My baby was stolen from me
My baby was stolen from me
The Australian Women's Weekly | June 2022 Written by Megan Norris
At the notorious Magdalene home for wayward girls in Brisbane, Lily McDonald's newborn baby was wrenched from her arms forever and so began one mother's crusade for justice that ultimately led to a national apology. Ten years later, Lily tells the whole story.
The hot, lazy days of 1967's 'summer of love' were filled with endless possibilities for dreamy teenager Lily McDonald, who was deeply in love and happily immersed in the new pop-rock scene of swinging '60s Brisbane.
Lily's favourite memories of those heady summer days were of curling up in bed at the inner-city flat she shared with the handsome young guitarist she planned to marry, while he serenaded her to sleep with the love song he had penned for her.
Tragically, however, on a sultry February night, the summer of love came to a sudden, terrifying halt for the lovebirds when Lily - who was a month shy of her 17th birthday - was woken by two burly policemen and hauled off to jail.
Her "crime" was that she had fallen in love and was six weeks pregnant. The following morning, Lily was frogmarched before a magistrate, charged with being "exposed to moral danger" and remanded in custody to the notorious Magdalene home for wayward girls in Wooloowin. There, she spent a harrowing week locked in an empty dormitory while the authorities made half-hearted attempts to locate her mother, who had recently moved to Sydney with Lily's stepfather and seven younger siblings.
With her father in jail and her mother's whereabouts unknown, Lily was made a ward of the state and ordered to serve a period of indefinite detention at the Holy Cross Retreat, where the Sisters of Mercy were committed to correcting the ways of erring young delinquents like herself.
While her stricken boyfriend, Steve Blenko, 20, headed to Sydney to obtain her mother's permission for a special marriage licence that would secure Lily's immediate release, the bewildered teenager disappeared behind the walls of the institution, and into the system.
When he returned to the home with the signed marriage papers - which Lily also signed - the Mother Superior refused to give them back, and threw him out, saying they were too young to marry.
On September 1, 1967, Lily, who had turned 17, finally went into labor and was admitted to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital where she was shackled to a bed like the common criminal the authorities had deemed her to be.
"I gave birth on my side in a painful running position, with one leg tied to a stirrup and the other pulled behind me while a nurse pinned me down by my shoulder - face down into the mattress and unable to move," recalls Lily, now 72 and a grandmother.
After an agonizing 17-hour labour, Lily finally delivered a healthy baby boy who was whisked away before she had a chance to see him.
For days, Lily begged to see her son, unaware he was hidden in the hospital nursery, and that the paperwork had already been prepared for his adoption.
"I managed to get word to Steve that I'd had the baby, and he sneaked in to visit me," says Lily, who named her son Shane Stefan McDonald after his father.
"I was allowed to see him once before I left, and only through the nursery window."
But when the social worker from Children's Services heard about the forbidden visit, she threatened to extend Lily's term of detention, saying her baby would go into foster care and she would spend the next five years trying to prove she was fit to have him back.
"She said, by then my baby's father and my son would have moved on - a would grow up hating me for taking him from the only home he'd known."
Distraught and drugged on the hospital's "heartbreak ward", the confused teenager was cruelly coerced into signing the adoption papers giving her precious son away.
"I was allowed to see him once before I left, and only through the nursery window," she reveals from her home on Queensland's Gold Coast. "He had beautiful fair hair and his dad's olive skin."