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Column: Barbara Sumner

There have always been inconsistencies in my birth story. The dates, the people involved, the actual circumstances. All missing, suspect or manufactured.

As an adopted person I have no legal right to know anything other than the story my adopting parents chose to tell. So I decided to challenge that.

I started with govt.nz, the guide to finding and using government services. Could it really be as simple as requesting a copy of my ‘pre-adoption birth certificate?’

A pre-adoption birth certificate? As if the adoption itself is my starting point. Anything else must fit into the nebulous ‘pre’ where anything before is a priori – based on a theory.

After all, I already have a birth certificate. It records my adopting parents as my natural parents. As if I am the natural child of my adopters. As if I am no different than anyone else.

Except, I came into this world with a background as dark as deep space. My adopting father’s workmate nailed it. “Why would you (adopt), you don’t know what you’ll get?” This story was told as a way to explain what a generous thing my adopting father had done.

His workmate was right. I was an unknown quantity. Not quite natural, not entirely trusted in the way we trust blood. You are, as a relative of my adopting family once described me – strange fruit.

So I requested my pre-adoption birth certificate. That “may contain details of your birth mother and birth father.”

Except mine had my mother only, even though I now know my father’s name is in my file. I’ve yet to meet an adopted person with their father’s name on the original birth certificate. Which makes you wonder if pre-adoption certificates are not designed to document birth. But rather, to further social agendas. Like protecting men from the consequences of their sexual activity.

Next, there’s an age limit. You have to be 20 or older to apply for your pre-adoption birth certificate.

Why 20, you ask. You can have sex at 16, enlist in the defence force at 17, drink, vote and get married at 18.

The New Zealand Law Commission says it was to assuage the fears of adoptive parents. Natural mothers might try to intervene.

Crazy mothers showing up to claim back their babies! That would never do. But hidden beneath that reasoning is the notion of lifetime infantilising.

Because, you will always be an adopted child. Never an adopted adult. A judge nailed it when he described us as “adopted children of any age.”

Luckily I met the over 20 criteria. But instead of receiving my birth certificate in the mail like any other citizen I must see a counsellor. At 58. The counsellor gets to decide if I am balanced enough to receive this information. (I passed the test)

Next step. Govt.nz tells me to contact Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children. “An adoption social worker will find your adoption records and give you details recorded at the time of your placement.”

I’m not sure what an adoption social worker actually does. But Oranga Tamariki’s website says, “It may be possible to find information about your birth parent. We can help you with this process.”

And right there we jump from infantilising to farce.

My adoption social worker found my records. With the file sitting on her desk she informed me there was a problem. The law did not allow her to reveal the contents to me.

So she passed me over to a new recruit. A young man, fresh out of social worker school, with no understanding of adoption issues.

I complained. My adoption social worker promised to provide a file number (not the file itself) by the next day. That was months ago.

I complained. She passed me onto the Supervisor at the Caregiver Contact Team. This person sighed and directed me back to my adoption social worker.

I complained. My adoption social worker said she would seek advice from her Regional Advisor.

I followed up. She was now seeking advice from her Supervisor. I let the usual ten working days elapse and followed up. “I need to seek advice from my Regional Executive Manager,” she said.

That person referred me back to the Adoptions Services team. And you guessed it, they referred me back to the social worker.

Weeks turned into months. Then my adoption social worker came up with the answer. I needed to make a request for my file through the Privacy and Official Information Services.

I filled out the paperwork. They missed the statutory deadline to answer my query. I followed up. They’d forgotten to send my request to the correct person. I waited. 20 days later they directed me back to my adoption social worker. Who missed her deadline to reply. I followed up. And she referred me to her advisor at the National Office.

And that’s where we’ve left it, with my file on any number of anonymous desks. My information denied to me.

Such paternalism and control litter the history of adoption in New Zealand. Single mothers suffered unconscionable cruelty. Child trafficking and medical and social experiments were par for the course. Today, in service to those ideologies government departments peddle disinformation. While the staff delay, deny and deflect anyone who questions the official story.

I’m told the reasons revolve around privacy. Given anyone who might be affected is dead, I suspect the real goal is to preserve secrecy. To continue to hide our recent and most shameful past.

As a baby, I was the object of a transaction, a contract I was not a party to. I’d like to know when will my rights as an adult transcend the rights of people involved in that contract? And what will it take for the government to give up those secrets, apologise and make amends?

ref. Strange fruit – https://www.sadiesumnerbooks.com/blog/2018/11/22/strange-fruit