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Adopted Women as Mothers: through the filter of adoption experience

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posted on 15.12.2016, 06:29 by Jeanette Elizabeth Conrick
Adoption in one form or another has always been part of the fabric of Australian society and thousands of adoptions have been legalised in the State of Victorian since the proclamation of its first adoption legislation in 1928. Despite a growing body of international knowledge about the life outcomes for those with an adoption status little is known about the experiences of adopted women at the life stage of parenting children. This research will contribute to redressing this deficiency.
       The current inquiry has heard directly from twenty-one Victorian women about their own lived experience as mothers. To answer the research question that was posed, semi-structured interviews were conducted with sixteen participants. The resulting qualitative data was analysed in a variety of ways, initially through examination of each participant interview and then across interviews, using thematic content analysis. The codes, categories and themes that resulted were evaluated by a focus group of five participants who had not taken part in the interviews and also by two independent, social work inter-raters.
       The study shows that each participant was an experienced mother with children spanning a number of developmental stages of childhood. Each woman was well embedded within the normative range of Australian mothers in terms of the stability of partnerships, education level and employment trends, and their approaches to parenting were consciously informed by their adoption status.
       Mothering emerges as a time of confrontation and review for this group of women. Through their own children’s childhoods, they engaged with memories of their early lives and the losses they and their own two mothers had experienced. Biological parenthood was the first choice for each woman in this study, and all expressed a high level of commitment to their family of procreation. They consciously sought to be the ‘best mothers’ they could be and to actively address any issue that might negatively impact on achieving this. The desire to be a good a parent, the values that informed their mothering and the models of mothering that they drew upon, included a strong wish to provide a sense of familial continuity and membership for their children.
   Being a parent also raised complexities associated with personal identity that prompted further exploration of their adoption through obtaining records, seeking contact with birth family members and participating in counselling. In turn this had implications for their emotional wellbeing and the complexity of social relationships that then had to be negotiated.
       The inquiry extends our understanding and sheds new light on the complex interplay between adoption status and the negotiation of the life stage of motherhood for adopted women. It points to the importance of understanding their support needs at this time, and suggests ways for including an adoption perspective in the assessment and intervention practices of social workers. This inquiry also has the potential for informing other areas of social work concern such as out of home care and assisted reproductive technologies.


Principal supervisor

Thea Brown

Additional supervisor 1

Fiona McDermott

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Social Work

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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