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'Keeping Mum'

"Keeping Mum is my story of being an adoptee of Australia’s closed adoption system of the 1970s. Through finding my voice, I found peace with the three mothers in my life—my birth mother, adoptive mother and myself."

Filius Nullius (the child of no one) 28/11/71 to 23/12/71


Pulled from her mother’s steamy womb, a baby girl, Filius Nullius is immediately separated from her mother—who never sees or touches her and is placed for adoption during Australia’s closed adoption era. For three weeks, a busy roster of nursing staff cares for her.


She calls for her mother, but her mother never comes. A wound carves through her body, turning marrow to marble and forever changes the person she was destined to become.


In a hospital ward for single mothers, not far from the nursery, a social worker guides a scared teenage girl through the paperwork to relinquish her baby. She must name the child before she signs, but that name will remain confidential with the intention that for their own benefit, they should never meet again.

‘Womanliness means only motherhood;
all love begins and ends there’
- Robert Browning


Sunday, 5 November 2000 – 5.30am


I’m as ashamed now as I was fifteen years ago that 'run' was the only word circulating through my mind as I lay curled in foetal position in a labour room of the Mater Mothers’ Private Hospital, having just given birth to my first child. 

I’d naively chosen that particular hospital to deliver him because I hoped the ghosts of my own birth and what occurred immediately after wouldn’t follow me there. I was wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the poltergeist I unleashed when my husband, Baden and I welcomed our son to the world.


He wasn’t our first pregnancy; there’d been three previous misadventures. He was simply the sole survivor. He’d tiptoed lightly through my womb, avoided my tripwire fears and thrived on the most precarious of motherly knife-edges.


Here, in this tiny creature of my own making, I saw the first glimpse of myself in any living being. He looked like slides taken of me as a baby—my light, golden hair and chubby cheeks. His smell was…familiar. There was no definable essence I could name—it was more as if I smelt my own skin when I pressed my nose against his neck. I ricocheted between revelling in his likeness and complete terror of his existence.

Before my son was born, I’d prayed that the fairy tale of motherhood, glorified in art, media and literature, would turn into a reality. After his birth, with him squeaking and grunting in his crib next me, I sensed that motherhood, for me, would not be so uncomplicated, intuitive or natural. I suspected the battle ahead immediately.

The first mothering of me had not begun, nor ended with love. The second mothering of me was a lifelong battle of boundary setting, fear and mistrust. The mother inside me was elusive. I was at some primal level at war with womanliness…with the Mother. There was a part of me who hated the Mother. 

Jo-Ann Sparrow Author
Jo-Ann Sparrow Author
Jo-Ann Sparrow Author
No Reflection
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