Della MacLeod-Jenkins’ story tells like a sub-plot out of the Australian drama series Love Child, which is based on the forced adoption practices of the 1960s and ’70s. However, there’s nothing made-up or enhanced for the benefit of the screen when she tells her story, voice snagging, hands quivering.
Della was brutally raped at the age of 17 and, when she refused to have an abortion, she was sent to a home for unmarried girls in Sydney.
Della speaks bravely of the stigma of shame worn by the girls in that home, and the heart-wrenching experience of her first child’s birth.
“The birth of my baby should have been the happiest night of my life, but instead it turned into a nightmare,” she said.
“I was led down a long corridor and placed in a theatre-like room and then a sheet was placed in front of me, blocking my vision of anything below my waist. I was led through the birth and then heard the baby cry. Footsteps. And then silence.”
Della was left in that sterile room until a matron came in to tell her she wasn’t fit for motherhood and that her baby would be given to a loving family who deserved her. She was tricked into signing adoption papers and spent 18 long years wondering if she would ever meet her daughter.
“Every day for 18 years I believed that I would meet her and see her for the first time ever. It did happen. My heart did not mend immediately. That has taken many years and I still feel gutted at times when the memories of the pain surface unexpected. But I never hated the people responsible for what they did to us,” she said.