"In order to better understand the most useful approach to the unmarried mother, it is necessary to be reminded of several simple facts regarding such unfortunate human beings. All unmarried mothers are not delinquents, and certainly not libertines. How often that are looked upon as a lower order of human being, as animals who live by their instincts!"
"Nothing is further from the truth, and it is essential that the whole community be made aware of the real problem of these girls and made to realise that they are just human beings like themselves."
The Church and the Unmarried Mother
by a Psychiatrist
Presbyterian Church NSW.
Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Babies
as part of hospital staff meeting late 1960's
Although this procedure was routine in most hospitals by varying degrees, the example I will use to outline the confinement process adopted by the most highly respected and the major obstetric teaching hospital in New South Wales, namely The Women's Hospital Crown Street Sydney. This hospital was alone responsible for separating between 40,000 and 50,000 babies from their mothers at birth, which amounted to almost half of all adoption placements in the state.
Although these practices were instigated by the Department of Child Welfare, they could only be implemented by colluding with hospital Registrars employed by the then Health Commission of New South Wales.
Keeping in mind that an unmarried mother under British law remains the sole legal guardian of her child until an Adoption Order is made through the Supreme court and later reduced, with the introduction of the Adoption of Children Act 1965 to the time at which a consent to adoption is signed, and keeping in mind that under the Adoption of Children Act 1965 legislation had introduced protection clauses into the Act outlawing independent baby trading racketeers, to protect the unmarried mother and her child from coercion, duress, or undue influence in encouraging her to part with her child: although slight variations between hospitals occurred, the overall practices introduced into the treatment of unwed mothers followed a routine procedure commencing with the initial ante-natal visit, where the young mother at varying degrees of pregnancy would be directed to the hospital almoner's office (renamed social workers in 1969), where an evaluation of her marital status was conducted, whereupon automatic counselling toward the promotion of adoption was assumed. Neither warnings against, nor alternatives to adoption were being offered, and any discussion of keeping the baby was actively discouraged.
The mother would then be booked into either to an unmarried mothers home, waiting patients, attached to a hospital, or farmed out as cheap labour to private houses as hired help.
Charitable institutions, hospitals, and Tresillian homes used heavily pregnant girls as free labour to save themselves the cost of paying wages to experienced staff. The young mothers got no respite, and were made to work six days a week until the day they went into labour. Although the mothers were entitled to financial benefits after six month they usually saw none of it. Except for perhaps $1.00 for bus fare to the obstetrician for their antenatal check up.
These homes were double dipping. Not only were they being provided with free labour in their laundries, kitchens to run their establishments, in return for a lousy bed and food, they were also pocketing the benefits belonging to the pregnant mothers.
If they were allowed on outings their bags would be searched for contraband, ie, lollies, which would be confiscated from the girls by the staff.
Up at dawn, the mothers would provide the labour in laundries, serve hospital staff, scrub and polish floors with huge uncontrollable machines that had their own minds, putting the mother at risk of miscarrying, knit and crochet doilies etc to be sold at fetes to raise money for churches and hospitals, and every other menial task that could be found for them.
Much the same as the unmarried mothers home but differs in that the pregnant mother can at any time be sequestered by the medical staff to be used as a specimen for teaching purposes.
Mothers who had no indication of being in labour would be called up to get ready for deliver, where the labour would be induced anything up to two weeks before due date of delivery simply because interns needed to clock up a certain number of inductions or episiotomies in training, and teaching had to coincide with doctors schedules. Frightened young teenagers already traumatised, would be called up from their room, made to strip in front of up to ten interns and doctors, where their bodies would be prodded and poked, their nipples squeezed to show the formation of the areola at certain stages of pregnancy. They would never be spoken to, nor would anyone look at their faces. As one woman explained:
"I was like a piece of meat being molested by the medicos"
The third alternative was to obtain employment through the hospital almoner. The unmarried mother would be paid $2.00 per week plus room and board in the early 1960's increasing to $10.00 per week by the mid and late 1960's. For this payment she would be expected to do the entire household duties, look after the employers children, cook, serve when required, beginning early morning and not stopping until after seven at night. While not all private homes exploited the young mothers or expected too much from them above basic duties, many were pushed like slaves, belittled in front of company, berated for shoddy jobs done, sent back and replaced if found to be too young to be competent. Many girls found themselves having to remain hyper-vigilant by the constant risk of molestation from the husband of the household, spending their time warding off drunken advances and molestation whenever the wife turned her back.
In the larger hospitals the birth would occur in front of as many as forty onlookers cramming to watch the delivery. Unmarried mothers were not offered any anti-natal instruction on what to expect during labour even if they had been attending the largest and most respected obstetric hospitals in the state. Every procedure was designed to punish.
They were never informed of the birthing procedures, or that they would be forbidden to see their baby's at birth. Nor were they informed of the medication they were to receive nor were they given their right to decline the medication or procedure. Uninformed and ill prepared, every aspect of the process would put them into a deeper state of delirium and trauma.
After preparation mothers would be given heavy levels of sedation known as lytic cocktails, designed to obliterate feelings. The cocktails consisted of psychotropic barbiturates in a combination of any of the following: Chloral Hydrate, Doriden, Pethidine, Sparine, largactyl, morphine, heroin, Pentabarbital, Sodium Amytal, Lithium, codeine.
