When in 1977, 16-year-old Susan* told her mother she was pregnant, there was never any question she would put the baby up for adoption.
“I was 16. I was a baby. I had a really bright future,” she says now.
“I think my mother and my aunt were just quite practical and thought that was probably the obvious thing to do.”
As Susan, now 56, tells Mamamia, that was the accepted norm at the time. Girls would take a term or two from school and come back as if nothing had ever happened.
It was just a few years after adoption rates in Australia had reached their peak of almost 10,000 in 1971-72, when it was common for babies of unwed mothers to be adopted. In 1977 the number of adoptions was close to 4000.
Over the next two decades, the number of adoptions plunged, and now sits at less that 500 per year. This drop can be chalked up to an increased level of acceptance of raising children outside of marriage, better government support for single parents and availability of birth control. These days, women know their options and make the choice that’s best for them.
For Susan, however, with her mother dismissing any idea of marrying the 18-year-old boyfriend who had gotten her pregnant, there was never any discussion of raising her child alone. So, she put her trust into the caring hands of her mum and aunt as they organised for her unborn child to be adopted.
“They decided we would keep it from the extended family… I think they were aware of societal attitudes and wanted to protect me from those, but at the same time they felt those attitudes themselves.”