Drugged, with her arms and legs restrained, Tasmanian Barbara Pendrey will never forget the day her newborn son was taken from her. It was January 1966. Alone and frightened, the 16-year-old lay on the bed in labour for hours in Melbourne’s Jessie McPherson Hospital before giving birth to a child she would not get to raise. “I was drugged to the point I did not deliver my baby in a natural way,” Mrs. Pendrey told The Senior. “He was taken from my body.”
Mrs Pendrey was just 15 when she found out she was six months’ pregnant. In December 1965 her family sent her away to the Presbyterian Babies Home for unmarried mothers in east Melbourne more than 400kms from her home in Lower Barrington for the last weeks of her pregnancy. She is one of the thousands of women across Australia who were young or unmarried whose babies were taken for adoption by force or through coercion – a practice common throughout the 1950s and 60s and up until to 1980s.
Now Mrs. Pendrey is one of several women sharing her experience as part of a Victorian inquiry into responses to historically forced adoptions in the state. The inquiry is a chance to give people affected by forced adoption the opportunity to tell their stories and consider the best way to respond to harm caused by forced adoption. In her submission to the inquiry, Mrs. Pendrey details how she was bound during the birth. “We were treated like animals, there for them to take our babies and give them to someone else,” she said.
“When I heard the baby cry, I twisted to look at a clock and couldn’t move”. It is this, she said, which damaged her wrist and has left her with permanent pains in her arms and legs. “I have been told the body doesn’t forget. I remember feeling so out of control it was like people who didn’t know me or care, were making huge demands on me. Just being told what to do, like I wasn’t even human or didn’t have feelings. I so wanted to take my baby home with me.”
Instead, they took him off her. “Something so precious. They didn’t treat me as a person with emotions and feelings. This little baby grew inside me. He was my baby, my beautiful baby boy who I never saw.”
More than five decades on, the horrific ordeal has left Mrs. Pendrey with enduring physical and emotional scars including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome and medical bills running into the thousands. And for Mrs. Pendrey, like many other women, getting hold of hospital records from that time has been difficult.
Barbara Pendrey hopes in sharing her story, it will encourage other women to come forward and help bury the shame associated with forced adoption. She is calling for hospital records to be made available so she can understand what happened, and what drugs she was given and for how long. Despite writing to many places, Mrs. Pendrey is yet to get hold of her files and said she can’t move forward until this happens. “If the Government knows where they are, they should be released.”
The Victorian inquiry comes after various state governments, including Tasmania and Victoria, issued formal apologies to the victims of forced adoption in 2012. This followed a recommendation from a 2012 Commonwealth Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report on the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices. The resulting senate inquiry in 2012 documented forced adoption policies and practices across Australia drawing on the personal accounts and professional perspectives from 418 written submissions and community hearings in every capital city except Darwin. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard then delivered a national apology in 2013. Mrs. Pendrey was one of the women who gave a submission to the senate inquiry. She hopes that in sharing her story again, it will encourage other women to come forward and help bury the shame associated with forced adoption. “I’ll never forget when the church minister arrived to give me ‘counselling’. He said: ‘Now you’ve been a naughty girl – don’t do it again’. The shame of this ‘counselling’ has left me with so many issues. I want these women to know: you didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t allow the people who did this leave you with guilt and a lack of self-esteem. Write into the inquiry put the words in writing, cry a little or a lot, make a statement. Be brave, it will make you feel strong.”
‘The last opportunity’
In its submission to the inquiry, not-for-profit post-adoption search and support services organisation VANISH said as mothers and adopted people from the forced adoption era steadily age, the inquiry may be the “last real opportunity to provide meaningful redress for past adoption practices”.
VANISH manager Charlotte Smith said many of the 2012 senate inquiry recommendations have not been implemented, including a redress scheme and the provision of counselling services. VANISH is calling for a “sensitive” redress scheme which includes the removal of the statute of limitations so the responsible institutions can be taken to court. “The separation of a mother and her infant is a traumatic loss for both and can be for the father too. Yet this trauma often went untreated and the grief and loss unrecognised and unmourned,” said Ms. Smith. She said in many cases, mothers whose babies were adopted without their informed consent have not spoken to anyone about their son or daughter who was adopted. “They might feel nobody would understand, or that they cannot bear to revisit the distress they experienced,” she said.
