Adoption Trauma to Mothers: Dr Geoff Rickarby’s Testimony to the New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry

(Continued from Part 1)

Submission by Dr. G. A. Rickarby, MB, BS, FRANZCP,
Member of the Faculty of Child Psychiatry,
RANZCP, MANZAP, Consultant Psychiatrist

Part 2 A Comment upon each of the listed Categories of Damage giving rise to Distress.

1. Pathological Grief.

Normal grief is facilitated when the loss is timely, not of high ambivalence and where the needs of the bereaved are well enough met and there is adequate social support available. Even in major loss there is an early acceptance that the loss is final and the implications of the loss and the feelings engendered are eventually bearable, leading to the mourning process, the going over piece by piece of the nature of the changes in the bereaved’s relating, expectations and orientation to new directions. Eventually comes some degree of acceptance when the lost one can be thought of without inhibition and the bereaved is future oriented. This usually takes about three to six months.

Note: Where stages of grief are used, these are not necessarily progressive; there is reversion or hovering between them, cyclic traps between them occur, and mourning may be commenced briefly only to regress and go through earlier phases all over again.

Pathological grief refers to distinct and major failure of this process. After loss of the baby, the first stage of shock, numbness and disbelief may persist because the mother cannot face the finality of loss of her baby and the feelings of rage, guilt, depression that might overwhelm her. The numbness and disbelief are protective against this emotional second stage of grief. This may persist for a long time and may be associated with naive beliefs that the baby will be returned or some `nice’ social worker will appear to help the return.

Many find the next stage, which they enter after they accept finality of the loss, produces such anger and despair they revert to the first stage, and I have seen this see-saw between the two occur over two or three decades, and associated with decompensation in Major Depression.

Others stay in the second stage of major feelings: they cannot accept the implications of their loss and thus cannot mourn. This arrest is not understood and people readily become irritated with them as they return to the issues of their arrested grief. At The Inquiry there will be many with this type of damage and their presentations will represent for them the first attempts to look at implications of their loss in the social world. Such damage is to be seen in the context that when a mother loses a child from babyhood to middle age, and the loss is untimely and has other bad outcome features, the most stable and mentally healthy person becomes similarly afflicted.

Others are stuck in the stage of mourning, going back again and again to the same issues where they cannot get satisfactory answers.

There are supra-pathological variations of pathological grief, particularly where grief is totally inhibited and denied, and the grief goes underground coming out in unconscious release, such as in over-protection of other children, binding and intrusive behaviours, irritability, and unexplained depression. The mechanisms of defence become part of the personality. In particular a large proportion go over some elements of blocked grief again and again; sadly the repetitive nature of their talking about the blocked area of their grief is a measure of their damage, but to the listener who has long ago understood the issue from the first telling, it can be tedious or irritating. It is most productive for the listener to ask themselves internal questions as to why the block is there, what alternative is untenable, and how the mother otherwise might develop.

There is suppressed grief where the person keeps their grief in secrecy, but fully conscious, distraught, and has their weeping times when alone, and their breakdowns on anniversaries or special days.

Pathological grief is related to other forms of damage because it frequently decompensates as defences are inadequate and the psychiatric disorders such as Major Depression, Dysthymia and Panic supervene. Pathological Grief is almost universal among these mothers and underlies the other issues of damage discussed below.

2. Personality damage associated with defenses.

The defensive style: whether it is alert avoidance of anybody who might take one of their children or otherwise alienate them, or a shut down avoidance of babies full-stop, and inability to experience warm attachment to others in case they lose them, over-protection, rationalisations and continued idealization of authoritative figures such as nuns and social workers, the inability to communicate intimate subjects to others, the inhibition of sexual expression because their loss of the baby was in the very earliest part of their psycho-sexual development, or other defensive patterns: these and others have all become part of their adult personality in a rigid manner. There are heavy restraints against further development or a flexible view of their own potential and possible roles. These people get by, but in a very limited manner because of their experience of loss. Mostly their defensive positions will inhibit them from coming forward, but they represent a large portion of mothers.

3. Personality damage associated with the isolation of the birth experience and loss of the baby.

This is quite a different condition from 2/ above. Here the issues are guilt, shame and secrecy. These elements become fixed as part of the personality which arrested in development. This is also the original mother who puts a veto on her lost child contacting her. In many cases nobody knows her secret, but in many cases her husband knows, but not her children. She is highly frightened and vulnerable about this and in many cases the children’s cousins told them a decade ago, but they know they must not say they know. She is left with the cultural bytes she received twenty years ago and the social attitudes of the time.

