Monday 10 December 2018

Why my adoption website is a lifeline for Irish women in crisis pregnancies

Given all the talk about abortion, it appears that adoption has gone off the radar, writes Fidelma Healy Eames

ONLINE HELP: For adoptive families everywhere birth mothers are their real champions. The new website is a resource for pregnant girls and women to help them weigh up their options. Photo: Getty Images
ONLINE HELP: For adoptive families everywhere birth mothers are their real champions. The new website is a resource for pregnant girls and women to help them weigh up their options. Photo: Getty Images

Fidelma Healy Eames

Adoption changed our family's life forever. This happened because of the selfless decision of two birth mothers who gave life to their children and chose to place them for adoption, because the time wasn't right for them in their lives. Today these children are fine young people, one a teen and one in college.

In so doing, it lifted the cloud of childlessness from over me and Michael and helped us form a family. We remain forever grateful and mindful of the huge sacrifices our children's birth mothers made.

This Wednesday we (Minister John Paul Phelan and Prof Patricia Casey) launch a new website, www.myadoptionstory.ie, in Buswells Hotel, Dublin. This site is a collection of adoption stories from the perspective of birth mothers/ parents, adopted persons and adoptive families.

The purpose of the website is to be a resource for pregnant girls/ women who are in unplanned pregnancies and considering their options.

Given all the talk about abortion, you'll forgive me for thinking that it appears that adoption and/or fostering has gone off the radar as viable options for women in crisis pregnancies.

It seems that abortion is the new State-sponsored narrative with Ministers (Harris, Doherty and Zappone) tripping themselves up promoting it and that adoption is, at best, lost in translation.

Personally, I hate the abortion debate. I hate the way it divides people and the way it ruins people's life path, my own included. I refer here to my expulsion from Fine Gael in 2013 because I wasn't allowed to make a conscience decision on a matter so deeply personal.

But, of course, that is small in the whole scheme of things when we consider the stories of women hurt and babies lives ended by abortion.

So where did the myadoptionstory.ie idea come from?

In the course of the recent Oireachtas hearings on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, I could see the shape the debate was taking. A debate about ideology would solve little. I found myself asking was there anything practical I could do to help pregnant women, in crisis, with a very real problem.

It was then I came up with the idea for a website that would share real people's stories and experiences of adoption. I consulted a few others and they thought it was a good idea too.

Through letters to editors to two local and national newspapers in Christmas week, I invited people's adoption stories. I was bowled over by the response. I received about 50 phone calls and emails. People really felt a need to talk. They appreciated the purpose of the website.

We now have 20 real-life accounts from various perspectives visible on the site and will continue to update as stories come in.

These stories document a truth about the complexity of life and circumstances that were not always easy for birth mothers, adopted persons growing up in adoptive families with some meeting their birth mothers and adoptive families whose lives were made complete by bonding with and being able to raise and love an adopted child. These personal stories are very important.

For adoptive families everywhere birth mothers are our real champions. Ironically, at their lowest moment they are also the seeds of the greatest hope! Like the tag line to our site says 'the gift of life is in your hands' because their decision really counts.

For all of us affected by adoption, the story begins with birth mothers. This site honours their legacy but it also aims to reach out and support today's women, in crisis with unplanned pregnancies, who may be considering their options at this very moment.

The ethos of www.myadoptionstory.ie in the first instance is to ask is there a way you can keep your child. Thus, the site will also be a platform to lobby Government for improvements for mothers to help them keep their babies. If that is not possible we ask if they have considered adoption or fostering as a choice for their baby.

Because adoption and fostering keeps the door open to a future for both. I know this to be true. Today our son (22) has just begun to communicate with his birth mother and it's going very well. But don't just take my word for it. Hear the words of the many contributors to our site.

Martina (Galway) placed her child for adoption at 19. She has since reunited with her daughter and advocates adoption saying "we give life to our children, we do not own them, we share them with friends, partners, etc".

Another birth mother, Mary, says "we have no idea what journey this life growing inside us will take. We don't know what they'll become or how many lives they will touch. All I know is I am grateful I gave my daughter life".

The stories of adopted persons are encouraging too. Laura (Dublin) says "I will be eternally grateful to my birth mother for putting me up for adoption. She could have chosen to have me aborted but she wanted me to have a better life than she could give me so she selflessly gave me away. She is a hero in my eyes".

There is an unexpected moment in her story when she says "I have since met my birth mother's family. My half sister died last year and now I have custody and guardianship of her son so I can see the situation from that side too". This unforeseeable development in the rejoining of an adopted person with their birth family shows the potential of a future with adoption whereas abortion is final and it doesn't allow space for how someone may feel in the future. Hence, the regret that some women feel in its wake.

Adopted persons commonly expressed their gratitude to their birth parents and their adoptive families. Martin (Co Kildare) says "approximately 16 years ago I received a letter from my birth mother outlining the reasons for her decision.

"It was a selfless endeavour on her part in order to offer me greater opportunities than she could provide. It certainly turned out that way. I had a very privileged upbringing in a loving home".

There is no doubt though that adoption wasn't always well handled. It is clear that the essential missing ingredient in adoptions done poorly was the lack of counselling for birth mothers and for adoptive families.

Desmond (who's Irish, now living in London) talks about how his adoptive mother had her first adopted child removed from her due to a change of mind on behalf of the birth mother. In 1970s Ireland he was given as a "replacement" baby and, of course, this had repercussions for all parties.

This he said "would not occur in 2018". He continues "the greatest sacrifice a mother can make is to give up her child and the greatest gift a parent can make is to open their hearts to a child".

This is why it is so critical to know that adoption today is a healthy well-counselled process.

The assessment process, though lengthy, is rigorous and robust, as it must be. It places the best interests of the child at the centre of the process as determined by the wishes of the birth mother/parents.

Only after those wishes are understood does the adoptive family come into the picture. These are the rules of the Hague Agreement which are incorporated into Irish adoption law.

I support them fully. Adoption is also more flexible and open today in that birth parents can receive photographs and updates on their child's progress throughout their childhood.

Some families also have the opportunity to meet the birth mother as we had in the case of one of our children.

It is our hope that the new site myadoptionstory.ie will be a lifeline for women and girls in crisis pregnancies. Our ultimate message is to say there are other ways "the gift of life is in your hands".

The Dublin launch takes place at 3.30pm this Wednesday at Buswells Hotel, and in Galway at the Oranmore Lodge Hotel on Sunday, April 8 at 5pm. Anyone interested in attending can contact @myadoptionstory.ie

Fidelma Healy Eames is an adoptive parent and a former Senator

Sunday Independent

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