The first thing they did was give her medication to dry up her milk. After all, the very last thing the nurses wanted was for Margaret to breastfeed her new baby. To bond with her. To form any type of emotional connection.
That, you see, couldn’t be allowed to happen.
At a time when every new mother needs nurturing and comfort and support, staff at Sydney’s now defunct King George Hospital were anything but. They ummed and ahhed when Margaret asked to see her beautiful, perfect new daughter Abbie, giving a range of excuses as to why they couldn’t bring the newborn into Margaret’s room.
In those hours, days, after giving birth — when new mothers are fragile and hormonal, when all you long to do is kiss and cuddle and simply breathe in the baby you have given birth to – Margaret found herself surrounded by a wall of resistance. Of silence. Disapproval.
You see Margaret was single. And in 1973 Australia that simple fact made her ‘unfit’ to be a parent.
So instead what the staff did when Abbie was born was fill out forms which said Margaret was agreeing to give up her baby for adoption. All they needed was for Margaret to sign her name.
“Just sign here, Margaret,” I imagine they said. “Your little girl can live with a nice family. You’re a single mother. You can’t give her what she needs. Just. Sign. Here.”
But she didn’t sign. Thank God. Margaret was thirty-years-old and somehow had the strength to stand her ground.
Today Abbie is one of my closest and dearest friends.
I’ve heard this story several times over the years – Abbie and I both horrified at the judgement her mother faced. The pressure put on her — even at THIRTY – to give Abbie up. But it’s only been in recent years that I’ve realised the true horror of what unfolded for decades across Australia.
Single mothers being bullied and coerced and lied to. Single mothers having their children taken from them – at times even STOLEN from them – in a way that can only be described as despicable. Like the Stolen Generation, it is a shameful part of Australia’s history.
On Wednesday, Australia took yet another step forward in acknowledging these horrific practices when – following the lead of South Australia and Western Australia – NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell delivered what is being called an historic apology during a joint sitting of Parliament.
O’Farrell said: ‘The trauma induced by the forced adoption practices in the past has reverberated through the lives of ten of thousands of mothers, and their children who were removed. It’s affected fathers who were never given a say, as well as the families who never knew of the truth of what went on with brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews or grandchildren they lost.
It caused years of pain and grief for many instead of the joy and delight which parenthood might reasonably have been expected to bring. This single, barbaric act – fraying the sacred bond between mother and child – changed lives, and in many cases it destroyed them. We apologise to the mothers who were not asked or listened to. We apologise for making you feel ashamed and unfit to care for your babies. We say sorry for treating you cruelly and insensitively when what you needed and deserved most was care and support.
Minister for Families and Community Services, Pru Goward also spoke of the incalcuable pain the practice caused. Sky News reports:
“It is true that there were thousands of young women in NSW who were persuaded or manipulated to accept that adoption was in the best interest of their child, but there are an unknown number for whom the persuasion became coercion – they are part of this apology,” Ms Goward said.
She said there were women who have told of signing adoption papers under heavy sedation when they didn’t understand what they were doing.
“Others have claimed they were browbeaten over days, or their signatures forged or not even collected. Some have said they were told their babies had died, only to find out years later it was all a lie.
“They are part of this apology,” Ms Goward said.
But the moment that strangled the hearts of everyone listening was when Lyn – a mother whose baby son was stolen from her – stood up to read a poem about the hell she has lived through.
“One thing I need you to know, pain ever-lasting does not show.
Something I will never forget, nor will others, you can bet.
To the outside world there is no sign
But the child you stole was mine.”
You can listen Lyn’s full poem here.
The Federal Government plans to issue a national apology next year.