Redcliffe Pier

Sunday, August 12, 2012

THE MISSING PAGE FROM MY STORY

I started writing "My Story" in 2009. I started from when we migrated to Australia 1949 when I was almost seven. In 2010 I published these posts in a book called, "Freshly Baked Rolls with Lashings of Butter". This was related to my mother's joy at having unlimited food on board the ship bringing us to Australia after my parents had suffered six years of war and four years of rationing afterwards.
Then I continued "My Story" posts in 2011 covering my teenage years, my college years, my time in PNG,  and my first years of marriage and travel. It has taken me until 2016 to get this part finished and I want to publish this part also for my children and grandchildren.
However, there is a page missing from life story. It was in the year 1960 when my life took a turn for the worse. I have found it too hard to write about in the past but now I feel I must make the effort to make it a true account of my life story.
So here goes ............................

In September 1959 school holidays I went on holidays with my parents to Woolgoolga a northern NSW beach. We rented an on site caravan and spent the warm spring days swimming, fishing and exploring. We made friends with another family camping there. There were two boys about the same age as me. We were shy of one another at first but after a while the eldest boy LB and I became good friends. We loved talking and walking along the beach. He taught me to fish and I taught him all about the biology of the rock pool organisms (my favourite subject at school). We went rowing on the lake and we went to the movies. By the time our holidays had come to an end we had fallen in love.

He was a university student studying chemical engineering. He worked part time at BHP Steelworks in Newcastle where he lived with his parents. Newcastle is a big town north of Sydney about a three hour drive. After we arrived home, LB and I exchanged letters every week. It was my final term at school and I had to study hard, so in a way it was good that we lived a long way away from each other.

When school finished and exams were over, I had to wait for the results and to see if I had been accepted for Sydney Teacher's College, where I wanted to study to become a PE teacher. While I was waiting, LB's parents invited me to stay with them during the university break. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to see my love again. I caught the old steam train of those days. LB had a car and he picked me up at the station. His parents were very friendly and I had a good time there. LB took me on day trips to National Parks and other attractions. He also took me for a tour of the BHP Steelworks which I found fascinating to watch them make steel out of iron ore.

It was time for me to return home to celebrate Christmas with my family. We had a wonderful time together and we were madly in love. We made arrangements for LB to come to Sydney in the next university break.

During the following weeks we kept up our prolific letter writing. I had received my exam results and I was pleased to have passed the Leaving Certificate but I had not been accepted into Teacher's College. My Dad helped me get a job as a Laboratory Assistant in the Animal Husbandry Dept at the University of Sydney. I used to catch a train into Central Station and then a bus to the university.

I had only been there a month or so when I started feeling sick, I was uneducated about pregnancy and didn't know about morning sickness. Anyway, I was sick all day. I was worried that I could be pregnant but I had never had regular periods so I wasn't sure. Finally, my mum took me to the doctors to find out why I was throwing up all the time. After the doctor examined me and told us that I was pregnant my mum was devastated and I couldn't think straight.

It must be remembered this was 1960. Sex before marriage was not socially acceptable and it was only bad girls and sluts  that got pregnant while still single. There was no such thing as single mothers. Mum and I didn't talk all the way home. She went to bed and stayed there for a week. I had disappointed her so much. I had bought ill repute to her family. After all she had done for me how could I do this to her. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to make it better for her. I didn't know what I was going to do with myself. My Dad came home from work and I couldn't look at him so I said I was sick and went to bed and cried myself to sleep. What an idiot I had been. I had ruined my life and my parent's reputation. Occasionally, I was angry with Mum for never talking to me about sex education, but I think she was brought up not to talk about such things. Anyway, it may not have changed what happened. I am so pleased that sex education is part of the school curriculum now. I wish it had been when I was at school.

