by Amanda Gough
Dedicated to Barbara and Wendy
Ron, Ray, Doug and Jill
with love always xx
My name is Amanda. I am an only child, and yet there are about sixteen people out there who I can legitimately regard as siblings. I have five parents. My children each have nine grandparents. My world is rich in diversity, beautiful in its complexity, and filled with love in abundance. To have lived this life has been in every way a privilege.
I was born in November 1968 – on my Dad’s birthday (although he didn’t know it at the time). In a statistical sense I can lay claim to being from the largest bunch of adoptees ever in New Zealand history. But behind every piece of statistical data there is a human story, and this is mine.
My birth-mother Wendy was 22 when I was born – not particularly young, but single and no longer in a relationship with my biological father, Doug. These were days before the DPB, and times in which children born ‘out of wedlock’ were bastards. Single mothers were shunned by society – often disowned by their families, and considered ‘used goods’ by many potential suitors (or certainly by the suitors’ parents). Wendy was intelligent, talented, maternal, caring and, most importantly, selfless. For nine months she had carried me, caring for herself so as to care for me, and built up a bond that any mother knows can never be severed. She laboured alone through the night in a sterile hospital cubicle to bring me into the world, and then, as the sun rose, I arrived - real, totally dependent, and absolutely ready to give her my unconditional love. Wendy named me Anthea Louise, and as she held me, and loved me more than she had ever loved anyone, she shed tears of love, tears of amazement, and tears of the deepest pain. She had already made the decision that I would have a life that she felt she couldn’t give me. I would have a mummy and a daddy, but that mummy would be a stranger, not her. By the time I would share my first smile she would no longer be a part of my life.
Meanwhile, not far across town Barbara and Ron longed for a baby, but fate had dealt them a cruel hand, and endometriosis had left Barbara unable to bear children. They had so much to offer a child. They were financially secure, professional people. They had a lovely home next door to a children’s playground. Barbara had worked as a nanny and was now an orthoptist, working mostly with children whose eyes were somewhat out of sync with one-another. Ron was an ex-serviceman from the British Royal Navy. He worked as a boilermaker. He was athletic, sports-mad, and had an infectious sense of humour. They celebrated Ron’s birthday, oblivious to the fact that in less than a week they would be parents. Then the call they had been hoping for came – sooner than expected. A daughter was available for them. A woman they had never met was entrusting them with her newborn baby…forever.
So it was that I came to find more people who would love me, and whom I would come to love. Barbara and Ron would be as real to me as any biological parents ever could have been.
My adoption was ‘closed’. I was issued with a new birth certificate. I was no longer Anthea Louise – I was now Amanda Elizabeth (strangely similar considering neither party had any knowledge of the other name I had been given). As far as ‘the system’ was concerned, my biological history no longer existed. But I was very lucky. Wendy wasn’t giving up that easily. She had spent hours knitting me beautiful clothes – matinée jackets, booties, mittens, cardigans, and a cuddly toy. She wanted my parents to know how deeply she loved me, and so she wrote them a letter – absolutely anonymously, to accompany her handiwork. I am sure she must have re-written it many times – choosing each word with care, knowing that, if this got through at all, it would undoubtedly be the only chance she ever had to communicate with the people her daughter would call Mummy and Daddy. Going entirely against protocol, the adoption social worker assigned to my case, Mrs Collins, did pass them on. My parents were thrilled. My mum wrote back – equally anonymously, and in equally heartfelt words, both thanking Wendy for the lovely gifts and also reassuring her that I was dearly loved. Both mothers would always keep those letters.
I don’t know when I was first told that I was adopted, but I never recall not knowing, so I must have been very little. It must have been ‘sold’ to me well, because knowing I was adopted always made me feel special. As I grew up, I grew more and more curious about my biological history. My parents answered all my questions to the best of their ability, but they had only been given the sparsest information about Wendy, and even less about Doug. One thing they did always tell me was that when I was older they would support me if I wanted to try and trace my biological parents. They understood that I loved them unconditionally, that they would always be my ‘real’ parents, but that my curiosity about my ‘other’ parents was natural, normal and not a reflection of either dissatisfaction on my part or bad parenting on theirs.