Some of these mothers long for a reunion and when it is approaching go into a highly disturbed crisis state and sometimes seek help. Others have made up their mind to live their secret right through, and, when contacted by their lost child, give a frightened `go away’ message that is devastating and permanently damaging for the adoptee.

Generally I help them tell their husband and children, and the improvement in their general personality and expression of feelings, their relationship with both adoptee and their own children are enhanced. A woman with residual damage from `shame and guilt culture’ is in dire need of help, and has a much better outcome than those people described in 2/ above. However the two states are not mutually exclusive and The Inquiry will hear about some people who show features of both types of damage, This type however respond much better to therapy, encouragement and support, particularly when their family is fairly well functioning. Those with and understanding partner tend to have a very good outcome indeed.

4. Axis 1 Psychiatric Disorder.


Axis 1 refers to the DSM IV Diagnostic Classification from U.S.A. and used here in Australia, in which psychiatric diagnoses are made along 5 axes. It is common for most to have more than one disorder. This is partly because diagnoses like Major Depression occur when the other disorder or Pathological Grief overwhelms them.

4.1 Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

In this disorder the trauma of separation or fearful experience of being emotionally isolated during obstetric trauma is so severe that this experience is imprinted and intrudes into dreams and waking experience in an uncontrollable manner. The experience is so aversive and so reinforced by the repeated intrusion that the young woman becomes hyperalert and vigilant to anything where a repetition of the circumstance is possible or is threatened. Elaborate avoidance behaviours develop and some may by symbolic or associative. Some of these avoidance behaviours can become secondary psychiatric conditions such as a phobic avoidance of hospitals as an aspect of their PTSD, or very deep seated fears of becoming pregnant again.

The avoidance of hospitals is very serious, because these women may neglect their health or be unable to visit a close relative who is seriously sick. If they have a personality problem as well such as 2/ and 3/ above their PTSD may become fixed and still extend decades later. If overwhelmed by PTSD, Major Depression can be precipitated.

4.2 Major Depression.

This is the more severe of the two depressive disorders listed here (Dysthymia is the other) and the criteria require there to be severe depression most of the day for at least two weeks at a time.

In mothers who have lost a baby to adoption such Major episodes frequently are triggered by the babe’s birthday, Christmas, close contact with children (particularly for the childless), as the decompensation of factors aggravating Pathological Grief and PTSD, and sadly and destructively, following the birth of subsequent children. (I am aware of instances where the same reaction has occurred with the birth of grandchildren too. ) Major Depression then takes the form of a malignant Post Partum Depression, and strangely is often not diagnosed because the mother mostly does not tell of the association unless she is asked directly. Bonding failure with the subsequent infant is then a major problem.

The mothers subjective experience is one of being overwhelmed by the memories of her lost baby, the first birth and its circumstances, and the subsequent time in and out of hospital without her baby. She is terrified this will happen again, and is pining and searching in her mind for the lost baby. It is difficult for her to focus on the real baby. This is so different to the public myth: `She’ll have another baby and will really be over it then. ‘ To those who work with these women such public ignorance is galling, particularly when such phrases represent the general community attitude.

Suicide is a sequel of Major Depression and should be the subject of a research project in studying this group of mothers in NSW. This should be easy because of the distinct category of the birth registration. So also should research into their overall death rate which will give another indication of their mortality also associated with Item 7/ below.

4.3 Dissociative Disorder.

This serious disorder takes a number of forms. In essence it occurs when consciousness is so overwhelmed by shock and unbearable feeling that there are splits or discontinuity of consciousness. It is sometimes confused with the serious biological illness – Schizophrenia, but it is distinct and quiet unrelated. It is more related to Multiple Personality Disorder, although the split aspects of consciousness do not have their own identity as in MPD.

It is characterised by a total splitting off of the stream of consciousness associated with the untenable events, and the formation of a false self who continues every day amnesiac to the events split off. There is often evidence of a true self co-existent with the false self who is not amnesiac. The false self is usually very limited in function, not in touch with emotional life within the self or in interchanges with others. I have seen the condition also in parents who have lost a child suddenly as a result of accident.

One mother dissociated the events of her pregnancy, labour and puerperium totally and her family colluded with this. It was only decades later that a remark of her mother’s about the baby precipitated the beginnings of a breakthrough of her true self and return of her memories. Another woman lost a month of memory in the time immediately after giving birth, and many have lost days or weeks of experience around the time of the baby’s birth. It is found more commonly if you ask about it.

A related phenomena described is a generalisation of the loss of relationship with the developing child. When subsequent children came to them late there was a blocking out of their development from baby to young adult.

