A conservative Catholic family in Queensland in 1974 is no place to be a pregnant teenager. With an authoritarian mother and facing enormous societal pressures, Mary Tennant must make a decision to save her future … but it is one that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
After putting her baby son up for adoption, Mary tries to return to her old life and her studies to be a nurse but finds that she cannot escape thoughts of her son or feelings of guilt. The situation is made worse because her mother and family completely ignore what has happened and Mary cannot talk to anyone about how she feels. Even after travelling throughout remote Australia as a nurse and health advisor, eventually marrying and having two daughters, Mary feels incomplete and restless.
Then the adoption laws regarding contact between birth mothers and their children are changed. Mary decides that the time might be right to see if her son wants to meet her. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems and Mary’s life and world is about to be turned upside down all over again.
Spanning forty years and set against a backdrop of changing social attitudes in Australia, this is the story of a young girl searching for meaning, coming to terms with her guilt and grief, and learning that breaking the silence brings empowerment.
‘This is a powerful memoir about shame, guilt, regret and growth. It tells the all too familiar story of teenage pregnancy and adoption … the author is to be congratulated on turning her pain into a story that many people will relate to and recognize themselves within.’ Maggie MAcKellar, author of When it Rains
‘A standout memoir, told with clear-eyed grace and nicely controlled passion … This is written with great confidence and clarity, is moving but not sentimental, and is an absorbing read from start to finish.’ Debra Adelaide, author of The Women’s Pages and Letters to George Clooney
‘This is just lovely … it’s that rare thing – a personal memoir that feels thoroughly universal.’ Dominic Knight, author and former ABC radio broadcaster
Excerpt from 'Mary Tennant wins Finch Memoir Prize with unsentimental tale of adoption' by Linda Morris, Arts and Books writer, Sydney Morning Herald Online, May 19, 2016
Mary Tennant was almost finished school when she fell pregnant. Aged 18 she gave her son up for adoption. He was 29 when they met again and 36 when they reunited on sturdier emotional ground. Tennant's account of her girlhood choices, the life it was to shape, and the bittersweet attempts at reunion, which stopped and abruptly restarted just two years ago, has won this year's $10,000 Finch Memoir Prize.
I Knew You'd Have Brown Eyes was selected by an independent judging panel comprising Debra Adelaide, Maggie Mackellar and Dominic
Knight. Adelaide praised the book as a "standout memoir, told with clear-eyed grace and nicely controlled passion ... This is written with great confidence and clarity, is moving but not sentimental, and is an absorbing read from start to finish," she said.
The memoir's title comes from Tennant's recollection of her one and only permitted visit in the hospital nursery of the baby she placed up for adoption. From a conservative Catholic family, Tennant called her newborn Christopher Anthony after the patron saint of travellers. Twenty-nine years later on a beach in Hervey Bay she told her son, now named Michael: "When I saw you in your cot, through the window, you opened a pair of dark eyes as if to say hello. That was why I was sure you would have brown eyes."
Who Are You? Mary Tennant talks to Geoff Hutchison about the life that led to her memoir I Knew You'd Have Brown Eyes.