Losing My daughter:
In January of nineteen sixty-seven, I relinquished my baby daughter for adoption. She was born on the twenty-ninth of December 1966. I was sixteen at the time of her birth.
These are the circumstances leading up to her relinquishment:
I am one of the Forgotten Australians. I was incarcerated in a Catholic convent - Mount Saint Canice, a Magdalene laundry in Hobart Tasmania, from the age of twelve until I was fifteen years and seven months. I believe I am a victim twice over of a society that had no regard or time for my welfare.
I believe that an account of my years spent in Mount Saint Canice is important to my story because it shows that I was a vulnerable person, who had already been seriously affected by incarceration, and that this was not addressed or corrected in any way. That this led to further suffering for me and so many other people in a similar position.
In the December 1965, I was released from Mount Saint Canice and allowed to live in a girl’s hostel in Hobart. I had been taken from the home by a carer to help me find work at the government employment service. I was offered work in a women’s clothing store in Hobart. After I had worked there for a couple of weeks, one of the nuns called me aside to say that there was a hostel in the city that they thought might be more convenient for me. My family did not have any interest in what happened to me, so it was left to the nuns to decide what I should do. I had been no trouble to them during my years in their custody, and they felt it was time I left home.
The hostel was pleasant. I was amazed to be free of bars and bells, and all the restrictions, which had become part of my daily life while in the convent. It was quite a weird feeling. For more detail, please refer to my submission on my incarceration in Mount Saint Canice.
Christmas came and passed, and I was doing well in my job. I had no idea what I wanted from my life. I viewed myself as an unworthy person. I tried to keep my time in Mount Saint Canice a secret to all, as this was a bad place to have come from in the eyes of the people I knew. This stigma was to remain with me for most of my life.
I saw very little of my father. He was angry because the nuns had let me out of Mount Saint Canice. When I did see him, he was quick to tell me that if I lost my job or cost him any money, he would send me back to the convent. This was a threat and fear that would remain with me all my life in some form or another. It was a valid fear since a young person could be made a ward of the state at the time until they were aged twenty-one. I saw many girls returned to the home over the years.
Over the next two months, I made friends with other girls who were living in the hostel. It was a hostel run by the Salvation Army for country girls who were working in the city. Two of the girls I had shared a room with at the hostel found an apartment to share and moved into it. I visited them at the weekend.
They had quite a few parties, and it was at one of these parties I was to meet the father of my daughter. He began to call at the hostel to see me, and I would go out with him in his car. He was seventeen at this time, and I was fifteen years and nine months of age. One night at the drive-in, when we were in the back seat of his car, he would not listen to me tell him that I didn't want him to be inside me. He didn't stop. I felt shocked but told no one. This is the first time I have been able, to tell the truth about that night. I had never had sex before this time. My daughter was conceived as a result of this night,
I continued to work and go about my activities as normal after I had missed my period. I did not want to acknowledge that I was pregnant. I honestly thought it might all just go away. I turned sixteen in the May of nineteen sixty-six. I thought that my daughter’s father would give me an engagement ring for my birthday, but this was not to be. I was a very naïve young girl. Weeks passed, and my pregnancy began to show. I was fired from my job not long after my birthday. The women there knew more than I did, truth be told as I was still in denial about my pregnancy. I didn’t associate what was happening in my body to a child.
I was quick to get a job at a variety store nearby in the city, and more weeks passed. I was plagued by nausea, and I was asked to leave this job when it became apparent to my employers. I was becoming quite fearful within two weeks of leaving this job as I was running out of money and needed to pay my rent. My father’s threats about the home were at the forefront of my mind. He and his girlfriend paid me a visit at the hostel. My father’s girlfriend had noticed that I was not at work and they came to see why. As it turned out, my father knew a woman at the Cadbury Chocolate factory, and he said he would call her. He came by the next day to tell me to take the six a.m. train to the factory, and I would have a job.
