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BEAUTY Beyond Darkness

by Lilla Benigno

 

Lilla Benigno

 

 

 

Lilla's Art 2

Author and artist Lilla Benigno

 

 

 

When I had discovered my mother was Italian, I was excited because I had heard and read so much about the wonderful large Italian families where everyone loved everyone, where there was always plenty of food and laughter at big long tables. My illusions were all too soon shattered.

So when I began reading this book, I was prepared for the worst. I’d already read some of the author’s posts on Twitter and Facebook, but nothing could have prepared me for what I read within those pages.

Lilla Benigno was born in Sicily; her mother gave birth to 15 children in total, three of whom died. The family was poor, but they managed to eat fairly well. Lilla contracted polio when she was six months old. She only had one arm she could use, and she suffered muscle atrophy in both of her legs. Her lungs were also affected. She pulled herself around on the floor with her good arm. Although her parents did what they could, it was eventually decided it was in her best interests to take Lilla to a Catholic home for disabled children in Milan. She was well cared for, and for the most part, was very happy there. There was good medical care by the nuns and qualified doctors. But she rarely saw her parents; Milan was just too far away for family visits.

Lilla’s true nightmare began when the family emigrated from Sicily to Melbourne, Australia in 1970 when Lilla was 12 years old. Lilla was very happy in the care of the nuns, and she had friends there whom she loved dearly. She had her own bed and there was plenty of food. She didn’t want to leave.

 

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Lilla Benigno at 12 years old

Life was very hard in Melbourne where her father worked long hours to pay the bills and for basic food for such a large family. Her parents were exhausted caring for 12 children on little money. The boys shared one double bed and the girls another, sleeping top and tail. Lilla bore the brunt of her father’s rages and endured sexual abuse by a family member. It finally came to a point when she could no longer stomach her father’s violence and the humiliating verbal abuse he meted out to her. Lilla was lonely and she missed her friends at the Catholic home in Milan. She eventually ran away from home to live on the streets of Melbourne. She was fifteen years old. There she descends into a world of drugs, casual sex, prostitution, and rapes. All this while wearing heavy  iron callipers on her deformed legs. She couldn’t walk far let alone run. The abuse hurled at her for being a “cripple” is heartbreaking.

In my wildest dreams, I had no idea there was an undercurrent  of rape, violence and sexual slavery right in the heart of Melbourne, namely St Kilda and Fitzroy Street at that time.

Lilla endures many months in various rehabilitation centres over her years on the streets, to combat her drug and alcohol addictions. Whenever she drank heavily, she wanted sex, and this invariably led her into very dangerous situations, many of which ended in gang rapes and sexual slavery. Through all of this, Lilla never forgets her mother and her younger siblings. Whenever she made a lot of money, she would take a taxi to her parents’ house and give most of it to her mother. The family was struggling and desperate for decent food and clothing. They had to be careful that Lilla’s father didn’t find out or come home while Lilla was there.

Lilla does meet people over time who genuinely care about her and who help her, but mostly the men who helped her wanted sex, and nothing less. Even a priest who had helped her and in whom she trusted, sexually assaulted her. It is no surprise that she ends up hating the Catholic Church and its god. She used to pray to god, but she realises her prayers don’t achieve anything, and she gives up.

Lilla gets the opportunity to move to Cairns and her life changes for the better. Her mother encourages her in the move and when she falls pregnant with her daughter, Caroline, her mother gives her the strength and support to keep her, albeit over the telephone. During these troubled times in Cairns, her mother is her lifeline. Lilla needs plenty of help to care for her baby, and she does find this in Cairns. She still suffers some dark episodes, but she ultimately finds peace and happiness with her beautiful daughter. During her former drug and alcohol haze in Melbourne she is compelled to give up a daughter and a son, whom she has never forgotten. Her mother has since died, but after growing closer to her while living on the streets of Melbourne, she believes her mother’s spirit is always with her.

