When 23-year-old Amy Seek decided to give up her baby son for adoption, she assumed that closed adoption – where she would never see her son again – was her only option. But in the US, where Amy was living at the time, she spoke to the Catholic Social Services and learned for the first time about open adoption.
[photo: JGI-Tom Grill via Getty Images]
“When the counsellor explained open adoption – that I would be able to select the parents and know my child – adoption suddenly seemed more humane, more possible,” she told Huffington Post UK.
Open adoption, which allows contact between the birth family and the adoptive family, is rare in the UK but more common in the USA. So what is open adoption? There are three types:-
direct contact, with face-to-face or telephone contact between birth family and adoptive family;
indirect contact, the exchange of letters, cards and gifts between the birth and adoptive families;
links provided by the birth or adoptive family, and retained by the adoption agency to be passed onto the child in the future, if requested by the relevant person.
Amy, now 39 and living in London, says,“When my son was four he’d smile sobroadly when I’d arrive, he’d show me his toys and want to play with me.” She sees her son, who lives in the US, between three and seven times a year.
In 1963 when nineteen-year old unmarried Brenda Rhensius gave up her only daughter Joanne for adoption, she cannot have predicted how much her life would change in the years afterwards. Brenda married, had a son, forged a successful career and moved to South Africa. But she never forgot Joanne. “Every year on her birthday my insides felt like they were being ripped out and that never went away, even after 48 years,” Brenda tells the Daily Mirror.
Brenda Rhensius and Joanne Dickson [photo: ITV]
Brenda began her search when Joanne reached her 18thbirthday, but without success. So when she contacted the team at Long Lost Family it was with the assumption that Joanne was untraceable or simply didn’t want to be found. It took the television team just a few months to find Joanne. And she was also living in South Africa.
“I couldn’t believe she had been found, let alone that we had both ended up living thousands of miles away in the same country,” says Brenda. “When we finally met it was so emotional. All I could say was, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful’, and gave her a great big hug. There was no screaming or crying, we just sat down and started talking and instantly it was as if those 48 years apart had just faded away. Until that day I’d always felt a part of me was missing, but meeting her made me feel whole again.”
Brenda gave birth to Joanne at a mother and baby home in Manchester. “My parents felt it was the right thing and actually I thought it would be the best thing for my baby too – there was a huge stigma on illegitimate children and I thought her only chance was to grow up with a mum and a dad,” remembers Brenda. Mum and daughter stayed in the unit for six weeks after birth, until the adoption day arrived. Brenda and Joanne were driven to the Methodist Adoption Society and asked to wait in a room. The adoptive parents waited in another room. “A nurse came in and said, ‘Joanne’s new parents are here’. She took her off me and walked out and that was it – it was horrible and so brutal,” Brenda says. “I could hear her new mother squeal with delight through the walls and I felt so bereft.”
When the two women finally met, they discovered a shared love of animals and a silly sense of humour. Joanne says, “I like drama and singing and I’m very outgoing but my adoptive parents were very shy, quiet, gentle people – I always felt totally different to them. Brenda is much more like me. We actually found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and we have the same mannerisms – we both talk with our hands and we both waffle! And there were some incredible coincidences. The fact that we both ended up in South Africa was the biggest one.”
Why not try a fictional story about adoption reunion. Ignoring Gravity is first in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. Rose Haldane is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the same as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. BUY
If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How #birthmother Brenda found her daughter after 30 years #adoptionreunion https://wp.me/paZ3MX-8F via #AdoptionStoriesBlog
Today’s adoption story from the UK television series Long Lost Family focuses on a birth child who searched for many years for his birth mother but never found her. The sense of rejection never left this 55-year old lorry driver from Chesterfield, UK.
