The Egg: A Story of Adoption and Happiness with Two Mothers

27 October 2022

Remote mothers, mothers in the Netherlands who have had to give up their child for adoption, will not receive compensation from the government, the court ruled earlier this year. The coercion to adopt did not come from Child Protection, but from their own environment. In the meantime, the Ministry of Justice and Security is conducting a second investigation into exactly that question: whether or not state coercion? An initial investigation was aborted following complaints of bias and privacy violations. If the state does indeed appear to have made a mistake, the cabinet wants to prevent proceedings by settling. Journalist Marco de Vries went to the setting of his own adoption together with his mother of waiver Mieke and wrote this personal story about it.

I have two mothers. Which one is the real one? One, Jantina, believes that everything is controlled from above. The other, Mieke, prefers to steer himself. She can't handle navigation systems, usually has a road map unfolded on the passenger seat where I am now. This trip was my idea, but she immediately said yes, does not get talked about it on the way and therefore misses the right exit.

Then we take the next one and drive around. Her van thunders over the back roads of the Veluwe. The meadows are yellow and swampy in the November sun, the woods bare and grim. I grew up here, she is strange. I'm still looking for the address on my phone. Turn left in six kilometers, Google says. Destination reached.

Henk and Ineke turn out to live right behind my old primary school. Would I have ever seen them at that time? I may have played soccer with one of their many children. They are slightly older than Mieke, but just as vital. Ineke wears her long, white hair in two pigtails. She leans back in her large chair and looks at me searchingly.

I tell about myself. How it went. Still got there reasonably well. That I would like to meet them. My voice sometimes gets hoarse when it comes to that. An egg filled with mucus and snot that belches when asked difficult questions. But those aren't your real parents, are they? But where do you really come from? Well, from here apparently. I hatched with these people. And now they expect a thank you? No, I don't get that impression.

It's Sunday and more visitors are blowing. A foster son in his thirties, a daughter in his forties, two grandchildren in college. 'But it all started with those girls', says Ineke, they still called them 'fallen girls' back then.'

'The narrow-mindedness was persistent', Mieke responds next to me on the couch, 'even though everything was shifting.' She and Ineke could be sisters, old girls with hairstyles and the Bakelite mentality of the mid-sixties. Put your shoulders underneath. Kiss it and move on. Mieke has often talked about her pregnancy, but it never seemed to be about me. That's why we're here. To make it my story. Or, even better, our story.

Mieke shows Henk pictures of her husband Achmed. At the time, as a student from Africa, he had received a scholarship from the European Community. He took a Dutch course at the Volkshogeschool in Bergen, North Holland. Mieke's mother was on the school board and was also alderman of the North Holland village. Her father was secretary of the Dietsche Bond. From the Greater Dutch perspective, he maintained close ties with fellow native speakers in Flanders and South Africa. During a trip to the Cape, he had become convinced of the ideology of apartheid. It's great that those Hottentots developed at their own pace and that his teenage daughter helped them with Dutch lessons. But when Mieke became pregnant, the house was too small.

In the meantime she and Achmed had arrived in Amsterdam. Achmed studied economics and Mieke started at the social academy. They continued to see each other and the relationship had grown with them. When Mieke found out about the accident, she was already months pregnant. Her father demanded that she break off the courtship. Her mother feared for her position as a dignitary if the village found out. Ahmed's family in Somalia wouldn't accept it either, a bastard child with a non-Muslim woman.

'We have considered getting married soon', says Mieke, 'a so-called must. But then Achmed would lose his scholarship and residence permit. That was not an option. And I didn't want to break off my studies to raise the child on my own.'

It was the spring of 1966. The egg was already showing under her sweater. Abortion was still prohibited, but adoption had been regulated by law for a few years. I would be carried out in secret, neither by her parents nor by her landlady. Through social work she went into hiding with a host family in Harderwijk. 'I was a mother myself and I also wanted to do something useful', says Ineke, 'in those years we had a lot of unwanted pregnant girls at home'.

'You were studying upstairs in your room', Henk remembers, 'you didn't want to miss any exams. It was a hot summer, but you kept working.'

Mieke puts the photo scrapbooks back in her bag. “Maybe one or two girlfriends were aware and came to visit. But it was a bit lonely.'

Meanwhile, that year Provo rocked Amsterdam, smoke bombs disrupted the marriage of Beatrix and Claus and rockets landed on the moon. The baby boomers came of age and everything would change, as if the world went from black and white to color in just a few years.

'I studied for community work', says Mieke, 'but now I felt myself a problem. The condom was torn, and I was left with the baked pears. I also didn't get any maternal feelings yet. Adoption seemed best for the child.'

She also told her story to the committee that investigated Dutch mothers who are distant. Thousands of single pregnant women at that time felt pressured by the church or by social workers: they had to give up their child.