“This traumatic event and loss completely changed the trajectory of some mothers, and fathers’ lives. Their relationships were broken up, their education halted, their self-esteem crushed. Their plans to marry, have a career, have children were shattered, and some now have few social or family connections, struggle financially, and suffer from anxiety, depression, or other issues.”
She said adopted people also experience grief about the loss of their mother and father, their loss of identity, of belonging, and of being around people like them. “This loss is often overlooked and they are expected to be happy and grateful about their adoption. It can be very distressing for adopted people to find out that their adoption was forced and that they were wanted.”
It is her hope that through the inquiry, mothers and fathers who were separated from their babies and adopted adults will find out that they are not alone and that there is specialist support available.
VANISH hopes that this inquiry will establish the truth of what happened and the devastating lifelong impacts on those who suffered such cruelty at the hands of people they should have been able to trust. We hope that the victims and survivors of these unethical and sometimes criminal practices will be told ‘we believe you, it was wrong, it was not your fault, we are truly sorry’ and the institutions involved take full responsibility and focus on restoration.”
Final call for submissions
Individuals and organisations have until June 26 to make submissions to Victoria’s Legislative Assembly’s Legal and Social Issues Committee on responses to historically forced adoptions in Victoria. Committee chair Natalie Suleyman said she wants to ensure anyone who has been affected by forced adoptions can have their say. The inquiry is exploring support services and responses provided to the people in our community who endured the past policies and practices of forced adoption going back several decades. With all that has happened over the past few months, we wanted to give community members a final opportunity to share their experiences and views with the Committee before we move to public hearings in the second half of this year,” Ms. Suleyman said.
“The terms of reference for this inquiry are broad, so the Committee will consider all issues raised by community members who make submissions and present at public hearings.”
The terms of reference for the inquiry and details on how to make a submission are available from the Committee’s website.
- VANISH 1300-826-474 or visit vanish.org.au
- Forced Adoption Support Services (Relationships Australia) 1800 210-313
Over the years family (my in-laws) and friends who found out, I had a son and we had connected have made ‘uneducated’ comments. I got sick to death of the ‘how wonderful’ it was that we reunited comments in particular. Other comments have been ‘it was for the best’, ‘you were young’ and so on which, in turn, has meant that I have had to be extremely calm and explain that I could have raised my son. I shouldn’t have to explain myself but it’s the only way to explain the dark side of adoption.
It’s been far easier to explain to the adoption community of the dark side of adoption. I’ve had my battles and it’s been worth me standing my ground.
I hate it when anybody says ‘it was God’s plan’ because it’s never in God’s plan that newborns are adopted. If that was true every parent would be surrendering their baby for adoption and adopting somebody else’s baby. It is as bad as saying God put a baby in another woman’s womb just so a couple can adopt him or her.
I remember my son asking me not to say anything negative about his adopters. My response back was on the lines of ‘Why would I as I don’t know them?’
Over the years I have been irritated by the DNA/nature doesn’t matter but nurture does and even a few adoptees have said that to me. If they don’t matter why do mothers feel profound feelings of pain and loss, why do adoptees want to know who they look like?
I’ve been told a few times that I’m not a mother as I didn’t raise my son with my mother being one of them. She and the others didn’t ‘get it’ that
Thankfully these days I don’t get so involved in adoption in real life online unless I feel up to it. It’s really not worth the aggravation, arguments, bad feelings or the effect on it has on my mental health.
I am giving credit back to this post https://medium.com/@Flip.Side/phrases-from-adoption-ideology-ad3caf09c6a2 for giving me the material to write about.
After spending so many years of hiding my feelings of loss and not dealing with my son’s adoption my eyes were finally opened up. The support has been great and I wish I had known about it years earlier ago. On the other hand I also found out people can be very cruel and hurtful by their words and actions. I was shocked in the early years how judgemental people can be towards other sides of adoption. After 16 years I am much more ‘hardened’ to the unkind side of adoption and naivety of people who think surrendering a baby is ‘the right thing to do/mother to young to parent.’