The train station was quite a walk on a cold morning, but I made it and caught the train to Claremont, which was some miles away. I began work at the factory. The smell of the chocolate made me sick a lot of the time, but things were otherwise okay. People thought I was a plump girl I think. My breasts were growing quite rapidly, but I could hide the baby bump under my uniform. No sooner had I got settled into my new job when the Matron of the hostel called me to her office one afternoon after work. She asked me was I pregnant. I told her I wasn’t. She said that she had heard rumors and she thought I had changed in appearance. I was worried about this, concerned that my father might find out, and send me back to Mount Saint Canice. I had seen young women in Mount Saint Canice who had been pregnant, and they had been sent to a Salvation Home for unwed mothers. They had been forced to give up their babies. I knew of one young woman who had hung herself as a result of this. I was becoming quite afraid.
I told my friend at the hostel that I had missed my period and that I was worried. It was she who finally made me come to grips with the fact that I was pregnant. She said she had known it in any case. She had a boyfriend who was a friend of my daughter’s father, and my condition had been discussed between them. I had seen very little of my ‘boyfriend’ since I had missed my first period. I did not want to take any more risks; this was how naïve I was.
My friend, who was also sixteen suggested I rent a room elsewhere, so I could avoid being found out. I looked at the newspaper the following Saturday and saw one or two rooms to rent. I took a very small room in Battery Point, which was being let for five dollars fifty a week. I had been paying eight dollars a week at the hostel, but this had included three very good meals a day. I moved into my room that weekend. My friend came to see me and said she would like to rent a room in the same house when there was one available. This room became vacant some weeks later, and my friend moved in as well. I often look back at this room and think that my walk in closet at home now is almost the same size as the room I had to raise my baby. But in reality, had we had the means to survive, the size of the room would not have concerned me in the slightest.
I missed the hostel and was glad when my friend was close to me. We had rooms in the top story of a house where the owner let out 6 of the upstairs rooms and two downstairs. My landlady and her husband had their own two rooms downstairs as well. All the upstairs rooms were self-contained, but shared the toilet downstairs. It was my first time at buying and preparing my own meals. My friend and I would often prepare and eat our evening meal together. I was about five months into my pregnancy at this time. The walk to the train station was longer and still cold, so it was not a comfortable situation to be in. But I was driven by a need to survive and remain undetected. I was carrying both the stigma of being a girl from Mount Saint Canice and an unwed mother.
When I was about six months pregnant, my father’s girlfriend came to see me in my room. She asked me was I pregnant. I said I was not. She said that the Matron from the girl’s hostel had told my Father because she was concerned about me. My father’s girlfriend said she was relieved that I was not pregnant as my father was sitting in his car and had been drinking and ready to kill me if I was pregnant.
A few weeks later, my boss at work asked me if I was pregnant. I really could not deny it so I said yes. She said I would have to leave within a couple of weeks as she could not hide it from her bosses and she would get into trouble. I thanked her and asked her not to tell my father. She gave me her word, and I left the factory about two weeks later. The woman did not tell my father about my pregnancy, but she told him that I was no longer working there. I think they must have run into each other somewhere and this had come to light somehow.
My father’s girlfriend came once again to my room to tell me that my father knew I was not working. She told me that she could get me work where she worked as a waitress at the Wrest Point Hotel in Sandy Bay. She arranged for me to see her boss later that week, and I was hired as a breakfast waitress. I began immediately. The work was hard, and I had to be there at six a.m. I worked at Wrest Point until I had six weeks to go before my due date which as the twenty-fourth of December. I had seen a doctor once. I was afraid to go to see one in case I was taken back to Mount Saint Canice.
One of the girls who had left to move into the apartment earlier that year had conceived a baby and had since married. She had visited me in my room, and I had told her I was pregnant as well. She was concerned for me and asked me to come to her clinic to be examined. It was a grueling process for me, as I had not shown my body at this level to living soul previous to this. The doctor told me my due date and asked me to come back; I didn’t go back. I was terrified. I recall not being able to associate my very pregnant stomach to a baby. I have since been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so it is likely that I was continuing to apply filters to my experiences and to dissociate as I had been doing for many years when I had to face terror.
