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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Australia: Second birth certificate created a legal fiction

Across the globe, adoptees are speaking up... and that is good... TL Hentz (blog editor)

My birth mother was not allowed to name her baby. But the name she gave me in her heart is real

Legislation once erased the original names and connections of forcibly adopted children. But even with this now addressed, family remains complicated

baby toes
The records of somewhere between 140,000 and 250,000 forcibly adopted babies were sealed by law, with all connection to their original family labelled top secret. Photograph: Cavan Images/Getty Images/Cavan Images RF
Sat 6 Aug 2022
It wasn’t until 2020, at the age of 52, that I was given the right to use my name. But as with all things adoption, nothing is quite as simple as it seems. Like other babies given to infertile couples under Australia’s “forced adoption” policies, my birth certificate was cancelled soon after I was born; a second birth certificate created a legal fiction to make it look like I was born to the infertile couple.

With a stroke of a pen I was denied connection with all of my family – my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers – and my first given name. After a few months I was handed over to the couple who took me home. I had no social history, no medical, racial or genetic history. It was all top secret.

The records of somewhere between 140,00 and 250,000 Australian babies were sealed by law, with a promise that the truth would never be revealed.

Things on that front have gradually changed, and adopted people are now allowed to use the names on either of our birth certificates. When I first read about these changes I cried – it was the first time I had seen the dual identity and divided loyalty that shadows adopted people fully acknowledged.

But on my first birth certificate, the name my mother chose for me is missing, and I am identified by the word “Unnamed” with my mother’s surname. According to that certificate, my name is Unnamed Champion. My second birth certificate states the name given to me by my adopted family.

The Integrated Birth Certificate allows me to choose either of these two names, but it seems unhelpful for adopted people to be known as “Unnamed” when the intention of Integrated Birth Certificates is to help adopted people connect with their full identities.

It has taken me many months to realise that this profound breakthrough does not achieve what it set out to do: it does not allow me to see the name my mother wanted for me.

The only place my mother was ever allowed to use my name was inside her mind. While she was being told to stop crying by the “real” mothers breastfeeding their babies in the beds beside her, while she was given milk-suppression drugs without her knowledge, while she signed all the papers because she did everything she was told, the name was in her head and heart: Jona.

Like the perpetual state of longing, the name haunted her for years, though even now Jona still doesn’t exist. The state of New South Wales sent me to live with people who called me something else.  They called me Eudora*, the name I’ve been called for over 50 years.

The simple facts are this: I was born and hidden where my mother couldn’t find me. She had no advocate, and she was a minor, with no legal capacity to sign me away. A girl like her was not allowed to name her baby.

That was part of the punishment of being shamed and blamed in the birthing ward as a girl gone bad. Above the bed was a three letter sign, “BFA”, to identify that here was a Baby For Adoption.

“Unnamed Champion”. Born in a small regional town on the outskirts of Sydney, on a midwinter morning in the late 1960s, and no mention anywhere of “Jona”. For me, the confusion and cognitive dissonance seems impossible to resolve.

I recently explained to a psychologist that I have two families with two divergent histories. I look like these people. I sound like these people, I think and behave like these people, the people I was born to.

My brother, on the other hand, he is one of those people, from the other side of my life, the people I was sent to. My mum is one of those people. And my dad, well, he is one of those people too.

For an adopted person, the idea of dad is complicated. The idea of mum is complicated. The idea of brother and sister, home and belonging – it’s all complicated. Even your name, and the names we use to identify family – none of it is easy to understand.

Think of the words – mum, dad – how can anyone experience them without a visceral response in the belly, in the heart, in the throat? When I hear those words, there is a glitch, a realigning moment, while I track who holds those roles in my life. None of it gets easier over time.

In 2021 I applied to the Department of Community and Justice for my birth records. It is now July, 2022. A few months ago, I was asked to place an extra signature on the form, and told to wait another nine months for my Integrated Birth Certificate to arrive. This document gives me the choice of using either the name from my first birth certificate, or the second one – whichever I prefer.

After a whole lifetime, I finally get to choose. But first I must wait a whole new gestation period for the documents to arrive. And then, I will not be given the choice between identifying as Jona or Eudora. I will be offered the choice between Eudora or Unnamed.

The legislation governing my separation from my birth mother erased the history written into my body as though my DNA never existed. But it does exist, it’s real. And the name she calls me in her heart is real too.

* Name has been changed

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