Playing with Dreams July 2011
This search for my background does not have a beginning or an end. The daydream that I have built up over many years is crumbling down piece by piece. It is slowly being replaced with another reality. Sometimes it is better than before, sometimes it leaves me breathless and quite often it is painful. What my reality will become is a journey into the unknown and more than slightly intimidating.
This webstory is divided into three parts. The first part discloses what I knew about my birth, my experiences with being adopted throughout my childhood right up until the time that I consciously chose to start the search for my birth mother in June 2004. The second part concentrates on the search itself and continues onwards from that date right up until the present. Part Three connects Part Two to Part One and is the story of my birth parents leading up to my birth. Part Three is still one big question mark and the purpose of this search. I hope to find out answers to questions such as “why was I born”? and “who were my birth parents”? It is hopefully worth waiting for!
From July 2011 I the first part is to read on the weblog. From July onwards I will add a chapter from the second part regularly to the webstory. Eventually Part Two will have reached present day and I hope that by then that I have found out enough information to be able to continue on with Part Three.
I have written this basically for myself and for my children but also for those people who can in some way benefit from this journey. Somehow I feel that my story does not fit into my body and that by writing it down it can flow out and fill another place. I am not sure that I want this story to be part of my life. Although it gives me peace of mind, it is also opening up my eyes to the peculiar series of events, actions, coincidences, choices and results that have and still are taking place.
Although I like to write, I do not consider myself a writer. The grammatical errors are all mine! It is also possible that my English has been influenced by the Dutch language that I have enthusiastically practised over the years! Communication is the key and I hope that this webstory is clear enough to follow and understand.
If you want to share your thoughts or reactions with me then send an e-mail to: email@example.com.
For those who are interested in want to know more about me, check out the television program www.spoorloos.kro.nl under Season 49, 26 January 2009 and if you are interested in what I do for a living, have a look at the website www.groenetakken.nl.
PART ONE: From 20th April 1966 to June 20th 2004
1.1 The birth
Giving birth to a baby in Australia in 1966 was apparently no big deal. No parties, no cards and no congratulations. The pregnant girl became a mother but the mother remained a girl. Any feelings had to be buried. She had to move on. She left. She left me. On purpose.
My adoptive parents-to-be were overjoyed that I was born. They could not have children of their own but had a strong desire to have a family. Three children – that was their dream. I was the oldest. The first born. Their first successful experience with an adoption agency.
1.2 The parents
My adoptive mother was the daughter of a doctor and a nurse, both of Scottish/Irish descent. Their surnames could be traced back to the First Settlers in the maritime passenger records from a few centuries earlier. Australia was then seen as a wide, open land, thinly populated, full of promises and possibilities. You had to have a tough skin to be able to survive and live well. Her parents were both well travelled, well-educated and ambitious for their daughter and son. My mother saw them as difficult and demanding but was enable to enjoy a good education and was one of the few working mothers of her time. I saw my mother as a strong-willed, intelligent woman who was not constrained by the viewpoints of others. She was a physiotherapist and had her own practice in the suburb where we lived. Later in her career she became specialized in sport injuries and worked with the sport section of the University of Melbourne.
My adoptive father was an immigrant from northern England. He had decided to seek his future in Australia when his mother, his only direct living relative, had died. With the combination of his administrative background and strong social qualities, he was able to make a career for himself with several large companies in Melbourne. He was soft-hearted, proud of his English roots and liked to make fun of all sorts of Australian eccentricities.
1.3 The brother
My brother was born a year after me in May 1967. We were very close as children and liked to play outside together. I had wavy blonde hair, blue eyes, was of average height but quite sturdily built. My brother had red curly hair, freckles on top of a pale skin and was quite long and slender. He kept on growing and growing and eventually became lanky and broad-shouldered. Eventually I had to give up wrestling with him because I would always be the losing party. Neighbours and school friends often commented on our lack of family resemblance. Children in the neighbourhood would constantly tease us by asking if my brother and I were boyfriend and girlfriend. Depending on our state of mind we would either answer them with a made-up fairytale and enjoy the look of amazement on their faces or just tell them the plain truth.
1.4 The sister
My brother was always part of my family in my memories but I did not always have a sister. My mother was never pregnant so there were no nine months to get used to the idea that my family was going to expand. One day I answered the telephone and had a strange Sister on the line. She wanted me to tell my mother that the time “was right”. My mother took over the conversation and became quite animated. I did not understand the message but it was apparently the signal that my parents could pick up my sister at the Catholic adoption agency. Of course they had arranged all the necessary paperwork and had furnished the baby room but it was still a surprise when they suddenly appeared at home with a bundle of baby in their arms. My sister grew up to have shiny dark brown hair, chocolate coloured eyes, a bubbling personality and was something of gypsy to look at. She was the apple of my mother’s eye.
We grew up together and saw ourselves as normal brothers and sisters – sharing, quarrelling and making up. We had no particular problem talking about our unknown individual backgrounds and we never made a big deal of it amongst ourselves.
1.5 The other body
I had always known that I was born out of the body of someone else; someone that I could not call my mother. It was a piece of information that was part of my upbringing. My adoptive mother had told me at an early age that my birth mother could not care for me herself. According to my mother, my birth mother must have loved me very much to be able to put me up for adoption. Only then could I have had the chance to grow up in a stable and loving family situation. My mother made me sound extra special when she explained that I was actually doubly precious. This explanation acted like a warm cocoon and made me feel secure, wanted and special. It also acted like a shield when other children tried to taunt me about being different. Of course I felt their prongs but I pitied these children because in my mind I had been specially chosen by my parents and they were the result of inevitable possibilities. Maybe this was an irrational reasoning of a child but it was a strong and comforting viewpoint at the time.
1.6 The explanation
I grew up with some information about my roots. My natural parents came from the USA. My birth mother liked to read books and came from New York and my natural father had curly hair and lived in Texas. This was the only information I had about my background. My parents had most likely told me this when I was quite young and I had no reason to question its authenticity. As a child I even liked not knowing all the details because then I could fill in the rest myself. It was a puzzle why my natural parents had been in Australia, why I was born there and why they could not or would not care for me. At some point in time I had made up my own version of a possible explanation and was quite content with the images that this conjured up. Based on the information that I had I assumed that my natural parents were young teenagers who had met each other and fallen in love whilst they were in Australia on a school trip. They were too young to be parents and had decided to leave their child behind……. this explanation left space to dream over a difficult romance and even made me proud of their eloquent solution to their supposed dilemma. My adoption parents never denied or altered this interpretation of the facts which eventually became accepted in my mind as reality.
1.7 The daydreams
Being adopted had its advantages. My natural parents could have been anyone and everyone and I had the luxury of imagining who they could be. Until I knew who they were anything was possible. Many moments were spent daydreaming. I had a rich fantasy world. As a young child I would often dream that I was a princess out of a fairytale. My life was full of sunshine, warmth, good food and lots of friends. A princess that was lost and then found. Most of the scenes were in castles or in the forest. Snow White was my favourite princess. My dream of being a princess remained vivid until the day that I was confronted with a photo of a real modern royal family in Monte Carlo. The royal family looked disconcertingly normal and I landed back into the real world with a jolt. Other times, I would imagine myself to be the daughter of a Texas oil baron. One who was very rich, wore a big Texan hat and spoke with a drawling accent.
