I didn't see my son for 37 years

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I didn't see my son for 37 years
Barbara Maison and her childhood sweetheart Peter.

Forced adoption tore this family apart. They waited 37 years to be reunited, only to have their time together cut short by a terminal illness.

Barbara Maison and her boyfriend Peter were just 17 years old when they found out she was pregnant.

They had been dating for a while, and had always planned to marry a few years down the track.

Barbara made a little money working in an office and Peter was still at school but they were desperate to keep their baby.

Related: Forced adoption broke my mother… and I will never recover

Unfortunately, none of their parents were willing to support their decision — financially or otherwise — and made it clear that adoption was the only answer.

Barbara was sent to Perth's Alexandra Home for Unmarried Mothers in August 1957, where she stayed until her son was born three months later.

The birth was "nightmarish" and Barbara wasn't allowed to see the baby, or even find out whether it was a boy or a girl.

It was only due to the kindness of one nurse that she saw her baby at all, albeit briefly.

"Peter came to visit me and said, 'What have we got to lose? All they can do is throw you out and you want to get out of here anyhow'," Barbara says.

"So we snuck up to the window. Somebody must have been smiling down at us that day because one of the nurses recognised us so she picked him up and brought him over to the window for us and held him there for a few seconds while we cried. That was the only glimpse I got of my son for 37 years."

After the birth, Barbara became even more adamant she wanted to keep her baby, but was shamed into signing adoption forms.

"I told the matron that I did not want to sign any forms for someone else to take our baby, but was told that if I didn't sign he would be put into an orphanage," Barbara says.

"What a cruel picture that conjured up in my mind: my little baby lying all alone in a bassinette — alone and unloved."

After the adoption was finalised, Barbara returned home to resume her life with Peter. They were together another two years before she broke it off, unable to get over her grief at the loss of their baby.

"I simply could not forget what had happened," she says. "I broke it off with Peter, and broke his heart. He cried for months he told me years later."

Barbara rushed into a marriage, which ended nine years later. She regrets the 'dreadful' union but was thrilled that it gave her two children.

She started searching for her son in the early 1970s and finally found him in 1995.

By that time, Barbara had reunited with Peter and their little family, started nearly 40 years earlier, was together for the first time.

Tragically, Peter died 10 months later after a battle with cancer. His long-lost son was a pall bearer at his funeral, surprising Peter's family and friends who didn't even know his first son existed.

Barbara is still in contact with her son, and is happy with their relationship, despite it not being as close as those she enjoys with her other children.

But although she is finally "content" with her life, Barbara is adamant she will never fully recover from her experiences.

"I'll never come to terms with what they did to us," she says. "Taking away our choice and leaving us feeling so frustrated, so helpless.

"I get flashbacks to that room to this day. I have dreams about it. I'm walking around a big building that's falling to pieces and I have a little naked baby in my arms and I've got nowhere to go and I can't find the way out. I just can't get out."

Related: Forced adoption broke my mother… and I will never recover

A Senate committee has spent the past 18 months collecting testimonies for an inquiry into the forced adoption of Australian children from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Earlier this month, the inquiry recommend the Federal Government formally apologise to those affected by the "illegal" and "unethical" practices and called on all levels of government to contribute to a counselling fund for victims.

Your say: Do you think the government should apologise to people affected by forced adoptions?

Video: Hospital apologises for forced adoptions

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