4.4 Panic Disorder.

This is characterised by sudden onset of bodily symptoms of fear which is experienced as if an unknown disaster is about to happen immediately. It may be focused on the rapidly beating heart, tightness in the throat, difficulty of breathing and there is an impulse to escape to the most secure circumstances possible. It is associated with major activity of a basal brain nucleus and the sympathetic nervous system.

In the mothers it is related to high levels of stress on anniversary days or special days such as Mother’s day, it occurs during searching behaviours or when there is the prospect of a reunion. It is important to note that searching behaviours occur throughout the time of the child’s development, not just near or after the eighteenth birthday and they are mostly fruitless, or can end in embarrassing dead-ends. These behaviours are a usual aspect of Pathological Grief. Panic Disorder is also related to high levels of feeling which are otherwise bottled up, and to uncertainty and insecurity about relationships and the future. There is also a familial tendency to develop such disorders, and it can be seen in adoptees too.

At other times the anxiety is focused on the subsequent children, and sometimes it is precipitated by a bereavement within the greater family. There is often a strong element of separation anxiety in the presentation, and as such it will present more as an agoraphobia where there is a major need to be with a protective person to prevent it.

4.5 Dysthymia

This diagnosis is used for depressive symptoms that recur regularly but which do not meet the criteria for Major Depression. They occur often as a result of a personality constellation such as 2/ and 3/ above when there is a sense that defences do not work as they are supposed to, or that hiding unhappiness from others only aggravates the overall condition. It is frequent when there is a chronic fixation in the emotional second stage of grief – and mourning is difficult or impossible. The chronic unhappiness of wanting the baby who will never return produces the outward phenomena of the syndrome, so it is a frequent accompaniment of Pathological Grief. It is important to note that many mothers who have made quiet a good adjustment in relating to their adult `baby’ after reunion, still have this grief for the baby they never held, whose milestones they never observed.

4.6 Situational Stress Disorder.

This Axis 1 disorder frequently occurs during the months before and sometimes during the years after reunion. Its name is self explanatory and it is characterised by crisis behaviour, day to day decompensations into depression or anxiety, disorganised behaviour and labile emotions.

5. Personality damage associated with Psychiatric Illness as a sequel to loss of a baby to Adoption.

This is a group who have had psychiatric illness as set out above for so long that it has become entrenched in the personality.

6. Personality Damage associated with long-term Pathological Grief.

This occurs when grief is arrested at one phase, denied, or is characterised by another salient defensive mechanism or, oscillates between two phases depending on how much grief is tolerable according to circumstances and support. These grief behaviours and repeated experiences of feeling become so regular and fixed that they supervene the previous personality to the degree that they become permanent personality characteristics.

Some of these are not adaptive such as irritable preoccupation with particular people who were instrumental in their baby’s loss, and others are compulsive, such as vicarious care of those similarly affected. If this is done with some insight it is more adaptive, but often it is persued by projecting their own pain onto the others and having a personal set of solutions which are not necessarily adapted to the needs of others.

7. Aggravation and precipitation of a wide variety of physical illnesses which are related to stress.

(Included here are those secondary to attempts to cope with grief by using prescription drugs (particularly benzodiazepines) and other substances – alcohol and THC, to suppress bad feelings associated with unresolved grief.)

The common theme is that severe and protracted grief has been consistently shown in research to be associated with major poor health outcome. Many thought this was marginal and would be difficult to demonstrate. Maddison, when he was working in Boston, showed it to be of the order of 1000% increase as measured by the General Health Questionnaire; this was repeated by Raphael in New South Wales in the early seventies with similar results.

Depression has also been shown to be similarly correlated and there is a death rate among the depressed that is of a similar order to that from heart disease.

There have been numerous confirmations both of the order and quality of health deterioration after bereavement and the range of disorders involved is wide. Cancer has been one that has been documented, and one principal explanation of that is changes in the immune system. Illnesses such as asthma, peptic ulcer and colitis have all been part of public awareness on being aggravated by stress. This is mediated through stress and the response of the neurones in the hypothalamus that release Corticotrophin Releasing Factor to stimulate the pituitary gland.

There are more obvious links between unresolvable grief via the cigarettes, alcohol, benzodiazepines that are used to modify unbearable feelings and bad health outcomes that are the sequel of these. Eating disorders and dietary problems are common. Similarly both the depressed and pathologically grieving are vulnerable to risk taking behaviours. This includes driving on the highways and the relationships they will accept. There are other direct connections such as inappropriate avoidance of health management and those responsible for it. Again, research funds are required to study the health of this group.

