real life

At 16, Susan's newborn was taken from her. Five days later, she tried to get him back.

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.”


Susan says she was only spared from a fate like that of the girls depicted in Channel Nine’s Love Child because her mother and aunt decided they didn’t need to send her away and could handle it themselves.

“I think my mother was looking at options,” she remembers. “If that’s what they decided, I would have definitely gone along with it. In those days parents made your decisions and you basically went along with it.”

Another decision her guardians made for Susan was that she should not hold her child after he was born, lest any attachment developed.

Listen: The Binge interviewed Love Child star Miranda Tapsell. (Post continues after audio.)

So when it came time to deliver her son Simon* – which she describes as a “traumatic experience” – that’s exactly what happened.

“The nurses were very matter-of-fact and very efficient, but they weren’t supportive or caring. They basically just did the job they were asked to do. It was quite isolating. Quite lonely.”

Susan’s eyes water as she recalls that about an hour before birth, her mother and aunt – who had been with her the whole time – were ushered out of the room.

“So I was there on my own… It was a very traumatic experience for me because you’re so young, you really have no idea what’s going on.”


Susan remembers the baby was born, wrapped up and “immediately taken away”, without the doctor telling her whether it was a girl or a boy. Her mum later told her she’d had a boy.

For the next four days, Susan recovered in the surgical ward of the hospital, knowing that just 100m away her baby – who the staff had nicknamed “Fred” after the doctor who delivered him – was being cared for in the nursery.

“Before the birth there was no counselling about adoption or any choices given about whether you were to keep him. No guidance was given whatsoever,” she recalls.

Susan describes her birth experience as "isolating". (Image via Love Child.)

"I remember that a welfare officer came and saw me and he was the only person who ever told me about my rights... I did sign the papers, but he did tell me I could change my mind. I had 30 days, but after that it was binding."

Armed with the knowledge that she could change her mind,  Susan was only home for a day before doubts about leaving her baby started to set in.

"I imagined that every day of my life I'd be looking for this child in the street and thinking 'is this my child?'"

"I didn't feel like I could go through with it."

When Susan raised these concerns with her mum and aunt they told her they would support her no matter which decision she made - words she never heard throughout her pregnancy.

Susan told them she did want her son back and they arranged for her to go and meet her child for the first time in hospital.

She describes the experience as "quite weird" as she hadn't seen the baby and was only going off medical staff's word it was hers.

"I can't say I felt this instant bonding, that probably took a couple of weeks... but I felt happiness. I felt it was the right decision to make."

And with that Susan became a mum.

After learning to feed, bathe, change and care for her baby, she went back to school and her mum stepped in as the primary carer for those years.


Susan graduated Year 12 and went on to train as a nurse and work full-time. Later, when Simon was seven, she met her current husband, who she has had two more children with.

"Over time he became a great step-dad. they have a very close relationship. There's no different feelings between his own two and my biological son."

Susan says that while she never regretted her decision, it wasn't easy. Sacrifices were made, such as many of her friendships.

"You became an adult overnight," she says.

"Any connections you have with your peers and friends beforehand sort of dissolved because they had no clue what you've been through. You're just coming from different places."

Susan said the experience of young motherhood changed her in ways she's sure were for the best. She remains close to her son, now aged in his 40s. And when she looks back on those first few days of his life, the distress she remembers is overwhelmed by the pride she feels in her strength to fight for her baby boy.

"I feel proud of my decision. Being a single mother in those days wasn't easy - not that it's ever easy - but it sort of made me a tougher, stronger, much more capable person and quite resilient."

*Names have been changed. 

Love Child: Season 4 is now available on DVD