Carolann Dowdin

Carolann Dowding grew up in the Redlands in the 1950s. She led a happy, privileged life until she was four, when her adoption was revealed. Over the ensuing years, curiosity about her birth family occupied a special place in her heart and in her early thirties she started a relentless search for her birth family. Carolann’s memoir describes her childhood, documents her search and subsequent reunion with her birth mother, Edna, as an adult. Edna concealed the identity of Carolann’s birth father until the truth was revealed years later. In later life, Carolann changed her adoptive name ‘Jean’ to her original birth name, ‘Carolann’, provoking mixed reactions from her friends and family.


Interview with Redland Times featured in Southern Bay News

Carolann Dowding's Shadows in Paradise Blog

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January 1982

I pressed my nose to the windowpane and observed the sky as it transformed into shades of orange and gold. My heart raced as shadows of the unknown beckoned me. Tonight I would cross a boundary. Tonight I would phone my birth mother.

I squinted through the glass and watched the darkness grow. Lights appeared in neighbouring houses as the blackness softened untidy grass and straggly hedges.

The season was high summer. My family had sweltered since dawn and dusk brought small relief. The broiling air was trapped in the ceiling and radiated a furnace-like invasion into the small rooms of the cottage.

I was aware only of my heartbeat as I twisted my clammy hands into contortions.

Without warning, a din echoed through the cottage. My husband glanced up at the ceiling and I realised it was only the pop and crackle of the iron roof as it retracted in the night air. I turned back to the window and pushed the frame upwards.

That night I had chosen to contact my birth mother for the first time since she relinquished me thirty-four years ago. Would I recognise her voice? Maybe. Incredible as it sounds, a foetus can hear in the womb by the second trimester.

I was aware I spent my first ten days in the Brisbane Women’s Hospital with my birth mother. Did she cuddle me, caress me and feed me? Perhaps I had repressed memories?

The bond between my birth mother and I was severed when I was two weeks old and the event would have devastated us both. Many studies have proven that babies know and recognise their mothers. Would I?

It is also acknowledged that when a baby and mother are permanently separated, the baby is traumatised. First, the foetus bonds with its mother physically, psychologically and spiritually, then the bonding continues after birth as the mother’s scent, voice and face imprint upon the child. The act of feeding (breast or bottle) enhances the intimate relationship. After the separation from my birth mother, I would have experienced abandonment, and felt it stamped on my unconscious mind forever.

My thoughts returned to the oppressive atmosphere in the cottage. The atrocious heat wave did nothing to help my anxiety. Suddenly my mind infused with a state of derealisation; my eyes were unfocused; the room’s perspective warped; my arms and legs felt like lead.

Despite the heat, our children slept. A rare but welcome puff of air ruffled the curtains and as the scent of frangipani wafted inside I visualised thousands of pink blossoms displayed in our garden and tried to focus.

The little cottage, situated on my adoptive parents’ farm, was home for my husband, John, and our three children Christopher, Lachlan and Andrew while our home was under construction. My adoptive parents, Mary and Jack Gordon, lived three kilometres away in the old Queenslander where I grew up with my adoptive brother, Ian, who still lived there with them. I had the support of a loving family all around me. Why was I doing this?

I grabbed a notepad from the coffee table and noticed my sweaty hands had dampened the paper. I stared at the phone number. John, who had promised his support, waited patiently.

Ten minutes later John walked across to the sofa and plonked himself down.
I shuffled over and sat beside him. “I’ll phone soon, but I need to calm down first,” I mumbled.

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