My birth mother was not allowed to name her child. But the name she gave me in her heart is real

It was only in 2020, at the age of 52, that I got the right to use my name. But as with all things adoption, nothing is quite as simple as it seems. Like other babies given to infertile couples under Australia’s ‘forced adoption’ policy, my birth certificate was canceled soon after I was born; a second birth certificate created a legal fiction to make it appear that 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 adopted people 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 adoptees fully recognized.

But 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. On my second birth certificate it says the name I was given by my adopted family.

The integrated birth certificate allows me to choose one of these two names, but it seems unhelpful for adoptees to be known as “Unnamed” when the intent of integrated birth certificates is to help adoptees connect with their full identity.

It has taken me many months to realize that this profound breakthrough does not achieve what it aimed at: it does not allow me to see the name my mother wanted me to have.

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The only place my mother was ever allowed to use my name was inside her head. While she was told to stop crying by the “real” mothers nursing 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 everything 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 Jonah 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 this: I was born and hidden where my mother could not find me. She had no lawyer, and she was a minor, without legal capacity to opt me out. A girl like her was not allowed to name her baby.

It was part of the punishment for being shamed and blamed on the maternity ward when a girl became ill. 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 mid-winter morning in the late 1960s, nowhere mentions “Jona”. To me, the confusion and cognitive dissonance seems impossible to resolve.

I recently explained to a psychologist that I have two families with two different stories. i look like these human beings. I sound like these people, I think and behave like these people, the people I was born to.

Related: Adoptees may have biological parents on birth certificates under Victorian law

My brother, on the other hand, is one of them the people, from the other side of my life, the people I was sent to. My mom is one of them the human beings. And my father, well, he’s one of the people too.

For an adopted person, the idea of ​​dad is complicated. The idea of ​​mom 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 – mom, dad – how can anyone experience them without a visceral response in their stomach, in their heart, in their throat? When I hear those words, it’s a mistake, a moment that changes, as I track who has these roles in my life. None of that gets any easier over 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 additional signature on the form and I was told 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 – depending on what I prefer.

After a lifetime, I finally get to choose. But first I have to wait a whole new pregnancy period for the documents to arrive. And then I won’t have the choice between identifying myself as Jonah or Eudora. I will be offered the choice between 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.

* The name has been changed

• In Australia, support is available on Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 and MensLine on 1300 789 978. In the UK, the charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 11800 in 11800. In the US, Mental Health America is available at 800-273-8255

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