Apparently I had a look-a-like in my home town. Someone else looked a lot like me. Maybe I had a twin sister? I remained alert to see if I could meet her, but of course I never did. Another girl at school had the same birthday. Even though she was of Italian origin, it did not stop me trying to work out a scenario that we were actually related. Even though I knew that these were just fanciful ideas it was enjoyable to try and work out a plausible theory! Almost anything was possible until proven impossible!
1.8 The unrest
Growing up was a mixture of adventures, outdoor activities, reading and eating kilograms of plums from the trees in the front garden. Like many other families we had several difficult periods as well.
During a long period in my early childhood the situation at home was very turbulent. I wanted desperately to run away. I detested the constant aggressive verbal fights between my mother and father. I detested the spankings and punishments that I received for the use of “bad language” and other countless faults. I felt constantly humiliated. I was no good. I was strange. At times I detested my mother. I could not tell her how I felt. I did not know how to express my restlessness, my unease, my uncertainties. Maybe I was a difficult child at that time but my one desire was just to be held close to someone and to hear that everything was alright, that I was alright. Some evenings when I was in bed and could not sleep I would perform a one-person playback show with my parents in the leading roles. At the top of my voice I would try to let them hear how horrible and unreasonable they were in the hope that they would end their quarrels and think of the well-being of their children. Other evenings I would fill my imaginary knapsack with everything that I would need to survive. I would carefully plan the route and the time of leaving. I would travel out of the house, out of the front garden, to the top of the hill and then stop – there was no-one to go to except a person without a face who was part of me, someone who would welcome me, but who lived somewhere unknown and far far away.
1.9 The resemblance
My parents liked to invite their friends several times per year around for dinner. Year after year, my mother would almost always serve up the same recipes and dishes – delicious but safe. Her female friends would enter our house and within five minutes comment on the resemblance between my mother and I. Their comments did not make me as a teenager feel at all happy. To make matters worse, they would add that I grew more like her every year - observations of nightmare proportions! In my opinion I did not look like her in the slightest and never would either. As I assumed that most of my mother’s friends knew that I was adopted, that sort of comments had to have been made by persons who were, in my opinion, either blind and/or deranged. Fortunately such a resemblance was, of course, genetically impossible.
1.10 The primary school
Parents usually carefully choose the best and/or most suitable school for their children. My parents were no different. My mother chose her former school for my sister and I, an all girls private Catholic School. My brother was sent to an all boys private college. Both schools were located in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, 17 kilometres from our house situated in the outer suburbs. The journey to school each day often seemed endless, usually 30 minutes, and other school children felt that we lived in “the bush”. A lot of improvements were made to our area : the road to our house was asphalted, we were connected to the sewage system and public transport was upgraded. Even with these modern improvements we still lived half in the bush and were able to enjoy the noisy concerts of the kookaburras, the frequent clambering of the possums on the roof and the abundance of green gardens around us.
1.11 The schoolgirl days
In most classes at primary school there were about 25 girls from (upper) middle-class backgrounds. Some of the families were conspicuously wealthy but most of them had to work hard in order to sustain their financial comfort. There was only one other girl in my class who was adopted. I felt that I was a little different to the other children but that was probably more due to a lack of social skills and self-expression. I had more difficulty with the fact that we lived far away than from being adopted. The other girl who was adopted in my class, had a problem with her unknown background. Her insecurities soon became visible problems. I did not fully understand her feelings of grief, confusion and guilt, even though we had a similar start to our lives.
1.12 The harassments
My younger sister had lots of problems because she was seen to be different. The difference lay in being adopted. She was often harassed to the point of persecution. She let it happen, although unwillingly, probably because she did not have a strong enough shield. She had intermittently friends, was often alone and isolated. I was not always around to help and comfort her. The teachers did not protect her (enough) and I did not notice much of the catholic teachings outside the classroom on the playground. The situation reached a climax when she was thrown by her “well-brought-up” classmates into a rubbish container. Not a very Christian act. My sister was understandably distraught and I was also disgusted and ashamed. My mother removed her from that school and arranged that she could go another school in the same area. Her new school was quite different being small, with both boys and girls and with children from all sorts of religious and parental professions.
1.13 The schoolboy days
Everything went quite well for my brother at primary school. He seemed to be quite happy, was good at sport and with building technical objects. From his teenage days onwards he had difficulties with accepting school as an institution and resisted authority. Subjects with a practical application were his favourite and he although he was seen as an intellectually gifted young man, his results did not match his potential. He was quite reserved on the outside but was restless on the inside. The emotional turmoil of the teenage years seemed to be amplified by the search for himself and a desire to be understood. He went from school to school; from private to public, from general to practical. His new friends were on the fringe of socially acceptable and he became more alienated with his life at home. My parents were constantly busy with him, trying to fathom him, accommodating his wishes and attempting with all their might to provide him with enough skills for a future on his own. Now and then he was aggressive, he swore relentlessly and he communicated still less with me. My parents did not discuss their feelings about him with me or involve me with their plans for him. That was a pity but I guess that they could barely cope with the situation themselves. I wanted desperately to help but was caught between two worlds. One night he ran away from home and my parents and the local police were the whole night busy trying to coerce him not to do anything harmful to himself and to return home. Back at home the frustration, confusion and tension were almost unbearable and felt like an impenetrable wall. And what began as a small trickle of unease about the reasons for my brothers behaviour gradually developed into a rushing torrent of unanswered questions pertaining to my brothers unknown origin and parental background.
1.14 The dismissal
We moved within the area to a more modern dwelling but the problems remained with us. There were many days when I did not want to return home from school and spent as much time as I could playing sport or doing homework. My brother became unreachable, even to me. He was terribly unhappy and felt alienated. My parents kept playing with the ideas that maybe there was a something wrong with his natural parents and/or that a nasty trait that had been passed on from them to him. I did not think that there was anything wrong with him but certainly wondered if there was something in the personalities of his natural parents that was contributing to his misery. There was no way of finding out. Eventually all viable solutions had apparently been tried out. I came home one day from school and he was gone. He was sixteen years old and my mother had thrown him out.
How should you contact someone who had no address? How should you express yourself when you were ashamed an confused with a problem that did not exist for the outside world? I was unhappy with everything and everyone but felt more concerned with the lot of my brother. Fortunately he was taken into the home of his soon-to-be girlfriend. My parents / my mother (?) did not want to want any contact with him but I tried to keep in touch at a distance. I lacked the courage to actively support him and in his opinion I had taken sides with my parents. That was not the whole truth as I rather lacked the courage and means to leave.
1.15 The high school days
The all girls school provided a good education and a sound social basis. The school was situated in magnificent grounds and I appreciated the green paddocks, gardens and ample sporting facilities.
It was an extensive and ambitious school with classes for the youngest right through to graduation. There were many advantages but I always felt a little uncomfortable in a large group and considered it a little unnatural to have just girls as school companions. My sister profited visibly from her new school. She began to flower, regained some self confidence and began to enjoy life again. I observed her development with envious eyes and began to long for a setting within which the individual could profit from individual attention and freedom of expression. My current school began to suffocate me and after a while my mother and I made the decision that I would complete the last two years of school at the same school as my sister. My teachers discouraged my choice vigorously as they saw the school as a place full of undesirable social outcasts.