8. Disorder and Incapacity in Human Relationships.

It is important here to consider the direct links between loss of a baby to adoption and the disorders and incapacity’s in relationships.

The first issue to consider is the significant and often abrupt change in self-esteem. Many were shocked when they realised they were to be seen as immoral, unreliable and promiscuous. Some never saw themselves as a mother even well into pregnancy only to acquire a new view of themselves and enjoying it after the baby moved intimately inside them.

But as the adoption promotion rolled over them, the integral part of this was their own unfitness to be a mother and their not deserving to be a mother because of their conceiving outside of social mores. This process was repetitious, many faceted and continually reinforced. In the hospital where they gave birth they were given many messages of being inferior, worthy of contempt and were readily discounted. In this respect the nursing profession were major contributors to their damage in self-esteem.

Many of these young women were not self-assertive; any self-assertiveness remaining was targeted as part of the `focus on consent’ campaign. Gone were all the elements of self assertiveness, they were on their own, dependent, made to feel immoral, and also given the false view they were in the wrong, with no rights and legally helpless.

When they took on the suggestions of their `betters’, their lack of assertiveness was amplified.

Then there was the issue of Pathological Grief. Relating in an intimate and trusting manner is difficult indeed when there is any element of grief overlaying personal development. Preoccupation’s and intrusive themes destroy initiative and the sense of betrayal by their own family and agency professionals was there at one level or another. (The young woman with poor self-esteem and low assertiveness might take decades or forever to drop her denial and collusion with the beliefs pedalled by the agency).

Nearly all of them have a shattered sense of trust. It was their own families as well as the professionals who left them this way. They see protecting themselves from such a disintegrating loss as essential. There was a detachment from others, a distance or general withdrawal, many could not become close to their subsequent children as losing them would be catastrophic. Many of their spouses were aware of the distance, distressed by it, but found their unease difficult to pin down or express.

So many were very circumspect about close relationships and becoming pregnant again – many stayed without partners for a long time or permanently. In the competitive stakes of assertive mating, low self-esteem, distrust and poor self-assertiveness are heavy handicaps: they have to rely on the initiative of a potential partner and may acquiesce to a relationship in a quite different manner than they might otherwise have done.

It is important to say here that those who have high quality partners who are supportive and privy to the distress from their loss, fare very much better than those without a caring sounding board to share their life. Many of these mothers accepted partners with whom they could not share their experience or distress, and many accepted men who were exploitive of their passivity or came from families where gross power imbalance was everyday and who would use them to perpetuate their own family expectations of marital relations.

Those whose grief is arrested where the predominant affect is rage, and where mourning has not occurred, will inevitably take out that rage in their close relationships. This may be to a partner who can absorb it, and the process might be quiet conscious and open to discussion, but often the rage is not as conscious, the lost baby often idealised and the subsequent child will never come up to that idealisation.

Those with frank psychiatric illness had the inevitable effect of this disability on relationships. Depression is not easy to understand when there is a need for a family to function with leadership by the wife. Withdrawal during grief or depression has a profoundly destructive effect on the development of children. Maternal fear and panic is passed on to children as core insecurity.

When there is a family secret, children have an intuitive sense of something mysterious and dangerous behind ordinary family life. They often then project their own explanation of what is hidden, and this is usually something born of violence and jeopardy, depending on their stage of development and the television they watch. It promotes insecurity and a sense that attachments may be broken.

I have discussed above the recrudescence of grief during a subsequent pregnancy and confinement and the subsequent bonding failure with the baby. After a while when we found family dysfunction with a mother being depressed and preoccupied, or overprotective with anxiety about losing a child, we knew to gently search for this as a likely antecedent, only to back off if we read acute distress that it might come out.

There are some mothers who themselves had pre-existing mental illness, sometimes constitutional and sometimes as a result of child abuse. The experience of loss of a child always exacerbated their condition and the subsequent relationships they formed. Many of these people were highly confused during the experience and their behaviour became disorganised to being chaotic.

All the relating difficulties as a result of their loss add up to special difficulties when these people come to reunion eighteen to thirty-five years later. I find that their understanding of young men in the eighteenth to thirty-five year age group is clouded by their own experiences, their difficulty in imagining the stages of development their son has gone through and their own fantasy life in which he is still a young child.

They seem to have a much easier time with their daughters if the latter are mature. However daughters who are immature in matters of autonomy, sexuality and dependence create almost insurmountable problems vis a vis becoming empathic with their mother and also her reciprocating. It is warming to find the girl friends and young wives of the young adoptees, sometimes creating a special understanding and accepting of the mother who lost their partner as a baby.

