What they knew about the effects of separation on the mother.
No Lifeline - No Hope
What they knew about the need for counselling of the mother - but - Where was that Counselling?
The following few documents will outline how the grief of surrender was known to the adoption industry during the
1960s and yet no grief counselling was made available. These documents will show how the theories upon which adjustment of
the de-babied mother were designed to allow those who took her baby to themselves feel comfortable about their actions.
Official Journal of the Australian Institute of Hospital Administration -
Miss Pamela Roberts,
Medical Social Worker in Charge The Womens Hospital Crown
Street Sydney. Vol.16 No.12. December 1968.
"In theory no pressure is put on a patient either to release the baby for adoption or to keep the child but in
many cases she has little choice because without the help or co-operation of her family the girl who wants to keep her baby
will find the facilities poor. "
"For those girls who surrender their babies for adoption there is evidence that they need to go through a period
of "mourning" for their child and may need help to re-adjust to life in the community again.... While not going into long
explanations as to why girls become unmarried mothers, it is known that if appropriate help is not given then the girl may
be back again with a repeat of her problem."
On the subject of multiple out of marriage births: St Margaret's Hospital at Taylor Square allocated the third
floor for unmarried mothers. Being Catholic and forbidden contraception witnessed high numbers of mothers (not always Catholic
girls) returning a second or third time, only to have their subsequent babies taken from them too. Although the causal factors
of subsequent births had been well known, no counselling had ever been provided to help the girls in their times of crisis
- in their unconscious attempt to replace their first lost child. Instead, as one nurse employed there at the time, explained
how they were simply seen as providing a service to Catholic adoptive families and were generally left alone. When asked if
sedation was ever used on the girls her answer was "Oh Yes, they were kept bombed out the whole time."
Medical records for St Margarets Hospital have mostly been destroyed or are otherwise unavailable. A number of
members who have had difficulty obtaining their records under their own names have discovered that the medical records had
sometimes actually registered the child's birth and confinement records under the adoptive parents surname.
I have lived my life with something on my mind
'though never knowing quite what it was.
A life disconnected
Never giving too much
Never getting too close
Never quite fitting in.
I seem to have lived only
the perimeters of my existence -
Never feeling quite whole.
Until the day came when I realised -
My mind had
been protecting me
from the pain of remembering.
The Unwed Mother
editor Robert W Roberts,
Are we stereotyping the unmarried mother"
Rose Bernstein chapter 8
"In addressing the meaning of denial it might be well to take cognisance of our own role in fostering it. As agents
of the community, we offer the unmarried pregnant girl anonymity in a protected shelter, we provide out-of-town mailing addresses,
we encourage her to deny maturity by plans for the early placement of her baby, so that she can resume her place in the community
as though nothing has happened. What we interpret as pathology may be the girl's valid use of a healthy mechanism to protect
herself in crisis from a threatening reality. She is behaving the way society requires in order to avoid permanent impairment
of her social functioning. There are times when the girl who does not deny should perhaps be of greater concern to us than
the one who does. "
The natural parents needs after placement of her child:
by Miss M. Nicholas.
Course for Adoption
Anglican Adoption Agency - Carramar Home.
"Although she consciously says: "I know it was the best and only thing to do, because I could not give my child
the normal family life which the adoptive parents can give", there still remains doubt in her mind about this. Even this statement
can give the social worker a "leg in' to deal with her feelings about surrendering the child - focusing on Her feelings
- not on what was best for the child because often these girls feel that they have "destroyed" their child by surrendering
him for adoption, or she may feel hostility that a couple is receiving so much pleasure from Her child (so the After
Care worker must strongly identify with the unwed mother in case work). Five girls have said to me, without any prompting
on my part, something like this:
"Everybody seems concerned about choosing the best adoptive parents; I feel as if I have merely produced a child
for the happiness of someone else.".... The statement is absolutely "loaded" with resentment and hostility.
Indeed, I have found that the more intelligent the girl, the more severely disturbed and emotionally confused she
proves to be. . .
- Regret at having surrendered her baby for adoption. "Did I do the right thing, I am doubtful now; should not a
natural mother be the right person to care for her child?". . . . . The girl is often pre-occupied with the baby. "He is now
8 months old, I wonder what he is doing now, what he looks like, is he healthy". "Whether the adoptive parents are caring
well for him". . . . Holding on to the child in fantasy in the way I have just mentioned, indicates that the mourning process
has not been complete. This type of girl often sees the After Care worker and holds on to her as a link between herself and
the baby, and as treatment progresses, this must be discussed with her, otherwise one would never get down to the basic problem."
- "Depression and anxiety with their varying symptoms."
- "Loss of self confidence, self-esteem, strong feelings of rejection.... Sometimes it is a lack of confidence in
not wanting to meet people generally."
- "Unsettled in their employment. Often at the beginning of treatment a girl may say that she would like to do nursing,
social work training or just caring for children. Gradually some of them come to see that this is merely a reparation - a
making of amends - for their feelings of guilt - they must do something for someone else because of what they have done to
themselves and others."
- "Vague fear and doubts about many things. During the first interview, sometimes a girl may be incoherent: she
may find it difficult to begin a conversation and may say "I don't know why I'm here; I'm afraid of what I don't know.".......
- Sometimes it is just "I must talk to somebody or I will go mad. I've had to keep a secret for so long and I can't
talk to anybody" I feel that most unwed mothers are so pre-occupied with having, and planning, for their baby at the hostel,
that some are unable to look at what has gone wrong with their lives, or what the future holds for them, until the baby becomes
- One girl requested a photograph of her baby, about five months after the baby had been surrendered for adoption.
