My Lost Self
by Anna Coffey-Noall
Wen I was not quite one year old, a married couple asked what was then called the Child Welfare Department for a "needy child" to adopt. They imposed several conditions: the child had to have been born of married parents (because bastard children were, in their never-doubted opinions, flawed with bad blood); the child had to be a female infant; and the child had to be white. (How do I know this? I read the adoption files when I was in my 40s).
They collected me from an orphanage, though I was not an orphan. I had two generations of two whole families
alive and well at that time. My parents were not teenagers - they were in their 20s, both university graduates, with families who helped out with the inconveniences my infant self imposed: the need for time, care, parenting. Tired of one another - the reason for their marriage had not been love, but me - they smuggled me away from my paternal grandmother's house and signed me over to care of the state. She came home from her grocery shopping to find my cot empty. She asked my father where I was. His reply: "You will never see her again".
Thus my journey to becoming "an adoptee" began. I detest the victimising term adoptee, though I was indeed victimised by the adoption process, especially as it operated from an adult-serving rather than child-centred focus in the late 1940s. My parents chose their future, not mine. And I was not a "chosen" child, any more than a monkey is a "chosen monkey" for a zoo.
Despite the fact that I could remember the orphanage, and retained image memories of both good and bad events there, the fact of my adoption was denied, then distorted and twisted. The losses mounted up, but truth was one of the biggest casualties, along with trust. I had lost my two families, my name, early biography, and been taken into an extremely toxic family of abusers, to be trained, pressured and told to be grateful for a childhood that any Dickens reader would recognise - yet it was presented as gains, not losses.
I was like a small mouse in the mousetrap of Adoption Mythology, which ignored, disguised, trivialised and discounted my trauma and isolation there. And I wasn't even entitled to my Grief.
And it goes on today. There are fewer secrets and lies, but the adopted child is still disallowed from naming and expressing grief as a response to its huge losses. Being a trauma survivor and being an adoption survivor are dual, but very intertwined parts of my experience. Survivors of either are not able to publicly grieve, though their losses are often greater than the socially acceptable forms of public morning.
Am I not human? Was I not human then? Did I not have human needs? Not as an "adoptee". I am not an adoptee now - no-one owns me, like a piece of merchandise, to do with as they wish for their own purposes. I have reclaimed my real name. I have reclaimed the truth of my early life. I have worked for the liberation of adopted people generally on a wider political stage. I preserved four things that the abusers couldn't steal from me or stop me from repossessing: my memories, my truth, my feelings, my soul.
When you have grown experiencing dehumanisation, you are an old head on young shoulders. When you are old, as I am now old - you know that you were never really young in the first place. You spent your childhood waiting/listening/watching/worrying for the next shoe to drop, which in time becomes yet another loss to be mourned.
When people read testaments like mine, which is very challenging to their prejudices, they usually start bleating on about "all the good adoptions" they know of, hoping to silence and discount me just as my adopters did. It never seems to occur to them that this could be an abusive action. They wouldn't tell a rape survivor about all the unraped women they know and expect her to give them the time of day.
I have grieved - disenfranchised grief was the larger kind in my long journey of healing - and I would have welcomed the support that was never there. Grief didn't proceed in stages, but like the flight of some birds, in ever-widening circles.
To heal I had to wake up to the lies and pretences, the distortions of the adoption romance, the prejudices of the non-adopted majority, which oppressed me in so many ways. Perhaps you were one of them.