Lilla Benigno is a remarkable woman. A woman who has survived so much tragedy, violence and sexual abuse to become the mother she always wanted to be, and a talented artist of some repute. And now she has published a book. I urge you to read it. You will be horrified, overwhelmed, but at the end, inspired.

BEAUTYBeyondDarkness has since been translated into Italian.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 2 May 2016

Lilla's Art

 

Visit Lilla’s Blog here:

 

 

Renoir: 'On The Terrace' 1879. In Memory of Missing Mothers

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One of the saddest things for me that has come out of research for my book  Whatever Happened To Ishtar?  is the fact that some historical birth and marriage certificates only record the names of fathers and paternal grandparents.  It was indicative of an era when only males were considered important in the scheme of life.  Although I have built up an extensive family tree of both my Lebanese and Italian ancestors, there are many gaps where a mother’s name should be. And each gap represents not just a missing name but links to whole lineages.  As  examples: when, after many years of searching,  I located an ancient document of my maternal great grandmother’s birth,  her mother’s name was omitted;  a marriage certificate where both the mother of the bridegroom and of the bride were omitted.  In some other cases I was able to find the information in a baptism confirmation certificate or in immigration archives, but my family trees have several names missing.  My hope is that descendants of those families I have written about, will  read my book and help fill in some of the missing gaps for our descendents.

Familial Bonds. From Cultural Anthropology by Roger M. Keesing.

What  Adoption Dismisses: Biological Connections

Being related to someone, having that biological connection to a mother who has given birth to you, is what is called the primary bond.  This event of creation  is our connection to the human race through thousands of years of evolution.  It is the  innate and emotional blood-bond and instinctive mother-child relationship. The biological/genetic connection to a family, to a mother and a father,  is highly important in any society.   The basis of any successful society is the family unit; it is on this basic foundation that a society establishes itself, and has done so since human society began.   Aborigines and Moari have always known this.

Sometimes we just need to get back to the basics!   Perhaps Western society just got too complicated.

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See post Adoption & SeparationThe Wound That Never Heals

Motherhood - The Ideal. Massimo Stanzione, Naples 1640s

Hello Elizabeth,

I do empathise with you although I wasn’t adopted myself, but two of my half siblings were. I wrote about them in my book Whatever Happened To Ishtar?. See more on my blog about the negatives of mother/child separation, adoption under category Adoption & Separation. I was abandoned by my mother and placed in an orphanage, but I at least knew who my biological parents were. In all the years I have met and spoken with adoptees, I only ever met one man who did not wish to trace his biological parents. What came of my talking to adoptees was that it didn’t matter how good or bad their parents were; what mattered to them was knowing who and what their bio parents were, and why they were given up for adoption. It seems to me that adoption itself isn’t always bad, it is how it is carried out.

In the past, women like my mother, were forced by Catholic nuns to give up their new born babies, and most of these mothers never recovered from their loss. See Philomena’s and Sheldon Lea’s stories on my blog. The nuns never allowed these mothers to contact their lost children; refused to pass on information about the adoptions or the mothers’ names. The suffering in these cases, for mothers, and children,  was  life-destroying.

I understand what you are saying when you talk about your dad’s spirit being with you. The father you didn’t get to meet. I feel the same about my mother. The emotional pain she transmitted to me, persisted until I finished writing the book and she finally was at peace. Take care. Anne.

Visit Adoption Critic for ‘Dear Incubator‘ letter and comments…….

More good Christian male anti-abortionists outside clinics intimidating women

Here we go again!  It seems as though things haven’t changed much for women wanting to control their own fertility.

See :  More Women Infected With Hep C   Some men would like to have complete control over women’s fertility – like Dr James Latham Peters who, it is alleged, has deliberately infected over 58 women (and counting) with the same strain of Hepatitis C virus as he has.  It can only be spread blood to blood. This man has been allowed to administer anaesthetic to women having abortion procedures  at several clinics in Melbourne.  Dr Peters has already been struck off the medical register in the past  for drug addiction and prescription forgery.  And, can you believe it, for possessing child pornography.  I would have thought that the authority in question would have banned him from medical practice for life.  What were these clinics thinking in hiring him in the first place?  Why is it that  women,  at such a vulnerable time, should be put literally, in the hands of such a despicable human being.  Now, the lives of all these  infected women will be changed forever.  Their future health is uncertain.  He is worse than back-street abortionists – at least they knew what they were.

