Sad time to be a midwife

The last year of the swinging sixties, 1969, was the end of an era of change. For a trainee midwife it was a sad time when one in four births were to unmarried mothers, a boom time for the adoption industry. Mothers delivering and having their babies “whisked away”, without ever seeing their little faces.[1]

Yvonne started her midwifery training in 1969 at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Carlton. She’d spent the previous four years studying nursing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital next door. Three years of on the job training combined with lectures and exams at Melbourne University followed by a year as a staff nurse. Nursing training in the 1960s was still run in a very regimented fashion. Uniforms were enforced with military precision and the students lived on the premises under tight supervision including curfews and visitor regulation.[2]

When Yvonne started at the Royal Women’s the institution itself was going through a time of change. The hospital was established in 1856 as the ‘Melbourne Lying-In Hospital and Infirmary for Diseases of Women and Children’. Originally located in Eastern Hill it was founded to provide the underprivileged women of the emerging city of Melbourne with a safe place to give birth and receive proper medical care and attention.[3]Within two years the hospital had moved out to Carlton. As Yvonne started her training in 1969 the hospital moved again from the old building to new premises still in Grattan Street, Carlton. From dark and dingy delivery rooms and long wards to bright and airy wards with shiny new bathrooms.[4]

While the hospital was modernising, societies attitudes to unwed mothers was not. Financial support for single mothers was still four years away which meant for those women without family support their options were limited.[5]In the suburbs surrounding the hospital you could find a number of homes for unwed mothers – many run by religious institutions.[6]Perhaps the most well-known of these was St Joseph’s Receiving Home which was located across from the hospital in Grattan Street.[7]

These homes took in young pregnant women and provided board while pregnant and adoption processes for when the baby was born, often in conjunction with the hospital.[8]In turn the women often had to perform manual labour – doing laundry and kitchen work and other menial tasks to earn their keep.[9]Often women were forcibly handed over to these homes by their families, given no other choice and facing social shame and ruin.[10]Statistics show that adoptions to non-relative members was at its peak in the early seventies, just as Yvonne finished her training.

One story Yvonne related was about a young girl of Greek background. She had been engaged to a young man also from a Greek family whom she fell pregnant to. With family pressure he cancelled the engagement. According to his family she was no longer a suitable bride.

Yvonne remembers “It was sad, really. She was engaged to the bloke. She got pregnant through him, had the baby, but he wouldn’t marry her because they don’t marry bad girls and so the baby was given up for adoption. She cried, I think, from the time she came in to the time she left. She lost her baby and she was no longer worthy to be married.”[11]

These adoptions were usually closed meaning the relinquishing mother was given no details of the adoptive family and was not given the opportunity to spend any time with her infant.[12]From the 1950s it was considered best for the mothers mental health to not allow them to see babies marked for adoption and the midwifes were clearly told to follow this practice. The birth certificates were to be sealed for life on the basis that it gave the mother a clean break.[13]Yvonne tells that the women were given thirty days to change their mind but were “strongly discouraged from it.”[14]Considering the lack of options to raise an infant as a single parent it was unlikely that even if she wanted to a relinquishing mother could change her mind.

In the late sixties and early seventies these young women who had their children removed had no voice. It wasn’t until 2010 that the government realised that research needed to be undertaken into the impact these forced adoptions had – both on the relinquishing parents as well as the children given up. This project interviewed numerous individuals who had been affected by the practice of forced adoption.[15]

The research found that the practices were unjust and the consequences lifelong for all involved.[16]Evidence seemed to show that while the mothers consented to the adoptions it was due to “coercive societal forces” – in other words they were given no other choice.[17]Some practices went even further to forged consents. Many women they felt their babies were taken not given, that they were unworthy and unfit to be mothers. Naughty girls who needed to be punished. For them it wasn’t like giving birth more like an instant loss and many grieved their entire lives for this lost child.