9. Educational Failure and poor Employment Status.

While the Inquiry will hear from some mothers who went back to their school after their confinement only to be turned away and rejected, more usual were those who went back to their studies, but were preoccupied, lacked concentration, could not find meaning in their studies or have motivation to organise them to an educational goal. We know they were grieving unsuccessfully and often depressed. Examinations are difficult under such circumstances. Single minded study is even more difficult.

Fortunately there were many more jobs around twenty-five years ago. Most of them were unskilled, but provided a regular income. There were thoughts of going back to study and achieve some of the goals they had before, but this was easier considered then achieved. It is interesting that in their forties some of them are able to go back to late secondary and early tertiary education.

The cultural myth was, “Having a young baby would destroy their life and education. Adoption will leave them free to continue it. ” I know a few who got back to their education usually after some years, but only a tiny minority whose studies were not set back significantly if not totally.

Some of the mothers you will hear from are highly intelligent. Among those who come to the Inquiry they will probably be over represented. Research conducted on their occupations and income, and then compared with women of the same age would answer clearly whether their education and employment prospects were damaged. If a random sample of relinquishing mothers’ were taken for such research an even greater disadvantage might be demonstrated.

10. Failure of Bonding with Subsequent Babies.

This subject has been introduced earlier in the submission.

In summary the subsequent pregnancy rekindles the grief and distress around the loss of the first baby. Post-traumatic stress phenomena, and the anguish of pining regret and anger often retroflexed against the self for not being able to fight harder becomes a major theme. Thoughts and feelings are intrusive and preoccupation is compulsive.

It is difficult to see the new baby through all this. It is difficult to remain with feelings about now, whether it be distress at feeding problems or joyful pride in the new born

Later there is anguish at every milestone of the next child as the sense of missing the lost baby is hard to suppress and conjecture, often idealised, is continually in mind.

There is often intolerance of normal development difficulties in the new baby, sensitivity to others wanting to take him over. I have on numerous occasions heard of major anxiety in mothers that their mother or mother-in-law wants their new baby or even their sister wants them after some brief help while they are sick. They are not able to use family day care mothers and often opt for more impersonal and less satisfactory creches for child minding. If they must use a carer, they are highly anxious about any attachment of the baby to the carer, and will suddenly change to the detriment of the baby.

Without being paranoid in the psychotic sense, they are highly alert to any complaint that might be made about them to D.O.C.S or any other authority, and are highly anxious if any Family Law Court issue might threaten their continuing care. They have conscious fears and many dreams about losing their child in various manners.

On the other hand their blocked feelings of grief come out on their child who is usually imperfect compared with the child lost to adoption. Sometimes they are harsh and use emotionally incontinent checking measurers. Then they become shamed and guilt ridden at what they have done. It is during these times they seek help from Child Health services or private doctors, but in many cases just present the surface of the problem without telling of the real issues.

Definitive Action.

Public Declaration of Significant Findings.

This needs to be a public account of major and common effects of past adoption practices, specifically addressing the power and coercion applied and the helplessness of those who lost their baby.

A special version of this should be published and focused at adoptees, particularly to disabuse them of the myths that the public have held about their mothers, and indicating the abuse, coercion and damage their mothers had to bear.

Public Education about possible and likely long-term effects of loss of a baby to adoption. This should be focused upon the tens of thousands of those suffering without protest.

Public Education about the difficulties faced by adoptive parents and how little preparation there was for this role or how little the help available. This should also include issues of grieving sterility, ongoing and hidden low self-esteem, and the protracted effects of the insecurity created by raising another woman’s child. There were recurrent problems in dealing with special difficulties of the adoptive relationship at each stage of development and subsequent testing behaviour by the adoptee.

Many wouldn’t recognise that over compliance with adult wishes was a sign of false self development and personality damage. But the type of help they were getting was platitudes, untested cultural myths and did not address their real difficulties. However, some did well to become a secure family; all the more congratulations to them to have done this despite the difficulties.

Any help to insecure adoptive families to come to terms with these factors will help a mother with reunion.

More general public education measures should be spread widely and use such contacts as popular magazines and inserts in the daily press.

Remedial Therapy for Personality Damage and Psychiatric Illness.

There are a wide range of requirements. Some need to be involved in groups run by their peers or receive counselling from the peers who have some professional counselling training. Others need counselling from professionals who are not associated with adoption apologists. The financing of this will need support.

