Investigate forced adoption, mothers plead
With her hand placed on a bible, Maggie Wilkinson was forced to swear she would not go looking for the baby that was ripped away from her at birth, in the state-sanctioned practice of forced adoption.
In reality, the Waikato woman never stopped looking for her child and when she found her daughter, Wilkinson's fight turned to the people who stole her.
It brought her to the capital to sit in front of MPs on Wednesday, to implore the Social Services Select Committee initiate an inquiry into the post-war practice, which took place in New Zealand during the 1950s to the 1980s.
She and 100 other people who signed the petition also asked that the inquiry "include and acknowledge the abuse, pain, and suffering caused by the state-sanctioned practice of forced adoption".
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Wilkinson shared her story with the MPs.
In an era when women were not yet allowed to seek contraception without first showing the doctor a wedding ring, a 19-year-old Wilkinson received a phone call from her beau.
He asked her to return home to him - which she did, and promptly got pregnant.
When he was summoned to hear the news - and, she hoped, to offer marriage - instead he asked her if she was sure the child was his.
She was sent to St Mary's home for unwed mothers, in Otahuhu, Auckland.
There, she told MPs, she was left bleeding "physically and mentally, after her daughter was taken from her at birth.
"I no longer existed as my child's mother. Then in a flawed act of supreme judgmental, smiling sentimentality, the abductors handed my child to those they deemed more entitled to parenthood, ignoring the reality of my family, my whanau, our history and biological heritage," she said.
"My hand on the bible, promising never to find my precious child. No support, no advocacy, my womb emptied of the wanted product - the state sanctified abduction deemed successful."
Her fight to find out what happened was met with roadblocks in the years following. Attempts to gain access to her records held by the Anglican Church of New Zealand - which carried out the adoption - were mostly unsuccessful.
She was told one set of records were destroyed in floods, while another set was lost in a fire.
Wilkinson sat in Parliament's select committee room three on Wednesday, flanked by her two daughters Vivienne Cory-Wright and Rebecca Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was reunited with her first-born daughter Cory-Wright in 1980, when the then-17-year-old tracked her mother down.
"Losing my daughter to abduction impacted on all of our family - our children who had not been born, when the abduction occurred, it impacted on the man I married because I never got over it.
"The depression I suffered impacted on them all with devastating results."
Wilkinson had made attempts to commit suicide in the past, and told MPs she was also petitioning them on behalf of many women she knew who had successfully taken their lives.
Her incident was not a single event. "It was a nationwide, state-sanctioned, baby-scoop".
Fellow petitioner Christine Hamilton - who told MPs of her own story of losing a child at the Catholic St Vincent's Home of Compassion - estimated thousands of women were involved.
The practice - carried out by the Anglican, Catholic and other Churches - occurred all over the world, and was most famously depicted in the Oscar-nominated film Philomena starring Dame Judi Dench.
In 2013, in Australia, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic national apology in Parliament to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.
Wilkinson said an apology was not her main aim - "an apology requested, is not an apology" - but she wanted the results of an inquiry to be made a matter of public record, so the era was documented.
The Anglican Church in New Zealand has offered to open its books for any inquiry that might be held, but Justice Minister Amy Adams said no Government inquiry into past adoption practices was planned.
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