When I had six weeks to go before my due date, I knew I could not work any longer. I was struggling to take two girdles off after work each day, and laying in agony as I did so. I asked to talk to my father’s girl friend after work, and as we sat having a cup of tea at work, I told her. She said she was not surprised and that she would tell my father for me. She advised me to give my notice at work. She saw that my ankles were swollen and she told me I needed to rest. She had seven children so I took it that she would know.
Later that day - about six p.m. - my father arrived with his girlfriend. My father had been drinking and pushed his way into my room. He called my many disgusting and bad names, including a “worthless slut who was as bad as my mother”, that I disgusted him. These words still make me cringe as I type. I was humiliated and ashamed. He said to me that he was going to put me back into the home. I begged him not to. He said the baby was nothing to him, and that it would be given away. I told him I would not give my baby away and he hit me across the face and began to punch me.
I screamed, and his girlfriend stopped him from doing more harm. I was badly bruised and had a black eye. He left saying he would return. I am still traumatized by his menacing and violent actions to me through my early life. My landlady had heard all of this, and said to me later, that I could stay until my baby came but she didn’t want any babies in her house. I slept with my friend that night. She bathed my eye with a wet face washer.
Later that week, my father’s girlfriend asked me to go with them to see a place where I may stay and have my baby in comfort. I went with them to a large house in West Hobart. I saw the sign “Elim House” as I recall, outside and I remembered that this was the place where many of the girls from Mount Saint Canice went to have and give up their babies. It was the place that I had heard such horror stories about. And it was the place where the lovely young girl I had known had come from before hanging herself. I began to run up the street, over a fence and into a park until I was a long way from my father and his girlfriend. I would have rather died than go inside that home.
I spent the next six weeks at home except for the days I would walk to visit my friend who was married and also expecting a baby. She and her husband were very good to me, always making me lunch when I was there. I had very little food and tended to get by on bread, milk, and Weetbix. I had some money in the bank, but I wanted to save this for the baby’s needs. My friend who had come to live in the same house began to knit for my baby and had a good idea of what I would need. I had no idea. My friend had been raised in a large family, and I suppose her knowledge was a product of this.
My father continued to harass and belittle me, calling on me once a week or more. One time he came when I was talking to woman who rented a room in the house. My father listened outside the door and heard me say I would never give my baby away. He was abusive and violent again that day, kicking my thigh.
Christmas and my due date came and went. I can say it was a dreadful Christmas. I was alone and hungry. Later in the afternoon, a friend I used to know from when I worked in the clothes shop came with her mother with the remains of their Christmas lunch. Her mother said she could not eat her meal while she knew I went hungry. I will never forget this kindness. My grandparents and my father were well off. Although my father was an alcoholic, he was always employed and did not waste money. My family had more than enough money to support my child and me. My grandparents were one of the most prosperous families in Dover at the time. But given their total abandonment of me over the past several years, I really should not have expected any help.
On the twenty-eighth of December nineteen sixty-six, my father came to visit me. He told me he would pay my rent but no more. It was customary for him to call in and throw the money on my bed, swearing loudly at me. This particular evening when he called, I was folding some baby napkins I had been given to a charity. I had washed them and some other baby clothes I had been given. My father saw this, and began to rant and swear loudly at me about me keeping the baby. I ran past him as I sensed his anger was worse than usual. As a child, I had seen him beat my mother and he had also thrown me across the room on occasions. I had good cause to fear him. He followed me to the top of the stairs and tried to pull at my dress to stop me going down. I pulled away from him, and I fell. I think he was afraid because he left me where I fell.
I felt very unwell, and I decided that I would ask some one at the hospital if I was okay; my friend was very worried about me. For some days, my ankles had been so swollen I could not wear my shoes. I walked to the Royal Hobart Hospital later that evening. I really caused quite a stir as there were doctors and nursed crawling all over me it seemed. I was whisked away to the maternity floor, helped to shower and dressed in a gown.
