Reader’s mes­sage gave me the push to com­plete my mis­sion on adop­tion

The Sun­day In­de­pen­dent’s ‘Let­ter I Wish I’d Sent’ se­ries helped me fin­ish a book on adop­tive par­ent­ing, writes Mari Gal­lagher

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Anaysis -

AN adop­tion book from the point of view of the adop­tive par­ent re­quires a broad church of ap­proaches. Writ­ing about adop­tion from any an­gle in­volves the pris­ing open of a Pan­dora’s box of mem­o­ries and emo­tions, no mat­ter which party to adop­tion you rep­re­sent: adopted per­son, birth par­ent or adop­tive par­ent.

The topic is com­plex — a com­pli­cated vor­tex of an­gles, at­ti­tudes, his­tory and en­tan­gled feel­ings. Adop­tion’s en­tire premise is rooted in dif­fi­cultto-talk-about mat­ters: aban­don­ment and loss, and most of us, un­der­stand­ably, swerve away from eas­ily broach­ing such mat­ters.

In Ire­land in par­tic­u­lar, adop­tion is of­ten spo­ken about in a tone that sug­gests “Don’t men­tion the war” so that ex­plains when two decades ago I first con­sid­ered adop­tion, I searched in vain for a book suit­able for a prospec­tive adop­tive par­ent.

At the time I would have liked to have found a book from the per­spec­tive of an Ir­ish adop­tive par­ent but in­stead the shelves were weighed down with a se­lec­tion of par­ent­ing ti­tles that stretched from baby­hood to teens but the adop­tive par­ent was not catered for. Even now, with 50,000 adop­tions in Ire­land, of which 5,000 are from out­side the coun­try, no par­ent­ing book for Ir­ish adop­tive par­ents is avail­able.

There is much trep­i­da­tion then in be­ing the first Ir­ish adop­tive par­ent to have writ­ten about their ex­pe­ri­ence. Adop­tion is deeply per­sonal and shar­ing de­tails re­quires care­ful han­dling, es­pe­cially when your near­est and dear­est are your sub­ject mat­ter.

To give an au­then­tic ac­count of my ex­pe­ri­ence, I had to look at my­self close up. How could I write about how I came to be an adop­tive par­ent with­out ex­am­in­ing my rea­sons for adopt­ing in the first place?

This meant I had to write about the dark days of dis­cov­ery of my in­fer­til­ity, the sweat, tears and fail­ure of as­sisted re­pro­duc­tive treat­ments, the ten­ta­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of be­com­ing a mother to a child that I did not give birth to, while climb­ing down from my high horse (‘‘Of course I will get preg­nant’’) and ac­cept not ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble.

The process of giv­ing my­self up to be­ing as­sessed for suit­abil­ity to par­ent was fol­lowed by the long, ar­du­ous path through in­ter­coun­try adop­tion bu­reau­cracy and Rus­sian ge­o­graph­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture un­til fi­nally I held my son in my arms.

The learn­ing then be­gan: adop­tion is com­plex. Just be­cause a child is adopted as an in­fant does not mean that they have no sense of their re­lin­quish­ment. Nancy New­ton Ver­rier in her study of the feel­ings of the adopted child The Pri­mal Wound was un­equiv­o­cal in her pro­nounce­ment of the con­nec­tion be­tween child and birth mother as ‘‘mys­ti­cal’’ and ‘‘spir­i­tual’’ and the sev­er­ing of the same pro­duc­ing a deep hole she dubs a ‘‘pri­mal’’ wound.

Par­ent­ing the adopted child re­quires em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing. I had to look closely at my­self and eval­u­ate what was go­ing on for me: a daunt­ing task as I tried to an­swer the ques­tion, how was I par­ented? Be­cause how a per­son is par­ented de­ter­mines how they par­ent. This war­ranted a trip down into my child­hood in ru­ral Leitrim and the chal­lenges of be­ing brought up in a home where al­co­hol de­pen­dency was the or­der of the day, the ex­pung­ing of such mem­o­ries in the coun­selling room was an earth-mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: I swear I could see the black­cloaked de­mons shift­ing over my head as the words tum­bled out, a pile of tear­soaked tis­sues on my lap.

Such purg­ing cleared the way for a mea­sured view of the re­al­ity of adop­tion: the adop­tive par­ent is called on to dis­play a gen­er­ous dol­lop of em­pa­thy, to take on board an in­con­tro­vert­ible fact — the ex­is­tence of an­other woman who is the bearer of their child. Es­tab­lish­ing con­tact (ac­tual re­union has not yet hap­pened) with my chil­dren’s birth fam­i­lies in Rus­sia and Kaza­khstan was a tumultuous ex­pe­ri­ence for me, I can only imag­ine what it was like for my chil­dren.

The aca­demic Ruth A Mo­ran writes from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of the stages of re­union for the adopted per­son: paral­y­sis — the adopted per­son looks at the face of the one who gave them life; erup­tion — emo­tions wash over the adopted per­son like the af­ter­shock of an earth­quake; loss and grief — the re­al­i­sa­tion that the pri­mary bond­ing can never be re­cap­tured; and fi­nally em­pow­er­ment — the adopted per­son moves from ac­cep­tance to self­knowl­edge and then self-aware­ness.

Be­com­ing A Mother was my let­ter to my­self, my paean to adop­tive par­ent­hood and a thank you to two spe­cial women who made my moth­er­hood pos­si­ble. As I was get­ting to the fi­nal draft of my book, a se­ries in the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent cap­tured my heart. Let­ters writ­ten by peo­ple who had ‘‘un­fin­ished busi­ness’’ with peo­ple close to them. One sunny Sun­day in June 2017 as I was try­ing to put to­gether a con­clu­sion to my book, I opened my news­pa­per and there it was: a mother writ­ing a let­ter to a mother ti­tled ‘To the birth mother of my child’.

This adop­tive par­ent ar­tic­u­lated pre­cisely how I felt and she had writ­ten the con­clu­sion to my book, elo­quently en­cap­su­lat­ing what I re­alised I was try­ing to say through­out Be­com­ing A Mother and beau­ti­fully il­lus­trat­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween birth mother and adop­tive mother.

PRE­CIOUS TIME: Writ­ing about adop­tion in­volves the pris­ing open of a Pan­dora’s box of mem­o­ries and emo­tions

‘Be­com­ing A Mother: Reflections on Adop­tive Par­ent­hood’by Mari Gal­lagher is pub­lished by Or­pen Press. €16 or­pen­ mari­gal­lagherther­a­

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