of validation, caring, concern and love for those who are suffering.
It is sometimes a lonely place to be; amongst those who understand, but have not yet lived out the many stages of the adopted journey, stages that surprise, encourage, anger and sometimes set apart, because others have not yet reached that place. It is partly about age and opportunities, but partly about having had time to process the adoption experience and to have fully explored some of those things that are vital to adoptees – reunion, what family means, who we are, who we were and who we become. We never seem to know it all, to reach a conclusion or to have done it all. There are surprises, new things to learn, as we travel in a spiral, viewing aspects of our lives from a different angle, with new insights or information or from the perspective of having experienced new things.
I often see adoptees stating things such as Lives are destroyed, ruined and altered. Adoptees are NOT living the lives they were supposed to live. While those things are undoubtedly true for some, there often comes a time when we accept that we have to live the only life we have, make the best of it we can and refuse to remain victims of trauma, mother-loss and damage and the effects of those things on us. If we are to survive and thrive, for the sake of our selves and our children, we can, by changing our attitude to the events of the past and its relationship to the present and the future, live the best lives we can. Sometimes that is very difficult and at times may seem impossible, when so much seems to be stacked against our success, our good health and our struggles against stigma, the popular myths of adoption, the lack of equal rights, the popular assumptions, all of which can pervade the most personal areas of our lives, affect our families, our relationships, our place in the world and our discovery of our birthright, knowledge of who we are and where we come from. Sometimes those we might hope to be our allies work against us from their place of damage and suffering, gunning down all in their path, re-traumatising, upsetting and giving pain and a sense of hopelessness, making demands, creating confusion and manipulating all in their path so that their self-fulfilling prophecies are realised, their sad expectations are met and life continues unchanged, unchallenged and unexplored for them.
We are not living the lives we might have led, but we are living the lives we have; some believe the only life we have or will ever have. If we waste the opportunity to learn all we can from this uniquely painful experience, to put it to work for us and if we are able, for others, we will have done ourselves a disservice, missed much that can enrich our lives, the development of our emotional intelligence, skills and abilities and missed that chance to find our empathetic selves, our humility, integrity and compassion. Before we can walk in the shoes of others, we must learn to walk in our own shoes, painful and pinched they may be, but they are nevertheless ours and the only ones we have or will ever have.