Looking back I can honestly say that, overall, I had a great childhood – surrounded by friends, involved in all manner of activities, always being taken to interesting places and doing things that would spark my creativity and curiosity. I wasn’t overly spoilt, but neither did I want for anything. I was expected to behave – I was certainly expected to have impeccable manners, but I was also given room to grow, to explore my own interests and to find my own direction in life. Most importantly I knew that I was dearly loved.
Sadly, my parents’ marriage was not to survive the distance, and when I was eleven they separated. I am sure that my mum in particular was sad to think that Wendy’s dream of having her baby brought up in a two-parent family was being dashed, but for me, knowing I still had two parents who loved me, and no longer seeing them stressed and unhappy in one another’s company, was a relief.
When I was seventeen, my dad suffered a serious brain haemorrhage that he would not survive. I was his only child, his next of kin. Dealing with his estate fell entirely to me. I hope I did him proud. Our relationship had not always been straightforward throughout my teenage years (does any teenager have straightforward relationships with their parents?) but he was my Dad, and I missed him. It took a long time for me to truly accept that he was no longer around in person, but that I could hold on to the good memories, accept that my life had been enriched by experiences we had shared, and, that, through him I had learnt important life-lessons. He would always have a place in my heart, forged not through shared genes, but through shared love.
Later that year my mum remarried. Ray was a long-time family friend; a DoC ranger living on an off-shore island. He had more kids than I could count (this was very much ‘home for the lost and found’, with kids accumulated from a couple of marriages and various other sources!). He had been widowed and still had the younger children living at home. I adored Ray. He accepted me unconditionally into the fold, and has always treated me as every bit his daughter, whilst he has become every bit my dad. He too has enriched my life. His kids are my brothers and sisters. Our backgrounds are many and varied. We come in various shades, shapes and sizes, and probably look like a bit of a motley bunch, which, really, is just the way we like it! What better life-lesson could there be in tolerance, empathy, and acceptance?
Barbara (adoptive Mum), Amanda & Ray (adoptive step-dad) taken at Wendy’s “Roaring 40s” 60th Birthday Party
I now had a massive family, yet still I knew that somewhere out there, there were more relations. People who I had never met, and yet whose genes I shared.
In the same year that I had lost a father and gained a whole new family, Jonathan Hunt’s Adult Adoption Act came into effect. (It was a busy year!!). At long last thousands of New Zealanders whose lives had been touched by adoption would be able to have records opened, and maybe, just maybe, reconnect with those who had previously seemed so inaccessible. The Act decreed that the adoptee must have reached the age of 20 before records could be opened. At 19½ I decided I had waited long enough. I figured that this would probably be a somewhat drawn out process anyway, and so it wouldn’t hurt to at least have it put on record that I was happy to make contact if either of my biological parents ever wanted to find me, and to have my up-to-date contact details put on file.
I was nervous as I looked up the phone number for the Department of Social Welfare: Adoption Support Services. I dialled it several times, and hung up before anyone answered. Finally I summonsed the courage to stay on the line. I reached a social worker named Ron. He was one of a number working in the field at that time. In a nervous burble I poured out my life-story, with all the information, limited as it was, that I had on my biological parentage. I was mid-sentence, when he interrupted me. He asked me to hold the line for a moment. When he came back he said, “I have your file on my desk.” Initially I thought he had just gone and found it – and I was suitably impressed, but what he then said was to blow my mind. He explained that my file was on his desk, because just days prior to my call he had been called by my birth-mother. We had both called months ahead of when we were officially meant to, within days of one-another, and had both reached the same social worker! Ron, like Mrs Collins so many years before, bent the rules for us. He rang Wendy and by that evening we were speaking to one-another.
I couldn’t get over how lovely she was. How much we had in common. I had two younger brothers, and had had a younger sister who, tragically, had died from Spina-Bifida when she was only nine weeks old. My heart went out to Wendy – she had, to all intents and purposes, lost two baby daughters in relatively quick succession. It must have been awful. I also learnt about grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and of course her husband, Clive. Almost 20 years worth of questions came pouring out from both of us… it was so good to finally get some real answers.
