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Forced adoptions heartache

BLAIR RICHARDS, The Mercury (Australia) October 09, 2011

DIFFICULT: Robyn Cohen has told her emotion-charged story to a Senate committee.

IN 1969 Robyn Cohen gave birth to a baby girl at the former Gore St public hospital in South Hobart.

She was 18 and, like thousands of other young unmarried mothers, was given no choice but to put her baby up for adoption.

Mrs Cohen is one of more than 300 women so far to give evidence to a Senate committee investigating forced adoption in Australia.

While she had the option of providing her evidence anonymously, Mrs Cohen chose to put her name to her story.

"It's incredibly difficult to do something like that for public consumption, but I didn't want to remain anonymous because I'm not ashamed of what happened" she said.

But for most of her life Mrs Cohen was ashamed.

Her memories of a painful and frighteningly unassisted labour are still vivid.

Immediately after the birth, Mrs Cohen's baby was whisked from the room. She begged to see it, but nurses said "it's best for you not to".

She didn't even know if the baby was a boy or girl.

Once she was allowed to see the child, but only for a very short time and only because of her persistent requests. By then she was too distressed to touch her daughter, and her face is still a blur.

While it might sound incredible, the details of Mrs Cohen's story are similar to many of the submissions made to the Senate committee.

Mrs Cohen said that in the 1960s, not only were unmarried women deemed unfit to be mothers, a lack of options for infertile couples meant many married couples were in the market for a baby.

"There was no IVF, it wasn't invented. Unmarried mothers met the need for a supply. It was like a baby supermarket, that's how I think of [the babies] lined up in their cribs waiting to be collected by adoptive parents," she said.

"It's not a choice to adopt out your child when you're only given one thing to consider."

Mrs Cohen said after leaving hospital she was expected to resume life as it was before.

She eventually married and had two more children.

But it would be 20 years before she spoke to anyone about her first baby.

Seven years ago she started having counselling and, after decades of believing she was bad for giving away her baby, has begun to heal.

Mrs Cohen said the fact that she was able to submit evidence to the Senate inquiry and to speak to the Sunday Tasmanian showed how far she had come.

"I couldn't have done this six months ago," she said.

Mrs Cohen hopes the Senate inquiry will recognise that the legal and human rights of mothers were violated by forced-adoption practices.

"I want the illegal acts that were performed recognised. Only after that would an apology be appropriate," she said.

"The minute I asked for my baby in the delivery room and they said no, they were breaking the law."

Mrs Cohen and her daughter were reunited in 1989 and remain in contact.

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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