The students in my new school had a genuine interest in each other. Everyone was seen as individual, many had a peculiar family situation and it did not matter if you were adopted. Although many students had less than an ideal background (broken families, drug users, money problems, asocial behaviour, too bright for the school system….) I did not have the nerve to entrust and burden them with my problems at home. I did not know where to begin so I did not begin at all. School felt like a place to unwind and to concentrate on another world, not a place to infect with the problems of home and it was fine to keep it so.
One of my new classmates was a girl who was also adopted. She was funny, good at sports, strong minded and manipulative. Her older brother was a “real” child of her parents. She turned her family situation into a form of discrimination and constantly used it as a tool for getting her own way at home. It was a conscious act and she enjoyed the victories. I was amazed at her perception of life. Doing such a thing had never earlier entered my mind and I was prepared to keep it that way.
1.16 The grandfather
My father had a father who he could not call his father. My grandfather called my father a “very good friend” and never called him his son in public. He lived in the south of France on a fairly large property with a swimming pool, olive trees, three dogs, well supplied with old cognac and a spectacular view. He was well looked after by his 10-years or so younger wife and a live-in couple who looked after the garden and the household duties. We were lucky enough to visit him one Christmas when I was about 10-years old. My mother travelled with us first to England and then we went on to France. My father stayed at home. We were instructed not to call my grandfather any sort of family name within earshot and the reason why was never fully explained. It was hard not to remark on the strong physical resemblance between my father and his father – they were definitely father and son. Even some mannerisms and way of talking were similar. Once back at home, I tried to talk to my father about this peculiar situation. Response – nothing. That was very frustrating but I could see that it was a painful topic and did not pursue it further. My father went a couple of times to visit his father, probably on business; the details were kept from our ears. For many years my grandfather-without-a-title would send us some money but most of it disappeared into the household pot. As a thank-you we would send him a drawing which he apparently liked to receive. I tried to tell my father that I felt that it must be really awful not be acknowledged as the son of your own father. What was the secret in his past? Was he ashamed of something? I found it a very odd situation and would often compare it with my own. It would have been nice to have been able to discuss this with my father but it was a forbidden subject.
1.17 The support
During one stage during my teenage years my mother and I were quite close. I entrusted her with all my daily news, frustrations, and dreams. She took the time to listen and to advise when necessary and I saw her briefly as a sort of older sister. We pitted our board game skills against each other, she encouraged me to try out and develop all sorts of hobbies and was a great support when my knee was crushed in a car accident. Once she even totally unexpectedly bought me a present – a bedspread that I still have. She was particularly receptive to my occasional need to talk about my adoption and was very supportive when the subjects of genetically based diseases or about having children came up – sensitive topics for me that me feel uneasy, uncertain and disconnected. We had many moments together looking at how unborn babies developed not only from her own professional point of view but also during the sexual education classes that were given for parents and teenage students at school.
My anonymous background began to bother me and I began to think about the possibility of finding my birth parents. I knew that I had inherited my physical appearance, my personality, my characteristics (for the most part) and my health from my birth parents. Also it was very clear that they could have children without too many problems. Did I have brothers and sisters somewhere? What about the future - what other things had I inherited? I began to weigh up the reasons for and against starting a search. It took a long time. Eventually, I made the decision not to search for my birth parents out of respect for my parents and for what they had already done for me. My parents had looked after all my basic material needs and provided a comfortable home. The only reason to start an active search in my opinion was if I ever got a life threatening disease or had some sort of genetically based problem.
1.18 The profession
Big trees. That was I wanted to be involved with in my working life. Big trees - strong living pillars that form the basis of many different landscapes, provide a home for living organisms, supply oxygen to breathe and live onwards as wood and wonderful wooden products. Not surprisingly I chose to study Forestry at the University of Melbourne. As a student I was more interested in the world around me than the world of science. Curiosity to see the world lead to me taking a year off from studying in order to work and then travel to Europe. Six months of travelling around and working at several forestry related institutions ended much too quickly. I returned to Australia with a wealth of experiences but I was no longer alone. I had met a Dutch forestry student at a forestry institute in Switzerland and during the four week stay we had become more than good friends.
1.19 The move
Once back in Australia, I was astounded at the change that I had undergone. My perception of the Australian culture had turned topsy-turvy, it suddenly seemed to be a poor copy of what I had seen in Europe. The beauty of the countryside and magnificent forests was not even strong enough to alleviate a feeling of not fitting in. Such strong feelings were totally unforeseen as I had expected to keep on going with my life in Australia. My Dutch friend came over for a few weeks in the summer and we saw many new places together. During this period our relationship grew stronger but communication with my mother went from difficult to disastrous. My mother had told my father that he had to make a choice – support her or support the children. A compromise was apparently not possible. We were commanded to leave and found a comfortable room with fellow students close by the University. My friend flew back to the Netherlands and I vowed to follow him as soon as possible. There were no family-ties to keep me here. At the end of the year my study was completed and without even waiting for the official ceremony, I left my country, my friends and my family to follow my heart and to begin a life in the Netherlands. It began on December 8, 1989.
1.20 The family
Ten years later in 1999 we were living together as husband and wife in the Netherlands. I had had some difficulty convincing the local government officials that I had actually been born because I was not in the possession of a birth certificate, and a birth certificate is needed if you want to get married. After contact with officials in Australia they were content with my Certificate of Adoption and we could continue with the preparations. We were living in a small cosy house with a spacious garden in a village close by a forest and were busy with our careers. Integrating with the Dutch way of life had presented no problems and I could get along quite well speaking Dutch with just a sprinkling of an Australian accent. My husband was an only child, his parents had no siblings and my family was on the other side of the world. One set of grandparents still lived in the Netherlands but that was all. We had children of our own, a girl and a boy, and a third baby was on the way. We had followed a dream and had made a world trip, including Australia with our oldest child and had seen many countries in Europe. We had every reason to be content with our lives.
The phenomenon of becoming a mother had brought the subject of being adopted back into my life. We had no reference material from my side of the family and we had chosen to take the risk that there were no serious genetically based drawbacks. The chance was also present that our children would inherit characteristics that we could not place as our own or trace back through (a non-existent) family tree. Being pregnant normally provided a good opportunity to talk about this phase with parents, especially mother(s), and friends of the same generation. From all of our friends, we were the first to settle down and have children. I would have liked to have compared notes with my mother in Australia but my adoptive mother and I were barely on speaking terms. Also the questions that I could have asked her would have been restricted to how she felt about not being able to have her “own” children.
My thoughts often passed to the situation of a young girl in a strange country when she became a mother for the first(?) time. Was it actually the first time? What was it like for her to give birth to a baby that was to be given up for adoption? How did she cope? Was she alone or did she have someone with her? Where was the father? How did she feel when she held her baby for the first time? Did she feed her baby herself? How did she live with the physical and psychological aftermath of the pregnancy? Did she ever have more children at a later stage? Did she keep in contact with the father of her child? Did she ever think about her child that she had left behind in Australia? …..and so the list of questions that I would have liked to ask her grew longer and longer.