Barbara, Wendy (birthmother), Christopher (biological half-brother) with his daughter Holly, Amanda & Matthew (biological half-brother)
Wendy immediately became a very real, very special part of my life. She would never be my Mum – she had a different, complimentary role. We would get together every so often and keep in touch by phone. To have her at my wedding was very special and important to me. When my children were born she became a very real Nana, taking her place as an equal alongside all the other grandparents.
Connecting with Wendy had been a dream come true, but biologically speaking, she was still only half the picture. I had a biological father out there too, and other than a name and a few snippets of information that Wendy was able to give me, I had little to go on.
As a university student, I would spend hours down at the Auckland Central Library pouring over telephone directories and electoral rolls, but constantly drawing blanks. Every few years I would have a burst of enthusiasm, and try going down another path. I felt like a super-sleuth, only I wasn’t getting anywhere! Finally, some fifteen years after I had first met Wendy, I decided to try contacting someone else who shared my father’s surname and was about the same age, on the Old Friends website. At long last, I had made a connection. Yes, this man’s cousin fitted the description of my father! I was so excited. The only problem was, they hadn’t spoken in years, and it seemed that we were talking about people with two different middle names – so maybe this wasn’t my father after all. The cousin kept promising to talk to my ‘assumed’ father’s sister. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas….and it seemed to be taking SO long! Eventually, several months later the call was made.
Even if I would never find my father, even if this was entirely the wrong guy, I was so blessed to meet Jill. She was positively delightful. Jill had never heard about me… but then that didn’t mean anything, in 1968 these things were not discussed! What was amazing though was that Jill and I had been at university together, and had taken three 300 level papers in common in the same year. Even more exciting for me, though, was that Jill had been involved in foster care. Wow! That wasn’t a million miles from adoption! If anyone would understand my need to trace my biological roots, surely she would!
Jill was unsure about how Doug would react to the news that I was searching for him. She arranged to meet him alone and ask him about me. I’m sure he was very shocked. However, he freely admitted to having been involved with Wendy, having, in fact, assisted financially towards the end of the pregnancy, although he still seriously questioned my paternity. My conception wasn’t on anyone’s agenda, and this must have been a somewhat tumultuous time in his life as well.
Doug may have been initially hesitant about contacting me, but Jill left him with my number. In his own time, he did call. We had a long chat, although I was probably somewhat incoherent, as unfortunately he caught me only days after my marriage of almost fifteen years had disintegrated. In all honesty I was a mess. I’m sure I made a really bad impression. I’d had so many questions for so long, and now I couldn’t think of any of them! Still, he was extremely pleasant and happy to précis his entire life history for me. One thing that really stuck in my mind from the conversation was that he had another daughter! I had a little sister!
I was thirty-seven when Doug and I finally met face-to-face. He was friendly, open, and seemed to have accepted that I most probably was his daughter. That move from virtual denial to something near acceptance had undoubtedly involved a major emotional journey on his part, and it is one for which I am very grateful. We discovered that we also have things in common. It was lovely to see photos of his family and to find out more about the experiences that had shaped his very full and successful life. We agreed to keep in touch – exchanging greeting cards and text messages. At long last the picture was complete.
I am now thirty-eight. My life has been anything but boring. I have four gorgeous, precious children. I have a great career tutoring kids with specific learning disabilities. I have a fantastic extended family, that continuously extends in fascinating directions. Adoption has not defined me, but it has been one of many influences that have helped shape me into the person I am today. I have no regrets. I don’t know what I would have turned out like had I not been adopted, but I can’t imagine that my life would have been any more interesting, or any better. I will be forever grateful that I am an adoption statistic, and not an abortion statistic. I am blessed to have had so many wonderful, amazing, inspirational people to share my life with: people who have taught me that love is many faceted, love is multi-dimensional, and at the end of the day, love is everything.
Nana (Wendy’s mum) & Amanda