Hidden pain: parents and children of forced adoptions plead for awareness

The inquiry into forced adoptions has seen many come forward to share their stories and express the long-term pain it has caused them. Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels.
People who suffered because of forced adoptions have been sharing their distressing stories as part of a Victorian inquiry in the historical practice. Alisha Centrone reports.

Elizabeth Edwards remembers waking up in the hospital to find that the baby she had just given birth to had been taken from her.

More than 50 years later, she has shared her story with the current Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Responses to Historical Forced Adoptions in Victoria, which is due to report in August.

Ms Edwards, who is also a coordinator for the adoption support group Origins Victoria, said telling her story was an important step in raising awareness of what had happened.

“Because the trauma doesn’t go away … it never will,” she told the inquiry.

Hidden pain: parents and children of forced adoptions plead for awareness

Ms Edwards said she was rendered unconscious during her child’s birth and woke to the doctor telling her “society would forgive one mistake”. She was just 18 at the time.

“When I awoke, I had delivered our baby, however, she had been removed from the labour ward,” she said in her inquiry submission.

“They de-personalised my maternity.”

A few days later, while still in the hospital, Ms Edwards said she was visited by a solicitor and told her then husband would face jail if the baby were not given up.

“I was told that Bill would go to jail for carnal knowledge if I did not sign the papers giving consent for our baby to be adopted,” she said.

Ms Edwards was reunited with her daughter 26 years later and is now sharing her story to generate awareness and understanding.

“Very few people have heard of our issue … we need to have it pushed to the forefront,” Ms Edwards said.

People don’t know the trauma and emotional disassociation that we had to experience in order to survive once our baby was removed from us.

She said it was difficult to tell her story but necessary. “Somehow, I’ve distanced myself from it because I’ve had to,” she said.

“If I’m going to represent other mothers, I have to steel myself.”

Elizabeth Edwards, of Origins Victoria, shares her hoped outcomes for the parliamentary inquiry. 

A report by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee concluded that between 1951 and 1975, there were an estimated 140,000 to 150,000 total forced adoptions.

Committee chair Natalie Suleyman extended an invitation to mothers, children or anyone affected by adoptions and wishing to be heard, to make a submission before the report was finalised this month.

“We want to ensure that anyone who has been affected by forced adoptions can have their say to this inquiry,” Ms Suleyman said.

Founding member of adoption support organisation ARMS Marie Meggitt said the inquiries were a good opportunity for individuals to voice their stories and experience recognition.

“It’s been an important social movement to ensure voices are heard,” Ms Meggitt said.

“It provides the opportunity to come and speak privately or public.”

The inquiry has enabled many to share what they hope to hear from parliament in response to their history.

Hidden pain: parents and children of forced adoptions plead for awareness
Marie Meggitt, one of the founding members of the ARMS organisation, is passionate about raising awareness of forced adoptions. Picture: Alisha Centrone, via Zoom

Affected mother Hannah Spanswick also made a submission to the inquiry, calling for better support services for those affected by forced adoptions.

“I sincerely hope that the provision of affordable and ongoing psychological services will be made available,” Ms Spanswick said in her submission.

Ms Edwards said financial compensation should be offered.

“You know, there’s no amount of money that is going to compensate for the loss of their baby. But I think that it does show good faith,” she said.

No one can give me back what should have always been mine.

The inquiry is about historical events and requests for discussion about current adoption practices have been declined.

Ms Edwards said the Children’s Court had lost a lot of legal oversight, and foster care had concerningly become a back door for adoptions.

Adoption rates have declined by 50 per cent over the past 25 years, AIHW figures released in March show.

“I think we need to look at the injustices happening now, but when I raised that issue with the panel, they said we were not there to look at anything else,” Ms Edwards said. “They wouldn’t even let me speak about it and didn’t want to hear about it.”

Ms Meggitt agreed adjustments need to be addressed, especially in the area of foster care.

“There’s some really big considerations there, and no doubt legislation needs to be reviewed in the light of that.”

Currently, seven support service organisations across Australia have been funded by the Department of Social Services for those affected by forced adoptions.

A further $5.244 million was granted to continue Forced Adoption Support Services to June 2024, through the 2020-21 October Budget.

The reporting date for the inquiry has been extended to August 4.