Birth mothers : adoption in New Zealand and the social control of women, 1881-1985.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis profiles the lives of women in New Zealand, comparing these generalised experiences to emerging adoption law from a feminist perspective. Although this thesis covers adoption's legislative history from its inception, it concentrates on the era of closed adoptions, from 1955-1985. This period encompasses a period in adoption history in which women were forced to surrender their children and then silenced and forgotten. This thesis draws on secondary sources and interviews with birth mothers in Christchurch from as long ago as 1940 and from as recently as 1979. Women who gave up their children for adoption were given a 'choice' to adoption or to keep their child. However, the issue in not necessarily one of the birth mother's 'choice', rather it is the conditions under which choices are made. Birth mothers were rendered powerless and invisible by the adoption process. The law' and practice of adoption in New Zealand is examined as a form of social control over birth mothers, the women who gave up their children for adoption. This form of social control is, it is argued, a result of the patriarchal power relations. It is argued that adoption has formed part of population ideology and control, supporting the nuclear family and maintaining the patriarchal status quo.