I can't remember all the details of this time in my life because I spent thirty years trying to rub it out of my memory and my life. However, I do remember the next day when my Dad arrived home from work he came into my room and gave me the biggest hug ever and said, "This is going to be an experience for you, but one you could do without." We will help you through it. I dissolved into tears and blubbered in his loving arms. He seemed to know and understand how easy it was to make such a bad mistake.  A few days later Mum appeared and I tried to apologise but I didn't do a very good job of it.

I thought it was time to tell LB. I didn't want to write so I rang him. It wasn't easy. Naturally he was upset too. He asked what I wanted to do. I said I wasn't sure and could we talk about it when he came down for the next uni break.which was soon.

One evening Mum and Dad had a talk to me about my options. They asked me if I wanted to marry LB. I wasn't sure. Would LB asked me to marry him? It would mean he would not be able to afford to finish his university degree. I wouldn't ever get to college to be a teacher. I felt I was too young (17) to be a mother. I wouldn't know what to do with a baby. How could we afford a home to bring up a baby? I didn't want to be a housewife just yet. I didn't want this baby. (Something I regretted saying for the rest of my life, and I have felt guilty about to this day.)

Abortion was not only illegal but I was already over three months gone and it was too dangerous.

Mum had found out that I could register with the Sydney Women's Hospital almoners and they would try to find a place for me to live and work and they would arrange for the baby to be adopted. This way I wouldn't have to stay home and embarrass my parents or myself when I started to show. I was so lucky that my parents loved me so much that they could remain supportive even though I had put them in a socially unacceptable family situation.

By the time LB drove down from Newcastle to spend some time with us I had made up my mind to have the baby adopted and hopefully get back to my normal life and try again to get into Teachers College. I also hoped LB and I could continue our relationship and get married when we were qualified and then start a family. I can imagine it must not have been easy for LB to face my parents but they didn't say anything other than you need to discuss what to do and they left us alone. Our meeting was awkward and things didn't seem the same as when we were last together. However, LB did say in a half hearted way, "Do you want to get married?" I looked at him and thought he doesn't really want to, he's just doing what he thinks is right. That sealed it for me and although I had thought he might have been offended when I told him my plans, I no longer thought this would be the case. In fact he was relieved when I answered, "No not yet."  I told him I was going to have the baby adopted and we could both get qualified and then get married and start again. He was happy with my decision. He stayed for a week and we tried to do fun things like go on drives to National Parks and we visited the new dam but neither of us were really happy. We said our goodbyes and planned to see each other again in the next uni break.

His letter writing dropped off but I was still in love with him. I went to Newcastle in the next break to see him. He organised for me to stay in a hotel because I wasn't welcome at his home anymore. It turned out that he had told his mother that I wanted to have the baby adopted. Even though she wanted her son to finish uni and not get married she wasn't happy about my decision. She wanted to keep the baby and bring it up as LB's sibling. I didn't think that was a good idea. So that is why I was not welcome any more at their house. Anyway that is the story he told me which may not have been true. During this visit he was acting strangely, he didn't want to be seen in public with me. He said he didn't want his mum to find out that I was there. (Many years later I found out that he actually had another girlfriend and he didn't want her to see him with me.) I said goodbye and told him I would like to see him again after the baby was born. He agreed and off I went still madly in love with him.

In the meantime Mum, Dad and I were all still going to work everyday but I was the only one throwing up every day for five months. I had to give notice at work and I gave them a story about my family moving to the country for work. I attended the hospital for a meeting with the almoners and they said they would contact me when a place became available. By the time I was six months and my tummy was getting fat I finally got the call. I was given a place in a Tresillian Home for mothers and babies on the other side of Sydney. This home was run by catholic nuns and it was like a small hospital that cared for mothers and babies who were sick or having feeding or sleeping problems. There were trainee nurses there as well. There was also a cleaning staff all made up of unmarried pregnant girls like me. We were given board and lodging but we were not paid.
Tresillian Home, Petersham, Sydney
We lived in a small two story building at the back of the big 'home'. I shared a small bedroom with another girl. The best thing about being there was having the company of other girls in the same situation. Most of them had heartbreaking stories of being disowned by their parents and thrown out of their home. Others had been raped, some by their own fathers. I felt so lucky that my parents didn't throw me out and I knew that I had a home to go to when it was all over.

