Nearly 70 years after her mother was forced to sign away her parental rights, Elizabeth Hughes reveals how forced adoption left them both devastated.
Elizabeth Hughes was born in 1944 in Queen Victoria Hospital in Adelaide.
Her mother fell in love with her father while they were both serving in the RAAF, but when Elizabeth's mother fell pregnant, it quickly emerged that her lover was a married man with a secret family.
The news was an enormous shock to Elizabeth's mother, who being young and unmarried had no choice but to go to the Kate Cocks Memorial Baby Home.
There, she spent her pregnancy scrubbing floors and doing other hard labour to earn her keep. She gave birth in the nearby hospital and was sent back to the baby home, where she was forced to do something that broke her heart, and haunted her until her death in the early 2000s.
"My mother was forced to look after me for one month," Elizabeth says. "She breast fed, she changed me and bathed me but wasn't allowed to cuddle or comfort me.
"It was only basic physical care she was allowed to give. The mothers were banned from doing anything else. They were forced to sit and do nothing while we screamed in our cribs."
After a month, Elizabeth was taken away and given to her adoptive parents. Her mother was given medication to dry up her milk and sent home. Elizabeth doubts she was even given the opportunity to say goodbye.
"My mother was, like a lot of mothers in those days, destroyed by having to give me up for adoption," Elizabeth says. "She never recovered. She was a broken woman the rest of her life."
Tragically, Elizabeth's mother was never able to have more children, despite desperately wanting them. She repeatedly tried to fall pregnant when she married years later but didn't succeed.
"She adored children and so badly wanted a family and she never had one," Elizabeth says. "It was terribly tragic."
But while life was tough for Elizabeth's mother, it was equally difficult for Elizabeth herself.
Although her adoptive family was loving and kind, she suffered feelings of loss and trauma that persist to this day, despite decades of counselling.
"When you're not raised by biological relatives you feel very alone," she says. "You have nobody who you look like, nobody you can identify with, nobody similar to you. And when I eventually found my biological relatives, I didn't fit in with them either.
"You have that hole in your heart which comes from the loss of your mother. You can never repair and never replace that missing piece of yourself."
On the eve of Elizabeth's 50th birthday, she decided to search for her biological mother. She wrote to family services and was stunned when she received a letter back saying her mother wanted contact.
The day she reunited with her mother was one of the most memorable of Elizabeth's life so far.
"As I got out of the car she rushed out of the house in her slippers," Elizabeth says. "It was more important for her to hold me in her arms for the first time in 50 years than it was to take her slippers off. She was absolutely overjoyed and beside herself with relief that I was okay."
Sadly, Elizabeth's mother died 10 years ago. Despite her sadness, she is finally happy in herself, but knows her emotional issues lurk around every corner.
"It's taken a long time but I have a very fulfilled and happy life," she says. "But the issues are with you for life. There are still things that trigger me.
"When I see that old black and white footage of the cribs in the orphanages, I get a severe reaction. It really upsets me when I see those cribs because I know that we were left in those cribs to cry until we could cry no more.
"Nobody came. Nobody comforted us. It was so cruel … so callous. Nearly 70 years later I can be happily going along and seeing something like that will throw me into total turmoil again. It's not something you can ever recover from."
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.
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Video: Hospital apologises for forced adoptions