IIt wasn’t until 2020, at the age of 52, that I got the right to use my name. But as with all adoptions, nothing is quite as simple as it seems. Like other babies given to infertile couples under Australia’s “forced adoption” policies, my birth certificate was canceled shortly after I was born; another birth certificate created a legal fiction to make it appear as if I was born to the infertile couple.
With the stroke of a pen, I was denied connection with my entire family – my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmothers – and my first name. After a few months I was handed over to the couple who took me home. I had no social history, no medical, racial or genetic history. It was all top secret.
The records of somewhere between 140,000 and 250,000 Australian babies were sealed by law, with a promise that the truth would never be revealed.
Things on that front have gradually changed and adoptees are now allowed to use the names on one of our birth certificates. When I first read about these changes, I cried—it was the first time I had seen the dual identities and split loyalties that shadow-adopted people fully acknowledged.
However, on my first birth certificate, the name my mother chose for me is missing and I am identified with the word “Unnamed” with my mother’s last name. According to that certificate, my name is Unnamed Master. My second birth certificate lists the name given to me by my adopted family.
The integrated birth certificate allows me to choose one of these two names, but it seems inappropriate for adoptees to be known as “Unnamed” when the purpose of integrated birth certificates is to help adopted people connect with their full identity.
It has taken me many months to realize that this profound breakthrough does not achieve what it set out to do: it does not allow me to see the name my mother wanted for me.
The only place my mother was ever allowed to use my name was inside her mind. While she was told to stop crying by the “real” mothers who nursed their babies in the beds next to her, while she was given milk-suppressing drugs without her knowledge, while she signed all the papers because she did all she was told, The name was in her head and heart: Jonah.
Like the eternal state of longing, the name haunted her for years, even though Jona still doesn’t exist now. The state of New South Wales sent me to live with people who called me something else. They called me Eudora*, the name I have been called for over 50 years.
The simple facts are these: I was born and hidden where my mother could not find me. She had no lawyer and she was a minor and had no legal capacity to sign me away. A girl like her was not allowed to name her child.
It was part of the punishment for being shamed and blamed in the maternity ward when a girl got sick. Above the bed was a three letter sign, “BFA”, to identify that here was a Baby For Adoption.
“Unnamed Master”. Born in a small regional town on the outskirts of Sydney, on a midwinter morning in the late 1960s, nowhere is “Jona” mentioned. To me, the confusion and cognitive dissonance seems impossible to resolve.
I recently explained to a psychologist that I have two families with two divergent histories. I look like These people. I sound like These people, I think and act like These people, the people I was born from.
My brother, on the other hand, is one of them those people, from the other side of my life, the people I was sent to. My mother is one of them those people. And my father, yes, he is one of those also people.
For an adopted person, the idea of father is complicated. The idea of mother is complicated. The idea of brother and sister, home and belonging – it’s all complicated. Even your name and the names we use to identify family – none of it is easy to understand.
Think of the words – mother, father – how can anyone experience them without a visceral reaction in the stomach, in the heart, in the throat? When I hear these words, there is a glitch, a moment that changes as I track who has these roles in my life. None of that gets any easier with time.
In 2021 I applied to the Department of Community and Justice for my birth records. It is now July 2022. A few months ago I was asked to put an extra signature on the form and I was asked to wait another nine months for my integrated birth certificate to arrive. This document gives me the choice to use either the name from my first birth certificate or the second – whichever I prefer.
After a lifetime, I can finally choose. But first I have to wait a whole new pregnancy period for the documents to arrive. And then I won’t be given the choice between identifying as Jona or Eudora. I will be offered the choice of Eudora or Unnamed.
The legislation governing my separation from my birth mother erased the history written into my body as if my DNA never existed. But it exists, it’s real. And the name she calls me in her heart is also real.
* Name has been changed