An obstetrician/gynecologist examined me and told me that I was dangerously ill with toxemia of pregnancy and preeclampsia. He told me I was minutes away from a seizure. He said that they would do all they could to save the baby and me. My waters were broken, and I recall going into labor. I must have been sedated from that point on, as I don’t recall anything more until I woke up in the morning. There was no baby, and I was terrified that my child had died.
I was in an intensive care bed alone. I rang for a nurse, as I could not get out of bed. I had drips and a catheter. When the nurse came, I asked her where my daughter was. I had been convinced for a long time that I was having a daughter. The nurse told me she was well, but that I was not allowed to see her because she was to be adopted.
I told the nurse that this was not true and that I wanted to see her. The nurse said she would have to see her superior. I told her not to bother about this that I would get out of bed and see my baby. I was asked to wait. The Matron of the ward came to me and said that she understood that my baby was to be adopted and that it was not the policy of the hospital to allow mothers to see their babies in these cases. Surely this must be seen as kidnapping, as had it happened to a mother who was married and therefore according to the thinking of the day, ‘respectable,' I imagine that this would have been a huge legal breach, so why was I different?
I told her that my daughter would be adopted over my dead body and began to get out of bed. I was still very unwell with high blood pressure, so this was not advisable, so she told me. This argument continued until it became clear that I wanted my child. As it happened, the gynecologist who had delivered my daughter was in the hospital at that time, and he came to see me. He told the nurse to bring my baby to me. I am sure I would not have seen her had it not been for his compassion and regard for my health.
I saw my daughter for the first time when she was about five hours old. She had been delivered with high forceps, and her head and face were incredibly bruised. I could not believe how lovely she was; how could I have made her. I think I fell in love for the first time that minute. I was allowed to hold her for a while, but I was very tired, so she was taken back to the nursery. I was under a lot of sedation.
Later that day, my father came to see me. He was angry and threatening. He had been told that I intended to keep my daughter. He was asked to leave because my blood pressure was still dangerously high. It was to remain so for some time.
My father did not come to see me again, but he sent his girlfriend, who tried to tell me it would be better for all if I signed the papers for my daughter’s adoption. I remained steadfast in my resolve not to give her up. I could not see how anyone could ask this of me. This was my child, and she was the only lovely thing I had yet to see in my life. My flesh and blood. Many of the nursing staff and doctors treated me with scorn. I think such lack of respect and compassion for me was unforgivable and disgraceful. I felt humiliated each time I walked to the bathroom.
I was made to feel ashamed. My level of knowledge about the world was virtually non-existent, and I had no ability to process what was happening to me. There was no one to advocate for me, in fact, the whole social welfare system as it impacted me was geared to part me from my child, as if I was a person unfit to have my own child. That the best thing I could do for this child was to give her to decent people who could raise her to a life of respectability. These words were to be said to me for days on end. There was no counseling for me. I heard only “just do this or else”.
I was fortunate in that there were some wonderfully kind and progressive midwives in training in the hospital at the time. They were from Queensland, and they sang lovely songs on their shift. They were respectful of me and encouraged me to keep my baby. One of them made sure I registered her in my name and went so far as to put the news of her birth in the paper. Looking back I would not allow this now, as it was like a red rag to a bull to my father who just about blew up when he saw it.
These midwives made sure I had milk formula and some hospital clothes for my daughter. They told me she had won three months worth of formula in a Nestlé’s competition, but I knew they had staged this. My daughter had too many bruises to win any competition. My milk was not as forthcoming as it should have been. It could be that this was due to my illness and medication, I am not sure, but the supplemental formula was necessary. The social workers who were harassing me to sign adoption papers were so angry when they saw me breast-feeding my baby. They made a complaint. I was given medication to suppress my lactation, but again, the midwives who were trying to help me keep my child told me not to take the medication if I wanted to feed my daughter. So I refused it. I have to ask at this point, at what level were mine or my daughter’s human rights protected or respected when people hungry to have me adopt my child like a brood mare, would deny her my milk, and me the ability to feed her. Up until the matter of the lactation suppressant medication, I had taken the medication I was given, because I was told I needed it. I began to ask what I was being given from that time on. Shame on those who were part of this deception. Shame on the government both State and Federal that allowed these practices. These are unlawful practices, and the State of Tasmania should accept full accountability for them.
