Forced adoptions – an apology on behalf of nurses and midwives

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Christine Cole of the Apology Alliance: “I was pushed back on to the bed by three nurses. The pillow was placed back on my chest and the midwife at the end of the bed said, ‘This has got nothing to do with you’. Now mind you, I had not signed any adoption consent. This was presuming that my baby was going to be taken for adoption, irrespective of what I wanted.”

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has apologised for the profession’s part in the forced adoption policy of the 1950s-70s that took newborn babies from their mothers.

The NSW state government yesterday apologised to the thousands of parents and children who were separated and had their lives devastated by the policy.

After the joint sitting in the lower house, Families Minister Pru Goward called on the hospitals and charities involved in forced adoptions to also say sorry.

Later on Thursday, the NSWNMA released a statement saying it “joins the NSW Parliament in unreservedly apologising, on behalf of the nursing and midwifery professions, to the mothers and fathers who had their sons and daughters taken from them. The NSWNMA also apologises for any nurse or midwife behaviour that increased the trauma experienced by any mother as a result of this unacceptable policy.”

The apology goes on: “Nurses and midwives pride themselves on being advocates for patients and clients and as a result of unjust practices such as this, there is today a strong awareness amongst nurses and midwives and the Association of the need to stand against such injustice. No government or employer should force a nurse or midwife to do something that violates the rights of people in such a way and no nurse or midwife should violate the rights of anyone in such a way. Thankfully, nurses and midwives now have the professional standing and recognition to refuse such directives.”

While it says it wasn’t involved in the practices of the policy, nor supported them, the union has apologised for not taking a “vigorous stand against it”.

Earlier in the day, a former midwife at St George Hospital called Diana rang ABC radio in Sydney to say that she wanted to assure women who’d had babies removed that the midwives had taken very good care of the babies and had really loved them – some of those babies had stayed in hospital nurseries for months.

Diana said they were all acting as was expected at that time. “We lived in that society where, you know, it was a terrible thing to have a child out of wedlock … The Church had a lot to do with it, the families had a lot to do with it, the parents were often absolutely disgusted with their daughters.”

In recent years, many women who had babies removed have told of how nurses and midwives were complicit in the removals.

“They put a pillow over my head or up here so I could not see her and she was taken away…” Cheryl McNeil told the federal Senate inquiry into the policy. 

Robin Turner’s repeated pleas to be reunited with her baby were refused.  She threatened to throw a chair through her first-storey window and climb out to go in search of her son. Her desperation was ignored. She was tied to a hospital bed for two days and repeatedly drugged. Eventually, staff said her baby had died.

One of those now grown-up babies contacted the NSWNMA to send a message to those who had cared for her as a newborn.

“You held me and spoke my name, for the first time. You wrapped me, fed me, and bathed me, for the first time … To the women working in the Womens Hospital, Oxford St Paddington during Dec, Jan, Feb in 1962/3 … a time when you had no rights, no voice & no choice in the direction our lives took. Thank you for saying sorry but as one of your babies, please also allow me … to say thank you.”

Image credit: Russell Lee, Wikimedia

6 COMMENTS

  1. I personally disagree with this recent practice of Govts and high profile organisations saying ‘sorry’.

    I have nothing to be sorry for. Even when I worked as a child protection officer for the former NSW DOCS, I did nothing wrong and was not personally accountable for any wrongdoing.

    Having a degree of empathy for persons affected by various socio-political situations is not to say that one must be ‘sorry’, as if the deeds of yester-year were committed personally.

    Let the system round up those Direstors of Nursing; those Charge Sisters; those DOCS equivalent Govt. officials and pressure THEM to say ‘sorry’. Not us – those who are left with the mess.

    This is not about today’s Nurses and Midwives. It’s not even a matter of today’s State or Federal Ministers.

    Like the War Crimes Commissions of the late 1940s-1950s – track down those personally responsible – and make them say sorry…

  2. Gordo, it was a systemic policy, a systemic failure to care and systemic cruelty. Individuals who did carry out the policy may well wish to apologise personally or at least share their feelings of distress about what they had to do but ultimate responsibility lies with the organisations who devised and implemented the policy. It’s symbolically important that today’s organisations indicate by apologising that they understand how wrong the past actions were, even though today’s people weren’t involved then.

  3. Generally, all policies have an element of ‘failure’ built in.

    I don’t like today’s policies either …

    Policies take away from the professional officer, the right to think about and analyse any given situation. When one knows what is ‘right’ and is restricted by the policy – what are the options?

    Over the course of the past few centuries, men and women have chosen to follow the policy – or follow their ‘heart and soul’ and make their own decision.

    I’ve often made a choice to do what I know is ‘right’ (against policy) and have paid for it later…

  4. Just seeing that photo of babies in cots lined up waiting to be “chosen” fills me with sadness. Is one of them me? How can I know? There are no photos of me when I was born, no record of my first nine weeks, no time of birth or weight. For the first 30 years of my life I had no knowledge of my roots and kin, or even that it was normal to want to know. The commodification of children (us) and putting the rights of parents over the rights of the child was inhumane back then and still is today. Apologies might not change anything but maybe they raise greater awareness of the real impact of policies and practices on everyone affected, and just maybe they will encourage people to question current policies that are inhumane. Governments account to us – we vote them in and out. Public servants are just that. We have the right to demand that policies are humane and treat everyone, regardless of their social standing and personal circumstances, with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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