Real Life

How my search for my past gave me back my future

After healing from the trauma of adoption, this woman felt empowered to help others.
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Suzie* had always felt like she was living life “in a self-contained space suit”, unable to truly connect with the people around her. As a forced adoptee, she has a profound understanding of the isolating effects of adoption, which touches as many as one in 15 Australians. When a loss sent Suzie in search of her genetic history, she was introduced to The Benevolent Society’s Post Adoption Resources Centre (PARC). Through PARC, Suzie found the support she’d always longed for. She is now healing and using her own experience to help others.

I’m in the forced adoption brigade. My adoption wasn’t exactly ideal. I had a very hostile adoptive mother. When I was four years old, she yelled at me in a fit of anger that she wasn’t my mother and even my own mother didn’t want me and gave me away.

No one outside the family was to know that I was adopted. It was the big family secret, but the secret was causing problems. Everyone knew that I didn’t belong. They had two natural children within two years of my adoption, and I was cast aside. That’s how I grew up. Pushed aside.

I found strategies. I had a job and I would go and I would spend hours and hours and hours there so I didn’t have to go home. I spent hours at friends’ places. I was involved in music. Music saved my life. But I spent my childhood trying to work out why the family I grew up in did the things they did. It was very confusing. If I said anything I was silenced. I wasn’t tolerated. I wasn’t allowed to be me.

Discovering my past

I tried to leave when I was 18 but the mother figure made it really, really hard. I was so determined. Come age 22, 23 she wasn’t in my life anymore. Then, my second born child died from a genetic abnormality which came through my husband’s side of the family. She died at 10 months old. The barrage of genetic questions was horrific. In 1994, I started the search for my biological history and that was really huge. I got my stuff from DoCS [Department of Community Services, now Department of Communities and Justice] and I was told to ring PARC [The Benevolent Society’s Post Adoption Resource Centre.]

Through PARC, I underwent regular counselling for more than 12 months, which was really beneficial. In my adoptive family, everyone was told not to believe anything that came out of my mouth. My counsellor validated my experience and that was profound. Absolutely profound.

After the counselling, I’d get a letter that was everything we talked about and that was validating as well.

PARC also offered workshops where they had people from the adoption triangle: A birth mother, an adoptee, and an adoptive parent. They were usually not from the same triangle, and it was really useful to go over and do the different education nights that they have.

Hope and healing

Can I tell you one of my fondest memories? There was a movie that came out called Secrets and Lies about adoption. The Post Adoption Resource Centre organised an outing for us. It was 200-plus adoptees, and that just blew me away. I hadn’t met them before. It was just the most amazing experience, to have this whole cinema to ourselves. To watch this movie, it was about all the sensitive issues with adoption and everyone was laughing, it was such a healing experience.

I think the only person who will ever really understand an adoptee is another adoptee. Adoptees have a disconnectedness, a brokenness. We’re broken at birth. They say the worst that can happen to a person is be taken off its mum.

I’ve been supporting other people over the years. I’ve always known that that’s my calling. I didn’t think that I would ever have the opportunity to go to university. But I am. I’ve done some counselling study so I’m actually working as a counsellor and I’m studying psychology.

Looking forward

My trauma has given me a lot of insight and empathy towards somebody else who has got trauma.

We all have life lessons to learn, and I need to keep working on solving the puzzles for my life lessons because I don’t want to be repeating the same thing. That resilience is helping me to do life and is helping me to study and achieve. Just because I had a challenging start in life doesn’t mean I can’t live a full, amazing life.

The Benevolent Society’s Post Adoption Resource Centre assisted 914 individuals during 2022/23, via counselling, intermediary services, therapeutic groups, and with information. To learn more visit benevolent.org.au

As told to Genevieve Gannon. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

*Named changed for privacy reasons.

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