It’s been absolutely forever since I’ve featured a #FlipTheScript story. So I am absolutely THRILLED to feature Sara-Jayne King’s story today. 

Who Is Sara-Jayne King?

Sara-Jayne King is a mixed-race South African/British journalist and radio presenter whose career has taken her across the globe in search of remarkable stories and fascinating characters. Her career began as a junior journalist in local radio in London and since then has included roles in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as a senior editor for news channel eNCA and presenter for Primedia’s talk radio station Cape Talk.

She’s also the author of one of the best pieces of literature I have read featuring adoption – Killing Karoline. An autobiographical novel about Sara-Jayne’s own experience of her adoption.

Born Karoline King in 1980 in Johannesburg South Africa, Sara-Jayne (as she will later be called by her adoptive parents) is the result of an affair, illegal under apartheid’s Immorality Act, between a white British woman and a black South African man. Her story reveals the shocking lie created to cover up the forbidden relationship and the hurried overseas adoption of the illegitimate baby, born during one of history’s most inhumane and destructive regimes. Killing Karoline follows the journey of the baby girl who is raised in a leafy, middle-class corner of the South of England by a white couple. Plagued by questions surrounding her own identity and unable to ‘fit in’ Sara-Jayne begins to turn on herself. She eventually returns to South Africa, after 26 years, to face her demons. There she is forced to face issues of identity, race, rejection and belonging beyond that which she could ever have imagined. She must also face her birth family, who in turn must confront what happens when the baby you kill off at a mere six weeks old returns from the dead.

If you have not read Killing Karoline yet, you absolutely must! I have followed Sara-Jayne’s journey ever since and literally wept tears of joy for her when she was finally reunited with her birth father earlier this year. 

Sara-Jayne’s voice

When and how did you learn that you were adopted?

To my parent’s credit, I have always known. I don’t remember a time that I didn’t know that, unlike most of my friends, I didn’t come from my mommy’s tummy. Interestingly though, it wasn’t until I was much older that I started wondering about my ‘first’ daddy. I guess at a young age one tends to be more connected to the idea of a mother, when it comes to thinking about one’s own existence.

How did this make you feel then?

At a very young age, it didn’t make me feel either good or bad. It just was. I wish more adoptive parents would understand that it’s not the ‘adoption conversation’ that messes kids up – it’s the inability and unwillingness of many of them to deal with the feelings and questions that may come up in the future (and they can come at any age – I still have questions and I’m 38!)

Is there anything you feel could have been done differently by your adoptive parents that would have helped you?

I wish my parents would have thought more long term. Telling us (my brother and I) was only the first 1% of what we really needed. The adoption journey and the emotions it takes you through are complex and wide-ranging. The ‘you’re adopted conversation’ is only the beginning. I wish they’d had a plan. I wished they’d had counseling. I wished they’d put our special needs ahead of their need to be parents.

Is there any one thing that your adoptive parents could have done to ease your struggle with identity?

They could have acknowledged it. Even before that they SHOULD have prepared for it. So often I find adoptive parents are so caught up in their own need to be parents, to adopt – that the stuff they really need to be swotting up on – like identity, etc is either ignored completely or left as an afterthought.
As important as it may seem to YOU to want to change your child’s name, maybe spend less time complaining about the delays at Home Affairs, and more time with your nose in a book like The Primal Wound (or Killing Karoline!)

What are your needs/wants/desires from your birth/first parents?

Tough question. I want my biological mother to own her shit. End of story.
I want my biological father to forgive himself. He is the most wonderful man and I have nothing but love and respect for him. It saddens me to see how devastated he is that he never got to raise his child.

What do you want adoptive parents to know?

Personally? I guess that I’m not out to get you! I know some of you feel that way – and that’s ok – but don’t expect me to take it on. There is a term ‘adoptive parent fragility’ – lots of parents have it. Please don’t try to ‘shush’ adoptees when we share OUR experience, OUR pain. If it triggers you, maybe ask why. But know that one day, you’re own kids could feel as we sometimes do. How would you want them to be treated?
Also, as an adoptee, adult or not, author or not, I am under no obligation to be ‘at peace’ with my adoption. Not for you, not for my family, not for anybody. It is a journey and a process- I share mine because I think it is important. Again, one day your kids may feel like I do – again, that’s ok!