The work was hard. We had to wash baby clothes by hand and boil the sheets and towels in old fashioned copper. We had to prepare the meals for the patients and staff, we had to wash up and clean the kitchen at the end of every meal. We had to sweep and scrub the floors and remove nurse's shoe scuff marks with steel wool. We had to clean the nurses rooms as well as the wards. We had to prepare morning and afternoon tea for the matron and carry it up two flights of stairs to her room (that was one of the cushy jobs). One of the worst jobs was cleaning the tide marks off the bath and scrubbing toilets when one is heavily pregnant.

A few of the nuns were kind to us and reminded us to take care of ourselves. Others treated us like slaves and said we were paying for our sins. However, I was fairly happy there because I knew I was not likely to be seen by anyone I knew and I was away from causing my family embarrassment and I was looking after myself.

My mum was wonderful. She used to sew me maternity clothes and catch the train to visit me and she would take me out for lunch on my day off. I would ask her what is it like to give birth and she said it wasn't too hard but she also said, "I wish I could do it for you."We were given a day off now and then to attend the hospital for check ups. At one of these visits I had to see the almoners and arrange for the baby to be adopted. I had to give details of the father's appearance, health and education level as well as mine so that they could match up adoptive parents.

Early on the morning of 11 September, I woke with pains in my tummy but it was three weeks before I was due. My room mate said, "Hang on its not your turn. I'm supposed to be the next one to get out of here!" She was joking and very kind to me. She notified the nuns. Luckily, I had a friendly one to come and see me. She told me what to do when the pains came. She ordered an ambulance and rang my parents and off I went to hospital with mixed feelings of joy to be getting out of this situation, and  that of the fear of childbirth.

I was in a public ward full of migrant women from Italy mostly. They were screaming in pain and that scared me. However, a nice nurse came and said try not to listen to them. It is their custom but its not necessary. So I thought okay no screaming from me. After 12 hours of labour the baby was born without too much drama. Suddenly, my mental state changed as my body was flushed with mothering hormones. I wanted to see my baby but as I sat up I was pushed back down onto the bed and a pillow placed on my chest so I couldn't see over it. The nurse said, "It's best you don't see it."

I felt sad, when I thought I would feel happy that it was all over. I fell asleep for a long time. When I awoke babies were being brought to mothers for feeding but not me. I just wanted to see my baby but knew I couldn't so I asked other mothers if I could see theirs. They proudly showed me but gave me a weird look. The next day I was moved to another Tresillian home at Vaucluse. This is where mother's without babies went to recuperate. My parents came to visit me and gave me some Geographic Magazines to read. I tried to hide that I had been crying most of the night. However, I was happy to be going back home soon. The next day a nurse came to see me and give me drugs to stop making milk. She looked at my Geographic Magazines and said, "We don't usually get well educated girls in here." That didn't help me feel any better. Bouts of extreme sadness would envelope me and I couldn't stop crying until an older lady patient said to me, "Just think, Diane, you are going to make someone very, very happy to have a baby." That did make me feel much better and I kept telling myself that when I felt bad. The older patient had already got nine children and said they just couldn't afford another one so she was having it adopted. She was very kind to me and not judgemental like many others and she tried to make me feel better.

I had to stay a bit longer than some other girls because my baby was jaundice and he couldn't go home with his new parents until he was fit. It wasn't until then that I was told that I had a boy. I couldn't go home until I had signed the papers and I couldn't do that until he was well. That was the hardest thing I ever have had to do, sign my baby away, but I had to push emotion aside and remember what was best for him and me at that time. As much as I wanted to hold him and love him, I knew I couldn't bring him up as well as the new parents. Anyway, I couldn't take him home and shame my family. I doubted LB really wanted to marry me. So I signed the papers with a shaky hand and tears in my eyes. Afterwards, my parents came to pick me up. I did feel good to be with them again. My mum looked after me so well.