One of the early comments that made me laugh as it is stupid. It’s when adoptees are asked if they know their real parents. Even if I didn’t have an adoption connection I would still think it’s a ridiculous question. A real parent to me is the one raising the child whether they are the mother, father, adoptive parent, foster carer, family member to the best of their ability. All parents make mistakes and not all parents are decent.
My son’s adoptive parents are real parents and so am I.
In the early days of the reunion I got sick to death of the ‘you were chosen’ lines given to adoptees. Adoption in the UK has evolved since the 1940s but even so, adoptees haven’t been ‘chosen’ they’ve just been the next available baby. Over the years changes have been an end to private adoptions, the number of babies adopted has dropped, and, open and semi adoptions have been introduced. Since the contraceptive pill, abortion easier to have, changes in benefits and social housing has made it easier for mothers to either raise their children or not to have a child.
Telling an adoptee they were wanted is terrible because the person asking doesn’t know the circumstances behind their adoption. The mother could have died in childbirth, the mother (or father) may not have been given the chance to prove they could be a good parent. Not all adopters should have adopted in the first place. Just because a single person or couple has been approved to adopt (in the UK) doesn’t mean they will be good parents. There are cases where adopters have killed their adopted children or abused them, it’s not just natural parents who abuse their children.
Telling an adoptee their mother loved them enough to give them up is cruel as far as I’m concerned. I loved my son so much I didn’t abort him but neither did I plan for him to be adopted. His adopters believed the adoption agency when they were told I wanted him adopted. It took a reunion for them to find out I never agreed to the adoption. In fact they found out the three letters I supposedly wrote to them were written by someone else and I only received one of the letters they wrote. That was bad enough as they thanked me for allowing them to adopt my son. It was devastating to read that as they didn’t know the truth. Yes there are mothers who choose adoption but I’m not one of them.
Adoption isn’t a selfless sacrifice generally – I get back to my comment that some mothers do choose adoption. I felt worthless when my son was adopted, that I didn’t matter and it reinforced what a family member said to me that I wasn’t capable of raising a child. It has been a lifelong feeling of worthlessness. Nobody knows what kind of a mother I would have been because I wasn’t given a chance. There are other reasons why I didn’t have other children but that is going off-topic.` I was a victim of forced (illegal) adoption and had I known my rights I would have raised my son.
I don’t like the ‘adoption is in the bible’ argument either. Yes I know Joseph wasn’t the biological father of Jesus but Mary was his natural mother. Oh and Joseph didn’t pay a huge wedge of money to buy Jesus he stepped up as a father figure as he was commanded to do. For Jesus to fulfill a prophecy he had to be born into this life and God wouldn’t have been in the physical world as nobody could look at his face and live.
Moses isn’t, like Jesus, an example of adoption as we understand it. His mother placed him in a basket and put in water to save his life. He was raised by a pharaoh’s daughter and his mother was part of his life, in other words he wasn’t officially adopted. Later on, in life, he killed an Egyptian, returned to his family, and led the chosen people to the promised life.
Telling adoptees they were given up is quite commonly used alongside placed. I didn’t ‘give up or place’ my son he was in effect stolen from me. I never agreed to him being adopted and as far as I know I didn’t sign the Consent to Relinquish form. If I did I didn’t know what I was signing and very conveniently nobody can find the form so I can’t prove anything.
The blood/DNA doesn’t matter argument is open to debate but they do matter. If they didn’t then parents wouldn’t care what baby they had as long as they were raising one. Apart from that people have a right to know who their family is with medical information high on the list for being important. I have had mother figures in my life but they’re not the mother who carried me for nine-months then raised me. They have been important in my life but can’t be compared to my mother. Some people should never have children but that doesn’t mean any child of theirs who has been adopted doesn’t have a right to know who they are.
I hate adopters referring to the mother of their adopted child as their birth mother as she didn’t give birth to either of them and it’s a type of entitlement. When these people feel offended when they are pulled up about it they should then educate themselves. I am not my son’s birth mother, I am his mother the same as his adoptive mother is also his mother. Parents can love more than one child so why can’t a child love more than one mother?