Dr James Latham Peters

It is obvious that Dr Peters has a hate attitude toward women seeking abortions and one can guess that he supports the pro-life lobby. Pro-Life is an oxymoron when used in the  context of anti-abortion.  So-called Pro-Lifers kill doctors and workers at abortion clinics and look what Dr Peters has been up to; there is no doubt some of these women will die because of his actions.  I would bet that he will be found to be  another  devout misogynist and  Christian.   One is also suspicious about  why this evil man,  who uses children for his own gratification, would want more children to be brought into this world?

I cannot for the life of me understand why men take to the streets to abuse women intending to have abortions.  What do they know of the experience of pregnancy and of childbirth?  Most of us  know that if men had to give birth, the human race would die out.  These deluded men stand outside abortion clinics for hours insulting and intimidating women.   Haven’t they got churches to go to?  It reminds me of the man who approached a young mother in a café  feeding her baby with a bottle.  He shouted at her, “why aren’t you breastfeeding that baby?” and stormed out.  The young lady burst into tears.  I know, once being  a young mother myself, how difficult it can be to breastfeed.  How could a man understand this?  That particular mother could have been on medication, or have infected nipples.  There are many other complications when breastfeeding just as there are surrounding abortions.

Anti-abortion protesters – haven’t these men got churches to go to?

The serial anti-abortion protester shown above says that women and girls who have been raped, or who are the victims of incest should be forced to give birth and that “they can adopt it out”.   This man should read some of the literature on the failures and trauma of adoption

See my posts:

Adoption: The Damage Done

Catholic Orphanages & Adoption

Separation:  The Open Wound

Do these men have any idea what it would be  like for a woman or girl to carry a foetus  inside her for a full nine months after being raped by either a stranger or their own father.  I write about girls being impregnated by their fathers and a Catholic Priest in my book  ‘Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’ and the consequences for generations to come.

Who knows how many women Dr Peters has infected and it must be hell for possibly more than 2000 women treated by Dr Peters, who will have to be tested for hepatitis C.

UPDATE 9/11/2012

Emotional victims wept in the Supreme Court as James Latham Peters, 63, responded with the word “guilty” to each of the 55 charges of negligently causing serious injury as they were read aloud.

Latest Update:’

Dr James Latham Peters was sentenced on 7 March 2013 to 14 years in prison with parole after 10 years.

Separation at Birth; The Primal Wound. Photo: afcoory

***This page is copyright to author Anne Frandi-Coory. No text or photograph can be downloaded or copied with the written permission of the author.***

Separation of mother and infant is cruel.  There is no other word for it.  It matters not whether the separation is brought about by adoption, maternal abandonment, or death or illness of the mother,  the trauma is the same (see post August 13). The following articles explain it well.

“It can no longer be assumed that one can replace the biological mother with another “primary caregiver” without the child’s being both aware of the substitution and traumatized by it. The mother/infant bond takes many forms and the communication between them is unconscious, instinctual, and intuitive.”

Nancy Newton Verrier, Ph.D., “The Primal Wound”

What Is The Primal Wound?

Understanding The Trauma of Infant-Maternal Separation

by Marcy Axness

Throughout the generations of routine obstetrical, hospital, and adoption practice in this country, the assumption has always been, “Why would the separation from its mother affect a newborn baby?” But with the advent in the last twenty years of pre- and perinatal research, we now have astounding findings about what a fetus experiences in the womb, what a strong connection it has with the mother long before birth, and how intelligent, aware and remembering a newborn is.

