Those who write, broadcast, blog and complete theses, research papers and books, so very often ignore or overlook the generation of adoptees born during or at the end of World War 11. We were born during a short spell of time when life was precarious, uncertain and full of fear and unpredictable outcomes. Over the years I have expended quite a bit of energy and spent time trying to bring The Invisible Ones into the light, to make our plight in adoptionland known. Even mothers of loss ignore us and one Canadian mother and Origins member, with a penchant for botanical pseudonyms, snarkily told me to get over it, as it covered such a short time in adoption history. Her message clearly was that we adoptees of that time were not important or worth including in any history or discussion. I have been labelled ‘abusive’ by mothers of loss, for insisting on my story, for seeking validation and for attempting to correct accounts of adoption which were incomplete and incorrect. Most of them are almost the same generation as I am or younger, but seem to know better than I do about my generation and the times my mother told me about when we met fifty years after my adoption.
It was a forced adoption in the manner of the times. She had no choice. She was a member of the Services, as was my father and the outcome of her pregnancy was a foregone conclusion, the story written for her and one she had to adhere to. Her mother insisted, her father had long disappeared and was not there to express any opinion. Despite her mature age, she had no say in what happened or at any rate felt she had no options. Society had written the rules a long time before her ‘predicament’ which allowed men to take no part in the decisions or outcomes, so that they could disappear back into their lives without consequences. The mores of the times were set in concrete. The morality of the time enabled ‘the forbidden’ to occur and the consequences to be hidden, tucked away, ignored, lied about or obliterated. The laws upheld the mores. The protection of women and children was secondary, as long as they didn’t starve or die untidily in the gutter all was well. Some brought themselves to public attention by starving or having no source of income or support. These women and their babies, were named ‘The Unfortunates’ by the first female Police Officer in South Australia. As a practising Methodist she was asked to attempt to provide for these women and their babies. Her achievements are well documented although viewed through a Christian feminist lens or through the eyes of admiring, reputable, upstanding white men of the community.
She set up The Kate Cocks Mother and Babies Home in a quiet beach suburb of Adelaide. The Home expanded to accommodate the growing numbers of women and babies ‘saved’. As a very small child I remember being taken to the opening of a new purpose-built building, which I believe was to accommodate children unplaced for adoption. In the 1940’s it was very hard to place bastards, the ‘illegitimate’ and advertising campaigns were got up to try to find families for us. Some of the popular women’s magazines ran articles and adoptions followed. Vetting of potential adopters was little more than a gesture. An initial interview, a surprise home visit and a visit by the couple to pick out a child they liked the look of. In my case I was the only baby who had not succumbed to measles, although I did later, after my adoption, to add to my woes. My adopters were turned down after the initial interview, quite rare I suspect given the desperation of the Home to place the inmates. My afather visited and convinced them to change their assessment. My amother professed to not knowing what was said and what made them change their minds. She suspected the refusal might have been to do with his ancestry, his father of Afro-American descent, son of a freed slave who had emigrated from Nova Scotia, after being sent there during the American Civil War. The family were monarchists and sent to a new life with many others. A white adopter married to a black male adopter was probably not within the realm of experience of these ‘good’ Methodists! They relented and on the day I was ‘chosen’, my mother peered through the window pictured above, so that she could see who was going to adopt her baby. On the selected day for placement I was taken by her to a placement room where she said goodbye to me, expecting never to see me or hear of me again. Until then, for a month after my birth, she had cared for me, breast-fed me, change me, bathed me and the bonding that occurred was seen by staff as a punishment and an incentive not to get pregnant again. I disappeared from her life for the next fifty years and she never recovered from the experience, the treatment, the stigma and the shame. The inhumanity of that lives on. It can never be forgotten and has reverberated down the decades.
This is not a recommendation, but may be of interest to some if you haven’t seen it before. It was a result of the research done into forced adoption by a team at Monash University. Marian Quartly who led the team, is now Emirita Professor.