Paula never knew adoption was illegal until she cried through 'Philomena'
Paula Douglas, who lives in the US, believes she was 'illegally adopted' from Ireland, writes Alan O'Keeffe
Paula Douglas has no evidence she was 'illegally adopted' except what her parents and relatives told her. Her Irish parents emigrated from Dublin to the US when she was two months old after she was handed over "by the nuns", she said.
She said her adoptive parents disclosed later that they were asked by the nuns to bring two little boys with them on the flight to America and deliver them to people at the airport.
"The Church paid for the flights of my parents in return for bringing the two boys… I assume the parents who got the boys paid the nuns quite a bit of money for them," she said.
Ms Douglas (59) lives in Livermore in northern California where she works as an executive assistant in the insurance industry.
Growing up in California, she said it was "a huge secret" within the family that she was adopted.
Her 1959 birth certificate listed her adoptive parents Ron and Lil Holmes as her birth parents.
She said both her parents were 5ft 1in tall while she is 5ft 6in tall. Ron had red hair, Lil had dark hair, and Paula had blonde hair.
Her parents told her that they had got her "from the nuns" in Ireland.
It was explained to her later that nuns had told her adoptive parents that if she was to be officially adopted by them, the process would take a year, at least.
But if Paula was listed as their natural child, they would be free to have her straight away and could take her to America immediately.
She said she has a male relative who was legally adopted through Saint Patrick's Guild adoption agency in Dublin and that relatives said the nuns who handed her over also belonged to the same agency.
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone disclosed last week there was conclusive evidence that at least 126 babies since 1952 were given by St Patrick's Guild to adoptive parents who were registered as their natural parents on their birth certificates.
Paula said that her adoptive mother had to undergo a medical examination before emigrating to America and she was advised to declare that she had given birth to Paula on April 2, a week earlier than the actual birth date.
Paula said she was informed that when the doctor began asking questions during the medical examination, people took the doctor aside and explained the situation to him and he then signed whatever forms were necessary.
As a result, her birth certificate has an incorrect date of April 2 when it should be April 9, as well as incorrectly listing her adoptive parents as her birth parents, she said.
"I never thought what happened was illegal. It was only after I saw the movie Philomena that I later discovered it was illegal," she said.
The movie was based on the true story of Irishwoman Philomena Lee, who searched in vain for her son, Michael Hess, who was taken from her in a mother and baby home in Co Tipperary. The film revealed that, years later, nuns thwarted efforts by Philomena and her son to be reunited.
Hess became legal adviser to two US presidents and died without ever being reunited with Philomena.
Paula said: "I watched the movie with my daughter Caitlin. We were both crying. I was raised to respect the Church, priests and nuns but I lost a lot of respect for the Church."
She said she made contact with people through websites and learned that what had happened in her own case was against the law.
"I realised what happened was wrong and that I needed to make it right," she said.
Paula visited Ireland and made contact with officials who told her there was no record of her in any adoption files.
"I just hope I will be one of the people who are now being contacted by Tusla who have been found to be illegally adopted. I would love to know who was my birth mother," she said.
"My parents were good people and they gave me a very good life. My mother and father were good church-going Irish Catholics and they believed whatever the Church told them… They were just working-class people and no money was exchanged for me," she said.
Paula said she was informed that people had escorted little children on flights to the US on a number of occasions in return for their own airfares.
Her father has passed away and her elderly mother now suffers from Alzheimer's disease. She is their only child.
She does not believe that the religious order was motivated by compassion and kindness in finding adoptive parents in the US for Irish babies.
"I believe it was just their way of fixing a problem. And then it became a way of making money for fixing the problem," she said.
"I would love to think my birth mother is still alive.
"I like to think she was a kind and compassionate woman who had no choice but to give up her baby," she said.
Paula does not think much about her birth father and said he might not even have known what had happened.
With a complete lack of any official documents about her birth parents, she turned to DNA testing in the US to see if any genetic links could be found to anyone.
She said the DNA testing appeared to show she had a grandfather from the Killenaule area of Co Tipperary.
She said she and her daughter Caitlin may visit Ireland later this year to see if they can make any progress in finding blood relatives.
"I find the whole thing to be mentally very draining. I have to take a break from it at times," she said.
It has been reported that the practice of falsifying birth records was a relatively widespread practice in the first 60 years of the State.
It has been alleged several adoption agencies and smaller nursing homes may have colluded in the illegal practice and that many doctors, social, workers, priests and nuns had some involvement in these matters.
In the 1950s, American and German newspapers published stories of Irish babies being 'sold' to couples in the US.
The Adoption Rights Alliance believes the practice was widespread.
Paula said she remains a very spiritual person and gets comfort from going to church "every once in a while" but she feels "very disappointed" about how things were done all those years ago.