Tens of thousands of these adoptions are now believed to have been non-consensual, processed under a government policy of what has come to be known as "forced adoption"—one that victims and campaigners say was a human rights abuse.Government inquiries and independent research by scholars like Cole have recently brought to light the experiences of hundreds of single or unwed mothers-to-be during this period, who recount being routinely drugged, lied to, emotionally and physically assaulted, and coerced by authorities.Their stories paint a dystopian picture of ongoing violations administered by government agencies and the medical establishment in line with bigoted social attitudes of the time. Like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who over decades had their children removed by government agencies and church missions, many of these mothers consider their babies to be another "stolen generation.""To call it 'forced adoption' is really mislabeling what happened—this was an assimilation policy by the government that happened right across Australia," says Cole, who has since completed a PhD on the subject.
My baby was going to be taken for adoption, irrespective of what I wanted.
"In our case we were considered inferior, second class, unfit to rear our own children because we were unmarried…. Being a single mother was purposefully pathologized."We were considered to have gotten pregnant because we were morally and mentally inferior—therefore, not mentally stable to bring up a child. This was full of hypocrisy because we were often farmed out [after the birth] to work as slave labour for married couples, where we were expected to clean their house and mind their children up to 80 hours a week."
Australia's institutionalized theft of babies began in the 1950s, when it was considered the ideal solution to two pressing social issues: married couples unable to conceive children of their own, and the unpalatable number of young, single women giving birth to so-called illegitimate children.As is documented in court judgements and other official documents from the time, women such as these were considered "sexual deviants" who were "unpopular with the neighbours" and deemed "unfit" to parent. So they were denied any choice in the matter. Instead, the adoption of their babies became protocol within hospitals.Accordingly, the child's original birth certificate would be sealed immediately after birth and an amended one issued, establishing the child's new identity.These practices were also justified by social services through reference to popular psychology at the time—namely, "attachment theory" which held that a so-called clean break was best practice, with infants immediately removed from their mothers at birth. This would supposedly promote a favourable relationship between the baby and adoptive parents, while allowing single mothers to "get on with their lives."
Anxiety and panic disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations are reported by victims.
The different priorities and calls for redress by mothers reflect the highly individual nature of their experience, and its many psychological and social effects."We know that there are many different experiences for people affected by forced adoption," says Lyn O'Grady of the Australian Psychological Society, which offers an in-depth programme of forced adoption research, training, and support.
Among the most common manifestations of trauma, O'Grady notes, is persistent depression, including sadness, anger and grief—in particular, as disenfranchised mothers were often unable to acknowledge or publicly mourn their loss due to restrictive social attitudes. Anxiety and panic disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal ideations are also reported by victims, as is a deep-seated mistrust which can infuse other relationships."We can think of the legacy of forced adoption as a "ripple effect" on others, including other family members, extended families and partners," she says.
For some, no amount of restitution will be enough to address their loss and suffering.
"While many people who experience trauma in their lives do so at an age when their sense of self and personality is somewhat developed, adoptees who were given up by their birth parent/s at or near birth will never know themselves without trauma," she explains."It's taken a short lifetime to acknowledge, but in the act of accepting my trauma, I have started to learn how to accept myself."In March 2017, mothers, children and other victims will gather with politicians in regional Victoria to unveil a memorial of a mother and child, commemorating the parliamentary apologies for former forced adoption. As Cloughan explains, it is hoped that the site will provide a place where victims can "gain some inner peace and healing from the deep pain and grief they continue to suffer as a consequence of this brutal era of our civilised nation."