Miracles Happen | A Mother Daughter Reunion
On the 8th of December 1973, after a 33-hour labour, my beautiful daughter, Liza Mary, was delivered by forceps.
The long and intense physical and emotional childbirth saw us fighting for our lives.
While the doctors were giving me two litres of blood (an average adult has just under five litres of blood circulating their body) to stop the postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), she was taken to intensive care and then intubated to regulate her breathing.
I never saw my daughter on the day she was born. I never knew about her struggle to breathe and her requirement to be intubated.
I was knocked out and then whisked off to a ward full of much older women who had just had a hysterectomy.
There was no maternity ward for me. I was the scorned 16-year-old. The one who had dared to have sex with her boyfriend. The one who had endured five months of shame and guilt being piled on her by the nuns in a Catholic unmarried mother’s home.
There were around thirty women, varying in age from 15 – 30. Even today, I do not understand why older women were there.
If I had been an adult, I would have kept my child even after they had assured me that life out there is a lot tougher than you could imagine!
Every adult I met during that time took every opportunity to tell me that if I loved my child, I would give them up for adoption. Life is tough out there.
There is no way that you could cope. You’re at school. Your boyfriend is an apprentice, not even earning enough to look after himself, let alone a wife and child.
The people who will adopt your child are wealthy. They have to own their own home, as in, no debt.
Can you provide that for your child? How could you contemplate subjecting your child to a life of struggle when they could be living a life afforded of opportunity?
From that perspective, the choice to give my daughter up for adoption was made more manageable. “if you love your child, you will give them a better life than the one you can give them.”
During our six-week cooling-off period, my boyfriend and I went to see our daughter in hospital three times.
The nurses would allow us to hold her in the waiting area outside the nursery each time.
While I have limited memory about that time, I remember sitting there holding her, cuddling her, with my boyfriend sitting to my right, begging me to keep her.
I am sobbing my eyes out, saying I can’t; Dad won’t let me and I’ve embarrassed him enough.
In reconciling all that went on during those times, I find it interesting that we both found the courage to visit her.
When we arrived for the third visit, the nurses told us that we could see her today, though never again, as they broke the law by allowing us to see and hold her.
We obeyed. I wonder if the nurses said that because they knew that her adoptive parents were about to pick her up. I wonder if we passed them in the hall!!
An unexpected shining light
As a 64-year-old strong woman, it is hard to admit that I was more worried about my father’s approval than I was about my baby.
Even though the 1973 world was different to now, it still does not make sense that I so quickly signed away all of my rights to have my daughter in my life.
Thankfully, whilst reading ‘Coming Home To Self: Healing the primal wound‘ by Nancy Newton Verrier, I found the explanation for why I had misplaced priorities.
“To Birth Parents: At a time in your life when you were young and vulnerable, you had sex and conceived a baby. If you gave birth in the mid-20th century through to the early 1970s, you might have been among the 95-97 per cent of white, middle-classed women who were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption.
Your choices were limited. Times were different then. You did as you were told. The fact that you were having sex was shameful enough and that you got pregnant was a crisis. It disgraced the family.
There was not an atmosphere where you could take a stand. The humiliation of being caught having sex put you in a position to do as you were told. Keeping the pregnancy from others, even other family members, in some cases, was paramount.
So, you, the young mother to be, went off to a relative or an unwed mother’s home to give birth. Often there was little support for you and more shame heaped upon that already garnered by your family.
When your baby was born, you were forced to sign papers when you were fatigued by the birthing process, under the influence of medication, in shock and unable to make an informed decision.
Many of you were denied your right to hold and even see your baby. You were lied to, coerced and shamed. You were made to feel selfish for wanting to keep your baby.
On the rational level, it seemed that the only thing to do was to give up your rights to your child and turn them over to a ‘more deserving couple.’ You were promised that these were people who would be able to give your child things that you would not, the first of which was a two-parent family.
So, you tried to still the raging instincts and intuition that told you that you should not be separated from your child, that they would need you and you would be the best person to take care of them.
You were made to believe that this permanent solution to a temporary problem (your immediate inability to take care of this infant alone) was the better solution. Most of you overrode your intuition and instincts and signed the papers.
Some of you went to pieces and sobbed for days and finally stopped only when you convinced yourself that you might have a chance to meet your child again one day.
Others went numb and didn’t have any feelings about anything for 20 years or more. Between 40-and 60 per cent of you were unable to conceive again due to secondary infertility, primarily due to psychological issues with guilt.
Those who did have children may have parented your subsequent children differently than you might otherwise have done because of having lost the first one.
Whether you went numb or remained painfully aware of your sacrifice, you have been undeniably scarred by the surrendering of your first child.
The rekindling of those painful memories can be devastating. Some of you have fantasies about your lost children.
Most of you have clung to the promise by social workers of your child having a wonderful childhood and upbringing in their life with the adoptive parents.”
Every word in this passage hit home. It took me back there. I had brought shame to the family.
My mother never told her mother the truth about me being in an unmarried mother’s home. Instead, she told her the same narrative about being sent to Queensland because I was anaemic as she did her friends.
The humiliation stole what little voice I had. I was forced to do as I was told. Go here, do this, give birth alone, sign this, come home, forget about what has happened and never speak of this again.
The Mother-Child Reunion
In early 1996, I sent a letter to Kimberley (Liza’s adoptive name) to let her know who I was and that I would be happy for her to contact me at any time.
I understood if she chose not to do so, as at that time, twenty-two years beforehand, I had signed away all rights to have her in my life.
Five years later, Kim responded to my letter in 2001.
After 20 years of a very up and down relationship (some people have previously described it as toxic), in early 2021, we were finally experiencing genuine love, like and trust relationship.
The first step in turning our relationship around was for me to forgive myself. First, forgive my 16-year-old self for the misinformed choice she made in 1973 .
She had been coerced into choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Once I forgave myself, I could genuinely apologise to Kim and her birth father.
Now, Kim and I LOVE spending time together. We LAUGH, we’re VULNERABLE, and we both SHARE things that we admit to only previously sharing with a few very close friends.
During the last year we have gone away 1-2-1 five times. The first time was for three days and the latest was for eight days.
We’re at a place that I was never sure we would ever reach. Especially when you consider that previously we could not even go out for a three hour dinner without leaving annoyed at each other!
Though I had always hoped, dreamed and prayed, that we would one day be here.
But the most beautiful and most significant thing for me is that it’s a place that I had previously thought I was undeserving to think about, let alone be there.
It’s all quite ridiculous, that the world’s social attitude to teen pregnancy had everything to do with “what the neighbours would think” and nothing to do with the mother and child’s immediate and/or long-term psychological welfare and connection.
Thankfully, today, anyone who finds themselves in a comparable situation has a wealth of information to assist them in making an informed decision.
And if you’re still undecided about what to do…….ask your baby. They will choose their birth parent every time.
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