When I was born, my mother sobbed. Not with joy, but because she hadn’t really wanted me to be born.
Because as soon as I was born, despite her howls of protest, I was taken away from her. She was eventually allowed to hold me once for a brief moment in time before I was whisked away again, this time permanently. At three weeks of age I left the quiet country hospital where I was born to start my life with an adoptive family.
Last Monday, Four Corners delved into the issue of forced adoption practices in Australia during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. During the program a number of women told their harrowing and heartbreaking accounts of being forced/coerced/pressured into giving their babies up for adoption during those years. The issue has been the subject of a lengthy Senate inquiry, and recently the inquiry handed down its list of 20 recommendations, which included a recommendation for a formal apology from federal and state governments.
These kinds of TV programs that pull at the heartstrings will always reduce me to tears. I have never been able to watch “This is your life” because I cannot make it past the opening credits and theme music without sobbing. As a child of this era of forced adoptions, I found myself actually shaking with emotion in response to what I was seeing and feeling as I watched the episode unfold. I genuinely feel aggrieved for the women who were forced to give up their babies. I am a mother and I cannot begin to imagine their pain and lifelong anguish.
But I would also like to tell my side of the story, as indeed the story is not just about the relinquishing mothers.
I was adopted into a family in which the adoptive parents already had six children, five of whom were their own natural born sons. My adoptive mother was 42 at the time they bundled me up and took me home in the back of the FJ Wagon.
Their eldest child was 18 and already in a serious relationship that would eventually lead to marriage. It would be almost unheard of in these modern times for a child to be adopted into a family who already had so many children, and I believe it was somewhat unusual even for the (very late) ’60s as well.
My birth mother was not told I was being adopted into a family who already had so many children. In fact she was sold the story about the wonderful thing she was doing by giving a childless couple “her baby”.
When watching the women of the Four Corners story recount their experiences, I heard time and time again the words my birth mother has said were told to her. Things like being asked how she could possibly think she could look after me on her own? (Remember, this was before the introduction of the single mothers pension in 1973.) She was told she could not provide for me in the way a married couple could – told too that she was selfish for wanting to keep me. And the clincher – being asked how could she really love me, if she thought I would be better off staying with her, rather than being given away?