I'm not sure my mother knew how to tell me about the child that she'd adopted out prior to meeting my father. It wasn't quite 'pass me the salt and by the way you have another brother'; rather the words fell out amongst our idle chatter during the perfunctory act of changing a bed together. It wasn't until I saw her tears that I understood the brevity of what she was saying.
My mother's greatest fear, she would share with me later, was that my brother and I would reject her based on this revelation. Nearly three decades on, shame was still the overwhelming emotion associated with this event for my mother.
One Christmas in my early 20s, my mother was contacted by the son she had given up for adoption, revealing at the time that she had "sensed" that he was coming. It was organised that we would all meet on Christmas Day.
It's a surreal feeling to discover a new part to something that you believed was otherwise complete, such as family; though contrary to my mother's fears I was exhilarated by the news that I had another sibling and began to re-imagine my life with an older, older brother.
Meanwhile, my mother was fraught with anxiety wondering if Shane (his birth name) would reappear in her life only to disappear again once his curiosity was sated.
My mother was 20 and still living at home when she fell pregnant to her boyfriend. When her parents found out about the pregnancy they enacted a two-step process to alleviate the burden: 1. Get rid of the boyfriend 2. Get rid of the baby.
My mother's boyfriend's fate wasn't cement boots exactly but the outcome was to be the same with my grandfather coercing him to get on a ship with a one-way ticket back to Italy. He did just that and was never seen nor heard of again.
To understand the scorn that was levelled at unmarried pregnant women in the 60s and 70s, my mother was called a slut by her own mother when she expressed a desire to go out and socialise while pregnant but not showing.
To avoid further embarrassment, at three months pregnant, my mother was sent to a convent, 300km away from her home, for a clandestine birth and face- saving adoption. She would be amongst strangers in unfamiliar surrounds when she gave birth to her child.
After the birth of her child, my mother was given the option of spending five days with her baby, which she opted for. When I asked her recently what it felt like the very last time she saw her baby, I struggled to articulate the question because of the pain it might cause her. She said in no more than a whisper, "it was heartbreaking" adding that words just can't describe the feeling. She went on to say that she felt she had no choice but to go through with the adoption because of the profound lack of support. Subsequently, she cried everyday for many months afterwards until she "just had to get on with it".
My mother belongs to a stoic generation. She suffered chronic, debilitating headaches for 25 years and I sometimes wonder how much of this is attributed to the stress and trauma of losing a child through adoption.
As women have persistently advocated for change and reform over the decades, we find ourselves today in a position where we have more autonomy over our bodies and choice in regards to unplanned pregnancy. If it needs to be spelt out again, this means that less women have to suffer the trauma of unsafe abortions or the gruelling experience of the adoptive process.
In terms of meeting my brother on that Christmas Day, unfortunately, it did not spark a connection. We endeavoured to stay in touch over the years and had several other meetings, which failed to inspire any cohesive relationship. Nonetheless, my mother still uses a photo of Shane as a bookmark in each current book that she is reading which she keeps on her bedside table.
- Daily Life