Monday 11 December 2017

Adoption: Irish women open up about their experiences with adoption

Three women who were affected by adoption, from each of the three perspectives.

Mum of two Trish Connolly with her daughter Fiadh
Mum of two Trish Connolly with her daughter Fiadh
Romi Gray eho was adopted with her children Lauren, Ethan and Annabel

Linda Daly

Last month's publication of the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015 will further enhance the lives of adopted children in this country, as Ireland progresses from a nation where adoption was stigmatised, and in some cases forced, to one that embraces open processes and the rights of all parties.

The numbers of children up for adoption in this country is relatively minor today. In 2014, the number of adoption orders granted stood at 112. Just 50 children were adopted through intercountry adoption.

Last year also saw 23 adopted people have their birth certificates released by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. Original birth certs are released when the birth mother agrees or when she has died. Those 23 people and their families saw another chapter of their adoption story unfold.

Today, there are supports for all sides of what is known as the 'adoption triangle': the term used to describe the three-sided relationship that exists within an adoption. On one side there is the birth parents, on the other the adoptive parents, and on the third the adoptee. But all sides meet, and are interdependent on the others.

Here, three women - one from each side of the triangle - tell their adoption stories.

Katie's story*

I gave up my daughter for adoption in the early 1990s. I was 20 at the time, but I was an immature 20 year old. I couldn't see myself staying with her father forever, and I wanted her to have a mum and dad; I wanted her to have everything and I didn't think I could give her everything.

I considered travelling to England, but in the end I just couldn't do it. When she was a few months old, I met her new parents. I'm glad I met them. I remember the dad saying that he was more nervous meeting me than on his wedding day, and thanking me for transforming their lives. I remember at the time I had insisted they were Catholic.

For the first few years I found out details about her life, but it was just too difficult to keep that up. For me, to have adopted is like grieving but there has been no death. It's never gone away. It has been a great sadness in my life, and has affected most of my relationships because I've never forgiven myself.

It gets harder instead of easier as other friends around me have given birth, and I've gained nieces and nephews. There have been times when I've felt really jealous. My siblings, parents and close friends know about the adoption, but I rarely talk to my family about it. There is a stigma around adopting.

I was counting down the days until she was 18, and I had convinced myself that she was going to contact me. I bought my house thinking of her, sent off all my details to the Adoption Authority, telling them that I'd like to meet her. She turned 18 a few years ago now, and I haven't heard from her yet.

There isn't a day goes by that I don't think of her. I imagine what she's like, I wonder what she is doing, and sometimes think terrible things like what if she has died. There was one occasion when I was approached by someone and asked was I the mother of a girl, and that girl had her name. I looked like her, they said. I'm convinced it was her. I hope she decides she'd like to meet me one day.

*Not her real name

Romi's story

The first time I remember being told I was adopted was when I was nine. I was standing at the kitchen sink with my mum, she in the usual role of washing the delph and me drying. I mentioned that Sheila in my class was adopted, to which my mam replied: "and so are you". It had never been a secret; my parents had told me when I was five. I asked the questions a five year old would. And then promptly forgot about it. Back at the kitchen sink as a nine year old, I blinked back the tears so my mum wouldn't see me upset. That night, I went to bed and had a good sob.

After that, I was fine. My mum says when I was 15 I went through a phase of asking why I wasn't good enough; I don't really remember that either

When I turned 21, my mum handed me a tiny bracelet, which had been given to me through the adoption agencies, by my birth mother for my first birthday. I remember putting my hand around this tiny bangle which I had worn as a child, and that really made the decision for me: I would find out who my birth mum was. I contacted the adoption charity Pact

My mother, originally from Holland but raised in Canada, had met my Irish father when she was travelling in Europe in the early '70s. They decided to travel to a German beer festival, and I was the outcome. On the day they were to part, my mother told my father she was pregnant. She returned to Canada but couldn't face telling her very strict father, so within weeks was back in Ireland. My paternal grandmother played a role in organising my adoption.

I was born in July 1972 in Holles Street and then moved to the Bird's Nest in Dun Laoghaire in Dublin. If you walk past the redbrick building today, which has long been turned into offices, you can still see the plaque partially hidden under some ivy. Every day for the first six weeks my mother visited me, but it was the 1970s and women did as they were told. I was placed with my mum and dad at six weeks and they formally adopted me in August 1973.

