Church’s taking of newborn “abduction”
Maggie became pregnant in 1964 and about three months into her pregnancy went to St Mary’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Auckland to have her baby. The home was run by the St Mary’s Homes Trust Board, a social service affiliated with the Anglican Church. After the delivery, the matron removed the baby while Maggie was sleeping, and she saw her briefly only one more time – an act Maggie calls abduction.
Maggie said she suffered dehumanising emotional abuse while at St Mary’s. She said all the heavily pregnant women there endured a relentlessly heavy work schedule and weren’t given enough to eat so they would have small babies and minimise the risk of delivery problems. “The regimented discipline was excessive, cruel and incapacitating.”
As a punishment for getting upset at a fellow resident, staff induced the delivery without medication. The delivery was difficult, and Maggie was left with physical complications. “I was torn to pieces inside.” No postnatal treatment or support was offered. Maggie was given medication without her consent to stop lactation. A nurse allowed the baby to remain briefly with Maggie. When Maggie fell asleep, the baby was taken away. Maggie was called to say goodbye before the baby was given away but was not allowed to touch her. “No-one bothered to look back at the grief of the sacrificing mother.”
Eight days after the birth, Maggie was taken to a law office and made to sign the adoption papers without legal advice and without being told her rights. “I was discharged from St Mary’s without my baby two weeks after the birth. I was discharged bleeding, both physically and mentally.” For years afterwards, she grappled with grief and depression.
In about 1992 Maggie met the manager of the trust that ran St Mary’s. He wrote to the Bishop of Auckland, Bruce Gilberd, to say the church care of her was “damning and damaging” and suggested that he would like the bishop to speak to her. Bishop Gilberd called Maggie and apologised over the phone. She requested the Anglican Church publish a written acknowledgement and apology in its newsletter and in the New Zealand Herald. This was done. “I believe that apology was only spoken and written to merely keep an angry woman quiet.”
In 2014, Maggie requested her medical file from the trust, but it told her a fire had destroyed the records. When she requested her records from the church’s archives, she was told the papers were destroyed when a hot water tank burst.
Maggie engaged law firm Cooper Legal to seek financial compensation from the church. Mediation was arranged. Maggie said she found the first question of the trust’s representative offensive. “When I walked in, she asked me: ‘Margaret, were you brought up in the faith?’ I didn’t feel that was relevant or appropriate. The mediation experience was awful. As a consequence, my depression intensified.”
Lawyers for the trust and the church’s Auckland diocese sent her a letter in March 2016, which, to her mind, deflected responsibility for the way she was treated by saying the practices Maggie described would not be permitted today. “I take great exception to the inference that it was perhaps the fact that I was a rather pathetic child and that was the reason I did not cope with the treatment at St Mary’s.”
Maggie was offered six counselling sessions. The mediation process cost Maggie $10,000 in legal fees, which the church refused to help pay for.
In 2015, Maggie asked Police to investigate the matter. They said they could not bring charges for abduction or kidnapping, although they might have been able to if the matron, Rhoda Gallagher, had still been alive.
During the inquiry’s faith-based redress hearing, the church contacted Cooper Legal to say it had reopened her case. It subsequently offered Maggie monetary compensation, funding for legal expenses and a contribution towards legal aid, which she accepted.
“The [money] offered will not, and never will, compensate for the loss of my first child, but I believe my tenacity has been worth it.”
Maggie said the church should fund an independent counselling service for the mothers and the children taken by institutions. It should also issue a public apology to affected mothers and children, and dedicate a stained-glass window at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland to the mothers and children affected by adoption. She also wants changes to the country’s adoption laws.
Next: Ms M