Jo Abi writes about Australia’s shameful past.
Imagine being 16. Imagine being pregnant. And imagine having your family and everyone you trust turn on you.
And then, imagine the absolute horror of having your newborn baby stolen from you, just because you happened to be young and unmarried.
It sounds unbelievable today – but this is exactly what happened to countless young Australian mums and their babies just a few decades ago.
“I’d lie in bed every night with my arms wrapped around my baby inside of me knowing that I would never hold him after birth. I’d feel his feet and hands through my own stomach as he moved around, knowing that I wasn’t ever going to feel them after he was born.”
That’s part of a statement given by one of the mums who ended up having her child forcibly removed from her and adopted out in the 1960s. And sadly, she wasn’t alone.
In the 1950s to the 1970s, women didn’t have too many options. Birth control was difficult to get, abortions were illegal and falling pregnant was seen as something shameful that needed to be hidden.
And so, around 150,000 babies were adopted out during this time. Just take a moment to let that massive number sink in – that’s 150,000 women and babies who had their lives destroyed in an instant.
Most girls were sent to homes similar to Stanton House in the TV show Love Child. I watched Love Child, sobbing, and yet the reality was much, much worse, with girls being drugged, abandoned and then having their signatures forged on adoption papers.
A federal inquiry into the practice heard stories of a father taking his pregnant daughter to a police station, punching her in the face in front of officers and demanding to know who the father was. Of pregnant girls being used as slave labour in homes and hospitals. Of malnutrition due to inadequate food, causing pregnant girls’ hair to fall out. And this all happened in Australia.
Considering women’s rights these days and how far they have come, it is hard to imagine what life was like then, and why this policy of forcible adoption was allowed to continue for so long. And the worst part was that it was the people these girls should have been able to trust the most who took their babies from them – parents, doctors, nurses, social workers, religious figures.