As a 21 year old I had no intention of ever meeting my birth parents, I just wanted my mother to know I was brought up well and that I understood the position she had been forced into. As it turned out, my mother and father had ended up getting married, and moved to Canada soon after I was born. I was raised an only child, and always wanted siblings, so when I found out I had two full brothers, I immediately changed my mind about seeing them.

At 23, I travelled to Mississauga in Ontario to meet my birth family, meeting my parents at the arrivals gate at Toronto's airport. They were welcoming and loving. There was definitely a sibling connection with my brothers; Darren, who is two years younger than me, and Jeff, five years my junior. I met all my genetic family, including my maternal grandparents.

Suddenly, there was a fuller picture to who I was. I am the image of my mother. My birth parents had tried to get me back after I was adopted but it was too late.

My mother is a lovely person but she has never forgiven herself for putting me up for adoption. She has said she knows I had a better life than the one they could have given me. She didn't have the best relationship with my father, and they separated a few years after I met them.

My mother and brothers came to my wedding in 2003. She sat at the top table with my mum and mother in law. We wanted her to feel as included as anyone else.

We used to be in touch all the time, with lots of letters, and she came and stayed with my parents when my oldest two children were born. We've drifted apart over the years. I know I could pick up the phone to her or my brothers at any time. Jeff is coming to visit this year, and it's causing great excitement in our house.

Having my three children has made me feel very lucky that they are growing up at a time when women have a voice. They know I'm adopted and love having three grannies.

This story is strange to some people but it's normal to me. I do feel that, being adopted, I had a brief disconnect. I have suffered from depression, and I'm not sure if that is because of being pulled out of my natural environment. But I was loved throughout my life. Thankfully, I have the most amazing mum and dad who adopted me, and my coming into their lives made them incredibly happy. I have fantastic friends who became invaluable surrogate siblings to me. I have no negative feelings about where I'm from, but feel sorry for all the women who were tragically forced to give their babies away.

Trish's story

We decided to adopt because we wished to be parents, and adoption was an avenue we always wanted to go down. We originally considered domestic adoption but didn't in all honesty know that domestic adoption wasn't really an option. We quickly learned that inter-country adoption was the avenue for couples or single people in Ireland. We did a little bit of research, and thought there are millions of children throughout the world who need a chance at a family.

Adoption is first and foremost about giving a child a home but it's also about us forming a family, becoming parents and doing something we really wished. We put our name down in 2001/2002, at a time when there were lots more adoptions happening. We were waiting three years to start the process. It's slightly different now, but at the time once you started the process it went quickly.

I had no problem with the assessment. It's a robust procedure; I think many parents, however they form their family, should do the courses. It really makes you sit down and think, and if you're in a couple it makes you talk about parenting, and how you're going to approach disciplining, loving, attachment, bonding, religion, education and so on.

One of the most important things is thinking about their culture and ethnicity and really exploring if you can parent a child who doesn't look like you. Can you parent a child of a different race? You absolutely have to give that a lot of thought. Their culture is who they are. They may be Irish citizens, they may be living in Ireland, but their roots, their inner self, is from a different country and they do have a family in their country of birth.

We went to China in 2005 and adopted Sadbh at the age of eight and a half months. We had received a photo of her a few months beforehand, and instantly felt attached to her, but we had to remove ourselves from it because she wasn't ours yet.

We always wanted more than one child, so when we came home we put our names down again. When Sadbh was eight and a half years old, we adopted Fiadh. Sadbh came with us to Ethiopia. We felt it was really good for her to see the adoption process, which was very similar to hers. When we finally had the papers signed and Fiadh was definitely ours, Sadbh held her first.

Everyone has been affected by adoption in Ireland. I was adopted. It was never a secret for me, and the girls both know where they are from. We do attract attention, because we are of a different race. We have three New Year's celebrations, three Christmases, two adoption days. We've formed lots of friends through adopting the girls, and they have friends who were adopted from China and Ethiopia. It's very important that they have that connection.

It's a rewarding journey, and it's like everything; you forget the years of paperwork, binders, interviews and assessments once you have them. Sadbh's first word was light, Fiadh's was dada.

We've been so lucky to watch them develop, so fortunate to have the opportunity to become parents and to learn to love through their eyes. It's changed our life completely; we couldn't imagine it without them.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland works to improve standards in both domestic and intercountry adoptions. Visit the website aai.gov.ie or call 01-2309300.

The International Adoption Association is the leading support organisation for families engaged in intercountry adoption in Ireland, supporting pre and post adoptive parents and their families through the adoption process and the child's life cycle. Go to iaaireland.org.

Irish Independent

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