The Royal Women’s Hospital also undertook their own research into the practice of forced adoption at their institution. This, in conjunction with the senate inquiry, led to the issue of an official apology in 2012. They acknowledged the pain they may have caused but stated they found no evidence of forced adoption or special practices for single mothers. For many of these families it was too little too late.[18]

This investigation and oral history support Yvonne’s recollections of her time at the hospital. The individual accounts of incredibly sad stories of relinquishing mothers point to how emotionally devastating these practices were. What also comes through in the research is the remorse and empathy the medical professionals feel, but also the helplessness. For many staff they were trained that this was best for mother and baby.

For Yvonne as a young midwife still in training she was required to follow orders, regardless of how harsh. It’s clear as she talks of this time how distressing she found the practice and how this “sad sort of time” has stuck with her fifty years on.[19]

 

 

Bibliography

ABC AM, ‘Vic hospital apologises over forced adoptions’,  https://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2012/s3414164.htm, Accessed 25 May 2019.

ABC Four Corners, ‘Given or Taken?’, https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/given-or-taken/3860552, Accessed 25 May 2019.

The Age, ‘Hospital Sorry for forced adoptions’, 24 January 2012, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/hospital-sorry-for-forced-adoptions-20120123-1qe21.html, Accessed 25 May 2019.

Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Past Adoption Experiences National Research study on the Service Response to Past Adoption Practices’, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/past-adoption-experiences/5-mothers-separated-children-adoption, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Unfit mothers…unjust practices?’, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/family-matters/issue-87/unfit-mothers-unjust-practices, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Impact of past adoption practices Summary of key issues from Australian research Final Report, A report to the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Dr Daryl Higgins General Manager (Research), Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2010 (amended 30 April 2010)’, https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/pastadoptionreport.pdf, Accessed 24 May 2010.

The Conversation, ‘Re-writing Australia’s history of forced adoption’, https://theconversation.com/re-writing-australias-history-of-forced-adoption-5142, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Find & Connect, ‘St Joseph’s Receiving Home (1902  – 1985)’, https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/vic/biogs/E000207b.htm, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Finding Records, The Royal Women’s Hospital (1856 – current)’, https://findingrecords.dhhs.vic.gov.au/CollectionResultsPage/The-Royal-Womens-Hospital, Accessed 25 May 2019.

King Yvonne, interviewed by Kathryn Harris, digital recording, Kilmore, 30 April 2019, in author’s possession.

MacKillop Family Services, ‘St Joseph’s Receiving Home’, https://www.mackillop.org.au/about-mackillop/our-history/st-josephs-receiving-home, Accessed 25 May 2019.

National Archives of Australia,’ Forced Adoptions History Project Institutions’, http://forcedadoptions.naa.gov.au/resources/institutions, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Parliament of Australia, ‘Chapter 3 – The Experience of Forced Adoption’, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/report/c03, Accessed 24 May 2019.

Quirk, Christin Anne. Separated at birth – Adoption practices in relation to single women confined at the Royal Women’s Hospital 1945-1975, Australian Catholic University, 18 January 2012, https://researchbank.acu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1410&context=theses, Accessed 24 May 2019.

The Women’s, ‘Our history’, https://www.thewomens.org.au/about/our-history, Accessed 24 May 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris, digital recording, Kilmore, 30 April 2019, in author’s possession.

[2]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris.

[3]The Women’s, ‘Our history’, https://www.thewomens.org.au/about/our-history, Accessed 24 May 2019.

[4]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris.

[5]Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Impact of past adoption practices Summary of key issues from Australian research Final Report, A report to the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Dr Daryl Higgins General Manager (Research), Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2010 (amended 30 April 2010)’, https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/pastadoptionreport.pdf, Accessed 24 May 2010.

[6]National Archives of Australia,’ Forced Adoptions History Project Institutions’, http://forcedadoptions.naa.gov.au/resources/institutions, Accessed 24 May 2019.

[7]MacKillop Family Services, ‘St Joseph’s Receiving Home’, https://www.mackillop.org.au/about-mackillop/our-history/st-josephs-receiving-home, Accessed 25 May 2019.

[8]ABC Four Corners, ‘Given or Taken?’, https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/given-or-taken/3860552, Accessed 25 May 2019.

