Sad view of adoption in abortion debate: it’s a far cry from reality

In his weekly column, Michael Patwell gives his opinion on adoption in light of comments made during the ongoing abortion debate
Sad view of adoption in abortion debate: it’s a far cry from reality

BOND: Michael Pattwell adopted three children

IT is important to point out that even though I have changed my mind about many things — things that I once held firm and fast views on — I have not changed my opinion of abortion and I am as firmly against it today as I was over 35 years ago.

Away back in 1983, I played quite a prominent part in my own area in promoting the 8th amendment of our constitution. I hosted meetings, I spoke as a guest at debates hosted by both sides of the debate, and I canvassed, day and night at times, for votes in favour of inserting the protection that the voiceless little children needed.

This time round, I am trying very hard to keep out of the debate, for a number of reasons, but mainly because I am too old now to bear the pain that the very idea of slaughtering an innocent causes me.

I have decided also that because I have the great privilege of sharing my opinions in this page, on anything I wish to write about, I should not abuse that privilege by trying to foist my opinion on my readers on such a controversial matter.

With that declaration out of the way, the following comments, though closely related to the abortion issue, are much more about adoption than about abortion.

I read a letter in the Irish Examiner about a month ago. I’m not easily shocked but that letter truly shocked me. It shocked me to the extent that I didn’t allow myself to respond until I had steadied myself. In the meantime I have debated with myself whether I should republish some, or all, of the letter in question. I have reached a point now where I feel that the tenor of the letter is such that very few people, if any, who have any connection with the issue of adoption, would accept the views expressed.

The letter in question was headed, ‘Adoption not better than abortion’. The following views were expressed:

“Adoption is a curse forced on unwanted children by those who handed off children to complete strangers they do not know, who must live their lives with people which are not their own. Their lives are covered and clouded in mystery, intrigue, and ignorance. Adopted children are buried under a cloak of secrecy and lies told to them by their parents and social workers to protect those who did not want to have children.”

The letter continued:

“Legions of adopted people are out there living in an alienated situation not of their own making. Adopted people are treated like second-class citizens who live in their own alienated world, forced upon them by the indifferent and those who have been inconvenienced because they had no abortion services.

“Abortion is far better than having thousands of people walking around who do not know who they are and struggle each day in a world where they are alienated from their real families and the truth about who they are. Adoption is not a better option than abortion when this is taken into account.”

I wonder how did the letter-writer reach those conclusions. How well does he know people who were originally adopted; how well does he know any family or families who have had adopted children; has any person who was adopted as a child come to him and suggested that he/she would prefer to have died in an abortion clinic than to have lived?

As far as I’m concerned, I do actually have a right to take up this issue. Of my eight children — they are all grown up now, some with families of their own — three were adopted. They were not adopted because we didn’t have children — in fact the first adopted child is the fifth in the family. They were adopted because they were children who were available for adoption and because my wife and I were in a position to not just offer them a home but to offer them a whole family to blend into.

They grew up as brothers and sisters to the other children and to this very day they relate to and interact with all of their siblings, both adopted and otherwise, just like any other children in any other family.

While I do accept that many aspects of our lives can be inherited genetically, I personally believe that “nurture” provides a much stronger influence on how we live our lives than does “nature”. The nature versus nurture debate is about whether human behaviour is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person’s life, or by a person’s genes. The expression “nature and nurture” in English has been in use since at least the Elizabethan period. Shakespeare referred to it in his play, The Tempest, and the 16th century poet, Richard Barnfield, once wrote:

Nature and nurture once together met

The soule and shape in decent order set.

Nature is what we think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors.

Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception e.g. the product of exposure, experience and learning on an individual.

Because I have adopted children of my own, I naturally prick up my ears when I hear of other adopted children and I listen with great interest to their stories when I get the opportunity to hear them.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to my children if I were to go into their own personal experiences but I can say that each of them has made attempts to trace their birth parents once they came to adulthood.

Some of the attempts to make contact had some success and at least one didn’t really work out. The latter one did cause a fair amount of pain and disappointment when it didn’t bring about a meeting but the child, with the support of a loving and supportive partner, her siblings and us, her parents, got on with it and is living a very happy and productive life. I know this because she is the one who lives closest to me and is first to me if I need anything.

There were no great surprises for any of them because, contrary to the letter-writer’s statement that “adopted children are buried under a cloak of secrecy and lies told to them by their parents and social workers …..”, our children always knew they were adopted and as they grew up any relevant information we had was shared with them.

One child of ours had a natural father from the MiddleEast/Asia and, more especially when he was a boy, that was obvious enough from his colour and appearance. That was never a problem at home, of course, but from the moment he started school it seemed to be a problem with other children. On his very first day at school the child with whom he shared a desk went to the teacher crying because he “didn’t want to sit with the African”.

It would appear, therefore, that the ‘ignorance’ the letter-writer refers to is much more grounded and obvious with those who know nothing about adoption. Some have passed on such ignorant attitudes as that other child, in his absolute innocence, displayed to their own children.

The little lad who was afraid of “the African” didn’t pick his racism up off the ground. It was clearly ‘dinner-table talk’ at home. That was the tip of the iceberg; much worse racist bullying followed through the years.

There is no doubt but many — indeed maybe all — adopted children have an inherent sense of rejection. For a small number it can cower over them for a long time, like a permanent shadow behind them. Who is to blame them? They eventually learn to live with it, however and, like the sunflower turning to the sun at the dawn of day, they turn to the love and support that sustained them from early childhood and they grow in love and confidence and achieve their potential in due course.

Most of them reach a point where they yearn to know more about their natural roots. When that happens there is help and co-operation there for them. In fact, they are no different to those of us who were not adopted. Family-tree research is hugely popular now; so is voluntary DNA testing to determine our roots. Non-adopted children are just as curious about these things.

To the letter-writer, I say that your view of adoption is very sad; it is quite erroneous and I wish you would try to investigate the reality.

When it comes to choosing adoption over abortion, I picture my three adopted much-loved children standing side by side and, a bit like in the novel and movie Sophie’s Choice, I wonder which of them I could give up or how many of them might never have been born, to gladden my heart, had abortion been freely available.

I don’t think I need to spell out the answers.

Contact Michael at

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