1.21 The work situation
Groene Takken (Green Branches) was established in September 2000. It consisted of myself and another woman, who was also looking for a new challenge in her life. We were acquaintances who knew each other through our husbands. The men were good friends and blessed with an over supply of energy, creative ideas and practical knowhow. Our aim was to carry out all sorts of projects in the forestry and wood profession, there were enough possibilities waiting for us! We both planned to work part-time and could rely on the support of our enthusiastic husbands. Our husbands worked for different companies in the green sector but often had projects that required the assistance of each other. Groene Takken settled down on the first floor of a spacious shed owned by the husband of my business partner. My husband worked in one of the small offices in the same building as well, opposite the desk that my business partner used for carrying out her other part-time job. The four of us had every ingredient necessary to becoming a formidable combination and the first projects were carried out with lots of energy, enthusiasm and in good harmony.
1.22 The home situation
Our small cosy house had become a little too small for our three young children, dog, cats and ourselves. We had to create more living space as the existing two bedrooms were rather full. Our wish to purchase the other half of our house and to combine the two dwellings could not yet be carried out because our elderly neighbour was still quite content with living at home. After many discussions we decided to build an extension. My husband found it a challenge to build it himself with the help of friends but I had my doubts about the wisdom of such a decision. Several months into the building process, our neighbour decided to move. The timing could not have been worse as we already had dug out a huge underground room and were busy with the ground floor. We had just one chance to carry out our dream and my strong desire to stay on the property that at long last felt as home was enough to consider signing the papers. The decision that I had to make felt similar to making a (second) marriage vow and it was not something to be taken lightly. It was definitely a cross road situation but the future was invisible. But …. the wish to stay at home forever was overpowering. We signed.
1.23 The relationship
We had everything going for us but it was a hectic period. We were caring for three young children under five years, setting up a company, building an extension and later incorporating that with the newly purchased neighbours’ house, coping with the bankruptcy of the organisation who had given Groene Takken the first paid assignment and trying to find enough time for each other at home. The situation at home was not ideal and it was a period that we had to accept the somewhat organized chaos, grasp on to our deeper feelings for each other and look forward to a period of stability, rest and enjoyment in the years to come. But that was not to be…we failed. We failed dismally.
My husband was unconsciously beginning to look for an outlet for his frustration even before we our third child had been born and had set up Groene Takken. His experienced his freedom as slowly but steadily being caged in with responsibilities, financial commitments, parenthood and a (often grumpy and overtired) wife that wanted to share the burden of caring for the children and household duties with him. He found an escape and peace of mind in the presence of another woman and business colleague. What began as friendship ended up as a relationship of deep-seated passion and with such an unwavering bond of mutual understanding that it was strong enough to overcome the torrent of protest and disapproval from family members, colleagues and almost everyone who knew them. This other woman happened, tragically, to be my business partner and wife of my husbands’ best friend.
1.23 The revelation
Not surprisingly, the revelation of an affair in general, is not good thing for a relationship between a man and wife. In our case, it cleared the air for me as the tension that “something was not so as it should have been feeling” had been building up over a couple of years. What I had imagined to be just jealousy and misunderstanding from myself had actually been based on well founded intuitions; the hints and apparent gossip from colleagues that were so unsettling were actually based on fact; the strange, detached behaviour of the husband of my business partner was suddenly explained; the sudden attention from acquaintances on topics about nationalization in the Netherlands; and the slow but steady increase of long working hours of my husband were all finally but painfully put into perspective.
My head swam with the consequences of it all. I felt alone, betrayed and cut off from a normal functioning world. The announcement during lunchtime on that Saturday in September 2002 from my husband that the affair had been going on for just six months convinced me, in retrospect and because I was familiar with his quirks, that it had been going on for much longer. A short romance was something that I thought I could cope with but a forbidden relationship over such a time span gave me not much hope in trying to salvage our situation. Deep down I felt that it our relationship was doomed. But…. we tried to save it. We tried as hard as we could. Many hours were spent talking especially whilst walking the dog together. He did not want to lose me, the children or his property. Although his feelings for me had diminished they had not entirely disappeared and his life at home was comfortable enough to fight for. My husband promised to try and see his girlfriend for just business reasons.
I confronted my business partner and girlfriend of my husband with the now unveiled situation. I hoped that she would make a decision to leave my husband and myself free to rebuild up our family life especially since there was also the welfare of three young children to consider. During our fairly openhearted conversation, she revealed that did not feel at all or even partly responsible for the ongoing turmoil. Instead she planned to continue to offer herself to my husband and wait and see how he would accept her invitation of friendship.
Meanwhile, the friendship between my husband and his best friend was in smithereens and my business partner had been given an ultimatum by her husband to end her extra-marital adventure or leave their married home. My husband had lost a lot of trust and respect from his colleagues and also, quite regrettably, his otherwise good reputation and quality of his work were suffering as well. My parents-in-law had secretly suspected for several months that something was going wrong and were shocked but not totally surprised at hearing the news.
1.24 The new title
My parents-in-law were heartbroken at hearing the news. They were very proud of their only child and terribly concerned about the lot of their grandchildren. My mother-in-law urged me to visit our doctor to discuss the possibility of psychological help for their son and eventually therapy for ourselves as well. Prepared to grasp all opportunities to save our situation, I adhered to their wishes and made a double appointment with our doctor. There was, however, more than our personal problems that we had to discuss. During the previous months, I had noticed that my left breast was slowly becoming deformed. Although I had always breast-fed my children and was used to bobbly breasts, this bobble was making me uneasy. Our doctor listened attentively to my tale about the situation at home and came accordingly with some suggestions. They were immediately forgotten once she had examined my breast. Suddenly she looked gravely concerned. She sent me on for more examinations and within a few days photo’s were taken at the local hospital. The medical personnel were not allowed to reveal anything about the results, the specialist who later examined me said nothing either. I did not have to guess. The expressions on their faces were clear enough and I felt what they were not telling me. A month later my suppositions were confirmed; I was officially given a new title – breast cancer patient.
1.25 The bulge
I had always had a rather strange left breast and regularly kept an eye on it for abnormalities. The tumour in my breast was quite large, the size of a marble, and it had to be removed as soon as possible. The consequences of the diagnosis and treatment did not initially mean much to me at all. I was too busy trying to keep my family together and save my home. Having cancer was, at that time, just an added complication, even though it was a serious one. My lack of contact with (ex) cancer patients also played a role in my naïve way of thinking. Fortunately, I had never had many cases of cancer to deal with in the past, certainly not with “young” people and had never paid much attention to the disease as a whole. It was just not part of my life. Being suddenly labelled as a cancer patient was therefore rather surrealistic. All I knew was that the very many people who got cancer had to undergo a long horrendous treatment which resulted in the majority of patients being cured. Without understanding the details of the disease, I was somewhat comforted that there was ongoing research on cancer and that there appeared to also be a lot of support and therapy groups for cancer patients and their families.
The breast had to go. It was a decision that I had made even before the surgeon had suggested it himself. The tumour was too big and in the wrong place for a breast-saving operation. Even though it was not a enviable decision to make, I thought that I could cope with the loss of one breast. The operation was set for December 5, an important feast day in the Netherlands, similar to Christmas. A chemotherapy treatment of six-months was scheduled to take place several weeks after the operation, to be most likely followed by a 5-year long hormone therapy. Horrendous.
