Kiwi woman's 21-year journey to find her adopted son

A Kiwi woman who gave her baby up for adoption in 1970 has shared the heartwrenching story of how she found him again more than two decades later.

Pip Murdoch is the author of Relative Strangers: A Mother's Adoption Memoir, a new book about the quest to find her son.

She spoke to The AM Show about discovering she was pregnant as a 20-year-old trainee nurse in Christchurch.

Murdoch says she was "old enough to know better" but faced a very difficult situation as a young, unmarried woman.

"In those days there was no social welfare, there was no DPB [welfare for single parents] until 1974. The father did offer to marry me, but I thought that would make three very unhappy people and I don't think it would have worked."

Her "acerbic" relationship with her mother at the time meant keeping the baby wasn't an option, but neither was abortion.

"It wasn't common, and if you wanted an abortion in those days you had to go across the ditch to Sydney."

Her only course of action was to retreat to a friend's sister's house in the High Country and wait out the nine months - a common practice in the 1960s and 70s.

"When you were pregnant, you went away so nobody knew what was happening to you."

Murdoch gave birth to a boy on December 23, and before signing the adoption papers was given permission to see and touch her newborn son - but not to pick him up. 

"There were many moments [of wanting to keep him] but the die was cast. By that time, you've mentally made that decision."

She wasn't allowed to know who was adopting her child - who she'd called Nicholas - and was made to sign a form saying she would never try to contact him. It's hugely different to nowadays, where "open adoptions" are much more common.

"It's much, much better. I've got a niece who had an open adoption and she knows her birth mother very well. She knows who she looks like, she knows her roots."

Murdoch went on to have three more children, which gave her mixed feelings.

"It was marvellous to be able to have a baby and hold it, that was fantastic. But there was a huge sadness too that I'd given that up as well."

In 1985 New Zealand's adoption laws changed to give birth parents the ability to search out their adopted children, which Murdoch decided to do.

"Everyone was against the idea, they said 'you're opening up a can of worms'."

But the long-awaited reunion in 1991 was, she says, "outstanding". 

"I was standing in my mother's backyard on a nice sunny day in October. I was crazy, I was up and down like a yo-yo. He walked around the corner and it was just magic. Absolutely magical. They liken reunions to love affairs, it was just amazing."

Her baby was now a grown man called David, who looked exactly like her brother at the same age. The two now have a good relationship, built up almost 30 years after they met.

Murdoch says women now have access to much better contraception and financial security, very different to the "Victorian thinking" of 1970.

She says it's impossible to make up for lost time, but she doesn't regret the difficult events of her life. 

"The hard things are what make us who we are."