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"For 23 years I lived with pain in my heart that I had lost my own baby"

The bill will allow adoptive parents and close blood relatives of an adopted child to agree access arrangements.

Image: Child holding hand of adult via Shutterstock

A NEW BILL could see open adoption introduced in Ireland – and the TD who proposed it has spoken of her own very personal reasons behind it.

Labour TD Anne Ferris was herself adopted, only discovering the fact when she was a teenager. She had a child herself in 1972, a daughter who was also adopted.

So she knows more than anyone the impact adoption has on people’s lives, the joy of being brought up in a loving family, the confusion of having what you knew of your identity changed, and the grief of not having contact with your own child when you desire to meet them.

Ferris recommends open adoption rather than “a lifelong echo of a door slammed shut” as she described the current lack of information in adoptions in Ireland.

Of her own discovery that she was adopted, she said:

I cannot describe how destabilising it is to find out on the cusp of adulthood that you are not who you think you are.

Anne Ferris’s story

Speaking as the Dáil debated the Open Adoption Bill, Ferris said that while there may be issues around privacy, her attitude is “let someone take a challenge to it”.

Ferris was adopted into a “very loving family”, and said that she has since discovered she has half-brothers and half-sisters.

When she became pregnant at a young age, the decision was made by her parents that she would not be able to raise a child on her own, and her daughter was put up for adoption.

“For 23 years I lived with that pain in my heart that I had lost my own baby,” she said.

I think for people like myself, that if there had been an open adoption legislation in place when I lost my baby I wouldn’t have had that grief and many of these people wouldn’t have had that grief for many years because they would have been part of their life growing up.

“An adopted child growing up knowing about his or her two mothers should become as normal as the childhood of a classmate who has parents and step-parents,” said Ferris, adding that the most important thing “is that the child feels loved by its extended family, whatever form that family may take”.

“The right to someone’s identity and right to know who you are is very, very important,” she said.

She pointed out that when natural parents are reunited with the child they gave up for adoption, they meet adults, not children. “There is still a loss there,” she said.

What the bill proposes

Adoption is not a black and white issue, and Ferris’s bill gives parents and close blood relatives of an adopted child the choice to agree access arrangements in an open adoption scenario.

When she published the bill in March, Deputy Ferris pointed out: “At present, once a child is adopted, section 58 of the Adoption Act 2010 extinguishes all rights of the natural parents and their relatives, such as grandparents.”

Her new bill proposes to change this situation, allowing the natural parent or relatives to agree measures for on-going access to the child, either with the Adoption Authority in advance of an adoption, or the adopters afterwards.

There is also a provision in the Bill to allow a natural parent to apply to the courts to seek access. “This is about the needs of the adopted child,” pointed out Ferris.

She described the laws as they stand as “too inflexible to address the special emotional needs of many adopted children”.

More and more society is learning of the emotional damage that can be caused to children and adults by the severing of natural families. This is not to underestimate the happiness and security that an adopted child can have within their adopted family. But the experience of many adoptees in adulthood is a sense of loss for the family they didn’t grow up with.

She described how modern Irish family structures are “becoming more flexible and many children are flourishing in families that no longer follow the traditional model”.

Read: ‘A truly remarkable woman’: Philomena a ‘catalyst’ for increase in adoption queries>

Read: Government begin bid to allow same-sex couples to adopt>

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