Saturday 13 June 2009

Relinquished Babies

In recent adoption news, the Access to Adoption Records Act has passed Third Reading and received assent on May 14, 2008. A news release at Canada News Wire provides more details, in that adoptees and birth mothers can now find more information.
"For years, adoptees and birth parents have worked to get personal and family information from their original birth certificates and adoption records.

Ontario is the fifth Canadian province to open its adoption records."

I think this is a good idea. There is a veto, for those who have personal reasons not to disclose. Gary J. Wise posted a blog item on this. I have been reflecting on this. As an adoptee, who met her birth mother 17 years ago, I am keenly interested in such stories. My Jenn, Caitlin, Josephinemother put me up for adoption in Dec., 1956, when I was born. I registered with my local Children's Aid Society and, after our respective counselling, we met each other. It did not go well. She brought along her two adult children, limiting our conversation, and we then went out to a movie. She was afraid that her current boyfriend (she married and then divorced) did not know about me. The emotional impact of relinquishing a child must have been devastating in a time when the stigma shamed families to the point of a cover-up. Now a grandmother, I cannot imagine what it would have been like giving birth alone, with little emotional support.

I listened to an interesting radio program through Radio Australia. In Secrets and lies: The untold story of adoption, they interviewed both birth mothers and researchers. It was a fascinating perspective on the biopsychosocial issues of adoption. The blog post comments at the All in the Mind blog are heart-wrenching.

For, indeed, giving up a child has an impact. The woman's body spends 9 months preparing hormonally and psychologically for the birth event. The relinquishing mother spends the time bonding, with love, for the child she cannot keep. After birth, with breasts ready to provide succour to the infant, much like a woman giving birth to a stillborn infant (as my adoptive mother did), the milk comes in, the breasts engorged, and yet there is no relief.

The mothers featured in the interview spoke of 'stolen' babies. Babies society would not allow them to keep. As an adoptee, I can see the perfect love with which I was given up, unselfishly given to a family. I was always told I was 'chosen', even while I face my own abandonment issues!

The women in Australia, some attending Catholic schools, given no information on birth control, told to staple those pages in high school text books, they ended up pregnant with no recourse. They were shamed, ostracized, punished by some parents and communities. They may have been estranged from family, sent away in hiding. My mother was sent to a foster home where she 'worked' as a mother's helper to a family in the big city, far from her farming town.

Relinquishing moms spoke of this brutal act of severance, in denial, their ghost child providing them with sad, guilty bereavement ruminations that haunt them all their lives. Isolated and alone some were not allowed to see the infant, giving birth in secrecy, the emotional impact was great. Some held onto self-esteem issues that prevented them from being the mother that they could be, or could have been. Some ended up having several children, all trying to be the perfect mothers to assuage their guilt.

It was a heartbreaking show, presenting the need for these women, even after giving birth in the late 60s and early 70s, in getting psychotherapy to help them work through their conflicting emotions. I wonder, what the impact will be on those who meet their relinquished children?

As I said, I met my birth mother. There was little conversation, due to the evening's event. We exchanged letters, and I knew that she had given me up as she was young, unemployed, and uneducated. She sent me a letter saying that 'her boyfriend' (who knew about me!) said he thought I should be calling her some derivative of mother. I had been addressing her by her first name, since I was 35 at the time we had met. Writing back, after discussing the issue with my CAS worker, and friends, and I never heard back from her. Christmas cards were returned 'address unknown'. With both my mother and father passed away, they adopted me when they were in their 30s, it leaves a hole in my heart.


Wise Law Blog: New Ontario Adoption Disclosure Law In Effect30 May 2008 ... A news release at Canada News Wire provides more detail: ... The new law replaces a previous Ontario adoption disclosure law

For references to several Australian studies: see the show's info page.

To read the Radio AU transcript:
Secrets and lies: The untold story of adoption
Shame, guilt, loss, and grief - giving up a baby at birth can leave a powerful and permanent psychological imprint on a young mother. Countless Australian women without a wedding band were forced to relinquish their babies for adoption. Don't miss these rare and frank reflections from three women, whose lives were deeply affected by the experience.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Oh Jenn - I found your article so interesting - and from your point of view so sad. When I think how we love our babies when they are born it must be heart-wrenching to give them up as you say. Not being adopted myself I cannot comprehend what it must be like for you though. My thoughts are with you.

Jenn Jilks said...

Thank you for commenting, Weaver! It was a tough time. My brother's birth mother took a boat over in 1959 to give birth to him. That said, we were cherished in our adoptive home.

The story of my homecoming, being greeted by my loving aunt and grandmother, is one about which I will write.

I think it is in loving a child that one can send it to a good home. With many true horror stories, and dyfunctional families, I was blessed.

gleaner said...

I think I heard the same radio program, I always find these stories compelling and as Weaver puts it, heart-wrenching. Primal wounds that go deep within one's psyche.

Jenn Jilks said...

Cool, gleaner!

The trick is to turn a wound into a learning experience.

It really helps to write it, too. There is much research to demonstrate this theory. Once you can name it you can own it.

Evelyn said...

Hi Jenn, I enjoyed reading of your experience and your insights. I also gave up a child for adoption, a son born in Scotland in 1970 and I agree with you totally that it's important for all of us to seek for learning in our adoption experiences. I first attended for counselling in 1989 and found it so useful that I became a volunteer working with other mothers who had lost children to adoption. Later I returned to study and completed a post-graduate degree in social work, was employed as a counsellor in post-adoption services for some years and am currently working on my third book about adoption separation and reunion. I have travelled and spent time and energy trying to educate the community around the issues for family members who have been separated by adoption. You might like to have a look at my web site ( Thank you for being generous enough to share your experience and your thoughts around adoption. The more adoption is talked about openly in the community, the more understanding and support there will be. Best wishes, Evelyn Robinson, Adelaide, South Australia

Jenn Jilks said...

Good work, Evelyn. I shall check it out!

Emotional story, Shannyn.

I think there is a different response by men than women. My brother has had no interest in finding his birth mother, who came over from Scotland here to Canada to have him.

It could be a gender-specific emotional response.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jenn, I wondered if it could have been a gender issue. Please accept my sincere apologies for being emotional and not acknowledging your own story. I think you are right about the counselling, however for some i think it is probably to late. My mother has suffered deep depression since my brother was relinquished and has an emptiness about her which will never be fixed, made worse by being denied a reunion with him. If she had been supported with a single parents pension life would have been tough but she would have her son. I think the most destructive part of the whole process was the secrecy compounded by shame. My heart goes out to all mothers & family affected by this most traumatic experience. Thanks again Shannyn

Noela said...

Dear Jenn

Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog on RN site. I resonated so much with the women in the program, each one of them expressed something of my own experience in pregnancy, birth and relinquishment.

You say your father may not have even known of your existence. This was not the case with my son. His father always knew of his existence, and has met him now, as our son "found" me when he was 30.

But by his father's own admission, he did not spend "much time" thinking about our son in those years between his birth and our re-union. And the interesting thing for me is that it does not seem to have affected his sense of worth.

You say in your blog that it seems that women are more likely to want to find their birth mothers than men and I believe that this is supported by research. However, I wonder how many fathers ever search for their adopted children - I have read nothing about this.

I feel for you and the disappointment and rejection in the story of your reunion with your birth mother. That must have been so painful - such a let down after all the years of wondering about who she might be. Luckily my son and I have been able to form a good and strong relationship, which has been healing for us both, though we can never reapir some of the emotional wounds that are the result of abandonment and the circumstances of his adoption.


Dina said...

Thank you for sharing your moving life story. It's a tough one. Blessings to you from Jerusalem.