Separated At Birth
The Australian Women's Weekly|October 2019
Carol Maney was drugged and her child was taken from her at birth, and that was just one incident in generations of family trauma. Now she speaks with Susan Chenery about family secrets and lies, and her quest to find her lost brothers.

Carol Maney never got to hold her baby, or even see him. She didn’t know if she had given birth to a boy or a girl. She remembers her waters breaking and then waking up in an operating theatre with green tiles and chrome. All she knew was that she had gone to bed pregnant and woken with a torn birth canal and stitches.

“I was cold, I woke up, I got off the bed and all this blood went everywhere. The nurse came in and told me off for making a mess. For nine days I had no memory. I think I was drugged the whole time,” she tells The Weekly. And she was traumatised.

When Carol came to, her baby was gone, ripped away. She was 17 years old, alone, without support – a naïve, unformed country girl who hadn’t even known how babies were made. To avoid bringing shame on the family, she had been sent to Elim House, an institution in Hobart, Tasmania, where pregnant girls could avoid the social disgrace of a child out of wedlock – of loose morals – where, for the term of their pregnancy, they could disappear.

Run by The Salvation Army, it was a brutal place. “It was dreadful,” says Carol. “We were treated like rubbish, as if we were nothing, like we were not human. The staff were cold and unfeeling. I don’t think anybody talked to me as a person. I never had a conversation with anyone. You were something they wiped their feet on. There was no counselling or support.’’

Instead, even though they or their families were paying board, the girls were punished for their sins. They were made to work in the commercial laundry, to scrub steps, slave in the kitchen. Heavily pregnant, Carol was cleaning the bathroom with a toothbrush just before she gave birth.

She knows of “young women tied to the bed, faces covered with pillows so they couldn’t see their child and bond. There was a whole industry of taking babies.”

Sedatives and anti-lactation medication made it easier to take a child from an emotional mother facing the instant loss of a baby that had been kicking inside her. Carol has no memory of signing the adoption papers. Dr Geoff Rickarby, a psychiatrist, told the ABC’s Four Corners program that the excessive drugs given to these women put them in no state to sign any kind of consent order.

Had anybody asked Carol, she would not have consented to her baby being taken away. These young girls were subjected to immense emotional pressure and coerced. “All those women are told the whole time that you are a bad person and don’t deserve this child. Religion, the stigma of being unmarried, and having a child out of wedlock were all factors,” says Carol.

The girls Carol knew were told they were unfit to be mothers, that they could not support a child, they were inadequate, immoral. Carol gave birth to her son in 1975 with no idea that the Whitlam government had introduced a supporting mothers’ benefit two years earlier. In a less archaic place, she could have had a chance at supporting him.

“It wasn’t even an option for me. It was like a conveyor belt. You just went in and went out. I never got an opportunity to keep the baby. We were like mushrooms put in that place and we had to fend for ourselves. You lost all rights to have any contact and the birth certificate was changed to the baby being born to the adopting family, in what was called closed adoptions.

“It was illegal, I was a minor,” Carol adds, but from the 1950s through to 1980 it is estimated that around 200,000 newborn babies were torn away from vulnerable young women in forced adoptions.

That is a lot of grief, trauma and loss for a lot of people over a lot of years: mothers not knowing where their defenceless children were, not able to protect them, not knowing if they were being properly looked after; and children growing up not really relating to their adoptive parents, struggling for identity. It’s a lot of heartbreak.

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