The reactions from lots of friends, family and acquaintances were very sympathetic but rather grim. Most of them knew of someone who had had cancer and/or someone who had died from it. Younger people were more optimistic and light-hearted than older people. The stories from 50 plussers were usually very gloomy and their carefully formulated well-wishes began to make me feel so uneasy that I half-heartedly began to delve into the world of cancer, therapies and personal experiences of (ex-) patients.
A lot of information was readily available but I wanted to find out more about my own situation. I wanted to know how the tumour could have started to grow, how long it had been there and how long it had taken to develop to its present size. The surgeon was quite obscure about the origin of the tumour but emphasized the importance of genetics. His answer to my question about the role of stress was also rather vague but admitted that it could not be ruled out as a contributing factor. He estimated that the tumour had began to grow a year earlier and this corresponded exactly with the period of rapid deterioration of the situation at home.
Those months when I suspected that my husband and business partner were having an affair was by far the worst period of my life. Rumours were abound but real evidence was lacking. Not even after the many soul-searching sessions and later confrontations with my husband was there a concrete reason to put an end to our relationship. All my doubts remained based on emotions and intuition and that was not enough for me to make a decision, let alone bother anyone with my personal problems. Not sharing my doubts and fears with friends was probably one of the biggest errors of judgement that I have ever made, and the hours and hours of stress, tears, self-abuse, misgivings and search for solutions remained deep within myself and most likely played a part in the development of the breast cancer.
1.26 The test
The lack of a known genetic background did not change the planned treatment but made the future somewhat uncertain. The promise that I had made as a young girl to find my birth mother in the event of a serious disease suddenly became an issue. Her medical background suddenly had not only a direct influence on mine but also on the future of my two daughters. My birth mother was needed but existed only as a silhouette in my imagination. Her presence felt close by but was separated by time. Was she still alive? Had she been a breast cancer patient? Would I ever have the chance to meet her? Would I see my children grow up? These questions could not be answered but the specialists needed to know if the cancer was hereditary. Not knowing my family tree was suddenly a heavy burden instead of a light-hearted mystery. The disease was suddenly more than a name and for the first time I felt pangs of fear and doubt. The specialist sympathized with my situation and was able to arrange a genetic background test. The research would take six months to complete. It was expensive and not available for everyone. I felt grateful. I had to be patient and that was not an easy task but the results would hopefully be well worth waiting for. Meanwhile there was enough to do to keep me occupied before I had to say farewell to a part of my body.
1.27 The countdown
Not surprisingly, life had lost its feeling of stability. Every day was filled with something unexpected and often something distasteful. Paradoxes were rife: my parents-in-law hoped that the pending treatment of the cancer would bring as closer together and eventually save our marriage; my husband did his best to be supportive but sought his solace elsewhere; many of my husbands’ colleagues did not have to act so secretive anymore and talked freely with me about all of the things that they had seen between my husband and my business partner and I discovered a warm and wise friend in my business partners’ husband / best friend of my husband / my colleague – all very painful but with positive points at the same time. It was a lot to take in.
My work was one of the few positive things in my life at that time. I was very busy preparing and dividing my existing projects between people that I could trust. Groene Takken was beginning to take form. It was no longer run by the two of us and was, since the revelation, a “One-Person-Enterprise”. I was just becoming familiar with the little known phenomenon of “mushroom logs”, and was exploring the possibilities and enjoying the challenge that the project provided. My tiny company gave me so much positive energy that I was prepared to fight for its survival, despite all the problems and growing complications. Groene Takken developed into a beacon, a light somewhere at the end of the tunnel, that I grabbed onto, and held on tight waiting for better days.
There was another matter that needed attention during this period. I was not a citizen of the Netherlands and was worried that an eventual divorce might release me of any rights that I had built up during my stay in the Netherlands. The fact that that we had three children and that I had contributed to the Dutch economy did not lighten my concern. The Netherlands had traditionally been a safe haven for many political and economical refugees. However, a huge influx of immigrants in the past few years had resulted in the Dutch government revising its policy in order to restrict the number of potentially new citizens. It was a judicial quagmire. I was afraid that I would be required to leave, with or without my children. To make matters more complicated, if I had a choice, I did not want to give up my Australian citizenship by becoming a Dutch citizen, it was too precious to me. It took many hours to find the right people to ask the right questions, but I was finally able to find the answers that I was looking for. I wanted to get this all sorted out before going in to hospital. One hour before I had to check in at the hospital for my breast amputation, I applied for Dutch citizenship. I did not have to give up my Australian nationality.
1.28 The hospital
My stay in hospital was not a sad affair. I did not have time to feel despondent and even welcomed the chance to be pampered. It was a time of letting go, even relaxing and learning to be the patient and not the general household manager and self-employed manager.
It was difficult saying goodbye to my children and I said as little as possible as to why I had to leave them for a few days. I was confident that they would be in good hands, in their father’s hands. My husband now had the time to practise his under-developed parenting skills. Even though the reason for my departure was not so positive, I welcomed the fact that their father now was fully responsible for them day and night. It was a good chance for him to be a father and a mother at the same time and to realise how much work it was to look after their needs and wishes. The children had also received the chance to get to know their father better and I hoped that in my absence the bond between them would grow stronger.
My fellow roommate was also a breast cancer patient. She was a widow, many years older and had a whole life behind her. She was dead scared of her approaching operation and of her rehabilitation period at home. Although we became quite good acquaintances, she did not understand my attitude and behaviour. I was too active, too optimistic and was always busy chatting on the telephone with friends, directing the installation of a new computer at home besides receiving an almost endless number of family and friends during visitor hours. The breast was amputated and several lymphatic glands removed and analyzed. The news that the cancer was not in a life-threatening phase was a huge relief for everyone and even though I had to remain several days unexpectedly extra in hospital and undergo another minor operation, it was not a traumatic period.
1.29 The first day
It was wonderful to be out of hospital. Although very thin, barely able to walk and having to carry a drainage sack (for the wound fluid), I wanted to get back into my life as soon as possible. We drove to the house of my parents-in-law in order to congratulate my father-in-law on his birthday. We managed to stay for a couple of hours, finally installed the children on the back-seat of the car and drove home. I was looking forward to my bed, being with my family again and a quiet evening. My confidence in a new start was beginning to grow when my husband suddenly asked me a question….”Would you mind if I went to a party this evening?” That was a question that I definitely did not expect, especially after being 11 days in hospital. Numb with shock, I listened to his reasoning that he felt that he had deserved a treat, and without being able to think clearly any further, I agreed to his request. Back at home, I casually commented on the cosy organized chaos in house; all the presents from the children from Sinterklaas were carefully stacked up in the corners of the living room. His face turned pale and I saw controlled disappointment, frustration and anger. I had not wanted to hurt him as I thought that he had done a wonderful job whilst I was in hospital, but my remark offended him. An apology and explanation fell on deaf ears. He drove away that evening with the promise to be back by midnight. There I was, just out of hospital, terribly weakened, not able to care for the children, and alone. My first evening at home. The tears flowed freely. A good friend of mine came along and we drank a cup of tea together. That soothed the pain but I knew deep down that this just another painful step towards the end of my marriage.