My Dad helped me find another job as a laboratory assistant with Bond's Wear this time. I made new friends and I started making contact with a few of my old friends but I had to tell them I had been working in the country. I'm not sure I convinced all of them. However, due to the social stigma of the time, I had to keep this experience a secret and try to forget about it and get on with my life. I never realised how hard it was going to be to forget that I had a son somewhere in the world, who I would never be able to see or know. The adoption laws prohibited any contact or information  between the natural mother and the adoptive parents or the child.

For the next six years I cried myself to sleep many nights wishing I could see, hold and have my baby. For the next 30 years I wondered what he looked like, what was his name, what was he doing, was he happy, where was he living, were his parents good parents, and was he even alive. When I was teaching and I had boys the same age in my class. I used to look at them and wonder what my son looked like.

At the end of 1960 I had applied for Teacher's College in NSW again and was declined a place. I also applied to study at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) to teach in Papua New Guinea but I wasn't accepted. So I continued on at Bond's Wear in 1961. Towards the end of the Year I applied again to get accepted into ASOPA and I also applied to do a Technical Course  to become a qualified Laboratory Technician in Biology.



10 comments:

  1. Thank you for sending me the link to this post Diane. My eyes teared up as I read your experiences...life was so cruel with that 'clean break' ideal. You were so brave.

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  2. Such a heartbreaking and courageous story Diane. Yes, the stigma of that time was incredible and, indeed, laughable, were it not so hypocritical and cruel. Thank goodness your parents' love and caring came to the fore in the end. I hope you can stop carrying that guilt for something you thought and said when you were only a tender 17 years old. It was a natural and honest reaction at the time and for those circumstances. I'm sure you'd say the same thing to a friend if they were telling you this story, so be kind to yourself. I admire you in sharing this missing page from your story. Hugs, Sue xx

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  3. Things were so different then. Grateful you had loving and accepting parents to help you through. I'm guessing your son grew to be a fine man with parents who cherished him deeply.

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  4. You are amazingly courageous to write so openly about such a difficult period in your life. What an impossible position you were in at that time. How times have changed for the better.

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  5. That was brave of you to write that and I admire your courage now and back then. People who have not experienced the 50s and 60s might find themselves hard pressed to understand. It was not so much my mother's generation but certainly my grandparents' who were cruel towards unmarried mothers, more so women than men. Is it because men have some public guilt? Your father seemed to quickly understand and offer comfort. As you say, you were lucky with having supportive parents when so many did not. Aboriginal/mixed blood women fared very badly in such places as Tresillian Home.

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  6. Oh Diane that would have been so hard for you. It's difficult to imagine these days how taboo it was back then. I'm so happy your parents were supportive, I'm sure there were many who weren't. It takes two to tango and yet it was always the woman who carried the burden, thank heavens times have changed, although I should imagine there are still some women even today who find themselves in similar circumstances.Thank you for sharing Diane, hopefully it relieved some of the pain for you xxx

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  7. I hope you can feel peace by now, Diane. You did the best possible things in a difficult situation and your parents were wonderful as well. Big hugs!

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  8. You did the best you could for everyone concerned. How heartbreaking not to be able to see and hold your baby even once. Did he find you later?

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  9. It was very brave of you to share this part of your story, Diane. It was a different era then and you were so young! It must have been so scary and heartbreaking for you, and I'm sure even now you wonder about your son. Did you ever try to get in contact with him? Records are being opened so much more now. In any event you gave him life and made him and his adoptive parents happy. ((hugs)) to you!

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  10. thank you for sharing your story Diane, i feel so sad for you. it was very courageous of you and giving away your child must surely be the hardest thing a women ever has to do. thank goodness your parents were supportive to you. isn't it ridiculous that these days is is almost the norm for young people to have children and not get married. how times have changed.

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