At present the Victim’s counselling service keeps proper control of counselling requirements for victims including a report to assess the need for counselling and agreement to finance a counselling contract. While there is some intrusion into privacy by this method, it is a responsible way to channel public money to provide essential help for those to whom it is overdue.

However for some with life changing trauma, particularly around their mid to late teen-age years, who have combinations of psychiatric illness and personality damage, there is a requirement for weekly psychotherapy by a highly trained psychotherapist over 2 to 5 years. While a few psychiatrists will do this for Medicare rebate, that is unusual and there is generally a gap. If it is done by a professional from another discipline it works out even more expensive. There needs to be some way of subsidising these people, because they have very little chance of having the therapy they need without it.

There is also the requirement to train a wide range of professionals into the particular aspects of trauma, grief arrest, and circumstances of personality damage these mothers suffer. I see many of them who say: “I went to Ms Bloggs, but she had no idea what had happened to me or what it has done to me.” or: “My GP Dr Doe tried to help me, but he doesn’t seem to have any idea what it would be like to go through that.”

Help with Reunion.

For some there is a new series of traumas when they try to bring about reunion. (Also there is huge trauma for adoptees who want to find their mother, only to be rejected by a shamed woman with personality damage who is unable to overcome her fear and the thought of more humiliation for her `mistake’.)

Some face veto, and we have found from those who overrode the veto, or those who met by accident, despite the veto, that the veto is a family issue from the adoptive family, sometimes driven by frank exercise of adoptive parental power.

Problems Contingent on the Adoptive Family.

While there are a minority of secure adoptive families, the vast majority are highly insecure and have dealt with their insecurity by establishing family myths, attitudes and requirements that are inimical to the original mother.

When you meet or even hear of a secure adoptive family, you will see a family who have allowed the adoptee to grow up in a manner that fits his or her own nature and aspirations, control is not a big issue to them, they lead by example rather than by establishing concepts about the adoption to create `gratitude’, guilt or identity confusion. They are aware of the adoptee’s need for identity and are supportive about reunion. They are able to develop a relationship with the mother that is overall accepting and has an element of open-minded curiosity. I have known an adoptive family to provide remarkable support for the family of their adoptee’s mother as she was dying and thereafter.

Such secure adoptive families are far outweighed in numbers by each of the other two groups. Both may contain adoptive parents with personality disorder or psychiatric illness.

In one of these the adoption has been such a negative experience or the adoptive family so disintegrated, that the adoptee has long separated and gone his or her own way in life, sometimes in trouble, sometimes dead from suicide or drug overdose, sometimes married early, sometimes working in a far off place.

The other situation is the insecure adoptive family. They are insecure about their own lives and how they have weathered the inevitable crises in bringing up the adoptee, they are insecure about relating to the adoptee in the future, and they defend their insecurities by using a palisade of defences usually around the cultural attitudes of the 1960s many of which are listed earlier in the submission. There are many binding behaviours: fostering dependency, undermining confidence and the young person’s sense of capability, and by developing `gratitude’ and guilt. Many wealthy adoptive families blatantly do it with the check book up their sleeve. The mother who lost her baby is pictured as rejecting, morally slack and incapable. Those that do this more openly are often easier for all to deal with, but there are subtle forms of it that create an invisible cage around the adoptee.

Those who do not tell the adoptee at all are a sub-group of the above, but I have only struck four over the last fifteen years. People like to talk about this one because it is one small aspect of adoption information which is well known and many have previously thought about it. It creates its own special problems, but in my experience this situation makes up less than 1% of adoptive families and seems to gather a huge amount of attention that distracts from the pressing problems of the other 99 point something percent of people in distress.

But I will say that the culture has long known this to be a dangerous situation, and the disaster comes as the cousins or others tell the adoptee in primary school years and the whole secret is carried on in a disintegrating charade. I know of one case where the adoptive parents were successful in hiding the information for 25 years or so, with highly distressing consequences for the `relinquishing mother’ and giving the adoptee a totally false facade to her life. I am aware the the Inquiry might hear about this instance directly.

The mother must therefore go to reunion with all the load of her own damage from losing her baby to adoption and cope with whatever she may meet in the adoptee’s damage, and have the most likely contingency to be a disintegrated or insecure adoptive family.

It is `a very hard ask’.

The good outcome factors are supportive friends and family, having worked through her own personality problems or illness, knowledgable counselling, some awareness of the needs and stages of development of young adults, a secure adoptive family, and her own preparedness, no matter how late, to be a mother to her adult child. However the difficult meetings that turn out successfully seem to hinge on the qualities and compassion of the adoptee, and often their awareness of the similarities in temperament and style of thought of their biological parent.

