The Identification and Empowerment of 68,000 plus Silenced Victorian Women

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Elizabeth Edwards and I am the Convener of a group called Origins Victoria Incorporated, which began in 1998 at Parliament House Melbourne when over 200 hundred people signed a petition asking for a Parliamentary Inquiry into past practices of Adoption in Victoria.

My paper will raise an awareness of women's fight to reclamation of identity voice and reality plus access and equity issues affecting the mental health of women already traumatised by the marginalisation originating from the separation from their children by adoption.

Although there are many issues I could expand on, I am aware of the time constraints.
Figures from the Department of Human Services show that 1 in 5 families in Victoria are affected by adoption.
I will also identify some successful outcomes of organisational support and will make recommendations for appropriate treatments and measures to enable healing for this group of silenced Victorian Women.
Through our group we have come to realise how severely most women have been affected by the unnatural act of having to lose a child to adoption.

The term MOTHER will be used throughout this talk because Governments and Society enforced silence in order to create a reality for infertile couples, this in turn has marginalised the women in such a way as to deny their identity as the mothers of their children.

Denial of their maternity has imposed mental and psychological dissociation from the whole experience of what should be the most precious and enjoyable time in a women's life, instead these women 's babies were donated for most part to married couples deemed more deserving and more suitable.

The lifetime mental trauma was imposed on them from the very beginning when, at the actual birth, practices were adopted in most hospitals to prevent any bonding between the mother and her child as follows (1)(Florence Clothier)

In his book titled Unmarried Mothers, Clark Vincent in 1961 predicted that very scenario

" it is quite possible that, in the near future, unwed mothers will be "punished" by having their children taken from them right after birth. A policy like this would not be executed -- nor labelled explicitly -- as "punishment."
The impact of these assaults has affected women in different ways. Some have resorted to total denial of the experience, never admitting to their children or in some cases even their husbands that they lost a child to adoption.

Imagine this sentence of silence. Denied the right to grieve the child many did not even see, Mothers were instructed to get on with their lives to forget about the baby, instead told "one day they would wed and have a baby of their own."
This did not happen 45% of mothers were rendered emotionally sterile, resulting in they're never having a baby of their own.

These women living their lives in total disassociation from the subject are a time bomb waiting to go off.
One Mother reported she only fell short from jumping off the tallest building because her treating psychiatrist Dr Geoffrey Rickarby made the connection between her mental condition and the original experience of losing her child to adoption practice.

DrG.A.Rickarby MB BS FRANZCP Member of the Faculty of Child Psychiatry RANZCP MANZAP Consultant Psychiatrist.

Graduated in medicine from Melbourne University after commencing Psychiatry in London and completing his training in NSW.

By treating many women/families, he inadvertently gained substantial expertise and has delivered various papers dealing with this issue. He cites the problems listed on the overhead. (4) (See Dr Rickabys NSW Inquiry paper)


A variety of measures are required depending on the nature of the damage leading to distress and the type of distress associated with the individuals response to such damage. A list of the varieties of damage follows:

This list refers only to common reactions involving large numbers of mothers.

The effects of Loss and grief have been well documented (5) Keppel and Winkler however those Mothers who have survived without this expertise continue to be haunted by the experience and state they continue to suffer the trauma of

  1. Constant anxiety as to the well being of the child.
  2. A state of anxiety source unknown
  3. Over vigilance with parenting subsequent children
  4. Emotional detachment from same
  5. Lack of faith in their ability to parent
  6. No sense of self
  7. Unresolved anger
  8. Unresolved grief because we unlike a mother who loses a child to natural causes, have been denied the right and support to grieve or information as to where and the well being of their child
  9. Infertility was imposed on 45% of mothers
  10. Lack of ability to form substantial relationships
  11. Lack of faith in their decisions and capability
  12. Lack of trust in the fabric of society
  13. Lack of understanding by the medical and health professionals of their mental state.
  14. Anxiety in the lack of knowledge to the effects of Stilboestrol administered to prevent lactation this was done without informing the mother or gaining permission


Victorian women particularly are faced with a further rage to the original source of depression. This is the issue of inequality in obtaining identifying information to meet their long lost child. We have been informed that on the eve of the legislative changes that allowed adoptive persons total access to information relating to the identity of their mother, male Parliamentarians made an agreement subject to Mothers being denied equal access because some of them feared being slapped with a paternity suit. Anecdotal evidence AIS

When a separated person applies to AIS for information for an outreach an adoptive person is issued with all identifying information about their Mother. However a Mother is only furnished with non-identifying information relating to the child she carried and gave birth to. Consequently she is forced to "trust" an agent to act as conduit, this very often necessitates her returning to the same agency that took the consent to adoption. This is unhelpful because it triggers the core abuse.

Many women, having already survived the betrayal by their own parents and society, must endure the agony of the rejection of their child the wonder is they contemplate living.

It has been argued that if a mother were granted equal rights that legislation would necessitate a veto. This is outdated thinking and lacks reasoning. intervention order

Limiting the retention period to access medical records has also been detrimental to mothers reclaiming their memory in order to heal. In 1992 NSW introduced an adoption information act, which meant mothers could see in black and white, information vital to recovering the memory they had blocked.


As an aging population women lack the financial resources to pursue intensive and expensive treatments.

It is imperative to provide different styles of support groups because initially a mother needs to share her grief. However as she "moves on " and embarks on a deeper healing she will need to be with like minded people who have in a safe environment braved the impact of learning and then processing the reality that has been denied for many years.