[9]Parliament of Australia, ‘Chapter 3 – The Experience of Forced Adoption’, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2010-13/commcontribformerforcedadoption/report/c03, Accessed 24 May 2019.

[10]Parliament of Australia, ‘Chapter 3 – The Experience of Forced Adoption’.

[11]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris.

[12]Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Unfit mothers…unjust practices?’, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/family-matters/issue-87/unfit-mothers-unjust-practices, Accessed 24 May 2019.

[13]Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Unfit mothers…unjust practices?’.

[14]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris.

[15]Parliament of Australia, ‘Chapter 3 – The Experience of Forced Adoption’.

[16]Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Impact of past adoption practices Summary of key issues from Australian research Final Report, A report to the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Dr Daryl Higgins General Manager (Research), Australian Institute of Family Studies, March 2010 (amended 30 April 2010)’.

[17]Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, ‘Unfit mothers…unjust practices?’.

[18]The Age, ‘Hospital Sorry for forced adoptions’, 24 January 2012, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/hospital-sorry-for-forced-adoptions-20120123-1qe21.html, Accessed 25 May 2019.

[19]Yvonne King, interviewed by Kathryn Harris.

When the negative outweighs the positive

My sister is unwell. She has mental health issues, exacarbated by alcohol abuse.

Every now and again she decides to contact me. Last time didn’t end well. I agreed to meet with her but only with her counsellor present. She didn’t like that. This time it’s my fault – I poked the bear.

She is going through a tough time which involves a court case. I attended the hearing, hiding up the back, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Why? To help our mum understand what was really happening. You see the illness my sister has makes the truth of her words difficult to determine.

I have her number blocked on my mobile phone – so I have control about when she can contact me. However, our office number is public and even though she is blocked on my mobile she can leave messages.

Since she can’t talk to on my mobile she rang the office. Our receptionist was great. I was busy, I am busy. She had to hold for a while then I took the call. Problem was, she was not  well enough to communicate. This meant she refused to even believe it was me. The test on that phone call was her date of birth and I blew it. Rattled by the mess she was obviously in I reversed her month and date – our dates of birth are the opposite of each others 3/4 and 4/3 so to speak. That was it – she decided it was not me and went on about wanting to speak to her sister.

I ended the call, more than a little frustrated. She called back, I took the call and she still refused to believe it was me. This time was worse, if I was her sister – long pause – I would know – long pause – what the big thing was (mumbled). I’ve got no clue if she meant something from our past or her current situation. I did ask her if I wasn’t her sister to stop calling the office, she insisted she would continue. Whatever.

She did continue, to the point that I have had to contact our business phone provider and get her number blocked. My staff don’t have to put up with abusive clients, let alone my family members giving them a hard time.

She’s left another message on my phone, messages on my sisters and mothers phone. She is not sane at the moment, it’s quite apparent. I feel guilty. I can’t help her. She doesn’t believe she needs help. Vodka is her crutch but when mixed with mental illness it’s not helpful.

There is no positive in this story. Her insistence she needs to talk to me is because she wants to threaten me with being thrown out of court if I turn up again and that people like me cause people to suicide. People like her.

I’m not sure what I can do and I don’t know where to get help. Telling her to call Lifeline won’t achieve anything. Her behaviour has long reaching effects. My daughter was in the office yesterday working reception, she had to hear the calls play out.

Everywhere I look for help I get suggestions to speak to her GP and case worker. I don’t have the details of those, in fact neither does my mother. We are left being washed over by her illness, swamped with our guilt for the help we can’t provide, unable to talk to the people that are supposed to be helping her.

For me, I’ll return to my ordinary imperfect way of coping. I won’t communicate with her. I’ll still be overwhelmed by the grief and guilt that pours out of my mother, I will still be incredibly frustrated by the fact that there are no solutions, there is no assistance.

Sometimes, regardless of the relationship, you have to step away. Any positive effect you may have on the other person cannot outweigh the negative effect the relationship has on you.

