Most women describe giving birth to a child as a life changing experience – in a word – “challenging”, “joyous”, “miraculous.” But generations of young, unwed women describe their experience of giving birth to a child as a nightmare – and decades later their suffering has yet to end.
From Australia to Spain, Ireland to America, and as recent as 1987, young mothers say they were “coerced”, “manipulated”, and “duped” into handing over their babies for adoption. These women say sometimes their parents forged consent documents, but more often they say these forced adoptions were coordinated by the people their families trusted most...priests, nuns, social workers, nurses or doctors.
Last month, a Dan Rather Reports producer and crew were in Canberra, Australia as Parliament released the findings of an 18-month-long investigation revealing illegal and unethical tactics used to convince young, unmarried mothers to surrender their babies to adoptive homes from the late 1940s to the 1980s. And we interviewed some of the victims -- adoptees and mothers separated at birth.
“One of the happiest days of my life, most proudest achievements, is giving birth and holding my newborn child,” says Senator Rachel Siewert, who oversaw the Australian Senate Committee Report. “These women didn't have that experience. And I can't imagine it.”
Siewert added, “There was a lot of testimony from people that were associated with Catholic institutions. And Catholic Health Services here issued an apology and I understand they're gonna be putting in place some grievance procedures.”
In some cases, mothers in Australia were drugged and forced to sign papers relinquishing custody. In others, women were told their children had died. Single mothers also did not have access to the financial support given to widows or abandoned wives, and many were told by doctors, nurses, and social workers that they were unfit to raise a child. Siewert says, “We heard practices that were either illegal or unethical and downright cruel.”
“It wouldn't surprise me to hear the same thing happened elsewhere,” continues Siewert, “...the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Ireland. So you could, I think, expect that those countries also had these sorts of practices.”
Two weeks ago, a prominent Canadian law firm announced that it would file a class-action lawsuit against Quebec's Catholic Church accusing the Church of kidnapping, fraud and coercion to force unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption.
Attorney Tony Merchant represents several hundred women who claim that when they were in maternity homes in the 1950s and 1960s, social workers, nurses, doctors, and even men and women in the employ of the Catholic Church cooperated with government officials to force or, even coerce, young women to sign away their rights to keep their child never knowing they even had a choice.
Merchant was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying, "The beliefs the Catholic Church (in Quebec) had about premarital sex and the judgmental approach the church had, made it particularly aggressive in pressuring women into putting their children up for adoption."
In Spain, an 80-year-old nun, Sister Maria Gómez, became the first person accused of baby snatching in a scandal over the trafficking of 1,500 newborns in Spanish hospitals over four decades until the 1980s. The babies were either stolen, sold or given away by adoption.
[Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8 ET, Dan Rather Reports on HDNet investigates the disturbing discovery of forced adoptions. Here, Dan Rather gives an exclusive preview.]
Since October, Dan Rather Reports has contacted nearly 100 alleged victims, social workers, researchers, lawyers and authors from around the world to shine a bright light on the issue of forced adoptions. The two most respected books on the subject of “forced adoptions,” Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away and Rickie Solinger's Beggars and Choosers indicate that the tactics used to procure adoptable babies in Australia, Ireland, Canada and Spain were also implemented in the United States.
We have interviewed numerous women in the U.S. who told us that they were sent to maternity homes, denied contact with their families and friends, forced to endure labor with purposely painful procedures and return home without their babies. Single, American mothers were also denied financial support and told that their children would be better off without them.
In some cases, they too were told that their babies had died. Many signed away their rights while drugged and exhausted after childbirth. Others were threatened with substantial medical bills if they didn't surrender or were manipulated through humiliation. According to Fessler, these seemingly unethical practices were used against as many as 1.5 million mothers in the United States.
When we asked these women who say they were victims of “forced adoption” to use one word to describe their experience giving birth…here’s what they told us…
“Sad” states Angie from Colorado, who says at age 19 her pregnancy was kept an absolute secret and that she disappeared before her infant daughter was put up for adoption against her will in 1972. “Sad” also states Chris from Massachusetts, who gave up her firstborn through Catholic Charities in 1969.
“Trauma” states Valerie from Toronto who says in 1970 a Salvation Army matron at the Bethany Home for unwed mothers dropped her off at Grace Hospital in Toronto to labor alone. While crying out in pain during labor, she says a nurse called her a “slut.”
“Barbaric” states Christine, a PhD. candidate at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, who heads the Apology Alliance, made up of individuals and groups from all around Australia who seek an apology for the practices and policies that led to forced adoptions in her country.
“Devastating” states Shawn who was a sophomore in college in 1974 when at age 19 she gave birth to a son she has yet to see in person or touch. During the delivery, she says her doctor forcibly grabbed her foot and said, “I hope this has taught you not to get in trouble again.”
“Horrifying” states Lily who was 17 in 1967 when she says she was “held in slavery for nearly 10 months” in a home for unwed mothers before she says she was forced to give her son up for adoption.
“Traumatic” states Fran from Pennsylvania, who says in 1959 at age 20 she did not give informed consent before her son was placed for adoption. “It was not a choice…it was social policy.”
“Tragic” states Susan, who at age 21 in 1967 says she had to fight just to see her daughter a day after giving birth to her at Miserecordia Hospital in Milwaukee. A supervisor tried to talk her out of it, but she persisted. A few days later, she regrettably agreed to give her daughter up for adoption.
"Torture" states Hanne from British Columbia, Canada, who says at age 16, her baby girl was “stolen...abducted on the delivery table.” “Torture” also states Carlynne from Florida, who says at age 20, she was not able to see, touch or was told the sex of her baby before being forced to put it up for adoption.
“Shattering” states Karen who was living in Virginia in 1966, when at age 18, she says she was “told by Catholic Charities to sign the paper” and give her daughter up for adoption. “I was never told I could visit her in foster care. I didn’t even know she was in foster care. I wasn’t told that I had six months to get her!! To change my mind.. as if I had even made up my own mind. I didn’t...they did.”
“Horrific” states Laura from Virginia, who says at age 16 she was “forced” to give her son up for adoption in 1972. “I was totally coerced from day one.”
“Decimated” states Elizabeth from Melbourne, Australia, who says in 1963 at age 18 she was rendered unconscious before her daughter was taken from her at birth, even though she was married to the father of her baby 11 months before the adoption was finalized. “Decimated” also states Leslie, who at age 17 was going into labor at a maternity home in Alabama when “Sister Martha, the director of the maternity home drove me to the hospital, pulled into the driveway and let me out. I went in and admitted myself. I labored that night (alone) in one of the hallways” because she says she was told the maternity ward was only for married women. Ironically, the son she says was taken from her was born on Mother’s Day 1966.
Carol, was a college freshman in 1966, when she says a social worker in Pittsburgh betrayed her with promises to help her keep newborn son. After the birth, drugged and disoriented, Carol says she unknowingly signed relinquishment papers presented by that social worker as hospital release forms. She needed two words to answer our question, “soul rape.”