That’s Men: Be careful what you dig for: the collateral damage of the past

Some people may have put their memories aside to enable them to get on with their lives


Should a birth parent whose child was adopted be bullied into meeting the adult adopted child? The question is posed by a reader in response to an article I wrote on the withholding of information from birth parents and adoptees:

“There is another side to this story which is getting very little coverage. I know of a woman who became pregnant as a result of a one-night fling in the early 1970s.

“She was 15 and her partner was in his early 20s.

“Terrified, she turned to an older brother, who arranged for her to go to a home in Dublin, and when the child was born she willingly handed [her] over for adoption.

“She later went on to marry, have other children and became a successful businesswoman. Neither the father of the child, her parents, her husband nor her other children knew of this event in her past.

“Last year the adoption society informed her that her child was looking for her. She was horrified and traumatised, and refused to have any contact.

“However, the adopted child was determined to force the issue and threatened to contact her other children through social media, having got sufficient knowledge to do so.”

“Eventually, mother and daughter met and it was not a success. This woman is now suffering from deep anxiety and had only the barest knowledge of what happened 45 years ago.

“Has this woman no rights? How many other women who became pregnant by misadventure, rape or incest are to have their lives torn apart because of this outbreak of public sentimentality?”

The point is well made, I think, that alongside those birth mothers who long for contact are those who dread contact.

It could be argued that all they need to do is to come clean about their past to their current family and all will be well.

That may be the case in some families, but anyone who has observed family dynamics will know that other families will be utterly rejecting and vicious about it all.

I am on the side of making it easy for birth parents and their adopted children to contact each other if that is what they both want.

However, I am also on the side of protecting either party from contact if it is not what they want.

Obsession with the past

There is also a general point here in relation to the Irish obsession with the past.

As we go about digging up the past with great gusto – we are not so keen on the present – how many people, I wonder, suffer collateral damage?

Perhaps they have memories they had put to one side to enable them to get on with their lives. Now they see similar memories paraded about on the public stage. How do they cope with that, I wonder?

I think it’s a good thing that we talk about the past and learn from what went on in our country not that long ago.

I also think those who were hurt are indisputably entitled to have their voices heard.

Still, it’s worth remembering that for some, their pain is reawoken every time we go through another frenzy of national outrage about past events. I don’t know what good it will do them for us to remember the reawakening of their pain, but I feel we ought to.


Age Action reports that 11,500 cases of alleged elder abuse

have been reported to the Health Service Executive in the six years up to the end of 2012.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, it adds. “A 2010 report by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People found that 10,200 older people had been abused in the previous 12 months, and an estimated 18,700 had been abused since they turned 65.” So much for family values.

The National Centre for the Protection of Older People is funded by the health service, and its website,, has a substantial amount of information supplied by University College Dublin.

Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go – peace in your pocket. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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