At 19, Margaret was forced to give up her son for adoption. It was the start of a 25-year nightmare.

Margaret Hamilton was just 18 years old when her parents sent her to St Mary’s Home for Unmarried Mothers. 

Unexpectedly pregnant, Margaret's fiance had taken off three weeks before their wedding, and in 1966, that left Margaret completely dependent on her parents for support. 

From the moment she entered the church-run home, Margaret was kept in the dark. No one asked her if she wanted to keep her baby. No one asked her anything. 

Occasionally, the matrons would remind the girls that choosing anything other than adoption would be selfish, put their babies at risk. But to Margaret, it didn’t feel like there was a choice. For this group of pregnant, unmarried girls, scared and alone, there only felt like one option.  

Watch: Kristin Davis Cries Over Adopted Kids Experience With Racism. Article continues after the video.

Video via Facebook/RedTableTalk.

"On the night my labour started, an ambulance was called to the home, and I was taken to the hospital. I was very frightened. I remember being left alone and in pain," Margaret reflected in a document outlining her story, shared with Mamamia by her daughter, Claire.

"I heard another mother screaming. I thought they had forgotten about me so I screamed in pain also," she wrote.


A nurse snapped then. "Shut up," she said, telling Margaret that her screams were disturbing the other mothers. 

After that, it all went blank. Margaret remembered being in the ward. She vaguely remembered signing a form. There was no discussion, she wasn't informed of her rights, or given the option to keep her baby. Signing him away was simply something she had to do.

She felt like she wasn’t even there. Like it wasn’t real. "No one ever told me I could keep my baby. That he was mine," she shares. Margaret was then told to go home. To get on with her life. 

"Once I was home, the nightmare started and lasted 25 years." How could she get on with her life when part of her was missing? Consumed by heart-break, she lived recklessly, contemplating ending her life, doing anything she could to numb the pain. She found herself searching in random prams, looking for her son. Then later, in playgrounds and schoolyards. 

A new start brings new pain. 

Eventually moving to Melbourne, Margaret met her husband and had two daughters. But as her girls grew, so did her depression. After 24 years, Margaret still felt alone, living with a desperate longing for her son. 

Things changed after she joined a support group, reconnecting with several of the girls she lived with in the home. Girls who were also forced to give their babies away. Girls who believed they had been drugged throughout their birth. It was the only explanation for why none of them had clear memories of their babies being taken from them. 

After joining the group, Margaret also discovered that her baby was likely fed with the excess milk of the married mothers staying at the hospital. Her baby, who she had named Paul, was denied his own mother's milk. 


She also learned there'd been a 30 day 'cooling-off' period she wasn’t informed of. She could have had her son back. At the very least, she should have had access to him during that time. But she didn’t. Worse still, the age of consent was 21, where Margaret was just 19. She was never given a birth certificate for her son, of whom she believes she was the legal guardian, at least for those first days of his life. 

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Margaret Hamilton and Claire Hamilton. Image: Supplied. 


Meeting Michael.

As adoption laws changed, Margaret eventually found her son, whose name was now Michael. He’d been raised an only child, and would later marry and have two children of his own. It was during this time, that Margaret’s daughter, Claire, discovered she had a brother, that her mother had been enduring a quiet pain all this time. 

"I remember her crying on her bed when I was a kid. I didn't understand what it was about. I didn't know I had a brother until she found him and then the story unfolded into my life," says Claire. 

For her mother, finding Michael woke her from the nightmare she was living, but the trauma of losing her first-born son, never went away. Because while Michael was open to having Margaret in his life, he already had parents.

"Mum's relationship with Michael was 'always striving'. She was always wanting to connect and reach out to him," says Claire.  

"A lot of the time her efforts would be cautiously pushed aside a little bit just because he was struggling with the fact that she was reaching out for a son and he already had a mum and a dad."

But Margaret tried as best she could to build a relationship with him, visiting him, and later he and his family, in Penrith at least once a year. He made the effort to visit her in Brisbane several times too. 

She always said, she got as much of Michael as he was able to give. 

"It was never going to be quite enough because she lost a baby, and I don’t think she was ever be able to reconcile that loss."


At just 11 years old, Claire was excited to have a new brother in her life. 