During my stay in hospital, I had daily visits from social workers, they bullied me about my refusal to sign the adoption papers they bought with them each time. These visits tired and upset me. I had no idea about my rights; I don’t think I knew what the word meant. I did not know any of the laws regarding me as a minor, or adoption. I was in no state to sign anything even if I wanted to when all is said and done. I was stressed beyond description. I was given Valium to help control my anxiety so that the doctors could get my blood pressure under control. The obstetrician-gynecologist who had delivered my daughter was a wonderfully kind, humane man, who knew my plight more than I did, I suspect. He was supportive of me and said it was wrong of people to expect me to relinquish my daughter against my wishes.
I was moved from the intensive care bed to the maternity ward where I had access to my daughter when I wanted to. She slept in a small nursery during the day. I learned to bathe and care for her. I was terrified that she would be taken from there.
Because I was ill, I was kept in hospital for longer than normal. I recall the day before I was due to be released, that the social workers had come to tell me that unless I signed the papers for my daughter’s adoption, I would find the police waiting for me when I left. That I would be taken back to Mount Saint Canice. This was a terrifying notion to me, and the reality of it was, that they could have done this to me.
One of the midwives who had been on my side said that she had seen the papers the social worker had women sign, and they were preliminary papers and that if I signed them, I could say I had changed my mind. That afternoon after thinking about this, I went downstairs to the social workers’ office, and I told her that I would sign the papers. As it turned out, there was a man there whom I was told was head of that area. He was very pleased that I had decided to sign the papers. He witnessed the paper I signed. I did not read it in detail. I was not given time, and I am not sure I would have understood it. I saw it again as a copy when I was thirty-nine.
The paper was signed on the eleventh of January, nineteen sixty-seven. This man told me it was a preliminary document and that more would need to be signed, but it was a start. I felt relieved that I would not be harassed again that day, as I knew I would be leaving the hospital on the next day. I want to make this very clear her that had I known that this was a final document I would not have signed it. My daughter's adoption is not a legal adoption. However, that's all a moot point after almost 50 years.
I left the hospital with my daughter the next morning. I believed the police would come for us had I not signed. This is the only reason I signed. I wanted to make sure the way was clear for us to leave. A woman, her husband and her newborn baby who was released from the hospital that morning gave me a lift home. One of the nurses who was against my taking my baby home said to me “Don’t be back in nine months”. Those remarks were degrading and horrid, and they still echo in my mind. I was so humiliated. I believe that all hospital staff and social workers I was involved with owed me a human duty of care to see that they did not abuse me. I know that they failed in this regard and that I have suffered all my life as a result of their lack of ethics in their attitude and treatment of me and their constant attempts to force me to give them my child. I know I would not have left the hospital with my child had it not been for the decency and kindness of the nurses who regarded me as a person fit to have my child.
It was a very hot day for us to be leaving the hospital, but at least we had a ride home. The woman who had befriended me hugged me, and I saw she was crying as I got out of the car. Her husband helped me carry the things we had been given by the nurses. I went back downstairs to wave goodbye to them, and as I walked past my landlady’s sitting room door, she came out. She told ne she had not expected me to bring the baby home, and that I had to get out as soon as I could find a room because she was not going to have any “bastards” in her house.
I set my things in order and walked to the nearest phone box to call the Salvation Army. The nurses had called them for me as well, and they needed to know when they could deliver a crib for my daughter. She slept with me that night and many others.
The next day, there was a delivery for me from the Salvation Army. I had quite a few nice things, not many clothes, but enough for the time being as it was summer. My friend who had moved with me from the hostel had made my daughter a lovely mattress. She was an excellent seamstress and worked for a tailor. She made the mattress out of white cotton, and it had been filled with soft scraps of cloth from her work. She also made me some sheets, and I was given a blanket. My biggest need was nappies, as I only had eight. My friend was able to get me some flannelette squares, which she hemmed. I had some breast milk, and I had enough bottles and teats along with the formula to make up any that my daughter needed.
