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Adopted hope

Donald Eadie

To be welcomed into a new family is an ancient and biblical tradition - but it
brings deep questions. On the eve of National Adoption Week, Donald Eadie
reflects on his life-long search for identity and the painful gift of not knowing.


My name is Donald though my birth name was Robert Peter. I am learning that I am both and I am more. I was adopted in July 1939 when I was four months old. My younger adopted brother and I have been well blessed both in our adopting parents and through a wonderful wider family. We have been loved and enabled to love. Before commencing school we were told together that we were both adopted. There was no real information about our origins and for many, perhaps too many years, no more conversation. That's how it was then. It's different now and for this I'm glad.

There have been fantasies and fears, imaginings that do not go away, and a questioning that increases. It is like a watermark, a subterranean image, blurred and unsettling. The shadow both of my birth mother and birth father continue to cross my path.

But I am not alone with these uncertainties. The forthcoming National Adoption Week (Nov 5-12, holds particular significance for many of us, whether birth mothers, birth fathers, adopting parents, adopted people or family and friends who live with the implications of adoption. Each story is different. Most of us, however, have at least one thing in common. We struggle for words to describe our complex inner world. Sometimes it feels like an underground river flowing within us, currents and whirlpools drawing us in to places we'd prefer not to go, and shaping us in ways that we don't yet understand.

Since 1992 I have lived with a serious spinal condition necessitating three major spinal operations. A few years ago, during one of three long periods of convalescence, I made the decision to search for my birth mother. The inner and outer journeys were both exhilarating and terrifying. With the help of others a fat file was eventually discovered. It included correspondence. Months later I learned that both my parents had died, my father in 1963 and my mother in 1975. Many share this particular experience of bereavement and, like me, have as yet found no ritual in which to focus such complex grieving.
Most of us find it hard to live with the bewildering gift of 'not knowing'. There is a deep longing to know and yet also a terror of what may be found, of what could be made known. We want answers for our questions, deliverance from our continuing anguish, and help to live within the realities of our common human flawedness. And yet this untidiness, this incompleteness, this uncertainty, is how it is. And not for us alone.

I am learning that there are painful yet wondrous gifts to be received through the adoption process. At the core of my existence there lies what I can only call 'a dark hole of unknowing' and yet within the unknowing, a knowing. And this is not easily explained!

Each of us touched by adoption has lived with profound questions:
Where, among all the faces in a too crowded world, is the face of the person who once carried in the womb, the one who entrusted into the hands of others? And how can the silence and aloneness of 'not knowing' continue to be borne?
And who is this child, the child entrusted to adopting parents - the loved child - 'Our child and yet not our child'?

And who is my mother? What pressures within circumstances made it necessary for her to give away her child? And where she is now?


But what of the man in the shadows who fathered me - but was not a father to me? Who was he? What was the nature of his relationship with the woman who was my mother? The birth certificate provides information about her but nothing, nothing, but a blank space with a line through it where there should be details about my birth father. The fat file urged secrecy around my father's identity. Who was this man needing such protection? What secrets were so important that they had to be withheld? I was curious, frustrated and bewildered.

Later I learned that my birth father was a pilot in the first world war, a fine sportsman, a lover of fast cars, a master builder and also a married man with a family. He was described as 'a man's man.' And his name was Joseph.  What was it like for him to have his son given away, the son that he never knew? Did he also wonder where I was? Who I had become? Would he have liked to know that I also was a sportsman?

It has taken a long time for me to recognise that there had been an idealising of my birth mother and a demonising of my birth father. For reasons I can't easily explain I had never faced the father in the shadows. A few years ago during an eight day silent retreat, I dreamt for the first time of my birth father, dramatic dreams releasing within me what felt like an historic volcanic rage.

Perhaps I had suppressed and projected unresolved ignorance, fear and anger onto him, twisting him out of his humanity. It was for me an inner and primal encounter between father and son, a confrontation between man and man.

Some inner healing can only come through this searching, an endless exhausting searching through records, a searching through fearsome terrains in human experience, a searching within the strange synchronicity of time for a knowing that mysteriously makes itself known.

And yet I am learning that there is also 'a holding' that engenders a trusting, and a trusting that permits a letting go. Perhaps the sense of mystery lying at the heart both of human experience and of creation could become one of those painful and wondrous gifts we inherit? Michael Mayne, the former Dean of Westminster Abbey, writes: 'Faith is not about absolute certainty, but a readiness to explore mystery. It is not a method of finding all the answers, but of living with the questions.'

Can words ever tell what it means for a birth mother to hold her child, to hold and to trust, to let go and to entrust, to let go and yet to continue to hold in the inner cave of her being -  a letting go that is not a forgetting but rather a different way of holding?

Can words ever tell what it means for adopting parents to hold and to nurture the child they receive, the child whose nature, whose genes they do not share? A holding and watching over growing adopted children who can be so different, in appearance, in temperament, in the worlds they choose to inhabit, so different, yet sometimes knowing a bonding that is closer than blood? A holding and trusting in such a way that one day a new letting go becomes possible, the entrusted one let go again, an essential letting go that alone permits the returning, but a returning in a different way.

Can words ever tell what it is for those of us who are adopted to be held and not controlled, to be influenced in the process of  becoming who we are, influenced but not twisted and shaped into the likeness of someone we cannot be, searching for roots within our unrootedness, for belonging within our aloneness?

Can words ever tell what it is to learn the holding of our complex inner world the wild and sullen bits that sometimes take over, the inner feelings for which we have no names, the bottomless sorrow, the unshed tears and the overwhelming rage?

Slowly I am learning that there is 'a holding' that befriends and integrates, embraces and pays attention to those bits of us that we fear and from which we hide - a holding that, in time, can release a wondrous healing.

I am holding in my hand a beautiful piece of wood carved into the shape of a cross by an old man in West Bromwich. Sometimes these little pieces of wood are offered to those who are dying, people for whom words cease to carry meaning, people who find the letting go much harder than they thought. For some these little pieces of wood become alive, calming wild dreams and those long dark nights when we wait for the dawn.

For some these small wooden crosses draw them into a mystery, the mystery of 'the holding' of God, 'the holding' through the trauma of being born through the trauma of dying. There is a short and ancient prayer 'I hold and am held'. It bears testimony to the hidden holding of God's love within the texture of our fragility and fragmentation.

So there is the learning to live with not knowing, and also the holding and being held. Both, I believe can be the painful and wondrous gifts for those who live within the adoption process. I have found great encouragement in the advice given by Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter to a young man:

'Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living them. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answers.'

This is an expanded version of 'Adoption Hope', taken from Ready or Not: Children, spirituality and journeying together edited by Ruth Harvey (Wild Goose Publications, 2012)

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