BEV Shipway’s story of a life marred by shame and lies is just one of many born of the Australian Government’s policy on forced adoptions.
After 37 years, the Quinns Rocks resident finally feels able to talk about the pain and guilt she experienced after being forced to give her baby up for adoption when she was 17.
Documents from the adoption and a “snapshot” of her experience feature in the National Archives of Australia exhibition Without Consent: Australia’s Past Adoption Practices, showing in Wanneroo from December 1.
Ms Shipway discovered she was pregnant in 1979 after moving to Perth from country WA.
“I got pregnant; the father didn’t want to know about it, he didn’t even think it was his,” she said.
By the time her mother found out, it was too late for an abortion and she was taken back home.
“She told me how terrible it would be and the shame it would bring on the family,” she said.
The teenager agreed to consider adoption but only after the birth, when she then decided she wanted to keep her newborn son.
She left the hospital having not seen or held him.
“The social worker kept coming out telling me I had to sign the adoption papers and I didn’t want to,” she said.
“She just kept saying ‘you have to agree to adoption otherwise he’d be put into foster care and eventually become a ward of the state’.”
Then the worker proposed she could hold her son after signing the adoption papers, which she did, believing she would be able to get him back.
“Somebody stood over me, watching me, then they told me ‘That’s enough, you have to go now’,” she said.
“I was never actually told what adoption was. I was told I could see him whenever I wanted and he would come back to me when he was 18.”
On receiving receipt of her consent, Ms Shipway discovered she had six weeks to change her mind about the adoption.
But at the then Department of Community Welfare, she was told it was too late and “very inconvenient”. After being directed to various locations and given reasons why it could not happen, she gave up.
“I knew I’d been screwed over by then. It’s pretty bad your family not thinking you’re good enough to be a mother, let alone society,” she said.
She “continued on with life”, getting married four years later and having her first of two children in 1989.
A letter inquiring about her son went unanswered.
In retrospect, Ms Shipway understands why she found herself crying every few weeks.
Then in 2011, her adult son made contact and wanted to meet.
“It was surreal because I had never allowed myself to imagine he was a person,” she said.
“I hadn’t looked for him as I thought it would be too hard having someone just pop up in his life.
“When he met me he said he had never been able to dream or anything and it felt like a part of him was missing.
“It was like I was back holding this little baby in my hands.”
They remained in contact until late 2012.
“I think it was just easier for him to cut ties,” she said.
“I’m grateful for the experience because I didn’t know it but I was living a half life, it was in black and white and it’s in colour now.
“I just wish I had dealt with the emotional trauma, I had layers and layers of emotional trauma sitting there.”
Life began spiralling downward; Ms Shipway separated from her husband, was drinking heavily and moved to New South Wales.
But she returned at the end of 2014, crediting practising the Emotional Freedom Techniques for helping her to cope.
She also described the WA Government’s apology in 2010 for the forced adoption policy of babies born to unwed mothers and 2013 national apology “hugely” helpful.
“I’m happy with who I am now and that’s only because of the apology,” she said.
“It should never have happened.
“I was a minor; their (social workers) job was to look after me and my baby and they didn’t look after either of us.”
Ms Shipway said the exhibition was important to raise awareness of what she described as “pretty bad Government policy”.
“The exhibition is for me but also for humanity as a whole,” she said.
“Other women mightn’t carry my body but they carry my experience.
“I still have to carry it but it’s made me who I am.
“It’s made me a much better, more compassionate human being.”
The exhibition opened in Kalgoorlie in February and this is its only showing in Perth.
It will be on display at the Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre from December 1 to January 14.