What do you want birth parents to know?

The adoption industry is just that. It is an ‘industry’. Before making a decision about relinquishing speak to adoptees, and other birth parents. To those who have relinquished, please be aware of how damaging a secondary rejection is for the child you had adopted. And finally, you are a crucial part of the triad. We need your voices too.

What do you think should be done differently in adoptions today?

The experts in adoption are rarely the ones who give the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in placements. They are unlikely to be the ones who do home checks. They’re probably not the social worker who’s built up a relationship with the hopeful adoptive family. If they can’t tell you about the primal wound, the link between adoptees and suicide, mental health issues and attachment disorders – can they really be experts in when it comes to adoption.
In most cases where a mother relinquishes a child it is not necessary, but rather she needs support to raise her child. We need to stop viewing adoption as a ‘gift’ or a ‘selfless act’ – that is too simplify it and attempt to sugar a very bitter pill.

What has been your experience with the primal wound?

The following excerpt from Killing Karoline explains it:

it was as if something was pouring out of me. Like I was being emptied of something, something essential, that needed to keep a part of me alive. Something that all of us need in order to survive. It also felt like I was being poured out of myself, all the fragments and molecules and the essence that made me me were steadily seeping out, very purposefully, through my feet and into the floor. And when the pouring stopped there was silence. It wasn’t that I was numb, because I still had the sensation of pain, but it was pain in a way I’d never experienced before. My eyes hurt and everything was too bright. It was the kind of pain where you open your mouth to scream but then nothing comes out and the silence is worse than any sound you could ever have imagined. In that awful silence I was bereft. All the feelings I’d tried to bury with external solutions had manifested into one dreadful, horrific realisation, everything was immediately clear. It wasn’t about my father leaving, my brother’s suicide, my abusive relationships with men, my fear of failure and or my rampant eating disorder – not in that moment. In that room, right then, I saw it for what it was. The thing I’d been running from so hard, the truth I’d been swerving to avoid for an age; that the one person who was supposed to have wanted me above all else – didn’t want me. And the only conclusion I could reach was that it must have been my fault. There was something about me that made it impossible to love, so much so that my own mother couldn’t stand the thought of having me as her child. That was my rock bottom. What I’d believed forever was suddenly compromised. In a thunderclap I was irreversibly changed.

Besides the pain, I felt exhausted. I had completely regressed to being seven weeks old. In a state of absolute vulnerability; I was Karoline again. I would swear that at that point I knew exactly how that tiny child had felt as she was left by her mother. I believe it, she, I, had known it was wrong; it was discordant with nature, against the most sacred thing on earth, severing the bond between mother and child. I had carried that sorrow with me since that day and it would have clung forever since we didn’t know how to exist without one another. I am convinced the mother feels it too – something tragic and toxic, sad and shaming that can only be discarded once it is acknowledged honestly and accepted truthfully.

I sat taking it in. Time moved so dreadfully slowly, as if wanting me to consider everything, experience each minuscule shard of feeling pricking at me. Worse, I was aware of the others in the room and was utterly overwhelmed with shame. The disgrace of being reviled by one’s own mother, that was too much. There was nothing left to wrap around myself, everyone would, could now see right into me, they would see what she had seen and I would be left again. Not only was I ashamed, I also felt desperately foolish. I’d been clinging onto the opposite of the truth and now the truth was out.

Any parting thoughts? Or points you’d like to add?

Read my book Killing Karoline! But not just my book! There is a wealth of adoption based literature out there. There are blogs from adoptees, facebook groups – that illustrate that the way many adoptees experience adoption is simply not the way adoptive parents experience it. Also, depsite the rumours, I am not anti adoption. I am anti ignorance.

Thank you Sara-Jayne for sharing with us. So many people have asked me, as an adoptive mother, how I feel about these stories. Honestly? They’re never easy to read. They hurt. I wish we’d gone into our own adoption journeys more informred. But I can’t change that now, I can only do better for my girls going forward. I fear for my daughters, but because I love my daughters more than I love myself, I am determined to continue on this journey with them with my eyes and my heart wide open.