Before you leave, please leave me a comment or six in my guestbook - just click on "Sign My Guestbook" below - easy as that!
The Story of My Adoption
Adoption is a r elatively (no pun intended) little word - with MASSIVE meaning! I am sure there are millions upon millions of different stories out there of adoptions. Some good, some not so good and some rather bad. I'm here to add my little story to the pile. As per usual I will do this in a long-winded, seemingly rambling type style that will give you my side of the story. Of course there is another side of the story and I'm sure it has its twists and turns as mine does.
Let's go back to the beginning (not the beginning of time, but just about judging by my ageing bones!). I was born on August 31st - towards the middle of the 1960's. When I was 11 days old a family came to pick me up. Adoptions in 'those days' were a lot easier than they are now. The horror stories I have personally seen in adoptions leave me thanking the powers that be that I was adopted out when I was.
In New Zealand at the time, you could not legally be adopted out until you were a whopping 14 days old. My older siblings were 16 days old and 14 days old respectively when they were adopted into the family. Me, I was 11 days old and I think if my birth-mother had been able to wrangle it, I would have been long gone before then. As far as I'm aware, I was never 'viewed' by her. I was told much later on that my birth-father had to fight tooth and nail to get to see me before I was adopted out.
Since you've probably already read about my childhood on my site, I won't go into my family background. I would like to say though that up until 2001 I thought I had a great childhood and that I was pleased that I had been given up for adoption. Of course, I wouldn't change a thing even to this day or I wouldn't be where I am now, but I have changed my opinion about my birth family in ways I never thought I would because of the way my so-called family turned their backs on me.
When I grew up I was raised with the fact that I was adopted (for reference the family that adopted me are hereinafter referred to as my so-called family and the people associated with the people who are genetically related to me are referred to as my birth-family) and that I was different because of this. I recall many of my friends asking me many questions about it, of course I knew nothing - a closed adoption meant a closed adoption!
I entered my trouble years when my parents separated and I wanted as much attention as I could get my selfish little hands on (around the 11 year old mark). I began to make up stories about my birth-parents, making them into a fantasy world that I wanted to be part of. There were many stories, but one I remember vividly is that my birth-mother was a violinist in a European Orchestra and that she had met my birth-father when he had been playing with the orchestra as a solo artist ... what he did as a solo artist, I have no idea. Why violins? Don't ask me, I have never played one and I have never wanted to play one. There were many stories and each one was bigger and better than the one before.
I recall bringing up the fact that I wanted to find my birth-mother to Sylvia (my so-called mother) when I was about 15 years old (just after my father had passed away). That little snippet of information was not taken on board very well. I obviously upset Sylvia and that wasn't something you wanted to do as the wrath of Sylvia wasn't good and upsetting her meant upsetting Tony (step-father) and he was very liberal with his physical punishments. So I dropped the subject for a few years.
When I was 20 years old and preparing to travel to England with my friend, Janette, I broached the subject with Sylvia again, this time stating that I was just interested and that if it meant upsetting her then I would drop the subject and not bring it up again. I have always been an inquisitive person and probably will remain so, sometimes this is good, other times, not so good. However on this occasion Sylvia surprised me by giving me the go ahead.
I immediately found out the address for Jig-Saw and what I needed to send them. Adoptions were still a closed book at this point, a few years later New Zealand changed the laws about adoptions and there were some repercussions across the country. But this was before that. So I sent off my letter to Jig-Saw stating the day that I was born, where I was born, my weight etc and the only other facts that I knew - the lady who had given birth to me's last name was Whiteman and that she was 18 at the time of my birth.
When I had phoned Jig-Saw they told me that the process was a very long and drawn out one and not to even expect an end result because of the laws governing the closed adoptions. So I didn't expect to hear anything and carried on with my preparations to travel overseas.
I think it was only a matter of weeks before I received a phone call from Jig-Saw. Evidently the lady that ran Jig-Saw at the time had personally known the lady that had given birth to me. She told me that she was going to contact her and get back to me to see if she could pass on her details. Now I'm sure you can imagine that I was elated with this news - how amazing was it that this lady knew Ms Whiteman.
