My birth parents adopted me out, then had more kids
SOCIAL WORKER, 32
My birth mother was 17 and birth father 22 when I was born [in 1987]. It wasn't the peak era for forced adoptions but I'd say in my birth mother's case there was definitely pressure on her from key family members [for me to be adopted]. I spent a week in Royal Brisbane Hospital with my birth parents, then about 10 weeks in foster care, before I was adopted by my Mum and Dad, Judith and Stephen Sliwka, from Oxley [in Brisbane's southwest]. They were 36 and 37 and had been on a waiting list to adopt for about five years. They hadn't been able to have children of their own, so I grew up as an only child. Mum was a full-time mathsteacher and Dad dabbled in the sharemarketbut was mostly a stay-at-home dad. Becausethey were mature and had made a conscious decision to have a child, they were brilliant parents in that every decision they made was through the lens of what was best for me, so they gave me a great private school education and supported me through uni.
Knowing I was adopted caused me enormous anguish. There were times I'd look at my parents and think, who are these people, because they would feel like strangers. There's a lot of research now to support the idea that early experience of adoption - even if you take a baby and a week later put it with adoptive parents - can affect attachment security. I think it's also partly why I haven't been able to make [romantic] relationships work very well. The best way to describe it is I find it hard to trust people in an intimate way; which is a pretty common experience for adopted people.
My birth parents had written me letters when I was born, which I knew about, so when I was 15 I asked Mum if I could see them and they filled in a lot of detail. In the letters, my birth parents encouraged me to find them if I wanted to. So as soon as I turned 18 I searched for them, which was an emotional and stressful time for me and my [adoptive] parents. It turned out my birth parents were still together and living in Kenilworth, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, just a couple of hours away. They had married three years after I was born and had two more children - my brother, who was by then 11, and sister, 10. There was a long process then of getting to know each other and working out where we all fitted. Filling in that side of my life made me appreciate my adoptive parents more. My relationship with my birth parents has been up and down over the past 13 years but we're in a good place now - I see them a few times a year and I'm in weekly contact with my siblings.
When I was 26, my adoptive Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and died three weeks later. Then five months after that Mum died after a seizure while taking her daily swim at Corinda pool. They were both only 63 with a super-healthy lifestyle, so the loss of both of them was awful and made me completely re-evaluate my life.
I had a Bachelor of Psychology and was completing a Masters of Social Work by that point and had worked at Kids Helpline and then as a full-time counsellor for Post Adoption Support Queensland.
I felt there had to be more to life than working full-time, so in 2016 I quit my job and went travelling for six months to figure things out. While overseas, I was contacted by [another] Queensland adoption support service, Jigsaw, about a job. I'd previously volunteered for Jigsaw running peer support groups and then on their management committee, so I jumped at the chance.
I'm now a post-adoption practitioner with Jigsaw's federally funded Forced Adoption Support Service. We help [adoptees] search for family members and provide emotional support, counselling and referrals. I've been here two years and work with a great team of people. I'm also fortunate my parents left me in an OK financial position, so I've chosen to work part-time. I spend the rest of my time visiting family and friends and I'm also writing a book about my adoption experience. Mum and Dad were always so supportive and just wanted me to be happy. They'd be thinking, good on you.