I shall continue with this another day.
Two days ago one of our nieces had her third child, another daughter, which is lovely news. My sister has found it hard not seeing her grandchildren but now that there is relaxing of the number of people who can be together she had her two granddaughters while their mum was in the hospital. She was able to go home four hours after having her baby. My sister is very happy to cuddle the latest edition.
I still find it tough at moments when a family baby is born as I know each one will be loved equally with all the children. My baby wasn’t even given a chance although I do believe my dad and sister would have loved him. My mum couldn’t even make a pretence of liking my son when he turned up as an adult. I will never, ever forget my mum telling me she didn’t understand why he wanted to know me when his adoptive family was his only family. I was tempted to let rip that his ‘only family’ couldn’t give him medical information, where he got his interests but I knew she wasn’t interested and didn’t want to know either. To this day I can not understand why a mother can be so determined that her daughter’s baby is adopted and then never want anything to do with the child when he / she is an adult. It goes way beyond spite. it’s evil and borders on being a narcissist. It’s something that never really surprised me but it still hurts.
I am thankful we are seeing the light beyond the tunnel with regards to the lockdown as it’s getting more and more stressful not being able to do anything or go anywhere. It’s not that I particularly want to go far it’s more to do with being restricted and not being able to do something different. I’ve started getting back to old hobbies such as writing and sketching. I’ve ‘enrolled’ myself for a year to do passable comic sketching which will be challenging. Now I am just waiting for stuff to arrive so I can get on with it. Wool has come out ag0ain to crotchet basic blankets although I have bought myself a crochet book to teach myself more complicated things.
When I was told I couldn’t stop my son’s adoption I emotionally broke down and even today I haven’t completely got over it. To the outside world I was getting on with my life and I ‘wore a mask’ I also started suffering from severe depression but just put it down to postnatal depression. There was no way I could talk about how I was feeling and certainly not to my mother. I went through periods of wanting to die and would self-harm as it was the only way I could release the emotional pain I suffered. I felt ashamed of how I was feeling and believed if I told my family that wouldn’t understand or believe me.
For years I was determined that I would never marry or have any more children as I was so scared that I would be forced to surrender again. I felt so lonely even though I had friends and I loved my nieces so it was my way of self-preservation.
Eventually, I met my husband in 1993 and after a few months of dating, we got married. He made me laugh and I could be myself. The big but was I couldn’t tell him about my son, again I felt too ashamed to tell him and I didn’t need to tell him unless my son found me. I don’t know how I would have dealt with that but it was taken out of my hands. One day I went for a long walk after an argument with my husband. When I got back he confronted me about it as my sister had rung up, didn’t believe I wasn’t in and told my husband about my son.
When we had both calmed down I told my husband the basics and told him there was no point in talking about it unless my son found me. I should have talked and been willing to talk but I couldn’t risk going to pieces. It was my way of dealing with it whereas I should have been talking. It took another 12 years before I started talking and it was the end of my world of pretending all was well in my life.
My life ended the day I was told I couldn’t stop my son’s adoption. Unless you have been a victim of forced (illegal) adoption you cannot begin to understand the profound feelings of loss. It is heart-wrenching and for me, I emotionally broke down and from that day forward I mask. I also lost my trust due to what my mother and the adoption agency did to me. To the outside world, I was fine but inside I was an emotional wreck. My friends used to joke I was an ice maiden towards men and kept them at arm’s length. I vowed I would never get married or have any more children as I was so scared that I would be forced to surrender again.
I became very lonely as I was too scared to tell anybody how I was feeling nor did I understand I was severely depressed. For too many years I was accused of being a drama queen, moody and that there were people who were far more in need of support. In the early days, the closest my mother came to showing she cared was when I received a letter from my son’s adopters. I broke down in tears and my mother hugged me tightly until I stopped crying. Even then I couldn’t talk and suffered in silence. Adoption is like an invisible amputation and every part of my body ached for and missed my son. It was another 23 years before I could start talking about my son’s adoption.