Laurence Peat says, “I’ve only ever cried three times in my life. When Dad died. When Mum died. When I got divorced.” Crying is not a problem to Laurence by the end of this programme. He was told he was adopted when he was seven. “We’re not your real parents,” his adoptive parents told him and he asked no questions, not wanting to upset them. “I don’t like people being upset,” he explains. For years he searched secretly for his birth parents, now that both his adoptive parents are dead he feels able to be open about his search, open about his need to ask ‘why?’
“Why did she put me up for adoption at that early age… If you’re not wanted, it hurts.” Sadly for Laurence, his birth mother is found to be dead. But he has a half-sister who, from a box of family photographs kept by her mother, produces a black-and-white photo of an unidentified baby. This treasured box survived multiple house moves, proving its importance.
Laurence compares this photograph with one his adoptive parents have of him of the day they adopted him: it is the same baby, wearing the same clothes, photographed against the same background. So although Laurence will never meet his birth mother, he is reassured that “she never forgot me all that time.”
Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the same as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. First in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. BUY
If you’d like to share a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How adoptee Laurence searches for his birth mother #adoptionreunion https://wp.me/paZ3MX-3t via #AdoptionStoriesBlog
Bob MacNish was 22 when his father died. On his deathbed, his father told him he was adopted. MacNish spent the next 50 years searching for the truth but getting nowhere. His original birth certificate was legally sealed.
[photo: Mitsu Yasukaway/northjersey.com]
Then in 2018, MacNish was one of the first adult adoptees to be given his original birth certificate in the state of New Jersey. State laws continue to change in the USA regarding the information available to adult adoptees. According to the American Adoption Congress, nine states now allowed unrestricted access and a further 11 allow access with restrictions [including New Jersey]. Records remain sealed in 22 states.
Bob MacNish finally met his birth mother for the first time, when he was 73. “For me, there was always that hunger for that answer. I need to know the truth about where I come from,” he told NJTV News. He knew he was born in Weehawken and given up for adoption when he was three days old. All he knew was that his birth mother was probably Italian. His adoption was private, arranged by an attorney. MacNish grew up feeling ‘a little different’ from his adopted family of Scottish farmers in central New Jersey.
Bob MacNish with birth mother Jean and half-sister Sheila [photo: Mitsu Yasukaway/northjersey.com]
The agony of birth parents and children separated for decades is explored by the UK television programme Long Lost Family which aims to reunite adult adopted children with their birth families. Anchored by popular presenters Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell [below] it is particularly poignant for Campbell who was himself adopted as a young child.
The series is incredibly popular in the UK. It concentrates on the emotional stories of children and parents, rather than the nuts and bolts of the search. Some of the interviews are heartrending. The programme is sensitive to the emotional difficulties on all sides of the adoption triangle, no judgements are made about the past, the emphasis is on reunion where possible and emotional healing.
Here is Helen Harrison’s story. Helen tried to find her child for years. In 1977, at the age of 16, she fell pregnant. She hid the condition for five months. When her father found out, he turned her out of the house. “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out…’” In the UK in the 1970s, local councils were obliged to provide housing for women in Helen’s situation, but Helen describes the flat she was given was ‘undesirable’ for raising a family.
Helen didn’t know what to do but her father offered a solution, asking her: “What sort of life are you going to offer to a child on your own? There are people out there who desperately want to love a baby.” So she agreed that when the child was born, it would be given up for adoption. “I’m having this baby for someone else,” she thought. “It’s going to be so much better for him.” When the baby boy was born, she called him Antony. “It was the most heart-breaking thing to have to do.” She wrote a letter to him then, at his birth, explaining that she gave him away in order for him to have a better life, and that she would always love him.
She didn’t receive a reply from Antony and had no idea if he had read her words. “I don’t think he’s read the letter,” she told the television programme. Why did Anthony not answer the letter – did he not receive it, did he not know he was adopted, or was the time not right? She writes a second letter for the Long Lost Family team to give to Anthony, should they find him.
