'I've had about 50% closure, but there is still that little baby I gave away that I never got back. I mourn for the baby and the person he could have been.'
None of the women I’ve spoken with would say they feel healed from the scars this emotionally devastating experience left upon them. However, for those that have undergone reunification with their child a certain degree of healing has occurred. One woman described ‘it's like I've had 50% closure, because I've had something that is really precious...but there is still that little baby that I gave away and never got back.' In her apology on behalf of the Australian government, Julia Gillard described it as ‘A wound that would not heal...the pain does not go away…it will be with them for the rest of their lives.’ This seems a fairly accurate assessment of the women participating in this project. Some believed that reunification helped with the healing process, others felt having more children helped them with their grief. For those that have taken advantage of counselling, therapy, or support groups they felt these were invaluable in allowing them to speak openly of a long held secret. For many these groups were the first time they openly discussed their early pregnancy and the adoption of their child, and having the opportunity to speak with other women who went through the same thing provided immense help in processing their own experience. Decades of repressed emotions, ranging from guilt and grief to sadness and anger, could be torn open by dialogue with other birthmothers or sometimes by the reunification process.
For the trauma these birthmothers underwent in the span of a few months, from dealing with the stress of being unmarried and pregnant to the rejection felt by their family and community, and the ultimate agony of parting with their infant, these traumas did not disappear once they ‘moved on with their life’ as they were told to do. The experience remained with the birth mother all of her life and the effects of her loss continue to reside within her. Because the women were told to forget about their babies and get on with life, they were not given the space or support to grieve the loss of their child in the way a married woman who lost a child would. Unable to speak of the experience within the conspiracy of silence which shrouds them, they are perhaps more traumatized than someone who could healthily grieve a loss. A study reported by the Post Adoption Centre indicates that ‘relinquishing mothers were more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and physical ill health’. One participant in this project suffered a combination of these symptoms, resulting in seventeen years spent on tranquilizers. Reuniting with her lost child immediately reversed her ill health, and since that day she has not needed medication. Her story is a poignant one to the very real causes of physical health rooted in emotional trauma.
Has finding him brought closure?
'It's interesting. There is a huge closure, in that..um..I know that he's alright. And I know that he's alive, and I know he's ok actually. It's weird, I feel like I've got this person who I love dearly and it's different for me. I'm always aware for him it's different than it is for me because I've got a memory of something. Whereas for him I just appeared in his adult life.'
'[You said you had been on tranquilizers for 17 years, did something change that made you not need that anymore?] I met my son. That changed my life completely. I gave up tranquilizers. I didn't smoke. I didn't need to smoke. I was calm. I didn't fear death anymore because I'd actually told him everything I wanted to tell him and he was alright. I found out he was fine.'