Relinquished, Returned, Rejected by Jackee Ashwin
Reviewed by Kathy Mexted
Jackee Ashwin’s story, Relinquished, Returned, Rejected is a jarring journey into her all-too-common experience of women in the 1950s -- 70s about the emotions and consequences of forced adoption in Australia.
With a very large family of her own to feed, Jackee’s mother was unable to help raise Jackee’s baby, having already farmed two of her own children out to a neighbour. Jackee and her sister grew up in a loving, though foreign, home with their own family relocated to the city. By the time Jackee and her sister moved to the city, the family returned to the country. It was a disjointed and alienating experience.
At 19 Jackee falls pregnant and with little-to-no support and no hope of supporting herself as a single mother, she signs the adoption papers in a fog of confusion. Her vivid description of her son being placed out of reach and almost out of sight is not one you will easily forget. Jackee never forgot it either, nor the sound of his wail as he was wheeled away up the cold corridor.
Her first marriage fails and in a cruel twist, when Jackee marries for the second time, it is to learn that she is infertile due to complications from an appendectomy. IVF provides a miscarriage and then a stillborn son, Benjamin.
An important observation by Jackee is how badly she needed counselling, but in the absence of same she bumbles through as best she can, trying to figure it out. The inevitable feelings of failure and guilt swamped her as she clawed her way back into the world, shed the old skin and sadly, shed the second marriage with it.
In a new job in a warehouse that was so cold it froze the dishwashing liquid in it’s bottle during winter, a kindred spirit listened, guided and helped Jackee to expel her pent-up emotions. Leading her from the sea of despair, allowing her to talk and talk through her issues. Will became her best friend, and fifteen years later, her third husband.
Some years later it was a new job back at the hospital where she’d delivered both babies, that old wounds were reopened and thus Jackee began the search for her adopted son.
The last three quarters of the book describe her valiant efforts to find and reconnect with her son. The fairy tale ending was not to be, and the journey and reasons for this are clear from the outset.
Anybody who has lived through the grief and trauma of being forced to hand over their baby for adoption, or endured the deep-seated heartbreak of stillbirth and infertility, will identify with the emotions and observations in this book.
Jackee has written this book with attention to detail, a willingness to share her experience and to offer insight into the issues that face mothers on many levels.
As a counter-balance to her story, Jackee includes an adoptee’s extensive story in the back, which gives weight to the knowledge that everybody suffers.
Relinquished, Returned, Rejected is written with reflection but not self-pity and is an easy, enlightening and fascinating read.