In the first four she never mentioned wanting a photograph of her baby, she talked more about her feelings of inadequacy (living
with family with very high standards). In second four she made the request, and so together we discussed why she required
the picture. At first, all she could say was "just to see whom he resembles in physical characteristics"; then we discussed
her possible reasons until we got to the very basic one which was that she really wished to torment herself, to punish herself,
because she felt so guilty about her behaviour.
What are some of the criteria for referring natural parents on for either diagnosis or treatment:
- Where marked depression or anxiety is evidenced. We must remember that not all depression, is pathological, eg.
Bereaved person's grief may be a perfectly natural reaction to a realistic loss, and the natural parent who has surrendered
a child, generally speaking, does go through a "mourning period". The After Care worker must show that she (the worker) recognises
the extent and meaning of the loss which means she must identify strongly with the natural parents and not with the adopting
parents. . . . If I refer a depressed or anxious patient on to a psychiatrist, she will have some, if not most of the following
- Undue weeping, vague complaints of fatigue which impedes normal functioning regardless of the amount of sleep
or rest she obtains: She may suffer from insomnia at night and may awaken early in the morning, or conversely, she may sleep
excessively as a means of escape from her intolerable situation: eating habits may change - loss of appetite causing loss
of weight and energy output, or excessive appetite.
- Changes in behaviour such as withdrawal from people, loss of interest in her appearance, and an inability to organise
one's self; procrastination. Self esteem, self respect and self confidence may be very low; there are marked feelings of unworthiness.
The girl may have attempted suicide and there may be some suspicion that she will make another attempt. If a girl says she
is afraid to be alone, the worker must be very suspicious of this statement because she is obviously afraid of self destruction.
"Personality Disturbances: - here I mean very marked personality disturbances - I'm thinking of the girl who may be schizophrenic,
who is obsessive and compulsive; also the one with a marked degree of aggression and hostility; one such girl was constantly
having destructive dreams about babies, she saw babies being tortured."
Social Workers Report.
24th May 1966.
Queen Victoria Hospital.
N. Steinbeck. Social Worker.
Up to date, if a natural mother requested a photo of her baby, the Social Worker wrote to the adopting
parents setting out the request of the natural mother. This, in my opinion, although most of the adopting parents have complied
with the request, should not be done. The adopting parents should not be subjected to the reminder that their child is not
their natural child. Neither should the natural mother be subjected to the agony of awaiting the answer, whether it is favourable
or not. As a solution, it is suggested that a photo of the baby be taken when it is a week old and still has undeveloped features.
The picture can then be given to the mother when she requests one."
Social Service. Journal of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales. Some of the Needs of the
Unmarried Mother Who Keeps Her Child. By Pamela Roberts.
Social Worker Women's Hospital Crown Street Sydney.
Vol 20,No.1 July/August 1968.
"While the unmarried mother cannot and should not be stereo-typed, amongst these groups of mothers can often be
found many features in common such as impulsiveness, perhaps poor family relation-ships, an inner need to become a mother,
and the longing of a deprived and immature girl for something of her own to love. It does often seem that the girl who has
the capacity to grow and mature emotionally through her pregnancy, particularly with the help of a case work relationship,
is the one who is able to release her baby for adoption feeling that it is the wisest course of action for both the child
and herself. The girl who retains her child may very well be the one whose resources both inner and material are not so well
geared to keeping and rearing her child successfully. Many of these mothers feel they must have a child of their own to love
and cannot see past their own needs to the needs of the child."
From the Point of View Of the Natural Parents.
by Sister Mary Beromeo R.S.M.,B.A.,
"Separation from a child through the process of adoption is to a great many intents and purposes comparable to
separation from a child through death. The loss is irrevocable in terms of relationship. Bearing in mind that we may suppose
many unmarried mothers become pregnant in an effort to work out some inner problem, connected with unsatisfactory parental
relationships, such a loss can be viewed as a traumatic event indeed. If such a solution is the chosen one, it seems that
a time of readjustment and grieving must be bargained for.
In some sections of our society, adoption is seen as the only possible and acceptable outcome to an illegitimate
pregnancy. An unmarried mother who has imbibed this belief herself....... Even theoretically, tends to blame herself mercilessly
that she cannot put it all behind herself" and cease to think of the child she has surrendered. Often, she knows that acceptance
back into her family circle is dependent on her ability to do just this, and so she is under double pressure to suppress her
grief. In cases where this is not done it is not unusual to find a severe breakdown in controls somewhere about the time of
the childs first birthday.
Connected with questions of grief, and its acceptance in these circumstances, are such considerations as whether
or not it is wise for the mother who intends to have her baby adopted to see the child and/or to handle it. It appears to
me that we have for many years gone along with the idea that not seeing the baby somehow makes the adoption easier for the
mother. In the light of experience over the last few years, this seems to be a very short term solution. It would appear to
encourage the re-enforcement of the strong elements of denial of her pregnancy, which is a characteristic of the younger unmarried
mother, and so, in the long-term view, prevent her from coming to terms with the whole experience.
Maternal feelings, in so far as it can be isolated and observed, is surely such a complex reality that we cannot
believe that its arousal is dependent on a single sensory stimulation. Parents often express the fear that if a mother sees
the child she intends to surrender, she will be "haunted" by the mental picture of the child. On the other hand, girls who
have not looked at their babies report that they carry a mental image of what the child is like. Given a free choice, most
surrendering mothers elect to see their child."