The hit TV series Love Child is based on forced adoption in Australia during the 70s. And sadly, many of those mums, now in their 60s, are still dealing with the pain. Here’s what you need to know…
Imagine falling pregnant unexpectedly as a young, unmarried woman, then being sent away by your family to give birth and forced to give up your child. Post birth, your breasts are bound from your waist to neck to stop your milk from coming in, sometimes for weeks, until your milk dries up. Then you return to your family and are discouraged from ever speaking of the traumatic experience again. That’s what happened to many Australian women during the 60s and 70s, and that’s what the hit Channel 9 TV drama Love Child is based on.
Love Child reveals how unmarried woman in the 60s and 70s were forced to give up their babies for adoption.
Susan Ross is a midwife and birthing coach, who was consulted by the producers of the hit TV series to give historical factual insights about midwifery and forced adoption during the 70s. Susan was just 23 when she began her midwifery career during the 70s in an inner city Sydney hospital. Here, Susan shares her insights and experiences in the hope that many women, who have lived with this tragic secret for decades, may finally be able to deal with the pain and find some resolution and inner peace. Let’s get the conversation started, and the social injustice and stigma removed…
Susan (centre) was just 23 when began her midwifery career in Sydney and saw many young mums being forced into situations where they felt giving up their child for adoption was their only option.
Love Child: Why are we talking about forced adoption in the 70s now?
“We need to start conversations in families. Many of the women who were forced to give up their babies in the 60s and 70s have kept this as a secret all these years. To carry that guilt your whole life is extraordinarily sad. There are lifelong effects on those mothers, many of whom are now in their 60s.”
“Around 40% of these mothers didn’t go on to have another child – and it’s no wonder. While other women have gone on to get married and have children, and have blocked out that pain and the experience of what happened to them. I suspect there are many women in this situation who are now in their 60s who have carried this secret and guilt from their families for a long time. But it’s something that should be talked about. What happened to these women was a great injustice.”
How did ‘forced adoption’ happen?
“Women were forced into a traumatic situation where they had no options – financially, emotionally and physically. It was sold to them by reinforcing their situation. ‘How are you going to financially provide for the child? How will you provide housing? How will the social ramifications of your behaviour affect your family – and the shame they will experience?’
There was no government support – no single parent pension, no housing options and unless the woman had the support of a wealthy family who could take on the child and the social stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock, she had no choice.
Socially, there was so much shame and embarrassment attached to the family of an unplanned pregnancy. The girls’ families would often send them away for a ‘holiday’ or ‘to school’ in a different location – they’d come up with a plausible excuse for their daughter’s absence so she could give birth out of sight and then return after the baby was born and given up for adoption. When she’d return, she was expected to slot back into her previous life and pretend that nothing had happened. There was no counselling, no support, no acknowledgement – it was just swept under the carpet.
I believe this is partly why we have such strict adoption laws in Australia – to protect the mums.”
What was it like as a midwife during the 70s?
“We were in a very strict system where we were fearful of our superiors, and terrified of not doing the ‘right thing’ – there was absolutely no challenging the system. It was never an avenue to question your authorities or for saying, ‘I think what is happening to these women is unfair’. When your superiors and doctors walked in, you immediately stood up and acknowledged them and their superiority and position.”
Susan in her graduating class of midwives.
What was it like for the mums and babies in hospital?
“There was a baby nursery in the hospitals and ordinarily the crib would have a pink or blue card attached to the end. But if there was a white card attached, you knew the baby was a BFA – Baby for Adoption.
As a young midwife, you’d be excited to see the white BFA card, because it meant you could sit and feed the baby, and cuddle them – we developed an attachment to them. They’d sometimes stay in the nursery for weeks or months. And then one day, the social worker would come and disappear with the baby, and that was it. There was no support for the mothers, no support for the midwives.
We looked after the mums, but from a physical approach. After they’d give birth, we’d bind their breasts with bandages from the waist to the neck, to stop their milk from coming in or until their milk dried up – sometimes they’d be bandaged for weeks. It must have been extremely painful both physically and emotionally.”
How has this changed your approach to women, babies and birthing?
“I have been a midwife for over 40 years and believe we have a very broken maternity system. Where in the 70s there were social and financial fears, today the fear is fuelled by the media promoting birth as a ‘medical event’. We see the promotion of elective C-sections timed to fit in with life, epidurals, medical intervention and the belief that a doctor and hospital are the only option woman have to give birth. All of this, and the fact that women are having babies later in life with more complications, and more time to manifest fears, contribute to the promotion of birth fear. Hospitals are to treat the sick, elderly and dying. Birth is not a medical event. We are put on this planet to give birth.
I left midwifery about 10 years ago to set up my teaching and training business, Birth Right, which is focused on empowering birthing women to understand their birthing options and ‘choice’, and supporting them during pregnancy, labour and birth. Through pregnancy and birth classes, I teach women the power of hypnosis, and how to enjoy their birthing through by caring for their emotional and spiritual health. I don’t think women are given good information to provide informed decisions.”
Susan Ross was a midwife for more than 40 years, is the founder and Director of Birth Right, which provides pregnancy classes through their Inside Birth program, a doula service, early pregnancy consultations, hypnotherapy counselling and birth de-briefings. Birth Right also offer expert Doula Training and Childbirth Educator Training with Inside Birth. Susan is also the author of Birth Right and Doulas: Why every pregnant woman deserves one.
About Love Child
The new Aussie TV drama Love Child, Season One, $39.95, is an eight-part drama series available on DVD from 10 April 2014. The series is set in Kings Cross in 1969, during the Summer of Love. It’s a world of Vietnam War protestors, visiting American sailors, fashion, culture clubs and bars. At the centre of the series is Joan Miller (played by Jessica Marais), a modern, spirited midwife, who returns to Australia from London to work at Kings Cross General Hospital, a home for young unwed pregnant women. But the world within the hospital walls is in complete contrast to the exhilarating and hedonistic haven beyond them.
The stellar cast includes
Jessica Marais (Packed to the Rafters)
Jonathan LaPaglia (The Slap)
Mandy McElhinney (Howzat: Kerry Packer’s War)
Ryan Corr (Packed to the Rafters)
Gracie Gilbert (Underbelly: Squizzy)
Ella Scott Lynch (Underbelly: Badness)
Miranda Tapsell (Redfern Now)
Sophie Hensser (Tricky Business)
Harriet Dyer (Packed to the Rafters)
A list of support sevrices for those affected by forced adoption can be found here