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  • Writer's pictureSusie Barber

"The Hidden Consequences of Closed Adoptions: Unveiling the Impact on 1960's New Zealand Families"

Written by Author Susie Barber

Founder, and CEO of Susie Wilson Finishing and Etiquette School. Doyenne in Etiquette

239 articles



March 12, 2024


Hard facts and real-life examples from various adoption cases to understand the impact of closed adoptions in New Zealand during the 1960's. The trauma and effects of closed adoptions in NZ in the 1960's. All the facts and case studies


 The practice of closed adoption, in which birth parents have no contact with their child after adoption, was prevalent in New Zealand in the 1960s. This practice was largely driven by societal and religious beliefs, and it had a profound impact on both birth parents and adoptees. While closed adoption intended to provide a stable and harmonious family for adoptees, many of them grew up facing the trauma of being separated from their birth families. This paper will explore the trauma and effects of closed adoptions in New Zealand in the 1960s, using case studies and facts to illustrate the lasting impact it had on both birth parents and adoptees.


Historical context:

During the 1960s, there was strong societal pressure for women to conform to traditional gender roles, including marriage and motherhood. This pressure was further enforced by religious beliefs, particularly in Catholic communities, where unmarried mothers were seen as immoral and unfit to raise a child. As a result, many unmarried pregnant women were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. Adoption agencies and institutions also played a role in promoting closed adoption, often convincing birth parents that it was the best option for their child's future.


Trauma experienced by birth parents:

The decision to give a child up for adoption is one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences a birth parent can go through. The process of separation from their child, coupled with the societal stigma and shame they faced, had a profound impact on their mental and emotional well-being. Many birth mothers experienced grief, shame, and guilt over their decisions, which often had long-lasting effects on their lives. They were also denied the legal and emotional support needed during this emotionally taxing process, as the adoption was often kept secret from family and friends.

Effects on adoptees:

The trauma of closed adoption was not limited to birth parents; it also had a profound impact on adoptees. Many of them grew up feeling a sense of loss, abandonment, and identity crisis, as they were denied access to their birth families and their cultural roots. Adoptees often experienced a lack of information about their birth families, leading to a sense of emptiness and confusion about their identity. This lack of knowledge also had implications for their physical and mental well-being, as they were denied access to important medical information from their birth families.


Case studies:

One of the well-documented cases of the long-term effects of closed adoption in New Zealand is the story of Colin Scott, who was born in 1961 and adopted at birth. Colin only found out about his adoption at the age of 21, and he spent the next three decades trying to search for information about his birth parents. His struggles with identity and feelings of loss and abandonment were later documented in his book, 'A Measure of Love.' Another case study is that of Elizabeth Adeney, who was adopted in the 1960s and spent years searching for her birth mother. Despite being reunited, Elizabeth experienced a range of emotions, including anger and resentment towards her birth mother for giving her up for adoption.


Impact on society and changes in adoption laws:

The trauma and effects of closed adoption in the 1960s have had a lasting impact on society, particularly on the adoptees and birth parents involved. The experiences of Colin and Elizabeth, along with many others, have led to a shift in societal attitudes towards adoption and the recognition of the significant impact it had on both birth parents and adoptees. This has resulted in changes in adoption laws, with open adoption becoming the more prevalent form of adoption in New Zealand today. Open adoption allows for contact between birth parents and adoptees, which has been shown to have positive effects on the well-being and emotional development of adoptees.


In the 1960s, adoption in New Zealand was surrounded by secrecy and shame. Closed adoptions, where the identities of birth parents and adoptees were kept confidential, were the norm. This meant that birth parents had no contact with their children after they were given for adoption and adoptees were not allowed to know anything about their birth families. However, in recent years, there has been a shift towards open adoptions, where birth parents and adoptees can have some form of contact with each other. This change has shed light on the long-term effects of closed adoptions on both birth parents and adoptees.