"I naively thought maybe a new brother would bring me fun brotherly experiences like other people had. Another best friend to share family life with. 

"I was very young and hadn’t considered the age difference. When we met, I was open and excitable. He was cautious and quiet. He was definitely in a position of vulnerability looking back, but at the time I didn’t notice, I was too young."

One thing was clear though: how much her brother meant to her mother, and the ongoing trauma her mother continued to endure, having been kept apart from him for so long. 

Injustice acknowledged, and a cruel blow.  

In 2010 Western Australia became the first state in Australia — and the first government in the world — to formally apologise to mothers and their now adult children who were wrongfully and illegally separated by adoption. In 2013, Queensland and New South Wales followed suit, officially apologising and recognising that forced adoptions were, Illegal, unethical and immoral.

Then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, offered the unconditional apology on behalf of the Australian people for the lasting harm to mothers, adopted people, some fathers and wider families caused by the forced adoptions.

Claire says the experience was bittersweet for her mother, who was on the advocacy committee responsible for achieving the acknowledgement and apology.

“She was happy to have received acknowledgement, but the media didn't cover it much so they all felt it was swept under the carpet … most people don't know it even happened.”

But the following year, Margaret was dealt a cruel and unexpected blow. Two days before Mother's Day, and three days before his 48th birthday, Michael had a heart attack, and passed away. 

"She was devastated," says Claire. "I remember at the funeral, her legs wouldn’t hold her, she was completely devastated by the news. 


"Now there was no opportunity to get a little bit of what she had lost the first time he was taken. Now he was taken again, but permanently."

Heart-broken, but determined to have her connection to her son acknowledged, Margaret wrote to Births, Deaths, and Marriages, requesting her name be included on his death certificate. Her request was denied on the basis she "gave" her son away.

"My son was never, 'given' for adoption," Margaret wrote back in her heart-breaking reply.

"He was taken from me illegally! It was not a crime to be unmarried and pregnant but the punishment I received was brutal resulting in ongoing trauma.

"I am not asking for the adopters names to be eliminated; I am only asking that my name be included on his death certificate, as a notation on the certificate."

Margaret spent years advocating for the rights of the victims of forced adoption. Image: Supplied. 


A mother's dying wish.

"Mum tried since 2012 to get this changed by emailing and having meetings with various politicians. Despite her networking with high-level pollies and various government officials, she couldn't make it happen over a decade," says Claire. 

"And then Mum got cancer and within 15 months she passed away after a vigorous and brave fight for life. I watched her fight for the truth to be told. She never completely saw it in her lifetime."

Now, Claire has been passed the baton. Before Margaret passed away, she had one dying wish — that Michael be listed as her son on her death certificate, under his birth name, Paul.

"She said, 'my only dying wish is that I want Michael's name on my death certificate as Paul'," says Claire. "We said we would do it, without understanding the depth of the request."

Claire says she's ultimately working towards having the full story of a person listed on both birth and death certificates.

"To include the original birth name, then the change to the adoptive name and include all associated people in this. My mum wanted to be 'reinstated' as his mum for at least the 12 days that he was 'hers'."


But she can't do it alone. 

"It needs a change in legislation to enable it. I want to inspire other people who will feel it's important to be acknowledged in this way and help work towards this same goal. I want to honour my Mum by doing my part in trying to get the truth to be recorded accurately in these documents.

According to Claire, it's a battle that's been fought my forced adoption networks and groups, such as A.L.A.S (Adoption Loss, Adult, Support) for decades. 

Claire says the impact of forced adoption is both far-reaching and long term.

"When I found out I had a brother, I was excited and couldn't wait to meet him," says Claire.

"I didn't realise it was the beginning of a relationship that was filled with pain and loss for both my Mum and her son. 

"With that, I myself felt loss, because, he could never love me.

"These forced adoptions were illegal at the time that they took place, but unfortunately socially acceptable because nobody cared for or respected these 'unmarried women' in society then.

"Why can't we respect what they lost in the form of giving them accurate and truthful legal documentation, such as a birth certificate and a death certificate to prove they even had a baby and then that they have died -- and who their relatives truly were."

Feature image: Supplied.