Food was scarce for me. I needed to keep what money I had for rent. And above all, I needed to get a job. The day after I arrived home I was visited by the social worker from the hospital came to see me, she bought policewoman with her then and on other occasions.
They harassed me pretty much every weekday while my daughter was with me. On one occasion, the policewoman complimented me on my nails. Saying they were lovely, and that I kept my baby clean. I asked her very innocently why I shouldn’t have nice nails and why I would not keep my baby clean. She took this to be abusive to her, and she said: “Enough from you, I can take that baby here and now of you don’t mind your manners.” I was afraid and shocked.
The social worker had never forgiven me for ‘tricking’ her, as she called it, in the hospital and kept saying that it was only a matter of time before I went to court. I told her that I had changed my mind and that I was going to keep my baby. The social worker slapped my face and said I had made life very hard for her because she had some lovely parents lined up for my daughter. She went on to tell me that she would get my baby in the end, but I should be ashamed because I had stopped her from being adopted by the best of her “parents” since my baby was not newborn and was not as attractive to prospective adopting parents. (If this does not translate to some form of baby marketing then I don’t know what does.) She went on to say that I was a “hopeless slut” whom she wished had died giving birth. Her physical abuse of me was done in front of a policewoman who did nothing about her actions. I knew there was no use in complaining to anyone about her or my father’s physical and emotional abuse. I look back, and I think: what sort of society did I live in? Was that social worker so desperate to take my child that she would knowingly let my child go to people whom in her words not the best pick of her clients? That this could happen to me in my country, in my culture is unconscionable, and an indictment of the governments, both state and federal, that allowed this abuse to be perpetrated and continued to be so for many years to thousands of women.
There was a woman who lived in the room adjacent to me, who heard all this, the same woman I had been talking to the time my father had heard me saying I would never give up my baby. She was appalled by what she had seen and heard that day. She told me that she thought I would not have to give up my baby if I could support her. She said I should look in the paper each day for work. And she added that I should not answer the advertisements from men who said they wanted a housekeeper and who had no objection to a woman with a baby. These advertisements were quite common at the time.
This woman was a prostitute who worked from the house. I mention this because my support during this time came from various minority groups and people who were considered lesser in society. The young girl who had become my friend, who had run away from a sexually abusive father; the gay young man who let me sleep in his bed with him while I sobbed for hours when my daughter finally went from me. The prostitute who lent me canned and packaged food, so my food cupboard was adequately filled when the policewomen and social workers used to do random inspections of my room. My contacts with these people have been lessons to me all my life. Their examples taught me never to make judgments about people because they were this or that.
My father visited me on occasions to throw the rent at me. On one occasion he came in the middle of the day. I was washing diapers in the sink outside my room. He was insulting of my daughter, asking me did I like washing “shitty nappies” in a sneering voice I knew too well. I asked him if he wanted to see her. He lost his temper and hit me, saying that he would wring the "fucking rabbit’s neck" if he got near it. I stood in the doorway of my room so he could not go in and he hit me across the face. I had another black eye. My head ached for days. I think he did some permanent damage as if I look at the eye he hit twice now, it seems different to the other eye, and this was not always so. My friend thought so as well at the time.
When the social worker came next, she asked me about it. I told her my father had done it, and she said it served me right.
I was upset about having a bruised and blackened eye because I had seen and applied for a position from the paper. It was for the housemaid to the Catholic Archbishop. I received a phone call that week for an interview. We used a ordinary phone in the house for incoming calls. My grandmother had called once, she was interested to hear about the baby, but asked me to do as my father wanted. She went on to say that they could not help me as my grandfather relied on my father’s help in various ways. My grandfather had suffered a stroke when I was twelve and he needed my father’s help, or so he thought.
