An LDA mate here in Australia has been reflecting lately on the past, on our shared history and the memories of how we came to find our voices as adoptees. It’s a long and complicated story and it doesn’t reflect well on some who are mothers- of- loss who tried to silence us, invalidate us and stop us from making Submissions to the Inquiry into forced adoption. They ridiculed us, mocked and scorned us and tried even tougher tactics, which did them no credit. One suggested the first Facebook group for adoptees would be a place where adoptees would be ‘wallowing in misery’. Sadly she was later discredited by the very Organisation she had worked so hard for, because it was suggested she was too involved with adoptees! None of these things will appear in the history of adoption when they write it and sanitise it. Some of us remember, have records and will one day write the book, if there are not more interesting things to do!
Sharing with other adoptees with the help of social media was life-changing and meant we had contact with adoptees all over the world and could finally exchange information. We discovered that many things we had been told were not true, that the lies and untruths of adoption were wide-spread, pervasive and formed the foundations of adoption. Adoptees began to blog, make videos, write, make films and plays. Others began to see adoptees as useful plot additions, often with the adoptee as the villain,sometimes the hero/heroine and adoptees came into popular media, although they had been present in fiction for decades previously. We began to write collectively, to blog collectively and to discover the joys and achievements in joint efforts and group productions. In November 2014 #flipthescript was born on Twitter and took off beyond all imaginings, quickly being named ‘a movement’ – long may it thrive!
Many years ago I was lucky enough to study at a University which selected four adoptees for my course. It was the first time any of us had been able to spend time with so many other adoptees and it was invaluable. When I began work I was asked by another new appointee to make a tape with my adoptee mates, on adoption. She supplied some questions to get us started and we talked for well over an hour, the first time any of us had explored adoption in our lives with other adoptees. She became my best friend, supporter and one of the few non-adoptees who actually understand adoption. This week she retired, after a 40 year career of dedicated work in hands on childcare, adoption and fostering, advocating for adoptees, often ‘stirring the possum’ as my Aussie LDA mate says and opposing management decisions and policy, because she always cared about outcomes for children. I credit her with helping me to find my voice, for being a steadfast and loyal friend who has been there for me for 40 years. She lived only 6 miles from my ancestral home in Somerset and visited for me to take photographs of the family plaques and graves once I discovered this part of my story. Her aunt was a resident in what was once my family ‘seat’ on the family land and had been converted into a Nursing Home. My friend visited regularly and was very familiar with the building. One of those strange synchronicities of adoption!
Another course-mate has remained a loyal friend too for almost 40 years and she too has a detailed and dedicated understanding of adoption. She married one of our contacts while we were studying and he is an adoptee with a complicated history. I was reminded only this morning of their wedding and of her mother, now long departed but well-remembered. This friend too played her part in encouraging me to find my voice and has been a writer for many decades, a fine role-model of perseverance, dedication and achievement.
Others too have encouraged me, supported me and been wonderful role models. Lesley, the woman I would have chosen to be my mother if I could, was a beautiful, gracious, poised career woman who had been a dancer, became a mother and gave me my love of the Ballet. I showed little early promise as a dancer and my lack of ability in dancing with the troupe precluded me rather promptly. I was spared the struggle and the hard work, but got to have the enjoyment of being a spectator and of seeing many wonderful dancers perform at Covent Garden, Sadlers Wells and in more recent years from our Australian Ballet, a top-notch ballet, which was begun by dancers from the Russian Ballet after they settled here in Australia. Regretfully I never saw some of the wonderfully talented American dancers but admire their work greatly. Poets and painters too have been inspirational and I particularly like a quote from the last interview done with Dame Laura Knight, who replied when asked, after pause, who had influenced her – “No-one” she said, without humour or a touch of modesty.
It touched a chord, because I have always believed that no matter how much we receive from others, it is in the end, our call, that we decide who we are going to be and that we are in charge of our identity as well as our destiny. In finding our voices we find ourselves, who we are going to be and who we have been. In speaking out we cannot remain victims, but become survivors and hopefully thrivers, achievers, winners, supporters, encouragers, activists, challengers and educators. In refusing stigma, second-class citizenship and abusive treatment we show that we are not ‘illegitimate’ but are as legitimate as anyone else, we are not ‘unfortunates’* but indeed are fortunate to have rich, full lives in which we have the opportunities to learn and practise compassion, empathy, altruism, our special abilities and to be part of exciting, changing times. We are always at the forefront, the cutting edge of change when we speak out, become active in promoting change and seek new ways to promote change. We have much to do, places to go, people to meet – there’s no time to lose!
*Kate Cocks – Founder of the Kate Cocks Mother and Baby Home always referred to those she saved for Jesus as ‘the unfortunates’, rather an anomaly!