Four Corners: Given or taken
Brian Hoolahan could do nothing but watch the joy of childbirth turn to horror for hundreds of young women.
During his days as a medical student at the Crown Street Women's Hospital in Sydney, the Nowra obstetrician repeatedly saw babies taken from their unwed teenage mothers moments after birth.
"I remember the girls calling out 'I just want to touch my baby, please let me see my baby' and they were crying and howling and it was the most horrific thing I've ever seen in my life," Dr Hoolahan told the Illawarra Mercury.
"As far as trying to do anything about it, I was absolutely powerless ... I was a young student and I expressed my opinion but nobody really listened."
A Senate inquiry into how tens of thousands of young mothers were forced to give up their children for adoption between the 1940s and 1970s will hand down its findings tomorrow.
In the 1971-72 financial year, about 10,000 children were adopted in Australia, compared with 384 last financial year.
The inquiry heard harrowing claims that babies were taken against their mothers' will and that women were pressured, deceived or threatened in order to secure signatures on adoption consent forms.
"If a teenage girl got pregnant in those days, as soon as she showed she was whisked out of her family environment, her home town and put in a home in a hospital like the one I spent time at in Sydney," Dr Hoolahan said.
"They'd be there for maybe 20 weeks of their pregnancy, then have their babies and they went off home as though they'd been away on a trip or holiday and nobody ever knew they were pregnant.
"That's how it worked."
Dr Hoolahan yesterday recounted the techniques used when the time came to quickly separate a mother and baby, including a crude wooden restraint board.
"This board had a hole in the middle that went across the girl's chest, with a nurse either side holding the girl down," he said.
"The baby was whisked away while she was being held down so the mothers never got to see or touch their child.
"I can still remember it, it was absolutely horrific, it was the cruellest thing I've ever seen.
"It was like something out of the Middle Ages."
He said governments were complicit with the practice because they provided the services for the children to be removed.
Tomorrow's findings are likely to include a statement on whether the then federal government drafted legislation on the practice, which the states and territories then used to compel unwed mothers to hand over their babies.
A formal apology, similar to the one issued by former prime minister Kevin Rudd to the indigenous stolen generations in 2008, could be one recommendation.
- Illawarra Mercury