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.

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.

 

Tired me

Two weeks down since my sleeve gastrectomy and I’m healing really well. Weight loss has slowed down thank goodness, only 1.7 kgs (3.75 lbs) this week. I’d much rather this happened slow and steady and gives my body some time to adjust!

I’ve started eating more solid food. I’ve been making the family stews then pureeing with extra water. I can only fit in less than a quarter of a cup but thats ok. I’m not hungry at all. I’m trying very hard to get in my 60g protein as well as 2 litres of fluid so it doesn’t leave a lot of space for much else at the moment.

I’ve also started on some liquid vitamins which seem to be making a difference. My tummy is too tiny to waste space on pills that it has to work hard to break down. I did try the BN chewable but they were disgusting, not to mention to high in iron for me since I have hemochromatosis.

Biggest issue his week as been fatigue. It actually started around day 8. I’m finding I need all my energy to get through the work day, it’s just exhausting. Thank god I have a thermomix as it takes no time to get a stew made and feed the hungry hordes, puree some for me and be in bed by 7.30pm. Tuesday night I stayed up working until 9.30 pm and then couldn’t sleep and then last night I had a board meeting that went until 9.30pm and again couldn’t sleep. I think I have to go to bed when I’m tired otherwise like a baby I get overtired and can’t sleep – which leads to crankiness.

I need to start walking at least half an hour a day but I just don’t have the energy. It’s something I’m going to try and work on over the next week. Note that goal – half hour walking daily!

I’m also running out of work clothes. I have a lot of beautiful plus size suits and dresses that now look like sacks. I’m still about an Australian size 20 (US 18) and the thrift stores are not overwhelmed with plus sizes that don’t look like baggy crap. I’ve decided I’m going to wear active wear as also have a good collection of that – not that I do anything much active – and it still fits ok. Not a super professional look but actually has no reflection on how awesome I am as an accountant.

So thats another week down 🙂

#MeToo

Me Too, because of:

  • The man that showed me what a condom was for at 5 years old;
  • The elderly male neighbour who grabbed me to him and kissed me at 10 years old;
  • The man that used my budding breast “to dial Ketchikan” at 12 years old;
  • The boy on the bus who viciously pulled my hair until I undid my jacket so he could see my breasts at 13 years old;
  • The man who told everyone in the room I spent my time “fanny flogging” at 14 years old;
  • The boy at the bus stop who restrained me, groped my breasts and gave me a love bite when I was 15 years old;
  • The man who said “sit on my knee and we’ll talk about the first thing that comes up” while fondling my bum at 16 years old;
  • The father of a friend who looked at my jumper with the Snowy Mountains across my chest and told me he’d like to climb my mountains at 17 years old;
  • The man that showed me his morning glory and told me his wife wouldn’t do anything about it at breakfast when I was 18 years old.

So #MeToo before I was even truly a woman.

 

Ambivalently Married

Today I will have been married for twenty years. Some of those twenty years have been happy, some unhappy, some hard some easy. Some of the time I haven’t wanted to be married.

When we got married I was not quite 21 and my husband not quite 25, babies by todays standards. We spent 9 months as a couple then baby one arrived and we became a family with all the issues that go with parenting.

We’ve had some tough times. A brother being diagnosed with cancer, an unplanned pregnancy, a child being diagnosed with a severe vision impairment, losing a brother to cancer, losing a 6 year old nephew to a swimming pool, my mental and physical health break down, and lastly two more children being diagnosed with the genetic vision impairment.

We’ve had some wonderful times. Children being born and growing into wonderful little people, through surly teenagers and into great young adults. Holidays camping in some sublime parts of Australia. The thrill of planting our own veggie garden and watching our own chooks fluff around our own yard, well ours and the bank.

We’ve fought, we’ve made up. We’ve wandered apart and come back together.

All up, marriage is hard. It doesn’t just work and I can’t honestly say we will make another twenty years, or even twelve months. Dealing with the conflicts and issues of sharing my life with another person, whose views are frequently poles apart from mine as helped shape me into the woman I am, for better or worse.

Although I can’t say I’ve been happily married for twenty years I can say I’m glad I’ve made an effort to stay married.

Spend time doing what you love or with those you love?

A very dear friend lost her husband in tragic circumstances on the weekend while pursuing his hobby away from his family. My heart is breaking for her loss and the little girls that no longer have their daddy.

The thing that struck me is everyone keeps saying “Well at least he died doing what he loved” WTF.

I’ll be honest, I think that at 45 with 4 little girls he shouldn’t have been taking unnecessary risks, regardless of how much he loved doing it. His pursuit of his own happiness has now left the 5 people who loved him the most devastated.

I understand that you must find joy in life but I think it is necessary to find balance. There are times when others needs have to be considered.

For me I want to try and find things I love to do that I can do with those I love.

Grief Stricken

I’ve had bad news today. I read on google that a 44 year old father of 4 from Bendigo had died in a skiing accident. My stomach turned but I tend to jump to conclusions,

Then on the 6pm news Ian’s face appeared. I felt disconnected – why was his face on the tv? Then it came rushing in – Ian Baker killed in ski boat accident, died at scene.

I lost my composure. I sobbed, Andrew yelled at me to calm down, he doesn’t cope well with grief. His family don’t display emotion.

I haven’t seen Ian or Joanne in years. Last time I had contact with Joanne was on my 40th in February when she sent me flowers. Both of us have busy, hectic lives as wives, mothers, workers.

That doesn’t matter. Joanne and I met on our first day of high school and have been friends ever since. Jo was actually visiting me at Uni in Geelong when she met Ian. Our friendship remains regardless of how often we speak, we know that we are thinking of each other.

Tonight my heart is breaking for her and my instinct is to drive to Bendigo to hold her hand. There really isn’t much else I can do. I can’t bring Ian back or turn back time so he doesn’t get on that boat. All I can do is be a presence for Jo, someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, someone to make cups of tea.

I don’t know how you cope with losing your partner of over 20 years, the father of your four daughters.

Vale Ian Baker, taken way too soon.