When the NSWMA made a public apology for the part nurses and midwives had played in the forced adoptions of the 1950s and 1960s era, Maryanne contacted Nurse Uncut to say thank you for the apology. She is a member of the Association who adopted out her baby in the early 1970s. At that time, no choice was presented to her – it was simply not viable for an unmarried woman to keep a baby. Here Maryanne tells of her experience.
This is my story – I’m already crying before I start as I find it so emotional to talk about.
I came from a dysfunctional family involving alcohol and verbal and physical abuse. When I was 14 I was placed into a girls home and stayed there till I was 17, when I went into a hospital and did two years training as an RN. But because I was finding the theory too hard, I became an AIN, which I proudly have continued to do to this day. I did my AIN certificate 3 at age 56.
It was 1970. I was 21 years old, very naive and green behind the ears and had not long come from the country to Sydney’s leafy North Shore, with a guy I had a very strong crush on. I found a live-in job with a public hospital as a kitchen worker.
I soon found out I was pregnant. I went to a doctor but he couldn’t help me as I was too far gone (I hadn’t known I was pregnant before this visit). I had really bad morning sickness the whole pregnancy, right up until half an hour before my baby was born – I was taking medication, Debondox, three times a day but it didn’t work.
Because I was so sick with morning sickness, I used to faint on the job sometimes. My work would let me go to my room and rest, then when I felt better I had to get back to work. All the older ladies plus the matron and one RN helped and guided me through this terrible time.
Back then we had to work for the first six months of the pregnancy and then went onto sickness benefits until six weeks after the birth. Then benefits were stopped and one had to have a job.
When I was fast approaching six months, I had to find a new place to live [as my live-in job would come to an end.] There were only two choices, live with a family or go into an unmarried girls’ home. I chose to live with a lady with two sons who was working afternoon and night shifts. I got the position to look after her boys while she worked and I could live in her home as well – but no pay, as I was living off sickness benefits. There was no single parent’s pension at this time.
My baby was due 13.1.71 but he came on Friday 1.1.71.
I was in labour from 5am to 9.30am. The lady I was living with took me to the hospital [the Mater]. At 9.20am they told me to keep walking as I couldn’t sit down and at 9.30am they called me into the labour area. My boy was born at 9.40am – he was very quick.
The doctor roused on me for delivering before he’d arrived.
They left the mask on me and went to attend to my baby; 45 minutes later they came back to attend to me and while the doctor was stitching me up I felt pain again, as he was hurting me. He roused on me again for using the gas mask.
I was put into a ward with three other unmarried girls, segregated away from the married women and looked upon as naughty little girls. They wouldn’t let me see my baby boy for four days. On the Monday after lunch I cried like I’ve never cried in my life and when they asked what was wrong, I asked to see my baby. The head nun came to me after tea and said ‘get yourself ready, you have 15 minutes to see your baby, then that’s it’. So they locked me in a room and gave him to me. I told him I loved him and cried all over him.
Every day after this when I went by the nursery, the blinds were pulled down. Friday, a week after I’d given birth, I left the hospital – I was crying and my heart was breaking so badly. I still couldn’t sit. They made me get into a car, took me to where I had to sign his papers, then I was taken back to where I lived – and that was it .
I felt like part of my heart was being ripped out of me.
Thinking back, this is what stands out:
• The doctor was rude and cold towards me.
• The nurses only did what they were told to do by their supervisors.
• I was left by everyone after this to fend for myself. I had no support from anyone and dealt with my emotions by locking them away so the pain wouldn’t hurt. My family didn’t know, so I had no back-up support from them or anyone else.
• I was given no choices the entire time I was pregnant.
This had to be the worst experience of my life and still affects me now when I talk about it after all these years – which is not very often. It is very hard to put into words how I felt. It was horrendous.
From about 1990, when the media started publishing stories about adoptions, my Pandora’s box of emotions started to open. I had to get counselling, which I had for four years.
The first step was the hardest – going to Births, Deaths and Marriages for information. The person behind the counter had no compassion and handed me a book with 20 year old info in it. I went outside and cried my heart out.
By this time I had taken a break from nursing and was working in a public hospital as a receptionist in the operating theatres. One of the anaesthetists became a friend and I ended up telling him my story. It turned out he knew my son’s adoptive father. So through him I met my son’s adoptive father, before I met my son.
I finally met my boy just before Christmas 1994 and spent five wonderful hours with him. I didn’t want the night to end. I was told ‘don’t touch him when you meet’ but he came and gave me a cuddle and I just couldn’t let him go. I saw him a few times soon after this but haven’t seen him since, which I feel very sad about.
I have learnt over the years to live with this. I never married and had no more children. I still work as an aged care nurse.
I want to end by saying thank you to the Association for apologising to us unwed mothers from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. I was just happy that the union felt they needed to say sorry – seeing the apology made me cry.
There are many more stories out there worse than mine but our pain is the same.