ARMIDALE woman Jenny McMillan was just 17 when she gave birth alone in a hospital room in 1979.
Her newborn son was taken from her and given up for adoption amid the stigma and prejudice that existed at the time around teen pregnancy.
Yesterday she watched as a landmark apology was delivered by Premier Barry O’Farrell on behalf of the NSW government for past forced adoption practices, saying it was an emotional day for her.
“I’m hopeful that it will give me peace and acceptance,” the 50-year-old from Armidale said.
Mrs McMillan is among an estimated 150,000 women across Australia who were “forced” to give up their children for adoption in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a practice now acknowledged as unlawful and unethical.
She was among a small group gathered at the Armidale City Bowling Club to hear the O’Farrell apology. Now married with two children, Mrs McMillan said although the pain had lessened, the loss of her son affected her for decades.
“My heart was shattered and it never repaired fully,” Mrs McMillan said.
She was in sixth form at school when she fell pregnant, she says.
She hid the fact from her parents until at five months, her growing belly gave her away.
“My mother exploded. I was wrenched out of school and locked up at home,” Mrs McMillan said.
“There was so much stigma and shame surrounding out-of-wedlock pregnancies at the time and I was very young.”
Although her boyfriend was supportive and committed, the pregnant teen was told by her parents there was no options available other than adoption.
“I wanted to keep him, but it was made very clear to me that I would have to give him up.”
She went into labour after dinner one night and was dropped off at the Mater Hospital in Newcastle, where she was drugged and gave birth to a son in the morning.
She said she was denied legal representation and still under the influence of drugs when she was given adoption papers to sign.
“I was emotionally fragile and felt very isolated. I saw that he had 10 fingers and 10 toes, then he was taken from me.”
When the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1980, allowing for Mrs McMillan to finally search for her long-lost son, she felt compelled to find him.
She was reunited with her son when he was 19 years old and described the meeting as “one of the best days of my life”.
“We now have a good relationship but it’s more like a distant cousin than a mother-and-son relationship,” she said.
The new family relationship led to the downfall of another, with Mrs McMillan saying she has been estranged from her mother for some years.
“I’ve tried to forgive but there are things I cannot get past,” she said.
Member for Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay said there were many people in the electorate welcoming the apology.
“Hopefully this apology will provide some comfort to those affected by past adoption practices by acknowledging the hurt suffered by the women forced to relinquish their babies, the fathers of those children and the children themselve,” Mr Torbay said.
Mrs McMillan said she wanted to make people aware that the practice of forced adoption wasn’t just confined to earlier eras, but continued into the ’70s and early ’80s.
“These things did happen.”