I went to the interview the next afternoon. The woman who lived near me in the house cared for my daughter. It was the first time we had been separated since I came home from the hospital. My friend told me to say my bruises came from a fall. I did well in the interview, and the woman who interviewed me asked me when I could begin, that the position was live in. I told her I could move in immediately. She said she would let me know. I told her about my daughter, and she told me that this position was not available for unwed mothers. So it was back to the newspapers. I was disappointed about this job I have to say; I naively believed the Catholic Church might have helped me.
When I arrived home, I found my landlady besotted with my daughter. So my accommodation was safe as long as I could find some work. My father kept telling everyone he would stop paying my rent unless I gave my daughter up for adoption. The visits from the social worker and or the policewomen were relentless. My father would call them and demand they came to check up on me. I also know now that this was not legal. But at the time, my knowledge was very scant. I lived in fear and from day to day, trying to make sure we both had what we needed to survive.
On the positive side, my landlady offered me my room in return for me cleaning her house. But this was not to last long; I began to have pain in my left breast. I went to see a social worker whom I had met in the home – she was a social worker, but I trusted her. Ironically, her purpose in visiting us in the home was to run a series of lessons on the care of a baby.
She took my daughter and me to the hospital where they diagnosed me with mastitis I was told I needed to be treated with antibiotics. I said I would not be admitted and I went home with some medication for my mastitis. I had a fever and was very tired. I had been taking small amounts of Valium since my discharge. I was told that I needed to stay calm and have good rest. This was said to be because I had lethally high blood pressure while pregnant. I was also very thin and it was thought I was malnourished, which I was. I had not eaten a decent meal since I had left the hospital. Incidentally, this was a time when I began to be anorexic. I suspect that I may have had some intrinsic precipitator to this and the stress triggered it. I have suffered from this disorder since that time. I am somewhat better now but only marginally.
I was told to take another half tablet at night, and I expressed my fear of not waking up for my daughter. I had slept through her crying once before and had woken to my landlady knocking on my door, so I would keep the baby quiet.
My social worker friend said she would take my daughter to a receiving home for care. I did not know what a receiving home was. It sounded nice, and I was assured that I could have my daughter when I was well. I asked if I could take my daughter to the receiving home and the social worker agreed. I believe she meant me no harm, as she was a very decent woman. We went back to my house where I packed my daughter’s things for her stay. I fed her and made her another bottle of formula. I write out how much I was giving her and a few other remarks about her general needs. We drove to Lansdowne Crescent in West Hobart. We went into what seemed from the outside to be a very nice house. The woman who was to care for my daughter was nice. I felt that my daughter would be safe there.
After four days I felt a lot better, and I called my social worker friend whom I had not heard from. She had told me she would come for me to get my daughter when I felt better. She came to see me that afternoon, and she told me that she had some bad news for me. She went on to say that the courts had seen the paper I had signed and that my daughter had been allocated, adoptive parents. She told me that my father had gone to the courts and applied for this to happen. I am not certain as to how he could, but later he said he did.
The social worker told me that my daughter was no longer at the house in Lansdowne Crescent and that were was nothing I could do about it. She told me she was sorry, but my father had gone over her head and had threatened them all with court action. I do not see this as enough reason for me to have lost my child now, but at that time my awareness of anything in this area was negligible. I had enough to do to survive, much less gain knowledge of my legal rights. There there was no one who offered to help me do so.
I screamed at her and ran all the way to Lansdowne Crescent to the house where I had last seen my daughter. I went to the door of the house, the woman I had handed my daughter to tell me that the baby had been taken by her adoptive parents. I said I didn’t believe her because I could hear her crying. I tried to get past her, but she stopped me and said I must leave or she would call the police. I left.
I sat on the stone fence outside the house for a long time. I could not believe what had happened. I eventually went home when it was cold and dark. My friends were horrified. I went back the next day and tried to listen for my daughter; I heard a baby cry at times, but it may not have been her. My daily visits to the house in Lansdowne Crescent were brought to an end when I was taken by the police to the Hobart Police Station and told not to go back there again. I was told that if I did, I would be taken back to Mount Saint Canice.
