Hence, we were a multi-cultural bunch of children! Four of European descent, two of Maori descent and one of Samoan descent. I thrived with being in this family. I had two parents that loved me unconditionally and seven brothers and sisters who grew with me in the same loving environment that I had. Mum and Dad celebrated the fact that I was adopted and taught me to be proud of that fact. I was also part-Maori and felt privileged to be so, as it was taught that my cultural identity was special and how “lucky” I was to have such a rich heritage. I had no concept of adoption or being Maori as negative. I had brothers and sisters that had varying shades of skin tone, I had a mother and a father that loved me, there was an ordered sense of chaos that came with being part of a large family and it was totally normal to me!
It’s very easy for me to paint a positive picture because fundamentally it was for me. But the reality of course, is that there were negative aspects growing up as well. I was often asked if I was a “real” child of Mum and Dad’s, which I find incredibly amusing now, but as a child was quite bemused that people didn’t consider me real or somehow different from my brothers and sisters. It seemed to me that it was other peoples’ ignorance that set me apart in some ways, from what was my reality. I was also a Maori girl with different genetic makeup from my mother and as a teenager I felt very conscious about being bigger than my very small mother. I had child-bearing hips and was very shapely with dark eyes and dark hair. My mother was petite, blue-eyed with brown hair. All this to deal with in tumultuous teenage years! I also felt some shame about being Maori, but once again, that shame never came from my home but from society, at that time.
In childhood, teenage years and through to adult years I never had an interest in finding out where I came from. Maybe sub-consciously it was about being loyal to my parents but the desire never seemed to be there. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that it became important to me to know who I was, but to also try to give my children a whakapapa, a sense of where I came from and therefore where they came from. I applied for my original birth certificate and thought nothing more of it, until it arrived and it was time for all to be revealed. It was a surreal moment. All my life had been full of absolutes or things that I knew for certain and suddenly I was aware that for nine months in-utero and for six weeks previous to being adopted I had another existence. I was the product of closed adoption and now I had doors that were being opened, showing me that there was more to me than what I had previously thought. There was suddenly a woman out there that had birthed me and who was she? What was she like?
On the information I was given on that day, it took me another 24 hours to track my birth-mother down. Contacting her was possibly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. There was a very real sense of being rejected and one I believe, that comes from the initial separation between mother and child. Even as a baby we know that to survive one must “attach” to someone who is able to provide us with food, shelter and love. How blessed I was to have been given my mother! But there was another woman that I also wanted to know. And of course, for my birth-mother, it must have been traumatic to have a phone call out of the blue, from a woman asking her to dredge up all the emotional baggage that she had been carrying for the last 28 years!
Thus began a tenuous correspondence through letters and phone calls, where we both weren’t sure how to talk to each other. For her, I’m guessing it was because my existence wasn’t known to her family even to this day. And for me, I didn’t want to invalidate everything I felt for my family. It was an interesting time finding out about practical things like family medical history and understanding a little about who I was as far as my personality, my likes and dislikes, my strengths and weaknesses; what sort of traits I shared with my birthmother and what traits came from my adoptive parents. Evaluating what was “nature” and what was “nurture”. Unfortunately for both my birth-mother and me, things became unglued when I tried to find out about my birth-father. She wasn’t in a space where she could tell me anything about him or wanted to and I felt strongly about knowing my Maori genealogy as that was an aspect of my life that I felt fiercely proud. She chose to pull away and we haven’t had contact since.
I feel nothing but love and gratefulness to my birthmother for doing what I consider to be the most selfless thing that she could have possibly done for me. She gave me life. The opportunity “to be”. She allowed me to have a life that she couldn’t give me and I grew in a family with brothers and sisters that I adore. She allowed me to have parents that showed me what it is to be in a loving marriage, what it is to be in a loving family and showed me the way to being a proud Maori woman who is now a wife and mother. I am here because of my birth-mother’s selfless act and I will love her forever because of that.
And what about now?
I am a 36 year old woman who has been married for almost 17 years to an amazing man. We have five children. Our two eldest children are born of my body. When our son was nine and our daughter was seven, we adopted a beautiful girl. I helped bring her into the world by supporting her birth-mother during her labour and our baby came home at four days old. We also have two permanently placed foster children. Our oldest foster son came to live with us when he was eight and is our adopted daughter’s half-brother. They share the same birth-mother. Our baby boy joined our family when he was seven months old.
I come from an unusual position of being adopted and then adopting and fostering, so I can see and have experienced, from two different angles. We would love positive open relationships between our adopted daughter’s and foster sons’ birthmothers but unfortunately we do not have these. In my opinion, it is not out of a lack of effort on our part but out of a lack of effort on theirs’. Our paramount concern is the care and protection of our children and because of the natures of their birth-mothers’ backgrounds this hasn’t been possible. However, I believe that open adoption is fundamentally a positive concept. It is important for a child to know where they come from and who they come from.
I am blessed to have my children. They all came in different ways to be part of our family. They are all precious with rich and fascinating backgrounds, different whakapapa, different extended families and they all deserve a right to know and explore that. It is a journey that I have taken in my own life and a journey that I will gladly take with all of my children.