The womb artist – a novel: Translating late discovery adoptee pre-verbal trauma into narrative

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communication and Arts


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Marcella Polain

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Susan Ash


‘The Womb Artist’ and accompanying exegesis, are a creative, autoethnographical, and performative exposition of the pre-verbal and embodied trauma of Late Discovery Adoptees (LDAs), a little-researched subset of the closed record adoption system in Australia. Using the work of Brodzinsky (1987, 1990, 2005), Lifton (1977, 1992, 1994, 2002) and Verrier (1993, 1997, 2003) on adoption trauma, the recent research by Kenny, Higgins, Soloff & Sweid, (2012) into Australian past adoption experiences, and the seminal work of Helen Riley (2008, 2012, 2013) and Catherine Lynch (2007) into LDAs, this thesis gives a visceral account, together with a critical examination, of the psychosocial consequences of Late Discovery across the life span (pre and post disclosure).

This research, as an example of the interface between trauma and narrative (Caruth, 1995, 1996; Felman and Daub, 1992; Herman, 1992), evokes the embodiment of and provides translation for the LDA experience allowing an investigation of the pre-verbal/pre-disclosure body as an interactive and fluid body of knowledges (Bordo, 1997; Grosz, 1994, 1995). Based on the author’s own life, the novel depicts the protagonist’s relinquishment at birth, her manufactured ‘death’, and her subsequent adoption into the closed record system. Although her adoption status is not revealed until middle age, her pre-verbal body knowledges, incarcerated beneath consciousness in the cellular, muscle/marrow of traumatic memory (Howard & Crandall, 2007; Lipton, 2005; Pert, 1987), communicate through unaddressed adoption psychopathologies such as PTSD (van der Kolk, 1988, 1994, 2002), agoraphobia, depression, dissociation, anxiety, and psychosomatic symptom (Brodzinsky, 2005; Verrier, 1993). The novel translates this body signage and becomes, as “shadow of the object” (Bollas, 1977, 1987), a performance and articulation of the relinquishment wound. The psychopathology, the clairvoyant pre-disclosure paintings, the post-coital glossolalia, the poetry, the journal entries, the long form prose of the novel, are the map to, and the evolution of, a reclaimed, reconstituted, and re-textualised self.

This research uses the techniques and sensibilities of écriture féminine (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva) in a heavily poetic, metaphoric, choric, and amniotic style that mimics and translates the abyssal and traumatic pre-verbal experience of relinquishment into a reparative prose and provides compelling evidence of the organic, embodied, and ever present and insistent verbosities of the body (Braidotti, 2009; Grosz, 1994, 1995). The novel’s thinly veiled fiction, with its artistic and necessarily protective intent, highlights the schism and slip between fiction and reality as it relates to the relinquishment/adoption experience (Homans, 2006, 2007; Lifton 1977, 1992) and is discussed with reference to the fictionalised autobiographies of Jeanette Winterson (1985), Janet Frame (1957), and Sylvia Plath (1963). In archaeological exploration, creative execution, and theoretical framing, out of the silence of the LDA relinquishment/adoption experience, this thesis illuminates the trauma associated with adoption secrecy and reproductive practices, and makes a strong case in support of the theories of embodiment and the cultural and scholarly value of autoethnographical writing (Bochner, 2000; Grierson, 2009; Pelias, 2004, 2013) but also provides further information and impetus toward developing compassionate and considered approaches within the growing 21st century reproductive psycho-socio-economic industries.

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