 

 

Jangled me

Jangled me

I’m struggling this week. Not with weight loss, that just seems to happen. I’m struggling with life.

It’s been a week where a lot of old emotions, hurts and memories have been kicked up. Scars opening, scabs ripped off. Sometimes I forget that life isn’t always easy and that even breathing can be hard.

I feel jangled and raw. Look at me the wrong way and I’ll either burst into tears or rip you a new one, maybe even both. Like a poorly tuned violin my nerves are screeching, scalded by my thoughts.

Everything is just too much and I just want to stop. I need to escape. Escape from clients, family, my own body that seems to be letting me down just when I thought I was giving it better care.

It reminds me how important it is to seek help. Trauma never goes away, it just abates and it is amazing how quickly the fear, sadness, guilt, remorse can resurface – even 20 odd years later.

I’m lucky in that my workplace, while incredibly stressful at the minute, is also full of amazing, strong, empathetic women who get that sometimes you just need to fall apart to then come back together stronger.

And I will, it just might take a little bit longer to get the pieces to fit again.

 

Cranky c%$#t me

Apparently thats what I am.

My mum reckons I should take some anti depressants, my sister reckons I just have to be nicer to everyone and have discussions like adults (heads up – dealing with teenagers, not rational adults). It’s the good girl message allover again.

I am cranky, I’m irritable and I’m tired. I’m working long hours then trying to be a wife and mother on a Sunday, which includes making a feeble attempt at housework, then trying to find some me time.

What is really going on here – and I’m not sure if it’s me starting to have more confidence post surgery or just peri menopause or a combination of the two is that I’ve stopped being the biddable bitch. That was me. Agreeable, don’t rock the boat, don’t anger anyone, keep the peace, do it all (or do nothing and listen to the complaints as noone else will do it either). Fuck that shit.

I want to have a life, I’m tired of arranging my life to make everyone else happy all the time. Yes, my husband feels threatened. My professional career is going great and I’m thinner than I’ve been in 10 years. That doesn’t mean I have to constantly change who I am so he can cope. And I’m not going to. The adjustment is up to him this time. I love him but being told how to dress, what my opinion should be, and being asked where would I be if not for him, pointing out our ensuite toilet needs cleaning – makes me cranky.

My kids need to pull their weight. I don’t think it’s a big ask to do the dishes, take out the garbage, feed the chooks. I’m not asking them to dust the skirting boards or scrub the floors – just basic tasks because they live here!

And they all need to stop telling me to be less cranky when I just ask them to do something! Then maybe I’ll be less cranky 😉

 

 

 

Flat me

I’m down, flat, not my bubbly self. It’s that time of the year, middle of winter and tax season and I just feel like I need to find a cave and hibernate for a while. I don’t think it’s sleeve related – although the things I would normally do to cheer myself up aren’t options, which isn’t a bad thing. Binge eating crap might make me feel happy but it doesn’t really make me feel better!

The scales didn’t move for 2 weeks and even though my mantra is “be healthy, not skinny” I still felt quite disheartened. Stalls happen and logically I know this and that the weight will start to go again, and it has, but emotionally it’s back on that why can’t I loose weight cycle.  Nearly every second post on any WLS forum is about stalls and how to get through them. It really is an emotional thing for those that have had surgery and then feel like they’re failing. The cry is what am I doing wrong. Really, nothing. Our bodies have gone through major trauma and need some down time and thats whats happening.

Work is nuts. I’m over people and struggling to be nice to people who are rude/ignorant/ just plain stupid. My tolerance and patience are on a very short fuse. By the time I get home, after talking to people all day long, I just want silence and things I don’t have to think about.

Andrew says I’m no fun anymore, in fact a lot of the time I’m a bitch. He seems to think I should be jumping around full of energy but work at the minute takes every last drop I’ve got. My lack of patience and tolerance probably doesn’t help. He is doing all of the cooking and kitchen stuff during the week which is great but we do have 1 adult child and 2 teens in the house who could do a bit more. He’s not great at getting them motivated so when I try he doesn’t back me, ergo no activity.