To train counsellors for this role, needs a group of special people who can be moderately objective, aware of the anguish entailed and able to negotiate with highly insecure adoptive families. In the interim time before open adoption/fostering arrangements become universal, it is important to introduce adoptive children to their biological parents at a younger age and not wait until all the myths and prejudices are formed into hard defences.

Latter Day Apologist Organizations.

I see women who have been to contact organisations who offer to assist in reunion where original mothers are trained to approach the adoptive family and say they just want to be their child’s friend, or “like a sister”, that they can never replace their child’s `true parents’ in the child’s life, and generally behave in a self-effacing obsequious manner, and only relate to their adult child in a manner that meets the adoptive family’s approval.

These organisations often use the term `birth mother’ which some say, “Well, at least they are saying we are some sort of mother. ” But others are humiliated and wounded by this term as it is a contradistinction implying that they are mother by virtue of giving birth only. These original mothers say it is an imposed name and is inherently untruthful–there are no other terms like this such as `birth brother’ or `birth family’. It is a reminder, they say, of their humiliation and is there to maintain their diminished status.

Because of these practices and others, such as creating mixed groups of adoptive parents, adoptees and original mothers, before they are ready or the power imbalance addressed, I am highly sceptical of the apologist agenda and the sophistication, orientation and training of these organisations.

The process makes the mothers angry and revives the feelings associated with their original abuse. In my view such organisations, some of which are latter day versions of those responsible for the original abuse, should be disbanded or, at least, have their funding cut off forthwith.

Those counselling the mothers after reunion need a clear idea of the testing behaviour with which adoptees mostly respond. Some of this is due to their stage of development, but it is often an aspect of their identity disturbance, and when this has been insecure they have responded by testing their adoptive parents to see for security’s sake how deep the bond goes. Unfortunately the adoptee makes a habit of testing behaviour, and it is difficult to give up. But it is important to know that in the adoptive situation the person with no idea of their real roots needs such interpersonal strategies to know who is close to them and who they might trust.

Anglo-Saxon Culture and Heredity.

It is important too, to realise that this is Anglo-Saxon culture. We tend to forget that Anglo-Saxon culture is noted for its success for over a thousand years in the successful understanding of practical genetics; they didn’t know what genes were, but said, “It’s in the blood,” and whether they knew about genes or not, they produced the mostly highly productive strains of horses, dogs, cattle, poultry, pigs, pigeons, grains, fruit-trees, oak trees, vegetables and berries to name only some, that are the backbone of the world’s agricultural development and commerce in the Twentieth Century.

In such a culture it is important to know what is `good blood’ and `bad blood’. How temperament in dogs is a pivotal issue above colour or face, which animals are resistant to disease, which ones to weakness or stunting of growth. In whatever manner such a culture sees the same issues in humans, and however regrettable some of the ethical issues that arise from such deeper cultural fantasy, it is still a major issue because, while horses race at Randwick, footballer’s sons repeat their father’s glory, and brothers play in the New South Wales eleven, it does not leave the centre of the cultural stage.

The adoptive parents are aware that the genetics are different; this is some of their insecurity. The child wants to know what his or her genetics are. It is fascinating to hear of a child and their biological parent becoming close enough to say to each other, “And you get that rash just there too.” or “I make jokes like that: I can’t seem to help it.” or “I can’t eat pineapple either.” This may seem trivial but such minor issues underlie an area of understanding and identity that the rest of the community take for granted. I can remember an adoptee where I had been very worried about suicide for many months, telling me about her meeting with her Great-grandmother. I doubt that anybody who doesn’t know the anguish of being an adoptee cut off from their roots, would know what an unbelievable experience meeting a great-grandparent of the same sex would be.

For the mother who is afraid to tell her subsequent family, or the adoptee who defends by conformity to his adoptive family’s requirements, this is a deep-seated issue they have to struggle against, a denial of a pivotal preoccupation which most of the community forget. The counsellor must give them the opportunity to explore this and not suppress their curiosity. However a cruel situation is the adoptee (usually male) who will go to a meeting to satisfy his curiosity but will have nothing else to offer and never contact again.


The identification of those with pivotal senior leadership roles who administered, (or de facto administered) The Act of 1965 in major hospitals and organisations responsible for adoptions, specifically in the years 1965 to 1974 is necessary. It will be important for the mothers to see that there is responsibility somewhere behind an Act of Parliament, even though they were damaged by numerous people ignoring the Act or riding roughshod over treasured legal principles.

