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Similarly brainwashing was used extensively. Most in Catholic care had been taught what to think, how their role was to proceed and how to perceive themselves. Most of this was done kindly, but consistently with little or no effort to find out what the young woman was thinking or feeling.

Decades later, in such a state of mind, a woman suffering from PTSD and Pathological Grief still has the brainwashing imprinted upon her in doctrinal fashion during a time of entrapment and heightened crisis. It continues indefinitely with intrusive symptoms, irresolvable grief, and distorted personality, shaped by thoughts of keeping her shame a secret and attempts to mitigate her guilt.

In many women I have seen a secondary trauma when they eventually find out the lies told about the four weeks The Act provided for them to change their mind. The fobbing off, such as ‘ring me if you change your mind” then, “You can’t do that to your baby dear.”, accompanied by various strings of fabricated pseudo-story about the baby’s current circumstances. In NSW they could go to the office of the Supreme Court building and change their mind during the first month, a secret that was tightly kept and never got out. This could hit them as an acute emotional shock. Many would have still not been able to do this because of their fear of The Welfare or from having sources of financial support hidden from them as well.

Labour wards in those days were Spartan. The smells were strange and various. Smells associated with doctors and hospitals are a frequent trigger for previous frightening circumstances, particularly when the mysterious pains of a primigravid labour are upon her already. The back pain of first labour is often both unexpected and mysterious. In a young woman’s predicament how does she ask about this, how does she seek relief or even the knowledge that this is usual? The whole experience is set up to amplify every aspect of trauma that might develop. How does she ask if the baby will be ‘alright’ when the nurses will be defended against being close to her? She is surrounded by strangers.

Add to all this, the ‘induced labour’ and drips generally. Often there might be unexpected injections, changing into a hospital gown, being put up in stirrups for examination,or being catheterized. People coming and going: who are they? What are they doing?

As labour progresses there may be brief words exchanged between staff. It there is hurry or sudden concern shown she thinks “is there something wrong? Is the baby okay?” When there is a change of plan, new equipment, others called in, she is vulnerable. And, at the end of all that, there is the primal index event:

My awareness of this fundamental enormity was to be focused three years after I had been made aware of the deep seated damage to both parents as a result of such coercive loss.


Dr Geoff Rickarby Consultant Psychiatrist
November 2014