1.30 The equation
The wound healed swiftly. At least my bodily wound. I did not have to worry about the household chores as they were well taken care of by my husband and later by a welfare household help. For a while, I was quite proud of him and did my best not to be too bossy or try to get back too quickly on my feet. He needed space. I needed time. Time to think about the next stage of having cancer. It had hit home. I was a cancer patient and I now dared to say it out loud. For the medical world, I was just a number and a equation based on statistics. The prospect of a chemotherapy treatment was, for me, a journey into a living nightmare even though I understood that it was a way of minimizing the chances of it coming back. After doing some research myself about the advantages and risks, I finally agreed to undergo the treatment. I dreaded it but had no time to feel sorry for myself. There was too much stress at home and after listening to the advice of my mother-in-law, I made a decision. It was survival and my husband had to go.
1.31 The chance
On the first of February 2003, my husband left his family to go and live with his girlfriend. His children hardly noticed. He kept in touch and was available when necessary. Three weeks later, after the third birthday of our youngest child, I began the chemotherapy therapy. It had been successfully postponed till the situation at home was more stable. I did not want to go to the hospital alone as I did not know how my body would react to the medicine. My husband accompanied me. Once I was hooked up to the vile looking liquid, he did his best to make me feel comfortable. It was a strange situation and to the nurses we were just another couple. Once back home, I waited to see if I would feel odd or ill. I felt that there was a volcano trying to erupt inside of me and I spent most of the day doing all sorts of outdoor chores, and being physically active helped. At the end of the week, I still felt quite strong and that was a relief as becoming ill would present a problem. Someone was permanently needed to look after the children.
A month later, I was used to not expecting my husband to come home to us. A lot of stress had disappeared, friends were once again spontaneously turning up for a cup of tea, wine or beer and my wings were slowly beginning to unfold. Life was not so bad. During the weekend after the first treatment, my husband came home to see how everything was going and made an announcement. The next week he would not be available. He had booked a holiday with his girlfriend. They had decided to go to Rome for a week. I was dumbfounded. I did not believe my ears. I wondered if he was good in his head. It did not seem necessary to point out that he was leaving his young children in the care of a woman mid in a chemotherapy therapy, he knew that himself. The decision had been made, the flight had been booked (with our money). I did not understand this behaviour at all. It was another surprise.
A week later, he was back. He came to our home with presents for us all. The children accepted them with visible pleasure. He had sought them out with care. He had not only a present for me but also a request. He wanted to come back to us. He had enjoyed his week in Rome, found it pleasant to be with his girlfriend but missed a lot of things in his daily life, and particularly, me. He wanted to be given another chance. I was once again rendered speechless. What should you do in such a situation? I wanted to swear out loud and scream insults at him. I was getting used to the new situation and now had to consider another alternative. I looked at him and wondered. Was this a chance that he could become an active father once more? Was this a chance to save our house and continue our projects together? We could never live as husband and wife again but maybe there was room to develop a life in harmony? This chance was too important to just let it pass away, so I reluctantly agreed.
1.31 The life
Pills and poison, poison and pills. My life was full of it. It sucked. My husband could not bring himself to accompany me to the hospital anymore. It was too much for him. Instead, I spent those hours in the hospital with a good friend who worked there and was able to arrange to be with me. We spent those hours chatting over men in general as she was also going through a rough period. Our laughter was often the only positive sound in an otherwise dismal atmosphere. Most patients and especially the people who accompanied them looked like and acted if they already had one foot in the grave.
Many times a month, I was pumped full of fluid. Sometimes I did it myself as I was following an alternative treatment parallel to the standard medical treatment. At the Ortho-molecular Practice, the employees were warm and understanding and the various therapies kept me functioning and on my feet. For almost the whole length of the therapy I kept playing sport, did the household chores (with help) and escaped to my work full of wood and trees whenever I could. My hair on top of my head fell out and I constantly wore a sort-of-straw hat which also helped against the hot summer sun. The only good thing about the chemotherapy treatment was that it cured my ever-present acne problem. I had put my work on survival mode and had no expectations whatsoever; any projects or income were seen as welcome added extra’s.
In between the medical appointments, my husband and I were searching for a way to somehow have a future together. I was quite clear, much to the distaste of my friends. I had chosen to try and stay together even though there was a heavy price to pay. It was a road that we had to follow even if I knew that the chance that we could come to an agreement was very small. The main purpose with our sessions with the marriage counsellor was for my husband to come to a decision. What did he really want in his life? Who did want to spend it with? He had to get in touch with his feelings - difficult assignments that he only could answer.
The sessions had helped. In May, we were able to move on. We would have to follow our own paths to the future. We went to a marriage mediator, hoping that he would guide the negotiations as painlessly as possible so that we could quickly move on. It turned into a disaster. My husband moved out the last weeks before the end of chemotherapy treatment and I rearranged my life at home once again. The situation escalated to such a point that I found it necessary to arrange a network of friends and neighbours who were prepared to immediately come to my help and protect me in times of an emergency.
1.32 The strings
Meanwhile, I was being constantly confronted with my unknown background. In everything that I did and with almost everyone I spoke, unanswerable questions were being broached. I was being swung between different worlds. Contact with my mother in Australia was improving, my brother had even rung a couple of times and friends from long ago in Australia had sent best wishes and a bunch of flowers. It was all very heart-warming. I did not feel alone. Suggestions of moving back to Australia came from all sorts of people from both continents and I was touched by the support that I could expect if I would choose to go back to the country of my birth. Feelings of home-sickness grew stronger; longings for specific sounds, smells, sceneries, big trees and friends. But…. I had my children to consider and my own future. What was “home” actually? I missed the country where I had grown up and although the situation in the Netherlands was one big mess but I trusted that it would not always remain so. One day it would be normal again. I had to dig deep and came to a realization. Home was literally where your heart was and that was not something from outside, it did not depend on someone else but came from inside. It was here.
It was not easy to sit and not be able to do anything to improve your own life. I was cornered. There I was, an immigrant, with Dutch as a second language, self-employed with a very young company, with a strange profession, no income (but with financial support to pay the bills), a single mother with 3 children of 4, 5 and 8 years old, no own family, in a house that had lost its value and someone who was recovering from breast cancer. There was not much that I could do to improve the circumstances except live from day-to-day, keep my self-respect and have faith in a better future. Being normally quite an independent, optimistic person with lots of energy and ideas, it was a strange feeling not being able to plan more that a few hours ahead. Some unexpected unpleasant event took place almost every week, something that would keep most people awake for nights on end under normal circumstances. I had not expected to be in this situation and did not welcome the circumstances that were part of it, but all the blows kept on coming. I had a particularly strong feeling that I was a living marionette and that somebody or something was pulling the strings of my life. Soul-searching did not produce any clues to the source of this feeling but I did wonder in moments of melancholy or retrospect if this was meant to be my destiny. The more I thought about the road of my life that I had already followed, the stranger it seemed: I had been left behind as a newborn baby, I had voluntarily left behind the country of my birth, my friends and my family, my business partner had deceived me and my husband had consciously abandoned his family. Looking back I had to admit that my opinion that I had a boring middle-of-the-road life was actually not at all standard. Where would this lead me to? Why was this happening? Where were the turning points of time? Were my decisions that I had made the right ones and based on honesty and truth? Could I have done anything to alter the events? More questions but no answers; not yet. The search for my birth mother was maybe part of the search for these answers. I had a feeling that this was something that I had to do and that whatever the results, the search itself would be worthwhile.