It wasn’t until more recent years that I realised that I suffer from P.T.S.D. although I have never been formally diagnosed with suffering from it. Doctors don’t seem to understand the trauma of forced adoption or make a connection. My son will be 39 years old this year and I still suffer from the trauma of losing him, sadly it will be with me for the rest of my life. I also have a history of self-harming as it was the only way to release emotional pain and I have tried overdosing over the years.
Since opening up about forced adoption I started educating people about the effect of forced adoption on mothers. It really was tough going for the first couple of years particularly when I got the courage to state that the term birth mother is offensive. I had never heard of the term until 2004 having joined up with adoption forums and groups. It is a stupid term because mothers don’t just give birth they go through nine months of pregnancy. Fathers don’t go through pregnancy or giving birth so it’s a ridiculous term to give them. It’s also stupid to give the extended family the ‘birth’ title as they can’t collectively go through pregnancy and childbirth. The real truth is it’s a term invented in America to make adopters feel better about themselves and came over to the U.K. A couple of years ago I had a disagreement with a friend at bible study as she referred to herself as a birth mother. I asked her not to as it’s offensive to mothers who have surrendered a child and why the term was created. She really didn’t ‘get it’ and used the argument that as she had had children that made her a birth mother. I explained why the term was invented but if all mothers had always been referred to as birth mothers it wouldn’t have bothered me. In the end, I got so annoyed I had to walk away from the situation. We have never talked about it since.
I am still friendly with other mothers who have surrendered babies. adoptive parents and adoptees although these days we keep in touch on Facebook. We all still learn from each other for all sorts of reasons.
I was pregnant at the age of 19 years old and knew I was pregnant after I had split on bad terms with the father of my son. Even so, I knew I wanted to raise my baby and I had a job so I knew I could afford to raise my child. I was scared and didn’t know how to tell my parents but eventually, they had to know.
It went badly and my mother was determined that my baby was to be adopted but I refused to agree to it. My father didn’t say much at all, he simply let my mother get on with it. It was a horrible time and I suffered from low self-esteem and lacked confidence. I didn’t even see a social worker from the adoption agency until after my son was born. All I knew was that I wanted to be a mother and raise my child.
Infant adoption was slowing down by the start of the 1980s but it didn’t stop social workers from being pushy over babies being adopted. I was one of many mothers over the years who were pressured to surrender without knowing my rights. My mother made me feel worthless, I wouldn’t be a good enough mother yet I was capable of looking after my niece. She was born just over two months before my son was born. My mother continually put me down and made threats such as;
I would be kicked out
I would lose my job because I would be homeless
I wouldn’t be able to get rented accommodation
I wouldn’t be able to get any benefits
My son would be taken off me because I was homeless so I may as well agree to the adoption.
It was relentless brainwashing to try and convince me adoption was the best option. The first time I saw the social worker I told her I didn’t want to give my son up and it was my mother who was all for adoption. She said she would put a stop to the adoption but ‘it would be a good idea for my son to go into foster care until I got myself sorted out’. I did manage to see my son once before I left the hospital and I will never forget that.
Today has felt really strange due to covid-19, self-isolating and trying to deal with Mother’s Day. Normally I really hate the day and will do my best to avoid anything that will make me sad, today hasn’t felt Mother’s Day even though it’s been talked about on Facebook. Of course, with all the churches being shut has added to the strangeness of the day.
It’s now 38 years since I first hated Mother’s Day and all because of forced adoption – I wouldn’t wish it on anybody as it is soul-destroying. Nobody has really acknowledged that I am a mother as the only child I had was adopted but I am still a mother. There are people now who know about my son but it was 23 years before I really started talking about him after I found him. It was a shock as I wasn’t actively looking as I believed what I had been told that I would never be allowed (legally) to search for him.
He was also shocked as he had been searching for me and had found my family quite quickly. For about 18 – 20 months my family didn’t know where I was due to an argument I had with my sister and I stopped talking to them. My parents knew where I was from late 2001 but still chose not to tell me he was searching for me nor did they tell him they had contact with me.
I’m not sure what’s worse – the not knowing anything or to go through reunion then falling out, it’s an ongoing struggle that will only go when I die.