By Aurette Bowes
When I was a little girl of about six or seven, my mother told me the following story: “Daddy always wanted a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair. One day, we received a phone call from the hospital. ‘We have a baby girl here with brown eyes and blond hair,’ they said. ‘Do you want her?’ And Daddy said, ‘Wrap her up, we’re coming to fetch her.’” Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this story was my first clue that I wasn’t my parents’ biological child.
Most children, at some stage during their lives, wonder whether or not they are adopted. The inherent knowledge that they aren’t, is probably what enables them to confront their parents and deal with the question once and for all. Although I considered doing this many, many times, I was never able to gather enough courage to actually go ahead and ask, “Am I adopted?” I wrestled with this dilemma for my entire childhood and a large part of my adult life.
Psychologists will tell you that if you refuse to deal with any form of trauma or unresolved issue in your life and live in a state of constant denial, it will eventually catch up with you in one way or another. The question I had spent my whole life trying to avoid finally caught up with me when, at the age of 37, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My counsellor, Fred, believed my failure to deal with the question of my suspected adoption was probably the largest contributing factor to my depression. The problem was I did not have the courage to face my parents and the mere thought of doing so brought me to tears.
Fred kindly offered to ask the question for me and arrived at my house the following morning to deliver the news.
It’s one thing to suspect you are adopted, it’s quite another to finally have it confirmed. In one word, my entire identity was completely wiped out. Everything I had been brought up to believe about who I was, my ancestral roots, was no longer true. The same thought kept running through my head, over and over again – my mother is not my mother, Dad is not my dad… I wasn’t related to anyone in my family. The only two people I could claim blood ties with were my children. They were my legacy, but my ancestry was a complete blank. I felt as if I were floating in a huge, black vacuum.
Suddenly, where I came from did matter. I had to know who had conceived me and given birth to me? I had to be someone’s daughter, but whose?
At first, my mother didn’t want me to search for my birth-mother. Now that I knew the truth, she wanted me to “forget about it and get on with my life”. As all adoptive mothers do, my mother felt threatened by the mere existence of my birth-mother. Like all adoptive mothers, she firmly believed that once I found my birth-mother I would say, “Thanks Mom for all you’ve done up to now, but I’m off to live with my real mother.”
I desperately wanted to search for my biological mother, but it was important that I had my mom’s blessing, otherwise it would be detrimental to our relationship. God provided resolution, and it came from the most unexpected source.
Somehow my mother found the courage to write to the Department of Social Development and tell them that her adopted daughter wanted to find her biological parents and could they provide information. They replied that according to the law, only I could request such information. Neither she nor my birth-mother was allowed access to my birth records. All I had to do, they said, was make a request in writing, and include my identity number and maiden name.
She had done all she could. Now it was up to me. I was astounded. I knew only too well how difficult it must have been for her to write that letter, but she was prepared to put her pain aside so that I could have the answers I needed. That spoke volumes of the depth of her love for me.
I wrote to Social Development and who provided me with scant details of my birth mother. Now that I knew who she was, I wanted more than anything to find her.
Social Development conducted the search on my behalf. I hoped that I would not have to wait long than two years for them to find my birth-mother. But when God is involved, things happen differently. Two months later I received a phone call from my social worker, who told me that my birth mother had been found and she wanted to see me.
Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t believe they had found her so quickly. But it would still be a few months before we would meet.
Social Development is very careful in protecting the identity and privacy of adoptees and their birth parents. Before my birth mother and I could meet, we first had to communicate anonymously through the social worker and our respective counsellors. We corresponded in this way for a short while, and soon we were emailing each other directly.
Eventually we arranged to meet. When my birth mother saw me for the first time she burst into tears and clung to me for a long time. We spoke for a long time and I showed her photos of me growing up. She cried when she saw the ones of me as a baby. She answered all my questions, explained that she hadn’t had the financial means to enable her to keep me when I was born, and couldn’t deal with the social stigma of having an illegitimate child.
Shortly after this meeting, I became severely depressed to the extent that my psychiatrist told me I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and admitted me to hospital for about two weeks. Everything was simply too much to deal with and I was completely broken. I felt angry, betrayed, worthless.
For a long while I broke off all contact with my birth mother as I tried to heal. It took a very long time but counselling helped me to realise that I was only hurting myself by hanging on to my negative emotions. My birth mother and my parents had made what they honestly believed to be the right decision at the time. Over the years they had come to realise that they had made a mistake and now they were trying to make the decision right. “You can’t change the past,” my counsellor said. “Let it go.”
When I eventually saw the sense of letting go of the past, I was able to forgive and my true healing began. Shortly before my 39th birthday I telephoned my birth mother and told her I wanted to make peace and work at establishing a relationship.
After that we continued to correspond via email, but as time passed I began to realise we had less and less in common. Although she was a good person, essentially we were from two different worlds and had opposing sets of values and principles. The social worker had warned me that this often happened between adoptees and their birth-mothers.
The stress of having two mothers in my life continued to take its toll. My mother was being very brave and trying extremely hard to support me through everything, but I knew she was suffering emotionally. My father was also hurting, as were my husband and children. I felt as if I were constantly being pulled between the two women. Eventually I couldn’t take it any more. I was emotionally exhausted and my family was suffering.
I decided it was time to assert my legal rights. The social worker had told me that I could end the relationship whenever I wanted to and my birth mother would have to accept my decision. I emailed her a letter. She was shocked but accepted my decision.
To say my mother was ecstatic by my decision is an understatement. She had set me free and I had come back to her. I had always known I would, but she hadn’t.
At first I felt relieved that I no longer had to worry about keeping two mothers happy. Then I began to feel cheated. My birth mother had received what she wanted – she had always wondered what had happened to the baby she had given away and whether she was okay and happy – now she knew. My mother had received what she wanted – her daughter that she didn’t have to share with another woman.
But what had I got out of it all – nothing. In fact, I had come full circle – although I had learned the answers to some questions, now there were new ones to deal with, the answers to which I would probably never learn.
I felt like I didn’t truly belong anywhere. I had been conceived in error. I was a mistake. My mere existence was enough to cause others pain. My parents had been so desperate for a child they would have taken any baby, irrespective of whether she was a little girl with brown eyes and blonde hair. How did I know I was truly meant to be with them? How did I know I was even meant to be?
My counsellor took me to the Bible and showed me that God doesn’t make mistakes.
When I was born I may not have been in control of my destiny, but Someone else was. As the nurses took me from my birth mother and placed me in my mother’s arms, another pair of Hands was under theirs, directing them – God’s Hands. It did not matter that I had no control of where I was going – He was in control.
When I was in the depths of depression and struggling to come to terms with it all, I used to cry to God: “Why did You let this happen to me?”
Now that the fog has finally cleared from my brain and I am able to place everything in perspective and can see where I am now and where I could have been, I ask God: “Lord, why were You so mindful of me?”
I still have wounds that open up and bleed from time to time. I still flinch when I hear the word “adoption” spoken, in any context. Birthdays are a happy-sad event, because that is the day my birth-mother gave me away. Mother’s Day and special family holidays such as Christmas are also an emotional time for me.
I am a work-in-progress but, thanks to everything I have learned over the past several years, I am better equipped to deal with the fallout as it happens. Most importantly, I have learned to place everything in God’s Hands.
Having placed everything in His hands, I have peace. Because whatever the outcome is will be what God intended it to be. His Will is always perfect, and what is right for God is ultimately right for me.