Australian prime minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic national apology in parliament on Thursday to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades [in the 1950s-1970s].
Look, I experience visceral rage and nausea when I hear about newborns being taken from their parents for hours (or minutes) because of hospital routine rather than medical necessity. So thinking about having my baby taken from me forever … it more than breaks my heart. It’s like looking into an abyss.
Like so many human rights violations, this one feels both unimaginable and terribly imaginable.
Forced adoption and other forms of separating children from their marginalized parents most certainly is not something that has only happened in Australia, or that only happened in the past. But mid-century Australia is why the conversation is happening right now. Listening to audio of these women speaking all these years later means listening to raw pain, trauma, loss. NPR quotes from a government report, crushingly, “I first knew something was wrong when a pillow was placed over my face during the birth, so that I couldn’t see the child during the birth.” And if you’d like to feel utterly haunted and despairing, spend a moment with one mother’s loving sketch of the baby who was taken from her in 1964.
Thank you, universe, for my two children at home, for the babies I got to hold right after they were born.
p.s.: After I wrote and scheduled this post, the always-excellent Andie Fox wrote another Guardian piece about this history and the recent apology. She writes:
For the mothers who experienced these events, even the term “forced adoption” is too soft; “kidnapping newborn babies” is how they describe it. [...] Crucial feminist gains in recent history – like single parent benefits, increased female participation in the workforce, stronger reproductive rights, greater social acceptance of single parenting and a better understanding of the needs of children – have meant Australia’s adoption practices are now far removed from this dark past. [...] But as with many countries, some mothers in Australia continue to fight against a shaky regard for their legitimacy as parents – including those mothers who are young, living in poverty, disabled or who are in prison.
You should go read it.