Undertaking a qualitative research project to complete her Master in Social Work degree through Massey University, Naomi is interviewing parents, birthmothers and adoptees.
Wanting to talk to at least three of each, she has reached her quota for parents and has interviewed one birthmother but is finding it difficult locating adoptees over the age of 18 who have been in an open adoption.
Naomi’s interest in the topic was triggered by a family experience – she learned she had a brother some three years older when she was about 18 and her sister was around 15.
“It was a bit of a shock,” she recalls. “Growing up, I wished I had an older brother. I think I even said I felt had one but that he must have been adopted. I don’t remember if my mother said anything to make me think that way.”
Meeting her brother and getting to know him has been a great experience – “it’s almost like he has always been part of the family”. They flatted together for a time, and her sister has flatted with him too.
“He and my mother have a good understanding and relationship, and over time she has been able to express the grief she was not able to talk about before he came into our lives.”
Naomi completed her Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences in the Waikato and now teaches on the degree programme at EIT. She was “heading down the social work track” when, reflecting on what the experience had meant for her family, she became interested in the area of adoption.
“I had the opportunity to work as an adoptions social worker with Child Youth and Family. By that stage, closed adoption was already a thing of the past although the legislation didn’t reflect that and it still doesn’t.”
While the role of social workers calls for a certain amount of detachment in working with clients, Naomi says there is a difference between being empathetic and being detached.
“My own experience and working with adoptive applicants and birth mothers sparked my curiosity about how relationships play out in the long run. I am interested in hearing the experiences of all three in the adoption triangle.
“Having interviewed parents who have adopted and birth mothers, I’ve been moved by their stories. It’s been a real privilege actually.
“What is said in the literature and what I’ve found in interviews is that open adoption doesn’t necessarily take away all the pain and grief, but having access to the biological and medical history and knowing where the children come from are highlighted as benefits.
“However adoption is managed, it’s never really clean cut for those involved,” Naomi says.
If you are interested in helping Naomi with her research please email her on NHesseling@eit.ac.nz