The following adoption reunion story is by guest writer, Margaret Watson, who holds a Bachelor of Arts (Welfare Studies) and a Certificate of Somatic Psychotherapy. She has worked in community justice, social welfare, human rights, advocacy, disability, and health services, as a Tribunal Member on NSW and Qld disability Tribunals. During the past 10 years, Margaret continues to work as a Counsellor, Advanced Practitioner for Post Adoption Resource Centre in NSW, Australia. She first learned of her adoption at age 40, which was a traumatic life event leading Margaret to immerse herself in successful searches and reunion with biological family. She is passionate and committed to working with all parties impacted by adoption, encouraging clients to develop and grow away from the “false self” created by adoption.
Margaret's Reunion Story
Learning of my adoption at age 40 came as a knife to the heart. This revelation came at the same time I was dealing with the breakdown of my 12-year-old marriage. My husband had known of my adoption for those 12 years and delivered the news to me a few weeks after departing our marriage and family. He had been informed of my adoption a few days prior to our wedding by my adoptive father and had chosen to continue the secret, despite my father not requesting him to do so.
I acknowledge that the actions of my adoptive father in revealing such a monumental secret to another person and not in the first instance to myself, was an error of his judgement. However, he was elderly at the time, widowed and without other family members still alive. By the time I was informed, he too had died. Second guessing was all I had, and I assume he did not want to risk losing the love of his daughter and only child, by belatedly telling me himself in his advanced years. I would not have abandoned him as he was a very good father to me.
With the telling of my adoption, my life as I knew it disintegrated into a morass of shattered identity, confusion, despair, anger, rage, fear and an overwhelming sense of betrayal. My initial enquiries of my cousins revealed that my adoption was also known to them, and all other family members now deceased. Questions raged through my mind. What did this all mean? Why didn’t anyone think I was worthy to know the truth about myself, who were my biological parents, what was my familial history and heritage, on and on the questions rolled. Most of all was the disbelief that I had lived with a husband who clearly did not have my best interests in his heart. Keeping the secret about me as he had, created an unbalanced and dishonest marriage from the beginning.
As I struggled to make sense of my new situation, take care of my two young sons and attempt to function in a professional capacity, I was flooded by previously unknown feelings and emotions. A sense of abandonment where did I fit in, who was I, feelings of terror, annihilation, feeling separate while so wanting to be connected - all swamped me. I clearly recall, now 32 years later, the powerful impact of a mind’s eye vision of myself, freefalling in outer space while desperately trying to self-correct and claw my way back to Mother Earth, so strong was the feeling of separation from others, life and myself.
Jockeying with all these emotions was an overwhelming sense of abandonment and feelings of “being different” and “foolish” - how could I not have guessed I was adopted? I physically resembled no one in my adoptive family and my energies were different to theirs. I recall asking on two occasions if I was adopted and my questions were quickly deflected and unanswered. I mulled over my childhood and the sense of loneliness I lived with as an only child of older parents, revisited me. This feeling - a pervasive sense of “silence and waiting” and “not fitting in” with my adoptive family – all of which now made sense. The truth validated my childhood feelings and intuitive “knowing” of differences which had been reflected to me by lack of mirroring in and with my family.
Following the revelation of my adoption there followed two years of intense emotional pain. Alongside this walked hope and longing as I yearned for my husband to return and restore our marriage and family – my greatest need and desire at that time – an unreal fantasy. Reality frequently knocked on my heart with despair, knowing that he had created a new life with a new partner in which myself and his sons had no place.
From my own experiences, the trauma and loss I experienced in response to the adoption revelation, regressed me to a very young place and triggered previously unfelt feelings of abandonment and rejection. I fantasised that my mother would sweep into my life, rescue me, turn my life around and everything would return to my previous normal. This translated into an obsessive search for my mother. From the moment I knew of her existence, I felt only compassion and sadness for her. As a mother, l could not imagine the pain of having a child taken from an unmarried mother – such was the practice in Australia when I was born in the era now called Past Forced Adoption.
While attempting to make sense of the life I had landed in, the search for my mother ranged nationally and internationally. The only leads I had been given was that my mother was French, Jewish and possibly a refugee. Having been raised in an Anglican, Anglo Saxon family, with my very dark features amongst a sea of blond haired and fair skinned relatives, my difference was obvious. These snippets of information about my possible heritage were exciting, confusing and overwhelming. It validated my lack of mirroring in my adoptive family, that no one in that family shared any resemblances to me - I had indeed, come from somewhere else.
