An Irish Adventure
I started writing about our adoption journey to provide a record of it. Both for us. And for our children. I wanted to chronicle their and our story before those memories lost their intensity or receded into the mists of time altogether.
Unintentional consequences of writing the blog have been wide ranging.
Developing the discipline needed to write regularly (and sometimes failing miserably at that). Invitations to write guest pieces. Invitaitons to write regular columns.
And an invitation to speak at a conference about adoption in Ireland, organised by University College Cork.
I'm quite used to public speaking. I've done loads. I'm also used to speaking about adoption in public. After all, I've spoken on what must, by now, be dozens of adoption courses.
Speaking in an academic setting was going to be a completely new experience though.
J's used to it. He's spoken at many medical educational events. I asked his advice.
His first comment wasn't that encouraging. "You? At a University? Speaking? Are you sure?"
I pointed out that reaction was just a tad unkind and not the kind of helpful hint-offering response I was looking for.
After some thought he came back with: "Keep the power point brief. Reference everything you say. Keep it serious."
I explained that I had been asked to talk about us. To describe our journey, as a gay couple, to having an adoptive family. Our experience and a little of that of our community in the UK.
J thought again. "OK. Do what you like with the powerpoint. Give them lots of pictures. Be your entertaining self."
Much more helpful. Just what I wanted to hear.
I find many British people share a common, uncivil view of Ireland. We expect everything there to be just like the UK. An Imperialist hang over. An echo of the hubris of Empire.
A country so close to our own. One that was part of our own for so very long. Surely everything there is the same?
I had, before the invitation, exactly the same perception of how adoption must work in Ireland. Surely it must be the same? No?
Adoption in Ireland was, for many years, an activity overseen by the catholic church.
The rapid social progress made by the Irish Republic along with the scandals surrounding so many of the children's homes run by the church have changed the basis of adoption there in the last twenty years.
No longer do the Church and State collude in the removal of children from families. No longer are there forced removals of children from young women who have become pregnant outside of wedlock.
But also, there is no formal system for adoption within the country itself. No process for the removal of at risk children into care. Little experience and no procedure for the placement of children in foster care or for their onward transition to properly vetted, trained and supported adoptive families.
Families hoping to adopt children turn to agencies who support them through the process of adopting children from abroad. By its nature, this process becomes an exclusive one. The determination and indeed the cost involved in pursuing adoption through the inter-country route effectively excludes anyone who's neither wealthy and educated.
Worst of all, there is no process by which adoptees can easily trace their birth families. No legal right to birth records. Adoptees seeking their heritage rely in most part upon the good will of the catholic church in searching for records that are so often discarded, destroyed or simply ignored.
Then there are the birth mothers. A cohort of women, some of whom had their children removed as recently as the 1980s, who wait. And hope. Hope that one day they may be able to obtain some information. Some clue to identify where their children were sent. Some system whereby those children might find their way back to them.
It was against this background that I presented my paper to the conference. Talked about our experiences and described the route through adoption to creating a family, both for ourselves and for the wider LGBT community in England and Wales.
The conference was well organised. Interesting. Academic. The atmosphere was intelligent, serious, sedate even.
My talk went quite well I thought. The audience laughed at the appropriate places. Were appropriately serious at others.
And then came the questioning. Which was polite, but barely so. And largely from those representing the community of birth mothers in the audience. I batted back the implied criticism. Found myself (overly?) forcefully correcting their misconceptions of both the UK's adoption legislation and our story.
Our situation was a different one. Our children's birth mothers had lost their right to parent through their actions. As a result of their neglect. As a consequence of their behaviour towards their own children.
We were different. The situations incomparable. I made that fact plain.
As one of the Conference staff said afterwards, "that livened things up, always good to have a bit of a spark."
Whilst compelled to defend, I feel appropriately, our history, our situation. I also felt disquiet at having to do so.
The women in front of me were not that much older than me. Their situation an awful one.
Forced through the collusion of the State and the Church, the two main pillars of their society, into giving up their children. Understanding later how unfair, how wrong that coercion had been. In some cases discovering how their records had been tampered with. Statements, ages altered.
All to fit a societal view that had disintegrated within years of this happening. Trapped now in a purgatory of waiting. Hoping. Praying that one day the law would change and allow those children they lost to come back to them.
They were angry I used the term 'birth mother' during my presentation. They were the children's 'mothers' they said. And would always be so.
The pain writ large. The anguish intense. Their situation so very different to our children's birth mothers. So much more deserving of support. So much more worthy of hope.
Finally today, news from the Irish Republic that the first steps may be taken. A proposal to give a legal right to their birth certificates for adopted adults. Some hope at last.
I sincerely hope that, whilst coming far too late, it is not so late as to remove the chance of reconciliation and closure for the women I met that September day in Cork.