About Adoption 1

by | Adoption, Memoir

My own experience? For seven decades adoption has been a part of my life. As a teenage office girl it was my job to greet incoming single mothers coming to relinquish their babies, and provide cups of tea for those who broke down as they handed them over to my boss. I watched as she slung them over one arm like a spare jacket and walked out to deliver them to a clean, shining Babies’ Home where they lay in rows awaiting their new parents.

I once watched a television show where a man described the effect on his family of discovering an older half-sister who had been adopted. The MC on this occasion became emotional on recalling her own experience of relinquishing a baby. Two members of the audience had been nurses caring for young unmarried girls. I also watched yet another TV program on hard-hearted carers in different organisations, who forced relinquishment and punished these girls on principle. (In those days the responsibility of fathers, of course, never got a mention.)

“Not all adoptees accept their situation. Differences can occur within a family regardless of the quality of parenting. It seems that consciousness of genetic inheritance varies between individuals. In one happy family of two natural and two adopted children, one adoptee turned her back on locating her biological mother. Another with devoted parents began taking actions to identify with what was known of the unreachable relinquishing mother. Another shared family occasions into the next generation, when without visible reason his children were forbidden further contact with their loving legal grandmother.”

When surgery revealed my infertility, I had no hesitation in applying to adopt. Waiting was long-drawn-out and increased when the little boy chosen as the best match for colouring and background was withheld. At nearly six weeks old he was unattractive and unresponsive. As we were given a choice, I turned to look at the beautiful little girl in the next cot who smiled and gurgled and reached out to me. Should I choose a baby who did not respond to me over one who did? My first sign of hesitation was enough – the little girl was not, in fact, available; and we were refused the boy. I was devastated.

As we walked away I noted a mention that he had been hospitalised for some weeks – which meant that he had had no familiar face giving him ongoing care. Only my inexperience could have allowed my diversion from such need by a transient smile. I returned home yearning to care for him, this child already designated ‘mine’, chosen for me. His expressionless little face haunted me, pleading to be awakened to life and love. Had I messed up my deliberately given chance to tell him later he was chosen by me?

My husband wanted a boy. He was not distracted by girlie gurgles. We rang, we begged, we pleaded, we reassured, we brought him home thankfully within the week. We introduced him proudly to family and friends who struggled to find a compliment for an unbeautiful child. Only my mother succeeded, noting his ‘nice flat ears’.

Within a couple of weeks he was responsive and developing normally. Soon he was as lively and beautiful and loving as he was meant to be, walking at ten months and heading purposefully towards his future as a tall, strong, handsome, steady, reliable family man.

One of the protective rules of the agency I had worked for was not to allow adoption of a girl after a boy. Apparently it was thought that a younger girl would be more vulnerable. I had given in to my husband’s wish for a boy first, but now longed for my little girl. We applied to a home in a neighbouring town that worked on different rules. One was a requirement for the young mothers to breast-feed for six weeks to give their babies a better start in life.

The little mothercraft trainee handling my new daughter seemed very nervous, but I thought nothing of that. There was some delicate querying about whether I felt confident to care for this child but surely one look at my beautiful not quite two-year-old son demonstrated what a good job I was doing.

It was love at first sight. If my baby girl seemed a little nervous, she was certainly active. If she wasn’t smiling and cuddly, well, I knew how to fix that, didn’t I? She would soon be as loving, happy and confident as my darling little boy.

It never happened. Today a diagnosis would be available, but her foetal alcohol disorder then went unrecognised, blamed automatically on my bad mothering. But that is a story from another age.

A couple of decades later, in the 1970s, society was changing. After single mothers received a government allowance they had real alternatives. Before that even widows were sometimes forced to put their children into care, or relinquish them for adoption.

My daughter turned up pregnant at seventeen, married a different man at eighteen, came home to mother at nineteen, was counseled towards adoption after a suicide attempt but refused. She disappeared at twenty. I returned from a brief holiday to find her gone and went immediately to fetch my happy, loving grandson aged two-and-a-half. Well – that’s what he had been. It was a long time before he recovered from the abandonment experience.

We even now read of a baby thrown down a drain. How is society to protect children from neglect and desertion?