Libby Stickland is a 45-year-old consultant. She was taken from her mother as a newborn and her mother was told Libby had died.
She’s also one of the 150,000+ children forcibly adopted under forcible adoption policies in Australia from the 1950s until the 1970s, when it was the social norm to expect unmarried young mothers to give up their babies.
This is Libby’s story, as told to Grace Jennings-Edquist.
Trigger warning: This post deals with forced adoption and rape, and may be distressing or triggering for some readers.
I was born January 16, 1970 in Perth. My mum was 17 at the time and unmarried. She said she was raped by three blokes – I don’t know who my father is.
My mother was drugged during the birth, and doesn’t remember it at all; I assume it was a really good dose of pethidine.
When my mother came around after the birth, my grandmother told her I was stillborn. I guess my grandmother thought it would make it easier to grieve and move on — because with death there’s closure, but knowing that your child’s still out there, and with the anger that she would hold onto about a baby being taken away without her permission — well, I think my grandmother was saving her own skin, because she was the one who arranged for me to be removed from my mother.
I was adopted about two weeks after my birth by George and Tertia Dempster, and I went to live in Wongan Hills, Western Australia. They were farmers, as financially stable as farmers can be.
I’d always asked the question, ‘I wonder what my mum looks like’, so on my 18th birthday I asked my parents for my birth certificate; I just wanted to find that missing piece of the jigsaw. My parents were hurt by that, but they understood that for medical reasons I needed to know my background.
I went to Births, Deaths and Marriages and got my mum’s marriage certificate. I noticed that she got married in Geraldton and had an unusual surname, so I dug out the phone book and rung around the area, basically saying I was an old school-friend friend just chasing her up. My last phone call was to her mother-in-law.
“Oh hi, I’m just an old school friend of Pat’s, just chasing her up,” I said.
She replied: “What do you want with that bitch?”
She went on: “Pat married my son, and she spent years in and out of refuges running away from him. My son’s an alcoholic.”
That was my next lead. I rang all the women’s refuges across the top of Australia with no luck, and left messages all over the place to say I’d called.
I heard nothing — until my 21st birthday, when I had a phone call from my mum’s best friend.
She said: “I’ve got your mum right here, and she’d like to talk to you.”
I met my mum for the first time when I was 24. She only learned I existed when the women’s refuge told her I’d phoned, and it took her that three years to get her head around it.
The reunion was in a food hall, and it definitely wasn’t that happy, “oh my God, I found my mother” sort of reunion.