A few days later I got a phone call from Jig-Saw. Yes the lady said that I could be told about her and that I could also be given her address so that I could write to her - no such thing as email that's for sure.
Here's what I was told. The lady's name was Noeline Whiteman and she was dating a young man called Jeff Berkett. They fell pregnant. He wanted the baby - her family wouldn't allow it and so she was sent off to the ends of the world (that's Wanganui for you!) to have the baby and adopt it out. When the baby (that's me) was born Jeff found out about it (he hadn't been told where Noeline was and was looking for her obviously) and went to Wanganui to see her, that's when he had to fight tooth and nail to see me. I can't tell you how much this meant to me when I found out about it. I thought I had been given up without so much as a backward glance (from what the nurses had told my so-called parents when they came to pick me up, the birth mother wanted nothing to do with the baby at all) finding out that he had seen me somehow made it all different.
The 'different' part of my adoption story is this. A year after the birth of the baby that they had adopted out, they got married to each other. The lady at Jig-Saw was even present at the wedding. They went on to have five further children and were still married.
So I was given their address and told that I could write to them. I wrote a very brief letter (don't ask me what was in it) and sent it off to them. I then headed out to England and my big OE.
When I returned from my two month tour around Europe with Janette and Contiki Tours, I found a letter from Noeline to me. For some unknown reason I pictured getting this letter that would be filled with words of love, attempts at finding the long-lost baby and plans on future meetings. Silly me! The letter was very matter of fact. Yes, she had given birth to me. She wished she had never gotten pregnant with me to start off with, but that abortion was not an option in those days (thank goodness!!); she had married Jeff the following year and they had five other children. These children did not know of my existence, nor were they ever to know of my existence. They would tolerate letters from me but that was all. It was a very tersely written letter and it dashed all of those childish dreams that I'd had all of those years, in one two paged letter.
I was still in the throws of my lying years and so I wanted, in a way, to reach out to this woman to try to make her like me. I didn't know how to do this, so I thought that if maybe I put myself in the same position she had been, then we would have a common bond and from there our relationship could be built on.
I wrote a letter in which I told her that I didn't want anything from her family other than to meet her and Jeff so that I could see where I got certain things from (whose eyes did I have, who's genes gave me the big bottom etc). Then I lied ... I told her that just recently I had also had a child and adopted it out. Goodness only knows where I came up with that gem, but for some unknown childish reason I thought that this would help our relationship. I can almost hear the buzzer going off in the background with the resonating bbbbrrrrrrr ... wrong answer!!
Over the course of the next two years we occasionally wrote. Each of her letters was very brief and to the point. She told me that she wanted to have nothing to do with me on more than one occasion and that the only reason for her contacting me in the beginning and the continued correspondence was because Jeff wanted it so much. I was in no doubt that this woman disliked me immensely, but blindly I stumbled on with the hopes of one day meeting them.
When I was 21 I returned to NZ and found a job door knocking around the country. One of my travels took me to a town just outside of where my birth-parents lived. So excitedly I phoned them in the hopes that I could meet up with them. It was arranged that they would come to my hotel room and we could meet. To tell you that I was excited is unnecessary; to let you know that I was nervous also goes without saying. If I didn't chew my fingernails before that, I certainly started on that day.
I remember them pulling up in their car and getting out of their car. For hours before our scheduled meeting I had tried to decide what tact I would take when meeting them. Does one extend ones hand in order to shake hands with them? Does one approach them with the intention of hugging them? Or does one just stand back and let them come to you? This was answered for me (so I think that means I took option C) rather quickly. They got out of their car, she came up and extended her hand towards me and we shook - and then she stood back for Jeff to come through, and come through he did. The man gave me one of the biggest bear hugs I've ever experienced in my life. He wouldn't let me go, I was so very touched by this and still to this day it chokes me up when I think about it. I obviously get my talent of not being able to hide my feelings from Jeff ... it was clear from the start of our meeting that I was someone of importance in his life, if I got up to go to the kitchenette he would follow me. His eyes were on me practically the entire time and he had this wonderful smile just plastered across his face.