1.33 The death
I had not informed my mother in Australia of my plans to search for my birth mother. The time was not ripe. My persistence in writing her letters over the years, even with the lack of a reply , was beginning to pay off. My mother was still an energetic woman with a very clear opinion on diverse matters. She and my father lived in a small country village in the foothills of Melbourne with their dogs. My mother was retired but had taken up local politics. Unfortunately, my father had developed Parkinson’s disease and my mother had decided to put him into a nursing home several hours journey from her house. We found some sort of solace in communicating with each other. Our problems brought us closer together. Although I was very cautious in building up a mother-daughter relationship after so many years of estrangement, it was nice to have a mother figure in my life again and that rather surprised me. My father’s situation deteriorated rapidly in the first half of 2003. He died peacefully in August, my mother and his other children at his side. My tears were maybe far away in another country but my memories were fresh and vivid. He was a good father. I could not go to his funeral. The chemotherapy had just ended and although I was not bed-bound I was very tired and weak. There was also no financial means to fly over and I had the welfare of the children to consider. Instead of personally being present, I wrote a short memoir of him and mailed it to my mother. A poor alternative. I hoped that my mother would arrange to read it aloud during the Church Service. A few days after the funeral, my e-mail returned. It had not arrived, something had gone wrong. That hurt.
My mother and I promised to meet each other in England the next year in order to carry out the last wishes of my father. He wanted his ashes to be spread in the sea in his own hometown in northern England. We could do that together, my mother and sister whom I had not seen for a long time and my children and I. It would be a fine way of saying goodbye to him and a chance to further build up a family bond but this time with the children as well. We all looked forward to it.
1.34 The treatment
The chemotherapy ended in August 2003. The small wisps of curls under my country looking woven straw hat covered up the fact that my hair was extremely thin and enormously unflattering. The summer was constantly warm so I always had my hat on outdoors and did not have to feel too self conscious when going anywhere. The last few weeks of the chemotherapy had been tough but not impossible, partly due to the fact that I had been following an “alternative medicine” trajectory, and partly due to the fact that I had to keep my household running, look after the children and focus on the future.
Once freed of the constant visits to the hospital, I was able to load a portable swimming pool, pack some luggage and entice the children into our old light-blue pick-up for a short holiday in Limburg with friends. They had managed to rent one of the few available holiday homes, a huge old stone farmhouse with black and white timber finishing in the hills, along with a cherry orchard and a spacious garden. Once settled, I could leave most of the care and entertainment of the children in the capable hands of my friends and surrender to the overpowering lethargy of body and mind. It was a welcome luxury and needed break.
Back in the real world, it was time to confront the next step in the precarious and obscure jungle of cancer treatment. The medical specialists wanted me to start a 5-year hormone therapy treatment as soon as possible. I needed sufficient time to convince myself that it was worthwhile because I was more wary of this treatment than the previous chemotherapy treatment and breast removal operation. The prospect of a too early menopause with hot flushes and temperamental swings was not something that I underestimated. Although it was likely that I would become/remain infertile, I had no strong wish to become a mother again, so that was something that did not bother me too much. Eventually I could not find a strong valid reason not to follow the experiences of the medical world and the statistics finally convinced me that it would be worth the effort. In October, after a couple of months of consideration and consistent urging from the doctors, the treatment finally began.
1.35 The strange feeling
Sometime in the first half of 2004, when the children were at school, in a relatively untroubled period and when I was not doing anything in particular, I was bewildered by a sudden tearing sound in my midriff. I was standing up but almost had to gasp for breath from the pain and unexpectedness of it all. Three times I felt a circular strip of restraint being torn away from somewhere inside but I was certain that no one else could have heard it. It was an amazing experience. It all occurred in a couple of seconds but the results remain to this day. All of a sudden I felt lighter, cleaner, less troubled and more certain of myself. I felt that I could see deeper into my body and had more contact with who I actually was. It gave me strength, clearer vision and a feeling of self-reliance. Months later whilst trying to describe this event to one of the few people who I though might understand and even have an explanation for it, the word indifference cropped up. My indifference had disappeared. During all the years of marital struggle I had tried to develop all sorts of characteristics in order to save the situation at home. In the period of turmoil, I had had to cover up my true feelings so much and so often that I had probably buried them. With this new feeling, I was suddenly vulnerable. I could feel again, absorb pain, cry, let it go and then go on and laugh again. Not only with myself but also with others. Remarkable and very, very strange.
1.36 The income
The year 2004 began and I wished, just like in the begin of 2003, that it would end as soon as possible. It would most likely be a year of struggle, pain, turmoil and survival. It was difficult to remain positive and not to become too embroiled in all the problems. The children were a reason for regular social contact with other parents on the school ground so that my attention was at times focussed on more pleasant things. The youngest began with school in March and I then had more time to spend on solving another pressing problem – income.
The relationship between my husband and business partner meant that the working structure of Green Branches abruptly came to an end. I was at that time not prepared to let Green Branches go; it meant
too much to me. In the autumn of 2002 the partnership was turned into a single person enterprise and
I continued on alone; searching, struggling, enjoying the support and comradeship from colleagues, dreaming and believing.
Twisting and turning on finding a way of supporting my family meant constantly reviewing my situation and making choices. Despite the difficult circumstances Green Branches remained functioning although the generated income did not cover all the expenses. The idea of stopping was always hovering in the back of my head. My project “edible wood” had potential but an economical success was very uncertain. Green Branches had to be seen as a pathway to the future and my aim had to adjust so that I could keep it alive rather than to build it up and expand. And that would take years. Painfully I had to accept that my work had become a form of intellectual and emotional therapy.
Carrying on with Green Branches had its consequences. Costs had been cut to the minimum and the storage shelves were becoming quite bare. All the savings had been pumped into rebuilding our house, my husband still paid the mortgage, but the rest was up to me. The options were few. If things got too bad I could still stop with Green Branches and apply for social aid (and have no future to pull me on), apply for a loan from a bank on the basis that the house would soon be sold, ask friends and family for money, look for a job, change career, and/or generate a source of income within the boundaries of my home that fitted in with my daily situation.
I considered my situation, as well as my qualities and shortcomings, and decided that employers would not be standing in the row to give me a job. All that I desired at that moment was easy work that I could combine with caring for my family. I sent off several job applications but was considered overqualified. When comparing the potential earnings and costs for childcare, fuel and the organisation that would be required to fulfil the wishes of these potential employers, I quickly decided that this was not the right road to take. It was too soon to apply for a loan from a bank, my friends were already terrific in supporting me in other ways, my parents-in-law were not prepared to support us financially (but proudly paraded their new Mercedes car in front of us) and preparing for an eventual career switch was an investment that I could not yet afford to take. What was left over? Something to start at home…. and the choice fell on a boarding home for dogs.
The first client arrived during one of the coldest winters in many years….a large rough haired dog with a jaw that could carry a baby sized elephant. We snuggled down together in the only room with central heating and I enjoyed his hairy company. The idea of looking after dogs from local inhabitants for anything from one day to several months was a success. Many dog owners spread the message amongst themselves and the lack of small-scale boarding opportunities in the area did the rest. The income was very small but made a big difference…. and most importantly it fitted in with our daily lifestyle and was fun to do.
