I am a product of the 1970’s.
Some of you may think that sounds like centuries ago, others only a heartbeat – that is how it is for me.
It was an in-between time. A time when the flower power and free love of the sixties interacted with the lingering stoicism of the seventies. For people living in this time it was a juxtaposition of eras.
I am also a product of adoption. In those days adoptions were closed. This meant that the birth parent/s never met the adoptive parents or had any contact with the child.
In fact unmarried mothers often went away from their hometown to give birth to their child, then returned to a so-called normal life, leaving their child to be collected by the adoptive parents.
From the time I can remember, I knew I was adopted. As a young child I remember walking down the streets of Tawa in Wellington with my cousin (who was also adopted) when she said “You know we’re special don’t you?” “Special” I thought to myself, “That sounds exciting”. “Why?” I asked. Striding confidently down the steep path she replied “Because we are the chosen ones”. “Far-out!” I thought to myself, “That’s pretty cool!” I guess I had never thought about it, let alone placed a value on it. “Cool” I said trying to digest the thought.
I was raised in a rural community that valued wholesome living, community and hardwork. I eeled in the rivers, roamed the hills and swung from supple-jack in the native bush. These parts of my upbringing were wonderful.
As a woman in my teens I started to wonder about my birth mother. Who was she? What was her story?
At the age of 20 years I was legally able to apply for my original birth certificate. This was when the search began (with the blessing of my adoptive parents). After a year of searching we connected and met. It was the most incredible three hours at a cafe of my life. I looked into the eyes of someone I felt I had known all my life. I watched with awe as our mannerisms and intonations mirrored each other.
Fast-forward thirty years and I am celebrating. Whilst at times through my growing-up I wondered where I fitted into my family and world, I know one thing very strongly…
I have come from a lineage of strong women, wahine toa, both in my adopted and birth mother line. These women faced huge hardships and rose like phoenixes from the ashes. They were resolute in their love for their children, even to the point of giving them up or taking in a stranger’s child to give them a better life. They strove to be independent and free-willed. They were women of deep spirituality. They were also women of community with a heart-felt sense of helping others.
The thing is that whilst I didn’t know my complete identity, I strove to find my place in the world. Rhetoric we often hear today is that you can’t find your place in the world until you know who you are and where you come from. I dispute this. I didn’t know my full story, and yet I knew that I belonged in this world; it was my birthright. I was born into this world, therefore I belonged, just like anyone else. Yes, finding this piece of the puzzle has closed a space in my heart, but I was paving my own way before that.
And so I challenge the belief that we must know our identity to contribute fully to society. We can do it regardless. I also don’t believe our identity is a fixed destination. It’s not like one-day we find it then live happily ever after. It is ever evolving. I often think we spend our whole lives deconstructing then re-discovering ourselves. How truly exciting!
By being in the arena and working our way through this thing called life and leadership we get clear on who we are. We stand courageously in our vulnerability and authenticity. By acknowledging the shoulders of the giants upon whom we have stood we also show integrity.
On this date of Valentine’s day I encourage you to show self-love. Honour who you are, where you have come, and what you stand for. Give yourself a pat on the back. And please don’t forget to send a message to someone who has helped you along your journey, as well as acknowledge those who have passed.
You are everything, nothing, and anything.
You are uniquely YOU. xo