A Better Life Part 1

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She was born around 5pm into a welcoming world of smiles and joy. “She’s got dark hair!” the gentle male midwife announced, and then shortly afterwards, “Well, you have your little girl”. I was overjoyed at this miracle of life, delighted that I had a little girl to love, to hold and to keep. Friends popped in to welcome our new addition and my room was filled with flowers and joy.

It wasn’t that way with my first daughter, Caren Lee, born 19 years earlier when I was just 17 and knew nothing of life. She was precious too and I was lucky to see her, to hold her, and to bottle feed her on some days. It wasn’t that way for so many girls who were denied any access to their babies.

Like other girls in my predicament, I had been conditioned to accept that I could not keep her and thereby provide irrefutable evidence of my sexual indiscretion. Ours was a small community and like all small communities, it was fuelled by gossip and innuendo. Hours were spent peeking out from behind lace curtains to check what others were doing and nothing went unnoticed. What the neighbours thought moderated all our moral and social behaviours and no one escaped scrutiny. It was a lesson I learnt early in life when I misbehaved and was scolded by Mum with the old caution, “What will the neighbours think?”

And eventually ‘what the neighbours’ thought would contribute to depriving me of my first born. That and the lack of social and financial support, compounded by the harping messages of maternity hospitals and churches that we were ‘not good enough to be mothers’ and we should ‘give your child a better chance in a loving family’, ensured there was no alternative to relinquishment. That work relinquishment was used for all mothers who surrendered their babies to the system. It implies a voluntaryism that simply didn’t exist. We were pre-conditioned to it, beaten down by the social stigma and the system. We were helpless.

I was shocked to read about a song written by Lina Eve called Crown Street Girls from The Bad Girls series, a story of a girl who gave birth at the Sydney hospital under traumatic circumstances (they all were). Its chorus line says it all:

What will they say? what will they say?
They’d rather give their grandchildren away
Than risk what the neighbours will say.

I never blamed my parents for their part in the adoption of my daughter. It was a canyon-like decision-making process guided by the social mores of the day and there was no way out. The tragedy is that we were all deprived of a child - a grandchild, a niece, a cousin, a sister. It was a family tragedy.

 

What I have learned from life is that there is a timeliness that cannot be grasped before it’s opportunity is presented. That time was fast approaching.