Many if not most mother have little if any memory of the birthing process. For many they not only stole their baby's but also stole their only experience of giving birth. Millions of taxpayer's dollars on the other hand, are spent on perfecting procedures to enable infertile women the opportunity of experiencing childbirth, which is considered to be the natural right of every female human being. The medical profession involved in the adoption process saw unmarried mothers as being lower than human beings and no better than animals. It wasn't enough that they stole the babies, by annihilating the essence of a woman treating mothers like they were having abortion, for many mothers they had to steal their only memory and experience of giving life, of procreation. Irrespective of future counseling, there is no recovery from the experience of such a birth and of not having ever one's own flesh and blood at birth.
While the mother was in stirrups often shackled to the bed by the wrists (see 1971 4Corners promotional video submitted) with either bandages, or leather straps connected to chains attached to the bed head, a pillow or sheet would be placed on her chest in front of her face to prevent her from seeing her baby at birth. Other tactics were to turn herhead away, dim the lights, stand in her path of view, or blindfold her until the baby had been removed from the labour ward and hidden somewhere in the hospital.
The cruelty of many nursing staff was unconscionable. Mothers in labour were often slapped, scoffed at, called sluts, ignored, left to suffer for longer than necessary through staff negligence (as just punishment) given no kind word of encouragement.
Procedure at The Women's hospital Crown Street was to top up the already heavily sedated mothers with a routine dose of 200mgms of Sodium Pentobarbitone to knock her out. She would come to some time later and find herself in another hospital entirely. This was usually Lady Wakehurst in Birrell Street Waverley, or Cannonbury if she had been a private patient. Her baby had remaining at Crown Street.
This transfer was done without her consent or knowledge and without letting her parents know she had been removed from Crown Street. So heavily sedated were the mothers that many did not even know they had been transferred by ambulance until they received their medical records decades alter under FOI. The routine sedation would be to continue `as required' during the rest of their five or six day confinement, dependent on the level of anxiety the mother was in. Pentobarb which remains in the system for up to 56 hours with a half life of 29 hours would be administered nightly, topped up with largactyl or regular doses of Chloral hydrate throughout the day in a pink syrup `as required'.
It was common for interns to be used to practice their sewing skills on the episiotomy cut, some just let mothers rip. Commonly fallen women have been sewn up in such a way that brands them forever as scarlet women. So butchered were some that the pain of scar tissue would prevent them from having normal, if any sex again.
Because of the level of trauma and scarring, and unable to trust another doctor again, or any other human being, the women, many of whom were little more than children at the time, have been unable to and unwilling ask for help or to have any further relationships including pap tests. As the phone support facilitator for Origins these women have shared their secret with me using their first names, but refuse to come to meetings. It has been estimated that as many as 60% of surrendering mothers never conceived again. Whether it was caused by secondary infertility, fear of pregnancy, or physical damage has not been known. Perhaps it never will.
Because of the lack of anti-natal instruction provided by hospital staff to help the mother cope with labour, along with being so heavily drugged that they had no control over their bodily function needing to push the baby out, many mothers were ripped and torn to shreds inside and out. A just punishment for the sins of wicked young girls.
Perceptions were also that unmarried mothers were only charitable cases any way and deserved no real attention, but that perception was not necessarily true, as many mothers who had been minors, were covered by their parents HCF private insurance.
Policy then dictated that at some time after the birth, although she had still been forbidden to see her child, a mother would be visited by a social worker, while she remained conveniently traumatised and sedated, and if it was then indicated that the baby (she had been forbidden to see or to bond with), was to be adopted, an unknown district officer from the Department of Child Welfare would then be called upon to take the mothers consent.
The consent taker, unknown to the mother, was usually the allotment officer working on behalf of the potential adopters. No mother was asked if she would like to keep her baby as adoption was automatically assumed.
This intolerable conflict of interest meant that if the consent wasn't signed her client wouldn't get the baby that has often been earmarked for them prior to birth.
Such shocking conflict of interest was made even more so as quite a substantial number of district officers/allotment officers, social workers, and others working in the adoption field were themselves adoptive parents - giving a fair indication of the no win situation the unmarried mother was in as a result if serving nature permeating the field of adoption.
According to the medical records of The Women's Hospital Crown Street, the unmarried mothers chart would be marked with the term `socially cleared' upon having signed a consent, or, `awaiting social clearance' prior to a consent being taken.
This term was an indication that the consent had been signed, the mother was socially cleared, and was then free to legally leave the hospital and resume her place in society.
If a mother attempted to discharge herself from hospital prior to being officially socially cleared, she would be threatened with police arrest for abandoning her baby, although she could not legally be charged with abandonment unless she had had no contact with her child for a period of twelve months.
If she refused to sign, as many did, her baby would be taken to institutions like Scarba House where the baby would be kept until the mother could be harassed into signing, or until the twelve months were up and her consent dispensed with anyway. That the baby was suffering from maternal deprivation was of little concern. The Mother was not going to get her child at any cost.
Being strictly the social workers' domain, hospital staff were forbidden to have social interaction with the unmarried mother or discuss adoption matters lest it confuses her and interferes with the process at hand. Nurses would be threatened with de-registration if caught showing the mother her baby.