My motivation to create a new life for myself led me first to counselling, then personal development courses. One night a week I attended counselling to understand the immense changes in my life and identity. I hoped this would provide me with some coping strategies to face the world daily. Mainly, I wanted strategies that would cease the endless pain in my heart and the knife that turned in my gut. Another priority was to acquire strategies to support my two sons, then aged 5 and 10 who were struggling with their own grief and loss at their father having departed the family and seeing their mother in a decompensated state.
The counsellor was compassionate and supportive while gently encouraging me to accept that being adopted was a choice that had been made by others for me. I was guided to separate myself from feeling that I had done something “wrong” in life, that I was “flawed or damaged” and that others’ choices to keep secrets was about them and not me.
I was encouraged to begin thinking of and planning a life for myself, after a lifetime of being the care giver and rescuer to numerous others. This is a common set of behaviours by adopted people in order to protect themselves from perceived or further abandonment and rejection – to make themselves needed and indispensable to others. Adopted people often fill whatever vacuum exists in a family due to their sensitivities and abilities to sublimate their own needs, rights and feelings. Additionally, having been in relationships continuously from the age of 16 -40 years, to now focus on “me” and not “we” was a sobering challenge.
Around 18 months after the adoption revelation, I commenced a personal development course which offered an examination of how people lived their lives, our individual character structure and what had contributed to it, what redundant behaviours, attitudes and belief systems we carry into adulthood and how, if one was willing to learn, new life choices, ways of being in the world, integration and healing of past hurts and traumas could be possible.
Yoga, meditation, quiet contemplation, sharing and self-examination in group and individual exercises were the course framework. I emerged from the intense and long hours of the weekend course feeling more optimistic and hopeful. I established a daily exercise routine of an early morning run, meditation along with observing the “monkey mind chatter” and regular journaling.
Writing has always been important to me since childhood when I began writing poetry and had some published in school magazines. Over the years I have extended my writing to articles and had several published. In the first dark and terrifying days post separation and adoption revelation, I commenced a journal. My writings were bleak and hopeless and revealed an inner and outer life full of torment, despair and wandering in unfamiliar territory without a map.
After a two and a half year national and international search for my birth mother, we were miraculously reunited following the screening of the ABC documentary “The Leaving of Liverpool” featuring the historical and appalling removal of children from the United Kingdom. As a Child Migrant, my mother had also suffered the trauma of separation from family, country and heritage. As a young 19-year-old without family in Australia, she conceived me in a relationship she hoped would lead to marriage. However, her partner sadly abandoned her to the fate of past forced and illegal adoption practices and growing up with my biological parents was not to be my fate. The movie “Oranges and Sunshine” reflects my mother’s story and that of thousands of other Child Migrants.
As time progressed, the benefits of exercising and meditation created the start of a new inner strength in myself, and my writing became lighter and more hopeful. Always a lover of nature, I sought out quiet places where I could feel my energies replenish in nature and beauty. I clearly remember the first spring after the turmoil. The smell and sight of jasmine buds on their vines, daisies opening their faces to the sun with and the feeling of hope and a more positive future budding in my heart.
Having enjoyed the first personal development course I did, I then progressed to the next stage. A course called Mastery and Service – the theme being mastery over the self and service to others. This course demanded one intense night’s attendance a week, often progressing into the early hours of the following morning and a very intense weekend long workshop once a month.
This understanding of our beginnings assisted me move beyond the raging anger I carried towards my adoptive mother. She had been determined to and had succeeded, in silencing every family member against revealing my adoption. Over time, I dropped into an inner place where compassion flourished for my adoptive mother. All my life, she had been controlling and manipulative towards me. I now realised that her behaviours sprang from the fears she carried along with the secret of my adoption and the loss and grief of her own infertility.
One of the support staff on this course was a psychotherapist with a background in nursing and midwifery. A few months after completing the course, I realised the need to further explore issues which continued to surface regarding my adoption issues, feelings around these and taking back power in my life. I decided to embark on the journey of intense psychotherapy with this woman with the aim of working towards healing and wholeness.
“The soul usually knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” - Anonymous
Please check in again next month for the next installment of this compelling story!