“Many doctors and psychologists now understand that bonding doesn’t begin at birth, but is a continuum of physiological, psychological, and spiritual events which begin in utero and continue throughout the postnatal bonding period. When this natural evolution is interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother, the resultant experience of abandonment and loss is indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children, causing that which I call the primal wound’.” So writes Nancy Verrier in her book, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child (1993).

Rather than deeply question whether the experience of adoption is traumatic, we as a society tend to believe that enough love and care can make everything right. But psychologists from Freud on down have taught us that the first stage of psychological growth includes the development of trust, as a foundation for secure relationships with others [My Emphasis] Babies who are separated from the only connection they’ve ever known–their matrix–have had their nascent sense of trust deeply violated.  (See   ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’for more about the emotional scars caused by infant abandonment).

And so all that love and care we give to the adoptee often has a hard time “getting in”. [But if no love is given, then the trauma is much more acute] as Verrier says of her own relationship to her adopted daughter, “I discovered that it was easier for us to give her love than it was for her to accept it.” On very deep levels, adoptees often feel it too dangerous to love and be loved, authentically and deeply; they can’t trust that they won’t be hurt or abandoned again.

Children often split themselves off from the injured parts of their psyches, and develop functional, acceptable, “false selves”. This concept of the false self is often the explanation behind what seems like “wonderful adjustment” on the part of an adoptee (or any traumatized child) who has responded to the deep fear of further abandonment or trauma by becoming compliant and adaptive to the needs and expectations of the parents or caregivers. However, their grief and anger is simply buried, even out of their own consciousness, where it can remain throughout the years, curdling their emotional lives.

See  Michael’s Sister Sent back

Kayapo mother and child in the Brazilian rain forest. Photo: ‘MILLENNIUM’ David Maybury-Lewis

I have interviewed and spoken with many adults who were adopted out as babies, during the process of writing  my book Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’,  and only one man told me that he was not interested in tracing his birth mother or his biological roots.  I believe that most babies removed from their  mothers soon  after birth, suffer psychologically in some way and this in turn affects their personality.  How could it not?  We are after all, animals, with a sense of smell like any other, and mother and child have a special smell each recognises.   Our mothers carry us around in their wombs for nine months and the newborn knows its mother’s heart beat intimately.  We can learn many lessons about mother/child primordial bonds from animals in the wild, especially elephants.
Most Children’s  dis-connection with their biological families is a tragedy and sets them up for lifelong feelings of not quite  ‘fitting in’ anywhere.  Their self-identity is compromised. If an adopted child is lucky enough  to have an adoptive mother who is genuinely caring and who is supported by  a strong adoptive father and extended family, then the outcome can be reasonably good. But most of these children still need to know who their biological parents are and to know their genetic background.  Often, these adults I spoke with, told me that they became  more contented with their lives, and more fulfilled,  once they had discovered their roots and met members of their biological families, even if the relationships were not carried on for various reasons.  Just meeting with family members and learning about their heritage, was enough for some adoptees.  Others of course developed close relationships.  Unfortunately, far too many adoptions turned out to be nothing less than unmitigated disasters for both mothers and children.
The majority of mothers who adopted their babies out  in the past, carried feelings of guilt and loss for the rest of their lives.  Many descended into depression or severe mental illness.

Losing a child through adoption (and it is a loss) has a far more damaging effect on the mother than does abortion.  Mothers may think they have dealt with their loss, but often it is just buried deep within their sub conscious.  In the past, the general consensus was that if the baby was removed from their birth  mother soon after birth, neither would suffer any lasting psychological damage.  The child would grow up completely inculcated into the ways and traits of its adopted family, and that genetics didn’t come into it; nurturing was everything.  This has proved to be so utterly wrong.

I worked as a case worker for the Department of Social Welfare in New Zealand for a time.  And it was gratifying to see that children living apart from their parents and extended families in foster homes, were encouraged to keep family photograph albums along with scrap books of their biological family members’ lives.  Even allowing for the fact that in most cases the children were abused by those same families.  The children were proud of their families and loved showing case workers albums and scrapbooks, as though to reinforce their own identity.

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