Don't ask me what we spoke about, I have no idea. I do hope that I didn't lie too much ... but who knows. As we sat chatting I picked out parts of me. My eyes - definitely not his as he had the most amazingly light blue eyes I'd ever seen. He had curly blond hair (didn't get that either!!), she had mousy brown hair - bingo!! Short, stubby fingers - both of them ... no wonder I didn't get left out on that one. And as for my big bertha butt ... oh, that was also another definite! In fact, Jeff himself said something along the lines of "I see you got the Berkett butt!"
Over the course of the next few years we met maybe once or twice and still exchanged letters. When I was about 23 years old I flew down to Wellington to stay with my lesbian friends for a weekend and I phoned Jeff to let him know that I was coming down their way. Generally we arranged to have dinner while I was there and this was no exception. Jeff came to pick me up and he said that he had to then go and pick up Noeline from their house, that the kids were home so obviously I couldn't go in. However he did add that he had told the two eldest children about me, but that they had been sworn to secrecy about me. The two eldest (Tony and Tina) were excited to meet me, but that wouldn't happen until the following night
When I finally met them the next night I was taken aback. Here I am in all of my 5'4" glory and in walks Tony and Tina. If they were an inch under 5'10" I'll eat my socks! Talk about tall and lanky, but other than that I could see similarities immediately.
I was told on the trip to their home (about three hours by car) that the other three children did not know about me and that I was going to be explained to them as an old family friend. I WAS NOT to say anything on the contrary to them. That was fine by me; I just wanted to spend some time with Jeff and get to know Noeline a bit better.
After several days at their home I was beginning to feel very awkward there. If Timothy did anything wrong Noeline would point out to me what a bad parent I was, how everything about her children was nothing like Timothy; everything I did was huffed at and she was very, very impolite and made me feel like I didn't want to be there.
I'm not positive about the chain of events in this one but there are certain points that I remember all too vividly. I remember Tina being there with me. Timothy was somewhere (I think asleep in bed as it was late at night) but Tina and I were both standing in the hall in their home. Tina was taking me to my friend's home as I had turned down the car offer from Jeff. Noeline approached me with a look of determination. I don't know how the whole conversation started, but it got heated rather quickly. I won't tell you everything she relayed to me but I will tell you the key parts.
But during that conversation something happened and she started saying that since I was determined to ruin her family and that I was trying to turn them against her (I think her seeing how Jeff, Tony, Tina and I got along so nicely upset her just a bit, but that's just my guessing) then why not take the whole family. I could tell the rest of her children about me. Go ahead - knock myself out - she didn't care anymore! Tell whomever I chose to just don't be in her life anymore.
I didn't say a lot - I didn't really have a chance to - but when I did say something (from what I recall) I said it quite calmly and quietly, amazing considering the vehemence I was up against. I told her that I was not after anything in her family, that I had my own family. All I had ever wanted was to meet my birth parents. Their having a family of their own was a bonus. I never wanted their money, I only wanted their love. I also thanked her for having me and not aborting me ... at that point she cut in and said that she wished she had aborted me and then nothing like this would have happened. Again, I thanked her for that.
She told me that I could go and say goodbye to Jeff one last time because I would not be seeing him again, if I tried to see him, she would divorce him. That was what hurt the most I think, not seeing Jeff again and if I did this huge weight on my shoulders about the consequences for him. I recall going into the bedroom where Jeff was trying to sleep (why he hadn't come into the fray I didn't understand at the time, but now I think it was probably because he knew her so well that if he had have stepped in on my behalf, life would have been miserable for him so I don't blame him one bit!) and trying to say goodbye to this wonderful man that I had grown very attached to over the past few years. He just hugged me and said not to worry, that he'd see me again.
During this amazing exchange of words Tina was standing there beside me. I think she said a few things on my behalf, but of course they weren't taken in by this woman that reminded me of a Banshee.
