exposing the dark side of adoption
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A family bond beyond blood


A family bond beyond blood

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Third generation … Kathryn and Samrawit Orford, 10, will soon celebrate five years together. They are holding a portrait of Kathryn's adoptive parents.
Photo: Kate Geraghty
Damien Murphy
November 22, 2008
KATHRYN ORFORD'S mother was adopted and then, when she was 43 in 1998, she found out that she too was adopted.
It was not a great surprise. She had long suspected something but could not quite put her finger on it, yet she had loved her upbringing and her adoptive parents so much she too thought it quite natural to adopt when the time came to make a decision about parenthood.
In 2003, the Forestville peak-performance coach flew to Ethiopia to meet Samrawit, a five-year-old girl who adoption agencies believed had been orphaned.
"I woke up on the morning of my 48th birthday with Samrawit lying next to me. It was the best birthday of my life," Ms Orford said yesterday.
"My adoptive mother had trouble conceiving so I was her long-awaited child and was so very, very much cherished.
"In my early 40s I'd gone to sperm banks and considered the whole IVF thing and when I questioned whether I wanted to be a biological mum or just a mum, I thought, a mum would do fine.
"And adopting a child from overseas who faced death, disease or abject poverty was a way of keeping what had been a way of life in my family for three generations."
A single mother, Ms Orford has decided to tell her story publicly as part of National Adoption Awareness Week and her unusual family history is a kind of tree of life of adoption in Australia.
For much of last century, so many children were surrendered around Australia that, Ms Orford said, some studies estimated 70 per cent of the population have personal experience of adoption.
But then the well dried up when the pill and ready availability of supporting parent pensions arrived and since the 1970s Australians have tended to adopt overseas.
Ms Orford's biological mother, a South African Boer, attached a note to documents lodged with the Department of Community Services that she did not wish to meet her daughter.
"She said her husband had ill health and I can only assume it's because he does not know of my existence," Ms Orford said.
Ms Orford was born in 1955 at Royal North Shore Hospital, according to her adoptive mother's closest friend, after her birth mother had a shipboard romance with a Melbourne man. Both were engaged to others.
"I only found all this out when I was thinking about IVF and was asked how difficult my birth had been for my mother," she said. "At the time, my mother was in a nursing home suffering dementia and slowly dying, so I asked my Aunty Molly … eventually she told me I was a adopted. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must have been for my mum arriving in Australia, just 22, no family, no friends and pregnant in the '50s.
"I wait in hope that one day she'll be ready to meet me."
In the years since adopting Samrawit, Ethiopian authorities have informed Ms Orford that her daughter's parents were in fact alive and had surrendered the youngest of their nine children because they could not afford to keep her.
"We are going to Ethiopia in early 2010. Samrawit will meet her mum and dad and brothers and sisters and not go through life wondering who she is or where she came from."

2008 Nov 22