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    There are many different modes and experiences of mothers, some of whom had obstetric complications, there were varying practices between hospitals and there were different mindsets among the mothers, but all had the feeling that the loss of the baby was so quick and so blurred by labour-ward drama and drugs, and eventually so total that it was impossible deal with: Helplessness, Shock, Disbelief.

    They varied from the mother who had come from Melbourne with a wedding ring on her finger, to the younger girl who had accepted the repeated propaganda about being unable to keep her baby because she wouldn’t be able to afford it, or wouldn’t know how to care for him, and that he was going to a lovely home with a beautiful couple who couldn’t have their own baby. And if she did insist they would threaten to call in ‘The Wellfare’ who would take her baby anyway.
    Many were aware of the intense desire of all concerned to take their baby. One young woman teacher, whose twenty year old fiancé couldn’t get the permission signature from his mother to marry, was certain they would kill her to get her baby and was terrified for her own safety. She developed a PTSD with gross dissociation with derealisation and severe depression, to resolve much later to a multiple personality disorder where the damaged personality existed alternately with a militant one who led other mothers throughout the country to organise and ask for redress. This couple was married before the baby was even adopted, the mother found out many years later.

    The thinking of the baby takers led by psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey in NSW and by the obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Lawson in Victoria was that heavy sedative drugging at the time would assist the mothers to ‘ get over it’ and allow them to start ‘a new life’ without any problems. Most commonly used were Pentobarbital and Amylobarbitone, the injectable versions of which were Sodium Pentobarbital, and Sodium Amytal. They were sleep inducing drugs termed hypnotics, and pentobarbital is not to be confused with the longer acting sedative phenobarbital. Other hypnotic drugs such as chloral hydrate were used as were the benzodiazepines such as valium. The important issue for PTSD is that these drugs made the experiences surreal, confused, disorganized and inexplicable. They could not use their cognitive functions to get a reality view of their predicament. They precluded many of the healthy defenses against PTSD. The drugged experience made many of them much worse and probably more subject to the dissociative reactions that many experienced. But their direct effect made the women much more defenseless about losing their babies.


    Dr Geoff Rickarby Consultant Psychiatrist
    November 2014