Thursday 14 November 2019

'Adoption hid family breast cancer history from me'

Kathy Finn discovered a family history of breast cancer
Kathy Finn discovered a family history of breast cancer

Claire McCormack

She was born in Bessborough Mother and Baby home in Cork in 1969, to a single mother, who named her Faith.

Simple facts, but it took Kathy Finn (46) almost two decades of painstaking searching to finally learn the most basic truths about her birth.

Her courage and determination to find answers eventually led Kathy to her birth mother, extended family and the bitter truth of a strong family history of breast cancer.

However, if the Government's proposed adoption legislation had been in place when Kathy began her search she would have never found this vital information which, potentially, has life-changing implications.

Kathy was adopted by a Dublin couple when she was just three months old.

She always knew about her adoption.

"My adoptive parents were very open and honest with me, there was never any issue, it was a happy childhood and I always asked questions," said Kathy, from Lucan, Co Dublin.

"If my mother knew the answer, she would tell me but she knew nothing, just the basic circumstances that surrounded my adoption to them."

During her teenage years, Kathy's longing for knowledge about her birth mother and father intensified and when she turned 18 she decided to find out more.

"My adoptive mother always said to me: 'When you are ready I'll be right behind you and we'll go together and find out.' I thought I could just walk into the agency and I would be told who my birth mother was," she said.

But when Kathy went to Cunamh - the agency that handled her adoption - asking them to find her mother, she says she found them unhelpful.

"They told me that my mother signed papers and that she got on with her life," said Kathy.

However, she was informed that her mother had named her Faith.

Over the next few years, Kathy got married, had children of her own and continued to follow up with Cunamh throughout the 1990s but made no progress.

Then, with the dawn of computers, Kathy linked up with online adoption groups and people in similar situations and was encouraged to search for her own birth certificate in the General Register Office (GRO) in Dublin.

In 2000, Kathy spent an entire day in the GRO, trawling through the records from 1969.

"I was shaking because I thought I was doing something terribly wrong, but when I finally turned the page and saw my name it was a wonderful feeling - I found some information at last," she said.

However, Kathy soon realised that the limited details wouldn't bring her much closer to finding her birth mother.

"People think that by getting their birth certificate they will get lots of information but adoption birth certs are different, it's not like my kids' birth certs with names and addresses, these birth certs give nothing," she said.

"It gave my date of birth, my first name, my mother's full name and where I was born - that's it. The information is so basic that it could belong to anybody in the country," she said.

Kathy appealed to the Adoption Board for help in 2002 and was left on a waiting list for almost four years.

"When they finally got back to me in 2006, I was told my mother had died in 1993 while I was looking for her," she said.

"If they had done some searching in 1987 when I originally went into them I could have known her, I could have gotten a couple of years or even an hour to sit with her. I wasn't asking for a mother, I already had a mother, I just wanted to know where I came from," she said.

Kathy didn't give up on her quest for information about her identity.

She subsequently met her biological father, half-brother, and several of her aunts.

"Through them I learnt that there is a history of breast cancer in my family. This is the type of really important medical information that many adopted people don't get. I have three daughters and they have a right to that information," she said.

Last month, it was revealed that tens of thousands of adopted people in Ireland will have access to their birth certificates for the first time under proposed legislation.

Under the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015, birth records will be given to an adopted person, including those illegally adopted. However, access will only be permitted with a parent's consent.

Without consent, records will only be released if an adopted person signs a statutory declaration not to contact their birth parent and to respect their privacy.

The new law will only permit access to other identifying information in adoption files - including family medical history - with a parent's consent.

Claire McGettrick, CoFounder of the Adoption Rights Alliance said any conditionality of equality for adopted people is "just offensive".

"It's not a statutory right to a relationship that we are after, it's a statutory right to information. If a natural mother doesn't want to have contact with an adopted person the vast majority would respect that," she told the Sunday Independent.

"We were hoping for unconditional access to our birth certificates and files just like any other citizen," she said, adding that the majority of their 1,300 members feel "let down" by the proposal.

For Kathy, the proposed law continues to treat adopted people like second-class citizens.

"I feel Minister [James] Reilly is saying that our birth families need protecting from us, like we're some sort of criminals," she said.

"I wouldn't have known anything about the history of breast cancer in my family. My daughters have as much of a right to that information as I do," she said.

Sunday Independent

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