Forced Adoptions: Mothers want medics investigated
Mothers affected by the forced adoption policies of 1960s and 70s are calling for an investigation into the medical profession and what they say were illegal and heinous practices. Individual states apologised ahead of Julia Gillard’s national apology in 2013 but mothers are angry that since then there’s been silence. They say a Royal Commission, or a civil class action, is needed.
Mothers affected by Australia’s forced adoption policy want a royal commission into the medical profession for what they say were illegal and heinous practices.
The stigma surrounding single mothers from 1958 to the mid 1970s and states’ forced adoption policies robbed up to 250,000 women of their babies.
Hospitals pushed adoption consent forms on women, which most do not even remember signing.
Many, like Lyn Kinghorn, were guilted into it.
“I was told to go home and be a good girl,” Ms Kinghorn said.
“I was dragged from the hospital screaming, it’s still the worst memory of my life.
“I was told, ‘you are not having her, if you don’t sign [an adoption consent form], she’ll grow up in an orphanage’.”
“It’s just so raw,” fellow mother June Smith said.
“This is a baby I welcomed [and] really loved.
“The nurse on the ward put me through the most humiliating, disgraceful, cruel and unjust period of my life.
“She informed me that I was no good, that my son deserved a lot better than me, that I shouldn’t be selfish, that I should think of him and if I did love him, I would want better for him.”
Janet Tough said mothers were given a drug to make their breast milk dry up and their babies were ripped from their arms.
She said the hardest part was knowing the children grew up believing they were not wanted.
“They don’t know the truth about what has happened, they don’t recognise themselves as being stolen and abducted,” she said.
Mother listed as deceased on birth certificate
The mothers had all experienced difficulties trying to reconnect with the children taken from them.
Ms Tough had 20 years of contact with her son, but failed to build a relationship with him.
Another mother, Brenda Coughlan, tracked down her daughter, who was not interested in reconnecting.
Ms Coughlan said she had given birth at St Joseph’s Foundling Hospital in Broadmeadows, which recorded her as dead on her daughter’s birth certificate.
“I was so traumatised because … the first document she received [when she searched for her biological mother said] I was dead,” Ms Coughlan said.
Ms Smith found her son, but said he was not interested in having a relationship.
“He doesn’t want to see me, he’s 53 years old now. He wrote me a letter a long time ago and said he was happy and that it must’ve been a hard choice for me to make,” she said.
“That really hurt, because I never made a choice, never.”
Connection ‘not the same’: daughter
Ms Kinghorn is one of the rarer cases and has managed to build a friendship with her daughter Christine.
Christine, who wished for her surname to be withheld, said she, like others from the era, grew up convinced they were not wanted.
“I always knew I was adopted,” she said.
“It was a shameful thing, we weren’t allowed to speak about it … but I’m very grateful for the care I had growing up.
“The father that raised me didn’t know that as a baby I was wanted.”
Ms Kinghorn and Christine’s relationship has not been easy.
Ms Kinghorn described the reconnection as akin to trying to re-attach a body part.
“If you’ve lost a limb and try to put it back on, it’s hard work,” she said.
“You never know your place … you love each other, but there’s just not that freedom.”
Christine said she felt the same way.
“A bond was severed and although we’re part of each others’ lives, it’s not the same connection I would have, say, with my children,” she said.
Push for expanded royal commission, compensation
These painful memories and intergenerational ripples have prompted a group of mothers to push for a royal commission, and, if necessary, a civil class action.
The mothers, some representing Independent Regional Mothers, said Victoria’s 2012 apology over forced adoptions and the subsequent national one by then-prime minister Julia Gillard were hollow, because nothing had been done since to adequately acknowledge their trauma.
Barrister Greg Barns from the Australian Lawyers Alliance said a civil action could be tricky as it would be expensive and opposed by the state.
He said it would also be tough to fight the statute of limitations and track down documentation and evidence.
Mr Barns said he would like to see an inquiry and a statutory compensation scheme.
He cited a successful Tasmanian model for wards of the state which paid 1,800 abuse victims $54 million.
“It’s the state’s way of saying this policy was wrong, it was unconscionable and this is our way of apologising,” he said.
The mothers conceded society might be tiring of royal commissions, but they said it was the only way the medical profession, which has been excluded from the remit of previous inquiries, would be investigated.
They said they wanted the inquiry to extend beyond the baby trade to allegations young women were used as guinea pigs for clinical trials and intrusive gynaecological examinations, also without consent.
“The prime minister of Australia said it was illegal, [Victorian Premier] Dan Andrews mentioned the word illegal,” Ms Smith said.
“All these things should have got the Victorian attorney-general to start proceedings for a royal commission into the medical profession and bring people to account for crimes they committed.”
The mothers said their appeals for the Australian Medical Association to address their concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s not right there are all these women in society sitting in pain inflicted by the medical profession,” Ms Tough said.
“We need an apology by the medical profession; we did nothing wrong. It needs to say, ‘we know we abused you, and we’re sorry’.”