Those with Pathological Grief arrested around irresolvable anger at humiliation, repugnant neglect of their needs and even smug abuse: they need to have some idea of how it happened and know the faces of those who organised the taking of their children. In 1997 I gave the paper: Adoption Grief: Irresolvable Aspects. The grief is irresolvable for a number of reasons, but certainly one of them pivots on this issue of accountability.

Without such identification and while public ignorance then and now about the abuse committed on them still exists, these woman live in an Orwellian world where `doublethink’ is everyday. How can they resolve their grief while the public is taken in by the apologists’ myths, rationalisations and excuses.


From many quarters and for over twenty-five years, I have heard from professionals, “It was for their own good.” and “They were relieved when they signed the consent.” and “That’s what they really wanted.” and “I wasn’t involved but I know the professionals all had good intentions.” But the mothers say, “It was the only thing that would keep them away from us. It was our only peace and they said we’d have to sign it anyway.” or, “I didn’t know there was any way I couldn’t.” or, “I tried it for two days and they got worse. I was hoping for somebody to come and help me keep my baby.”

Some professionals said, “We didn’t prescribe the drugs.” or “We didn’t think they were drugged.” or worse still, “I didn’t take any consents”, or various other responses: “They were free to go at any time they signed themselves out. All the young women at our institution wanted to give up their babies; it wasn’t like Crown Street.” and the usual ones of the genres’ “There weren’t any labour wards there. We were only playing leap-frog”, or “I was only obeying orders.”

The Inquiry’s collection of these excuses is likely to rapidly outstrip mine. Nevertheless, considering the massive loss and damage to tens of thousands of lives in New South Wales and the pain and distress that is ongoing, now, these excuses can only be expected to draw more anger and contempt.


Most of these women want recognition of the coercion and humiliation they underwent, and public acknowledgment of their helpless situation and subsequent damage, rather than pecuniary compensation.

Some see the official birth certificate as an affront, as the only links for their child are to the adoptive family, and would like to see acknowledgments of original parents on birth certificates.

They also want as satisfactory reunion as they can manage.

Many women who have taken early steps to seek recompense would have been served well had this Inquiry been instituted some years ago, as seeking redress would not have been the only avenue they could have taken to have their grievances heard. The magnitude of redress required is such that many will continue to seek it, but others will be helped if such issues as Accountability and Assistance with Distress are dealt with adequately.

For those who want redress, The Inquiry will be in a position as a result of wide knowledge of their circumstances to make known some of their legal difficulties.

These are:

To provide widespread knowledge of why The Statute of Limitations was virtually impossible for these women to comply with. Many were so damaged with Pathological Grief, Dissociative Disorder and Depression that it was the last thing they could think of. Many others were developing hard shelled defences against their feelings, and others were retreating under a shell of secrecy driven by shame and guilt. Few had any sophistication about the law.

With this in view, their legal representatives can be given knowledge of the wide range of illegalities perpetuated on these women. In most there would be 16 to 29 (or some other number of illegal acts), some of them under common law, some criminal, such as Common Assault, some Statutory contempt in the sense that prescribed procedures and information were not known to the de facto administrators of The Act or these were ignored, some issues of breach of duty, and others of breaches of Administrative Law.

To take a theme example rather than a specific one; if it is not fair for a frankly damaged woman to take action about `offence eleven’ because the evidence to rebut her story is dead along with a potential witness in the concatenation of illegal acts, what about `offence number six’ where Sodium Pentobarbital has been given to her at 8.30am on the morning she is recorded as having given consent to adoption and the documents are there to leave this fact undeniable?

Consideration should be given for an Act to be introduced to Parliament to clarify the set of circumstances in which these women were abused, and to take account of the wide variety of offences that were committed against them in such a way that the legal process would be seen to be fair by them and the general public.

Such an Act could by-pass a lot of lengthy and costly legal process which hardly any of these women can afford, and even specify, like the Acts for Workmen’s recompense, or motor vehicle accident recompense, a scale of damages they might receive depending upon the degree of damage, thereby making the whole process relatively uncomplicated.

Other Funds Required.

Legal aid damage cases with merit.

Publication funding: wide spread distribution of small publications are necessary for health professionals and the general public to understand what happened, and also publications especially pitched to adoptees.

Travelling funds for reunions: The baby has grown up in Cairns or Holland and reunion is unaffordable by either party.

Training funds: This is for trainers to meet with a younger untainted non-apologist group of counsellors with specific knowledge about losing a baby to adoption and carry through systematic instruction on how these women’s needs might be met.

(Continued in Part 3)


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