The Adoption Game Show
The baby or the fridge
That episode where you realise your life is a 'statutory fiction'
If adoption secrecy were a game show, they’d call it called ‘How much do you really want this?’
Because I am adopted, I have no birth story. However, the state holds a large number of files on me. Legal documents, doctors notes, feeding recipes and home visit comments. Through these documents, I wish to build a picture of what happened to my mother and me.
Consider youself one of us
1960 was a big year for my adopting parents. First came the infertility diagnosis. Then a new baby arrived with little warning and no fanfare. Followed within days by a new refrigerator.
I was one of over 103,000 New Zealand babies forcibly removed from my single mother. Her dying mother sent her to the doctor’s house with a couple of months to spare. The generous Dr Gerald Gleeson put her to work cleaning and scrubbing. Weeks before I was born he promised me away to the “an attractive young couple who belong to the Church of England."
As a child, my family saw the musical Oliver!. For days after, my adopting mother hummed and sang the theme tune:
Consider yourself one of us
Consider yourself at home
Consider yourself one of the family ….etc etc
The song is a bit of an earworm. I’d forgotten it and the memory until recently when I heard it on the radio.
If you’ve seen the film (or read Dickens), you’ll know that being ‘one of us in Oliver was conditional on acting the part. You had to abide by their code of thievery and obey Fagin, the orphan master.
It makes sense. Like Fagin’s gang, we humans are tribal.
I blame Karl Marx
There have always been inconsistencies in my birth story. The dates, the people involved, the actual circumstances. All missing, suspect or manufactured.
As an adopted person I have no legal right to know anything other than the story my adopting parents chose to tell. So I decided to challenge that.
I started with govt.nz, the guide to finding and using government services. Could it really be as simple as requesting a copy of my ‘pre-adoption birth certificate?’
We're not your real parents
The Gallows Bird is a historical trilogy I have coming out next year. There, we meet Mr Fingleston, a silk merchant and tailor.
The character of Mr Fingleston visited me in the early hours, over 20 years ago. I described him as an ivy bush of a man, small and messy with a moustache drooping below his chin.
The timing is important.
A selfless act?
There’s a cartoon doing the Internet rounds. A mum and a dad look down at their little girl: “Sarah, I’m afraid we’re not your real parents. You were made with sperm from Germany and an egg from Denmark from an Italian man and a Swedish woman, born to an English surrogate, rejected because you were a girl, adopted by Californian lesbians, looked after by a Cuban nanny and found by Derek here in a skip when you were three”.
I'm So Special
While browsing Instagram, an image jumped out at me. A woman and her husband stand beside the bed of an exhausted mother who has given birth to twins. The woman, identified as the #IP (intending parent) has her hands clasped in prayer or gratitude. Her husband is leaning over looking as exhausted as the new mother.
Posted by a surrogacy agency, the photo features the photographer’s comments. (Yes, the IPs hired a photographer to cover the event.)
Who Owns You?
How special do you feel? What factors make up your sense of special – or otherwise?
Many adopted people remember being told they were ‘special.’ “We chose you,” is a standard phrase for adopted people.
At the same time, it is implied there is no difference between you and the non-adopted.
The law backs this up, stating the child is “as if” born to the adopters.
Dear Toni Street
Who owns you? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
If you are a non-adopted person then the idea that someone could own you may never have occurred to you.
If you are an adopted person, you may not be aware of the terms of your adoption. Or how current adoption laws resemble sale and purchase agreements.
I had this lesson rammed home last week.
Why I hate biographies
Dear Toni Street
Congratulations on the arrival of your child born through a surrogate. I have read of your frustration at the hoops you must jump through to now adopt him.
Thank you for lending your profile in support of a petition to update the Adoption Act 1955. By doing so, you are raising awareness of the inadequacies of this act.
What more do you want?
I have a friend who loves biographies. She’s always telling me to read accounts of dire lives turned around, the fall and rise of a star or a tragedy overcome.
But I can’t. Biographies and especially autobiographies unsettle me. It is not the sweep of grand lives that leaves me undone. It is the minutiae.
Like a Stranger
I’ve spent most of my adult life searching for my biological family. I've encountered endless roadblocks. The majority of them from officialdom. During the search and now as I start a campaign to free all adoption files, I am often asked - what do you want?
But as an adopted person I know that often what people are really asking is - what more do you want?
Letter to Jacinda
There once was a woman who kept changing everything: her hair, her glasses, her furniture, her style, her husbands and her lovers. She moved 34 times and changed her name seven times. Her restless journey was almost unconscious. She described herself as emotionally and physically peripatetic. The idea of not belonging was who she was. It was not so much that she had lost her identity, but that she never had one.
Dear Prime Minister
Your child is almost three months old. I was this age when I was taken from my mother because of her marital status.
Or, it could have been earlier.
I don’t know because I have three possible birth dates, seven months apart and two birth certificates.