After I had said goodbye to Jeff and collected all that needed to be collected, I went to my friends place. Totally gutted and very confused.
The next day Jeff came to see me and I told him to go away as I didn't want to cause him anymore problems. He just shrugged it off and said that nobody would stop him seeing me. Once again, he had fought for the right to see me - something I appreciate still to this day.
Now here's a little twist in the story for you. The two ladies that I was staying with had a favourite café that they would visit often. They were up to date with everything that had been happening over the years and one day while they were at the café they were talking to their favourite waitress there about nothing in particular and they asked her her name. She replied, Kathryn Berkett. They just about spat out their coffee as they knew the last name of my birth-family was Berkett. They asked her more questions and from that they found out that she was indeed one of my birth-sisters.
So, the next day we decided that we were going to tell Kathryn about my existence. Kathryn was not living at home at this point and therefore was the only one of the children that I hadn't met. They phoned Kathryn and said that they'd really like her to come around to see them that afternoon. They wouldn't tell her what it was about, but that it was a surprise. I found out later on that Kathryn thought they were going to try to sell her some products.
When she arrived, Jane and Gaylene introduced her to Timothy, she thought then that maybe they were in the process of adopting him - poor confused young thing. Then we all sat down at the table to chat. Jane told her a little bit about me and then looked at me and said it was time for me to talk. Poor Kathryn - I would imagine she was very confused at this point. I said something along the lines of a year before your parents got married they had a baby girl and adopted her out ... I am that girl. She was a bit surprised, but then totally elated. We all sat around talking for hours and it was lovely.
Over the next few years I got to know Kathryn as well. Susan decided that she wasn't so thrilled about the whole scene and Jeffry was just a bit young to even worry about it.
They thought that I was having an affair with their father!! At first the thought was comical, but the more I thought about it and talked about it with Kathryn, the more it made sense. Here was a younger woman coming to stay in the family home, their mother treated her with disdain and nearly every time I walked into the room - Noeline would leave with a sneer on her face. She wasn't very polite to me and I felt that she made it obvious that she had no liking of me. Whereas whenever I was in a room with Jeff, he would be smiling from ear-to-ear and was going out of his way to be in the house as much as possible while I was staying there. He took great pride in Timothy and played with him when Noeline couldn't stand the sight of him. Timothy, funnily enough, bore a striking resemblance to the Berkett children's baby photos. What other conclusion could they come to ... other than me having been the daughter that they gave up for adoption which wouldn't even enter my mind if I were piecing things together with only parts of the puzzle to use.
Thankfully that is all behind me now. It took me quite a few years to realise that Noeline didn't hate me personally; I don't think she even knew me enough to hate me. She might have hated that baby that she gave birth to all of those years ago, but that wasn't me. I carried around an enormous amount of guilt for years thinking I had ruined this ladies life. But the facts are I never asked to be conceived - but I'm glad that I was; I never asked to be given up for adoption - their choice even though forced to do that because of the times; and I never wanted their money or their possessions.
I have a better relationship with them now. We do the Christmas card thing every year and I speak with Jeffry occasionally - something I treasure very dearly. I am also in contact with Tina, Kathryn and sporadically Tony and Susan. I am going to get to meet Jeff Jr in a few months time as he is traveling back to New Zealand with his partner and they are going to come and spend a few days with us here. That means so very much to me as I never really got to meet Jeff when I met the rest of the family as he was quite young at the time. I just about met him a few years ago when we lived in Maryland, but that didn't eventuate.
My findings in adoptions are not your typical findings. I have heard of many wonderful stories of people finding their birth parents/children. However, I've heard more horror stories that good stories. Mine isn't a horror story but it took me many years to figure out my relationship with my birth-family and I think it's an ongoing process. If you are thinking of finding your birth-parent/child I would seriously think about having a person as an intermediate to 'feel things out' for you. It can be a shock for all involved when somebody from your past comes back expecting things that you aren't prepared to give. Lay down the ground rules right from the start and don't overstep your boundaries!
And good luck!!