However, I cannot stress enough the most powerful means of contacting reality is by public acknowledgment.

This began with a small group of Victorian Mothers placing a submission to the Bishops conference on women and the Catholic Church. Although they were not successful in having the issue addressed the participants were reduced to tears and afterward individuals implored forgiveness because "like the abuse suffered in indigenous cultures they knew about it but they did not ask'!

Origins NSW successfully lobbied for the parliamentary inquiry into Past adoption practices into which 300 submissions were placed and which provided a forum for mothers to publicly tell and have their experience commonly accepted. They were further inspired in conjunction with Clan and LinkUp to organise the first National Mental health Conference for those Families affected by Separation This took place at Liverpool hospital on the 10th & 11thOctober 2002

Accordingly, Origins Victoria has embarked on holding mini mental health seminars in country Victoria to initiate some measure of healing and to raise awareness. The first seminar was held at Cobram 5th&6th June 2003 and another one is scheduled for the long weekend in October 2003 at Albury Wodonga we would also like to finish the year by holding one in Gippsland

We have found that young health care professionals have been extremely receptive and respectful to what we are expounding professionals need to identify with the following issues if we are to regain our mental health and wellbeing (6) Rachael Willis

Adoption is a created reality for all involved in the process and mothers constantly continue to struggle to break through the cocoon of an uninformed and imposed delusion.

Another issue that is detrimental to our emotional well being is the negation of identity. Mothers never signed away their right to be their child's mother that would be impossible. In death a mother retains her identity as her children's mother even when her partner remarries and another parents her child.

The Adoption act deems mothers are designated natural mothers. (9) See adoption Act However the term "birth mother" has crept into the adoption arena's vocabulary and is designed to distance a child from it's mother. This is not only insulting but it resonates and continues the original abuse by denying a mother the basic right to retain their identity. (7) Dianne Turski

Recently when lodging an objection to terminology designating all mothers as "BIRTH MOTHER" by Government Departments a Human rights equal opportunity employee informed a Mother the reason was that adoptive parents groups have lodged an objection to mothers being termed natural mothers, because they feel this suggests that they are unnatural mothers (8) It would seem adoptive parent's have the right to frame any mother's identity even when it overrides reality.


Meets once a month.
It provides a forum where women's stories are heard and reverenced and where anonymity is held to be fundamental.
They have the option of exercising a democratic right to participate or remain anonymous.
Because as previously stated, the basic right to grieve has been denied to mothers, they exchange telephone numbers and this assures ongoing support.

Two members attend government-organised venues where adoption related information is exchanged.
Adoption Information Service (AIS) Forum and VISCAFF meet every three months.
They also attend other related programs e.g. Single Teen Mother, meet with religious orders who during and post natal were involved with a mother.
Attend meetings with government employees and politicians then report back to the group.

Origins Vic publishes a newsletter bi-monthly, the website is listed below The most powerful means to healing remains that the government fulfils its election promise for an inquiry in order to acknowledge the holocaust of past adoption practices and the long-term affects upon Mothers and their families.

Funding is needed in order to educate the wider community and research is essential for facilitation of healing.

The consequences of what was packaged as being the solution to the dual problems of infertility and the governments desire for economic expediency remains unresolved There was a social service benefit legislated for in 1946 but women were not informed of this. (10)

Experts advocating adoption espoused all single pregnant girls were "impoverished malnourished and of low intellect..." (11) Ferrie Grunseit

Family separation has polarised mothers, emotionally imprisoning them and their families, keeping them hostage to both legal and illegal substances, gambling etc. (for some popping out a baby each year in anticipation of "making ones own"). (12) Consequences are generational, adoptive persons make up a large proportion of the statistics of dysfunctional people institutionalised. (13) Tim Keogh.

The cost of anaesthetising the unwitting victims from this social experiment will continue to be borne by society for generations to come unless governments initiate and facilitate programs for healing now.

Mothers have suffered for a lifetime - must the legacy be carried by subsequent generations?. The truth must be told and history books rewritten before we can begin dealing with part 2 of this psychological decimation that is complications encountered pre and post-contact.

The sacred bond between mother and child is of paramount importance to Origins.
We seek acknowledgment of the need for healing the emotional damage caused by adoption separation and to work towards ensuring needless separation no longer occurs.


  1. Dr Florence Clothier "The Psychology of the adopted child" mental hygiene NY 1943
  2. 4 corners 1969 M Willisee "The Single Mother"
  3. Clark Vincent (1961 Unmarried Mothers)
  4. Dr G.A.Rickarby MB BS FRANZCP Member of the Faculty of Child Psychiatry RANZCP MANZAP Consultant Psychiatrist "Releasing the Past NSW Inquiry into adoption practices 1950- 1998"
  5. Winkler and Keppel "Loss and grief in adoption "
  6. Logan Janette Birth mothers and their mental health :uncharted territory Br.J. Social; Wk.(19996)26,609-625
  7. Rachael Willis Psychologist (B.B.Sc., Hons-AACC. M.A.P.S)
  8. Diane Turski Why "BIRTHMOTHER" Means "BREEDER"
  9. Pru Goward Human Rights and equal opportunity commission, , Sex Discrimination Commissioner
  10. Adoption act 1984
  11. Act Department Social Services 1946
  12. Ferrie Grunseit Australian medical journal
  13. Mother Anon
  14. Tim Keogh Forensic psychologist NSW Department juvenile corrections Mental health conference for families separated 2002


Email: Elizabeth