PART TWO: From 21st June 2004 – present
2.1 The results
The appointment was finally made for the clinic at 9am on Monday 21st June 2004. All decisions that I had to make after this date were put on hold. I became numb and the days went by exceedingly slowly. I felt that I was walking through heavy mud. The nights became restless and I began to dream of becoming a half woman with psychological problems, nowhere to stay, no money, no future and eventually a life without my children.
A good friend met me at the clinic on Monday. We were ushered into the office of the elderly research professor. He sat before us with an expression of neutral professional concern on his face. I reached into my bag for the list of questions that I had prepared the evening before. My intuition told me that everything was alright but my uppermost emotions were tumultuous and overpowering. I was dead scared. The professor spoke. One sentence. Bewilderment. Disbelief. I asked him to repeat it. It was true. The hurricane in my stomach was slowly replaced with a wave of warmth. I could live again. There would not be an extra operation and my two daughters were safe for the moment. The disease was not hereditary.
2.2 The decision
Life did not get back to normal. Life was full of motion and for several days I was dancing on the crest of the wave. The path to the future was now clear and I could move onwards. Finally. It was a wonderful feeling but at the same time I realised how close I had come to a totally other scenario. The possibility of losing the other breast with all the corresponding medical treatments had shocked and shaken me up so much that living had taken on yet another perspective. Moving on also meant delving into the past; getting answers before they were lost for good. This was the last step I needed to make a decision. I had felt that I was cut off from the universe and needed to throw out some lines as anchorage. It was time to start the search for my birth mother.
2.3 The house
Even though I was determined to fulfil the promise that I had made as a young girl (to search for my birth parents if I had a serious hereditary disease), carrying out other activities had a greater priority. The search had to wait for a few months. One week after the results of the genetically based research, I was able to recommence all activities again. First of all, our house had to be sold. It was one big disaster. The front of the house looked normal but the monstrosity that was built behind and on the side of the house astounded three normally talkative real estate agents into silence. Unknown to me, the reconstruction of our house by my husband had not been carried out according to the rules and regulations of the local council. The council had ordered a termination of all building activities until adjusted plans were approved. The result was a half finished open construction built with second-hand material that diminished the value of our house dramatically. My husband was no longer an active part of the selling process so it was left to me to make the most of the situation. Once the negotiations with the real estate agent were completed, the whole procedure of selling our property went quickly and smoothly. In January 2005, the property was sold.
2.4 The resettling
My children, pets and I moved in the summer of 2005 to a small house with a spacious garden close by our old address. Losing my former house with the huge old oak tree in the front garden felt like losing a part of myself. Although I now had, considering the circumstances, a more than adequate substitute it did not feel like home. Silently I vowed not to stay longer than five years at this address, although I had no idea how to carry out that promise. The last legalities of the divorce were finally settled in October and a period of extreme financial difficulty spanning two and a half years finally ended. My three primary school children adjusted amazingly well to their new surroundings and after six months or so life began to take on a normal routine once more.
2.5 The pregnancy
Many of my friends were up-to-date on the developments in my life, including the wish to search for my birth mother. One friend was particularly enthusiastic to help with digging up my past. January in 2007 was a cold, dark month and a good moment to sit down and discuss various means of looking for a person without a name. Where should we start? We began with what I knew about my birth mother; a young girl, still at school, from the area of New York in the USA, wealthy family (otherwise she would not have been in Australia) and with a Catholic background. We envisaged several scenario’s which were:
a) she had met an American schoolboy during a school trip to Australia and got pregnant
b) she was already pregnant and/or discovered that she was pregnant once in Australia
c) she got pregnant in America and was sent to Australia to bear her child.
Once in Melbourne she had to have had somewhere to stay, something to do during the day and was probably not alone, possibly with a member of her family. We tried to find a Catholic high school with female students in New York which was operating in the 1960’s. Then we tried to get information about former class lists, reports or archives with a mention of a school trip to Australia. We wanted also to find out if there was a young girl absent for several months from school. We considered the possibility that an unexpected pregnancy for a young girl in the 1960’s, possibly in a prestigious school, would have been seen as a scandal and that many parties would have tried to hush it up. We did find a link in the name of a catholic school in New York with a Catholic organization in Melbourne but all other leads led to nothing.
2.6 The article
I knew that my adoptive parents had contact with a Home for Babies in north eastern Melbourne. We assumed that the newborn baby had been taken in there and cared for until new parents were found and all judicial papers arranged. During our search on the internet we used all sorts of single and combination keywords as well as the keyword for that babies home in Melbourne. Suddenly we stumbled on an newspaper article that in one second drained me of all energy and made me feel completely nauseous. The article was the result of an investigation by two journalists and was published in a well-known and reliable national newspaper in Australia. It lead to major social unrest and a Parliament Inquiry. The article from 1997 read:
“Babies used in Experiments”
“… Children in orphanages and babies’ homes in Victoria were used in post-World War II medical experiments and research that continued until 1970.
The experiments included trials of new vaccines that did not work or failed to pass safety tests in animals.
Babies less than 12 months old were injected with large doses of an experimental vaccine against herpes. Other experiments included giving children a test vaccine against whooping cough which was never put into production.
An Insight investigation by The Age has discovered hundreds of children in orphanages and babies’ homes including wards of state, were used in the experiments and studies over 25 years.
They were used to test vaccines and antigens for toxic effects before the new products were used on children in the wider community. In a number of the tests babies developed adverse reactions, including vomiting and abscesses...”
“… The xxx Institute of Medical Research confirmed that it had conducted tests with a killed herpes vaccine on 16 children at the xxx Foundling Hospital, which was also known as the xxx.Babies’ Home.. The experimental vaccine failed to protect the children against the virus”.
My head swam. I was acquainted with the name of only one babies’ home in Melbourne. The home where I was placed. The name of the babies’ home in the newspaper article.
2.7 The second article
Further browsing on the internet revealed another article in 2004 written by one of the same journalists. I did not feel any better when I had read it.
“Polio vaccines tested at orphanages”
“A Federal Government agency used babies in Victorian orphanages and children’s homes to test a new quadruple antigen vaccination, which included polio vaccine possibly contaminated with a monkey virus since linked to cancer…”
Again the name of “my” Babies’ Home. And a link to cancer. Although the years mentioned did not match the period that I was there, it was very clear that experiments on babies were continuing on in Victoria up until the mid sixties. Exact figures and facts will probably never be confirmed. Community attitudes were then different to those of today but the horror and disbelief remain strong.
2.8 The aftermath
What should you do when you have heard that you may have been used as an experiment? How should you feel? The chance that it actually had taken place, even how small, can not be ruled out. How should you feel when you realize that even if you were not chosen, that most likely other babies and children sleeping under the same roof were used as medical experiments? How should you feel when your guardians, vowed followers of a Christian faith, sacrificed their small clients to the medical world? Babies seen as defenceless guests without parents, without a voice, and apparently without any human rights? How should you feel? How would my birth mother feel if she knew that this had (possibly) happened to her child? Did my adoptive parents know about the situation? I have no idea how I should feel except that it makes me feel sick. Confused. Angry. Upset. And ashamed. Terribly, terribly ashamed.