There was no time I was told that I had any right of appeal or of any time when I could change my mind within the following three months. Had I known this I most certainly would have taken my daughter back.
Many years later my daughter’s adoptive mother told me that they had lived on their nerves hoping I would not change my mind during the first three months they had my daughter. I don’t see how this adoption was ever legal.
People tried to tell me how it was for the best for both of us and that I did the “right” thing. The point they missed is that it was illegal and that my human rights and those of my daughter were violated. I do not think I will ever recover from my time in Mount Saint Canice, and I know I will not recover from the shock at finding out that my baby had been taken for adoption. I was afraid that my father would send me back to the home.
Soon after my daughter was taken, I was invited to see my grandparents. I could see they were sorry for me, but nothing was said. The less said, the better about my pregnancy. I at least had some access to food, but my anorexia was bad at that time. My anxiety attacks were ever present. My great-grandmother was broken hearted for me and said as much. But she was eighty-five, blind and vulnerable. She could not say anything to anyone about me.
When I went back to my room in Hobart, I began to look for work. I began work as a nurse’s aid in a nursing home. This was to lead to my training as a geriatric nurse later. In the April of nineteen sixty-nineI met my future husband. He lived across the street from me. When I told him about my daughter, he said he would need a few days to think about all this and this changed matters. I didn’t see him for three days, and when I did, he said he would still be my boyfriend, but that I must never tell anyone about my pregnancy. One woman at work was so full of praise for him, saying how lucky a girl like me was to find any man who would have me. This is the stigma that I lived with, and I know I am one of the so many thousands of women who suffered this.
I was convinced that I needed to be married; I thought that this was the only way I could be rid of the fear of being sent back to Mount Saint Canice. I was married in the January nineteen sixty-nine, and I felt safer. I felt cheated because knew that I had married for different reasons than some of the people I knew. But this is what I felt I had to do at the time.
I was reunited with my daughter when I was thirty-nine. Although we were in contact for over ten years, this contact broke down. I am both sad and relieved about this but resigned to the fact that she will not be in my life.
I have one daughter with whom I have a good relationship. I have four grandchildren. I watch with wonder and joy as they are raised with so much love and good parenting.
I am at peace at many levels. This has been achieved by years of therapy from my therapist whose intelligence, compassion and determination to help me thrive has been my saving grace.
I had many years of therapy for treatment for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although stable and well, I am extremely careful about any exposure to stress. I consider myself fortunate in that I was able to work with my doctor towards wellness. I will never be well. I am grateful to be here to write this, both for me, but for the other women who can’t. Some are unwilling, some are unable, and some are no longer alive. There are many casualties as a result of women being forced to give up their babies for adoption.
I hold three University degrees. I have to say that at times I was driven to obtain my degrees by a need to prove to society that I was not a disgraceful person. I think this is sad. One of my messages in all this is that we need to be caring for all children and young people. To be respectful of them, their innocence and vulnerability, and to do what we can to enable them to reach their potential.
In closing, I will add that many people have said to me that my daughter and I are better off because she was adopted, that we were both given a new beginning. Speaking for myself I will say that I don’t know if this is the case. My entire life has been a challenge up until I began therapy. There has not been one day when I have not thought about my daughter, and I believe I will never get over losing her. She was all I had in a world of chaos. The specters of Mount Saint Canice and the loss of my daughter are ever present at some level in the back of my mind. I feel defined by these years if my life, and I know that this is due to the constant message I received by my elders that I was a bad person.
As I see my grandchildren born, there is a lot of me that aches again as my experiences are echoed back to me. And I am sure I am not alone. What I am saying that an experience such as I had does not leave one and will rear its head decades later.
Can you imagine what it is to sit on a stone fence outside a house and know that you can’t get to your child because it has been stolen? Would you not agree that the cruelty was unconscionable? To spend the rest of my life with this memory as I have has been so very difficult. This should never have happened, and it should not be allowed to happen again.