'In my case there was no compulsion', Mieke thinks, 'it was my own choice at that time.' Henk and Ineke have never noticed anything of government coercion either. 'The girls usually did it for their parents,' says Ineke, 'to avoid a scandal. I remember a teenage girl who actually hated it. After the delivery it turned out that her mother also wanted to keep the child. 'Tell your daughter that,' I said, 'because she thinks you want her to give it up.' Then the adoption was called off. We are still in contact with that family too.'

We are now sitting at the lunch table with about eight people. Food enough for all guests, just like then. Because Henk and Ineke fed me for months through Mieke's umbilical cord. Would I have preferred my remote mother had been hungry, underprivileged, or addicted? That I was conceived during a one night stand or a rape? Or taken from a developing country? Mieke could have kept me. But did a nineteen-year-old girl have any other choice at the time, without support from family or government?

Mieke could have kept me. But did a nineteen-year-old girl have any other choice at the time, without support from family or government?

Recently Mieke requested her adoption file from the archive. I scroll through dozens of pages of typescript. 'The client explains her situation in a clear, decisive way', reported Miekes care provider at the time, 'on an intellectual basis there is good conversational contact, but it is very difficult to gauge Miss's feelings. There is little sign of an emotional involvement in her situation.'

I recognize myself around that age. I too was stubborn, driven, rational and sometimes reckless. I still think it's not a bad attitude, but it is a bit short-sighted: that you necessarily want to be behind the wheel yourself, even if circumstances determine the options and the course of your journey.

Mieke was due at the end of August and her new school year started in September. On doctor's advice, she took castor oil to induce contractions. The delivery came on time. I left her womb almost casually, without complications and without goodbye. She heard me cry but did not want to see. 'I didn't wear my glasses in bed,' explains Mieke, 'I didn't want to hold you either. Then I might regret it later. Now you remained fuzzy, abstract, faceless.' Ineke still remembers the blue blanket with which I was quickly wrapped up and taken away after the birth. 'That was it for me,' says Mieke, 'I assumed that you would go directly to an adoptive family.'

With the umbilical cord, according to the policy of the time, every bond between the mother and child was broken. After a court decision, I became legally the son of Berend and Jantina de Vries from Voorburg. Later the family moved to Ermelo with now four adopted children and I went to school in the neighboring municipality of Harderwijk.

When I was 17, the whole family watched a controversial documentary on TV. The camera followed the first – now adult – adoptees in their search for their biological parents. They sought answers, but received no cooperation from the authorities.

Mieke watched the same TV program in Bergen. Due to a mistake by the authorities, she still found out the identity of my adoptive parents. She and Ahmed had finished their studies, were still married and had two more children together. 'I wrote your parents a letter then. That we wanted to get in touch, if you wanted to too.'

Jantina was shocked by that letter, but carefully asked if I needed to know more. But I waved it off. My biological parents had given me away, so I wasn't waiting for them either. I had other things on my mind: studying, plans for the future. Just as Mieke pushed motherhood out of her mind, so I pushed that brittle egg out in front of me.

After my studies I went to work and increasingly received difficult questions from colleagues or at parties. And are you already looking for your real parents? To your roots? Spoorloos had been a popular tearjerker on TV for years. I had moved to Amsterdam and thought I recognized some traits in total strangers. Passers-by on the street who could be my father, my mother, brother or sister.

Yet I waited until I was 34 until I registered with the population register of Harderwijk. With my birth certificate, Mieke and Achmed in Bergen were easy to trace. I wrote a letter, we agreed and we didn't fall into each other's arms, like on TV, sobbing. But we clicked and we have been a good family for twenty years now.

We say goodbye to Henk and Ineke. I thank you for the hospitality today and – without saying it – also for the hospitality back then. We drive on to Jantina. She is my real mother, Mieke agrees, because Jantina has been a mother for me all these years. The two greet each other warmly. On the table is a binder with the old papers that Jantina has kept.

Mieke takes the vaccination booklet from the folder. My original surname has been painted off. 'De Vries' is typed above it. 'That's a coincidence', she says, 'I see that you got the first shot from a general practitioner in the same Amsterdam street where I went to bed after the birth.'

The documents show that I had to wait for adoption in an Amsterdam children's home for more than six months. 'We only heard a week in advance that we had been selected', says Jantina, 'we met the preference given by the remote mother. We only got to see a passport photo, but didn't have to think twice. We were allowed to pick you up that same week.'

I'm looking at my first baby photo. How many prospective parents on the waiting list have said no to that crestfallen puppy look? We'll look a little further. Do you also have another color? Fortunately, I ended up in a good family. God's guidance, says Jantina. 'We had the name Marco in mind, and you had already received the same name from Mieke. That can't be a coincidence, can it?'

On the highway back, everything flashes by again, as the lines and arrows light up in the dark. So that's how it went. Here, along the A28, on the Veluwemeer, I was born and raised. I already knew the places, now also the faces, persons, motives and circumstances that determined my first days, months and years in any case. It could have turned out differently, but that's the way it turned out. Coincidence or not, I got lucky. Happiness with two mothers. I came out and the shards of the shell together make up this story.