‘Wade in the Water …': Rethinking adoptees' stories of reunion

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Massey University
In 1955, the Aotearoa/New Zealand government legislated the closed stranger adoption period. Approximately 80,000 children were constructed as a legal fiction when deemed as if born to a legally married couple. Birth family information was permanently sealed. Yet being raised in a fictional subject position and being denied access to any family of origin has consequences for all involved. After ten years of lobbying, the Adult Adoption Information Act (1985) came into effect. The power of that legislation was to overturn the strategies that suppressed adoptees’ rights to know details of their birth. Adult adoptees over the age of 20 years could access their original birth certificates, which provided a birth mother’s name. With this identifying information, reunions became possible. Birth family reunions involve a diverse range of experiences, reflecting the ways in which adoptees are contextually and historically produced. This paper reconsiders the identity implications of reunion stories using the theoretical concept of hybrid identity. The complexities of reunions are multiple, and adoptees negotiate their identities through being both born to and born as if and yet neither identity is safe. In the production of this hybrid story, it was possible to see the political and moral trajectories that enable and constrain a sense of self through the complexities of a legal context that produces binary subject positions.
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Adoption, Adoptees, Hybridity, Identity, Birth family, Adoptive family, Reunion