The State demonises adoptees as a threat to their natural parents
The proposed adoption Bill is yet another slap in the face for Irish adoptees
Adoptees can be forced to hover on the far edges of their biological parents’ lives, resigned to be kept in the shadows. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
In October 2014, I drove a rental car from Dublin to a small market town in the Irish midlands. There I made my way to a residential street, parking several doors down from a semi-detached house with a neatly tended garden. There was a gentle hum about the house, suggesting someone was home. I shut off the engine and settled into my seat.
The house belonged to my biological father, the man who impregnated my mother in the same rural town 48 years ago. When my mother told this man in a pub that she was pregnant, my father raised his pint without comment, drank deeply, put the glass down and walked out the door. She never saw him again. I was born six months later and my mother, feeling that she had no other choice, placed me for adoption. Broken-hearted, she then went underground.
I think of my phantom parents frequently, but more so this month following debates in the Seanad on a discriminatory adoption Bill that the Government hoped to rush through before summer recess.
The proposed Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill, 2016 is yet another slap in the face for Irish adoptees. At odds with adoption legislation in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Bill blocks our right to basic information, such as a birth certificate and early-life files.
The Bill proposes that Tusla, the overburdened child and family agency, track down every known natural parent to ask their permission to release the birth certificates of adopted people – even though these documents are already public records. Instead of releasing an adopted person’s file, it requires Tusla to provide a sanitised “summary” of this person’s early life to protect the identity of their parents.
The legislation has now been paused to allow more consultation with those affected and with political parties. But the Bill, as it stands, demonises adoptees as a threat to their natural parents’ wellbeing and keeps them, in the interests of Catholic “respectability”, shut out from the facts of their own life.
Why is the State so afraid of its adopted citizens? Why does it weigh our right to information against our biological parents’ right to privacy? Why does it not trust Irish adoptees to act responsibly with our personal records? Why does it consistently meddle in and mediate our private lives?
Why does the State weigh our right to information against our biological parents’ right to privacy?
Perhaps it is because adoption in Ireland is widely viewed as an act of rescue, not of forced trauma. Although I lost not just my mother, but my name, my identity and my entire biological family when I was just two days old, I am expected to feel nothing but gratitude.
“Sure, didn’t it all work out?” people often say to me, with a hint of irritation, unable to see the giant, jagged hole in my heart that persists to this day.
I have an intimate understanding of the inner lives of Irish adoptees after been gifted with hundreds of emails and social media messages following the publication of my memoir, An Affair with My Mother. Most of those who write are secret adoptees like me, forced into underground relationships with natural mothers, too traumatised and ashamed to bring these hidden adults to light.
These adoptees hover on the far edges of their biological parents’ lives, resigned to be kept in the shadows. “I too am a secret adopted child and have been playing this game since I was 21,” one woman from Dublin wrote. “I am now 50.”
Pain in hiding
Another wrote to me from the northwest of Ireland. “It turns out that my parents were married when they decided to put me up for adoption,” she said, describing the pain of being hidden – to this day – from her four full adult siblings. “I cope by boxing it away. I suppose some days it’s heavier than others.”
While the majority of the adoptees who write to me know where their natural parents live, none – just like me – have chosen to announce themselves publicly in their lives. Despite the pain of being kept at arm’s length, they have acted responsibly – honourably – compassionate to their natural parent’s needs and respectful of their privacy.
Although it is my absolute right to knock on my natural mother's door, never once have I done so
For 20 years, I have known exactly where my natural mother and her family live. Although it is my absolute right to knock on her door, never once have I done so.
So too that October day when I skulked in a parked car at the bottom of my father’s road. It was enough for me to catch a glimpse at this other, imagined, life before I turned on the engine and returned to Dublin. As an adoptee in Ireland trying to piece together the facts of your own life, you often have to content yourself with mere crumbs.
We are worth more than that.
Caitríona Palmer is the author of the memoir, An Affair with My Mother (Penguin Ireland, 2016). Her new book, Climate Justice, written with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, was published by Bloomsbury in September 2018. Originally from Dublin, she currently lives in Washington DC