In fact Antony, re-named David, had not received the letter. He had been told of his adoption, when he was nine, by his adopted parents. At the news he remembers being terrified a stranger would arrive on the doorstep and take him away. He had a happy childhood. He is traced by Long Lost Family who give him Helen’s new letter. He agrees to meet her and writes a letter in reply. The first thing Helen asks when she hears the team have found Antony is “Is he happy?” She reads aloud David’s letter which starts: “The first and most important thing I want you to know is that whatever the circumstances surrounding the adoption were, I will never be angry, bitter or resentful.”
Helen, who for decades when asked the question ‘how many sons do you have?’ had thought ‘three’ in her head but spoken ‘two’, finally gets to meet her lost son. “I couldn’t imagine the day that I would meet my baby.”
After broadcast, Helen realised the television programme had showed a slightly different version of the events to the one she and her family experienced and, in 2020, she reflects on the passage of time. “My dad was the most loving caring dad anyone could have. He was deeply upset when his 16-year old daughter found herself pregnant by a boy she would never consider being married to. Yes, he did tell me to get out but he never told me I couldn’t come back home. It’s true the social worker I had told me that I would end up living in a high rise flat, but I never went or considered living there with Dave. It was solely my decision to look on my pregnancy as a surrogacy, and I truly believe Dave (Antony) had the right to two loving parents.” After the reunion, Helen now sees Dave, his wife and children once a month. “We are so alike in many things I truly believe it nature over nurture. We didn’t do the Long Lost Family follow-up programmes as we had achieved a normal mother-son relationship. Also Dave has an adopted sister who didn’t want to think of anyone else as her ‘mother’ other than the Mum who brought her up. Plus, we didn’t want any misinterpretation to happen to rock the smooth ride we are on now. “I definitely made the right choice back in 1977. Dave had two loving parents, a good life and was loved unconditionally. I went on to meet my husband after going back to work one month after Antony was born. We married and went on to have two sons. As a 17-year old girl, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life was to walk away from a hospital without my baby and then live in absolute hope that I had made the right decision for him. It was done without counselling of any kind. I’m sure it must have had some effect on me – though I’m not aware it stopped me being me – but I can tell you the absolute fulfilment I feel knowing I can be with all three of my children knowing they are all happy safe and living good lives.”
To read a fictional story involving adoption, try Ignoring Gravity first in the ‘Identity Detective’ series. Rose Haldane is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the same as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. BUY THE BOOK
The arrangement to adopt a baby came about by a chance meeting at a bus stop. One day Terri Heron, married and childless, met a priest while waiting for the bus. They started chatting and when he heard that Terri had no children, the priest asked if she had ever considered adopting. What followed was an illegal adoption leaving that baby, Eileen Heron, now in her fifties, without the true facts of her birth.
In May 1965, baby Eileen was delivered to the Heron’s home in Churchtown, a suburb of Dublin, Eire, with birth and baptism certificates. Years later when Eileen started to research her birth family, she found both certificates were false. Although she celebrates her birthday, she admits she has no idea if this is correct. ‘I actually don’t have a single piece of reliable information about who I am,’ she told the Irish Times. When she met the priest, he refused to help. Though against the law, illegal adoption was common at this time, perpetuated by the shame of the mothers who were reluctant to seek help.
Eileen, now a mother herself, realised the mystery of her identity no longer affected only her. So she enrolled on a course for adult adoptees run by Barnardos Ireland.
The group covered topics like what it was like to grow up adopted and how to search for a birth family. A birth mother and an adoptive mother also give their perspectives; the course ends with a final discussion of what can happen after a reunion. The course has been running for 20 years and its content has evolved in that time to include the use of searching via social media. ‘We would advise people against using social media as a way to approach either birth relatives or adopted adults,’ said Christine Hennessey, Barnardos post-adoption services project leader. ‘It’s a very abrupt tool and it can be quite frightening for people.’ Instead, Barnardos encourages mediated contact.
Listening to the stories of other people attending the course, Eileen realised how her situation differed from those who had been legally adopted, ‘the chances of me ever finding my birth family are terribly small. That was like a bereavement.’
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