Adop­tion by force: two tales of pain

I spent years look­ing for my boy in ev­ery pram, one mother tells politi­cians

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - Ni­cholas Jones

Women who had their new­borns taken from them and adopted out to mar­ried cou­ples from the late 1950s to 1980s are call­ing for an in­quiry into forced adop­tion.

Mag­gie Wilkin­son gave birth at St Mary’s home for un­wed moth­ers in Otahuhu aged 20, and her baby daugh­ter was adopted out shortly af­ter­wards. Now 72, she started a pe­ti­tion for a Gov­ern­ment in­quiry into forced adop­tion.

That ef­fort has so far fallen on deaf ears — Jus­tice Min­is­ter Amy Adams has no plans for an in­quiry, say­ing other is­sues that af­fect more New Zealan­ders like do­mes­tic vi­o­lence law re­forms will take pri­or­ity.

Wilkin­son — who told her story in yes­ter­day’s Her­ald — and other women with sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences made emo­tional sub­mis­sions to Par­lia­ment’s so­cial ser­vices com­mit­tee yes­ter­day. These are edited sum­maries of two of their sto­ries.

Maria Hay­ward

At 18 Hay­ward got preg­nant to her boyfriend, a fel­low univer­sity stu­dent, and ended up in the Catholic Home of Com­pas­sion.

“The build­ing was be­hind a huge ce­ment wall so we could hide our shame. I worked all day and cried all night.”

Her son was born in April 1974 and taken away im­me­di­ately: “I asked if it was a boy or girl and was curtly told. I asked if I could see him but was not al­lowed.”

Her boy was briefly shown when her par­ents vis­ited.

“My mother sobbed when she saw her first grand­child,” Hay­ward said, her voice break­ing. “I didn’t know at that point that she had vis­ited the home sev­eral weeks ear­lier and ex­pressed that she and my fa­ther wanted to adopt this child . . . She was told, no, we al­ready have a fam­ily for this child.”

For some weeks af­ter the birth Hay­ward was in phys­i­cal pain. She went to a law of­fice 10 days af­ter the birth to sign the adop­tion pa­pers.

“I was very fright­ened but by this stage I was used to do­ing what I was told and used to be­ing si­lenced. The lawyer gave me pa­pers and reminded me that I was not per­mit­ted to see my child ever again . . . I knew I was do­ing the wrong thing. I had no choice. I signed the most ter­ri­ble piece of pa­per in my life.”

Years later Hay­ward said she read her notes and saw her son’s adop­tive par­ents had asked for a child with tall par­ents, a boy, not with “dark blood”.

“The key point that I want to make is that ev­ery­thing about the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal and le­gal en­vi­ron­ment con­spired against al­low­ing a young mother to con­sider keep­ing her child. My records show I clearly ex­pressed a de­sire to keep my child,” she said. “I spent the next 12 years look­ing for my boy in ev­ery pram, ev­ery picture of a child that age . . .”

Chris­tine Hamil­ton

Hamil­ton trav­elled from Syd­ney to tell the com­mit­tee her story.

She ended up in St Vin­cent’s Home of Com­pas­sion in Auck­land af­ter a re­fer­ral from a nurses clinic GP at a pub­lic hospi­tal, who told her she didn’t want a baby to ruin her life.

Her son was born in Septem­ber 1973. Her records showed she was given a cock­tail of drugs be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the birth.

“I lost the ca­pac­ity of func­tion­ing nor­mally and thus was pre­vented from hav­ing a nor­mal de­liv­ery and ac­cess to my baby.

“My son . . . was re­moved from the de­liv­ery suite and hid­den from me. He was not given to his mother, me, to see and hold. None of this had been dis­cussed with me. I had not signed any doc­u­men­ta­tion to [al­low this].”

Hamil­ton said the com­mon prac­tice of re­mov­ing chil­dren im­me­di­ately was a “cruel, bru­tal and cal­cu­lated act” to break a sa­cred bond be­tween mother and child.

“Af­ter my trau­matic de­liv­ery days passed and I asked for my baby so I could love and feed him. But all re­quests were de­nied by Sis­ter Jay, the only nun that came near me.”

In 2005 Hamil­ton read her records that ob­served the new mother “ap­pears rather de­pressed”.

She later met her son but the reunion was fleet­ing: “His emo­tional pain was too great.”

Picture / Nick Jones

From right, Chris­tine Hamil­ton, Mer­i­lyn McAuslin, Maria Hay­ward and lawyer Re­becca Hay ap­pear be­fore the se­lect com­mit­tee in Welling­ton.

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