My adoption story had a happy ending – it's time State helped others find the same
Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30
I recently wrote about what it was like growing up as an adopted child and not knowing anything about my birth mother until I was 29 years of age.
Since then, I have been overwhelmed with emails and letters from other adoptees sharing their experiences.
Some of their personal circumstances are very different to mine. However, their pain, sadness and anxiety are all too familiar. The pain of not knowing who you really are and where you came from. The sadness that descends on you each birthday and Mother's Day when you wonder where your mother is and if she's okay. And the anxiety that grips you every time a doctor asks if there is a serious genetic medical condition in your family and you have to tell him that you don't know.
Having finally met my birth mother a few years ago, I now have answers to these questions. However, thousands of Irish adoptees do not.
Adopted people in England have had a right to their birth certs, listing their original names and those of their birth mothers, since 1975. In Ireland, all we are entitled to is our adoption certs listing the date we were adopted and the names of our adoptive parents.
The rationale given for this secrecy is usually that our birth mothers need to be protected from us.
We are characterised as selfish, insensitive people determined to track down our mothers so that we can remind them of their painful past and disrupt their current lives.
In my experience, this couldn't be further from the truth. When I was trying to find my mother, I thought as much about her needs and feelings as I did my own.
I feared that hearing from me might bring bad memories for her of the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy and our separation all those years ago. I also knew there was a chance she had a husband and children who knew nothing about me and that telling them could be very difficult for her.
I needed to find out some information about my background but was determined to do so in a way that didn't cause her pain or upset her life. I hoped we could build a relationship but prepared myself for the fact that this might not be possible for her.
In the end, things worked out very well and I have gotten to know not only my mum but also my half-siblings, aunt, uncles and granny. Being reunited with her has filled in so many gaps for me and helped me feel grounded for the first time in my life.
Not all adoptees want to be reunited with their birth mothers. Some simply want their birth certs or medical information.
Of those that seek reunion, I have no doubt that most of them are just as sensitive to their mothers' needs as I was.
No one wants to find themselves turning up on their mother's door out of the blue and causing any upset to her or her family.
However, this scenario is actually more likely under the current arrangements than it would be if we had a proper information, tracing and reunion service.
Not having an automatic right to our birth certs doesn't necessarily make it impossible for adoptees to find their mothers. It just makes it much harder. Those with sufficient money can often get the information they need through private detectives. They may then use this information to contact their mothers.
In the absence of a state-funded intermediary, their only way of contacting their mothers is often to do so directly by letter or in person. Many mothers welcome such contact and are relieved to finally be reunited with their children. However, others are shaken by the experience and taken aback by being contacted like this after so many years.
It would be far better for all concerned if we had a proper state-funded information, tracing and reunion service.
Adopted people would have a right to get their birth certs through this service.
It would also act as an intermediary between the adoptee and their birth relatives. Instead of adoptees having to reach out directly to their mothers or fathers, this service could do so for them. It could advise the parent in a sensitive way that their child would like to make contact and enable her to advise whether or not she is comfortable with this.
It would also provide counselling for both parties. This would provide a safe and supportive space for mothers to talk through emotions they may have struggled to deal with for years and may be afraid to discuss with anyone else. It would also help adopted people to deal with their own feelings and understand their mothers' perspectives, whether she wished to meet them or not.
Having access to such a service would benefit all adopted people and birth mothers, regardless of whether they have any desire to meet each other or not.
Adoption information is a sensitive issue. However, that hasn't stopped most other countries from dealing with it. It's long past time we did so too and began to provide proper support to the 50,000 Irish adoptees and their families.
Averil Power is a Fianna Fail senator.