One of the most significant impacts of closed adoptions in the 1960s was the lifelong emotional toll it took on birth parents. Many women who gave their babies up for adoption during this time were young, unmarried, and often coerced by their families or society to hide their pregnancies and surrender their children. The shame and guilt they carried as a result of this decision often lingered for decades. In some cases, birth mothers were not even allowed to hold their babies or say goodbye before they were taken away. This traumatic experience left many birth mothers with profound feelings of loss, grief, and regret that often manifested in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

One real-life example of the lasting effects of closed adoptions is the case of Mary Lumsden, who gave birth to a baby girl in 1961. As an unwed teenager, she was forced to give her baby girl up for adoption. For years, she lived with the pain and guilt of her decision, never knowing what became of her daughter. It was not until 30 years later, through a chance encounter, that she was able to reunite with her daughter, Gillian Bishop. The reunion was bittersweet, as Gillian had a difficult childhood in her adoptive family and struggled with her own identity and feelings of abandonment. This separation caused by the closed adoption had a lasting impact on both Mary and Gillian, highlighting the consequences of closed adoptions on the emotional well-being of birth parents and adoptees.


Closed adoptions also had a significant impact on adoptees. Many adopted children grew up with the knowledge that they were not their birth parents' biological children but had no information about their origins. This lack of knowledge about their family medical history and genetic background has had serious consequences, especially for those who suffer from hereditary conditions. In some cases, adoptees were also denied their heritage and cultural identity, which can cause a sense of disconnection and isolation.


A prominent example of the impact of closed adoptions on adoptees is the story of Karen Kamp, who was adopted in 1969 at the age of 7 months. Karen discovered at the age of 18 that she was adopted and spent years trying to uncover her biological family's identity. She faced numerous roadblocks due to the sealed records of her closed adoption. Karen eventually found her birth family through a DNA test, but the psychological effects of not knowing her identity for so long impacted her deeply.


In recent years, there has been a push to open adoption records and allow birth parents and adoptees to have access to their birth information. This change has given many reunions a positive outcome, with birth parents and adoptees able to connect and fill the void in each other's lives. However, the impact of closed adoptions in the 1960s is still felt by many, as they struggle to come to terms with their pasts and find closure.


In conclusion, the closed adoptions in New Zealand in the 1960s had life-long effects on both birth parents and adoptees. The secrecy and shame surrounding adoption during this time caused emotional pain and trauma that continued to affect individuals for decades. The real-life examples of Mary Lumsden, Gillian Bishop, and Karen Kamp highlight the hard facts of closed adoptions in that era. While times have changed, it is crucial to acknowledge and understand the long-term consequences of closed adoptions and strive for more open and transparent adoption processes in the future. Both birth parents and adoptees deserve the opportunity to know their history and have a sense of identity and belonging.


In closing, the trauma and effects of closed adoptions in New Zealand in the 1960s were significant and far-reaching. Birth parents faced shame, guilt, and grief, while adoptees grew up facing identity crises and a sense of loss and abandonment. The lack of support and information for both parties had long-lasting effects on their mental and emotional well-being. However, these experiences also led to societal changes and a shift towards more open adoption practices, highlighting the importance of acknowledging and learning from the mistakes of the past. Society needs to recognize and address the lasting impact of closed adoptions and work towards providing support and healing for those affected by this practice.




 


Published by

Susie WilsonSusie Wilson

Founder, and CEO of Susie Wilson Finishing and Etiquette School. Doyenne in EtiquetteFounder, and CEO of Susie Wilson Finishing and Etiquette School. Doyenne in Etiquette


239 articles

Introduction:


The practice of closed adoption, in which birth parents have no contact with their child after adoption, was prevalent in New Zealand in the 1960s. This practice was largely driven by societal and religious beliefs, and it had a profound impact on both birth parents and adoptees. While closed adoption intended to provide a stable and harmonious family for adoptees, many of them grew up facing the trauma of being separated from their birth families. This paper will explore the trauma and effects of closed adoptions in New Zealand in the 1960s, using case studies and facts to illustrate the lasting impact it had on both birth parents and adoptees.


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