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Two million New Zealanders affected by adoption

August 21, 2005

Two million New Zealanders affected by adoption, say NZ conference organisers

At least two million New Zealanders are affected by adoption according to figures released today by organisers of the national adoption conference to be held in Christchurch next weekend.

Conference organiser Julia Cantrell said today New Zealand had seen more than 103,000 NZ babies adopted between 1940 and 1990.

Most babies were relinquished for adopted in the 1960s and 1970s.

``Each adoption initially involves five people: the adopted person, birth mother and father, adoptive mother and father. However, when we add siblings, grandparents, partners and children, more than two million New Zealanders have a direct link to adoption.

World renowned expert Nancy Verrier will address major issues at the August 27-29 conference being run by the Canterbury Adoption Awareness and Education Trust.

Ms Cantrell, who was adopted as a baby, said some people who were adopted suffered feelings of guilt, fear and anxiety when searching for their birth parents.

``The initial meeting can be like a classic “honeymoon” period. You are on a high and you can be emotionally overwhelmed by the experience, wanting to see, hear, spend as time as possible with the other person. For others there may be shock, denial or a strong withdrawal.

``For people who are told or find out later in life that they had been adopted as babies, there can be enormous shock, anger, a loss of trust....that their life has been a 'lie'...’’

Ms Cantrell said adoption still carries with it a social stigma. She said adoption is founded on loss: The loss of the adopted person’s family of origin; the loss of the birth parents; and the loss (through infertility) of the adoptive parents. There is grief for all. This needs to be understood by New Zealand as a nation, she said.

``When I contacted my birth mother, I was still a secret in her life from her husband and son (my brother) and she didn’t want to know me or have anything further to do with me. I found her second rejection extremely painful and difficult to deal with for a long time.’’

Birth parents, who relinquished their babies to adoption years ago, often struggle with long term chronic grief and depression, as society has never acknowledged they have suffered a loss, she said.

Many birthmothers did not surrender their babies willingly but were forced to let their babies go because of family pressures, financial desperation and societal judgement or shame.

Ms Cantrell had advice for people seeking their real parents or parents seeking their children who were adopted years ago.

``Go gently. Listen to and read about others’ stories. Be sensitive to the fact that the one who is ‘found’ may be in a very different place to the one who has searched. Be patient. A long period of adjustment may be necessary.’’

The conference’s guest speaker Nancy Verrier of California is an adoptive mother, who has counselled and lectured around the world about adoption. She will talk to adopted people, birth parents, adoptive parents, midwives, social workers, counsellors, obstetricians and GPs.

New Zealand was the first Western country to allow adopted children to contact their birth parents, under a law passed in 1985.


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