Andrew hates being alone, he won’t go to the supermarket without company. I need alone time – not want NEED. I don’t cope without some space just to have silence and do my own thing. I’ve always been this way since I was a child. I think this is part of what’s causing tension. He wants my company because he loves me. I want to be alone so I can love him.

I’ll get through this patch. Only a few more weeks of absolute craziness and then tax season winds down.  I have some time out of the office over the next few weeks at conferences and CPD days which will help. The sun will come out soon, the weather will warm up and life in general will seem brighter. I just have to not stab anyone until that happens.

Plus size?

(This was a draft I came across from 2014 and I thought it was worth publishing)

I often wonder about societies ideals of body image. The fact that a woman who wears an Australian size 14 (US 10) is considered plus size is quite disturbing.  The average Australian woman is a size 16 making most of us ‘plus size’.

I’ve always been told I was too big. One of my earliest memories is being sung ‘fatty fatty 2 by 4, couldn’t get through the kitchen door’ – and this was by a parent!

The photo below is me and my sisters. I think I was about 14 at the time and I really thought I was fat. Looking at it now I think I looked pretty normal, although the bikini was a bit small!

3poolladies

I’m am trying very hard to get healthier. I’ve got a jawbone UP24 activity tracker and am aiming for 10,000 steps per day. I’m also eating healthier. My goal is not weight loss, it’s reducing my blood sugars, reducing my cholesterol levels and my blood pressure. Health goals, not body image goals.

As part of my diabetes assessment the nurse checked my BMI, which is 41, obviously obese. I know I need to be healthier so accordingly I would like to reach a ‘healthy weight’. For me, based on the past I reckon this is about 75-80 kg. The problem is that at that weight I’m still overweight. To be healthy and not overweight I need to be between 52-70 kg. I don’t think I’ve been 70 kg since adolescence!

I have spoken to people who have had lap band. All of them have lost weight but it hasn’t made them healthier. Many say how it is easy to eat unhealthy food as it goes down smoother. Others may be eating healthy but feel they can’t eat in company as they have to eat very slow to avoid regurgitating. This obviously has an effect on self esteem and confidence, how is this healthy?

I understand there is science behind these numbers but in reality that’s all they are, numbers. Rather than looking at weight on the scale, body mass index or dress size, we should be looking at overall health. The numbers that we need to be considering are the ones that indicate if something is not functioning correctly in our bodies.

I’m not saying fat is healthy but lets reconsider what is unhealthy. Focusing on body image and weight loss as the be all and end all to a healthy life is setting people up for failure.

 

Busy me

Sorry, sorry – I missed last week! It’s crazy time in my office being tax season. At the minute I’m working 10 hour + days and seeing up to 12 people each day for tax returns. Nuts!

Being that work is crazy I’ve let go of my goal of walking for the time being. I am getting a whole lot more incidental exercise. We got some chooks and ducks over the last week so each morning I tramp down the back yard to feed and change their water. Mind you it’s so cold at the moment I can’t feel my fingers while I’m doing it! Also, marching back and forth to the printer at the front of the office and to greet and escort clients to my office so I think the incidental exercise is on the up.

I’m starting to get a little hungry. Not like before where I’d feel like I was going to faint if I didn’t eat. Just niggles and often some protein water chases them away. I’m eating pretty much normal food. Not steak or chops but softer meat and cooked veggies. The only issue I’ve had was some raw cherry tomatoes and I think that is the acid content.

I’m feeling more confident and active. I still get tired really easily – work is draining so by the time I get home it’s eat and off to bed. I’m also finding I’m standing up for myself more. I think when I was so unwell and tired it was easier to roll with the punches so to speak. Now, I’m calling people out if I think their behaviour is not fair.

I can certainly see the difference in my face in this weeks video. I’m sparkly – which I don’t think I’ve been for a long time. Still a long way to go but I am seeing, and feeling the changes and that helps. My 21 year old son reckons I’m looking older the more weight I lose but I don’t care. I’d rather look and old and be healthy than look young and be dying.

Still no regrets 🙂