Sandra was just 17 when her baby boy was ripped from her.
Here, Sandra Welch, 62, tells the story in her own words.
L￼ocked in my bedroom, I cradled my growing belly.
‘They can’t take you away from me,’ I whispered.
At the tender age of 16, I was three months pregnant.
My mum and dad were both horrified at my boyfriend Daniel and me.
‘You need to get rid of it!’ my father fumed.
Living in a small fishing village in Victoria in 1972, they worried about our family’s reputation.
But this was my baby and I’d refused to give up my little one.
As my bump blossomed, I struggled with what to do.
Everyone said I was too young to be a mother and I wondered if my baby would be better off without me, adopted by a loving couple.
As the months crawled by, Mum’s hardened stance began to soften. She wanted me to keep my bub so she could help look after him.
Maybe I can do it? I thought.
After my 17th birthday, when my due date was close, I started going into labour.
And at hospital, on April 28, 1973, I gave birth to a wriggly baby boy, Damien.
He’s so tiny, I thought.
When I reached out my arms to hold him, the nurse turned away.
Then she bundled him into a blanket and quickly strode out of the room.
A doctor explained Damien had a hernia and needed surgery and I could come back and collect him when he was better.
So I headed home with empty arms.
But when I went back to the hospital, ready to take my Damien home, he wasn’t there.
It turned out the papers I thought were to release me from hospital were actually adoption papers.
I’d signed my baby away without even knowing.
I was heartbroken, desperate to know who had my boy.
‘Where is he?’ I cried to the nurses.
I’d never even had the chance to hold him. They’d stolen him from me.
Completely helpless, I went home.
Tragically, a year later, Damien’s dad Daniel passed away in a fire and I was left bereft all over again.
Every day I wished I could see our little boy.
Two years after Damien, I had my second son, Clinton.
Cuddling him, I was overcome with guilt. I should have held Damien like this, I thought.
Aged 20, I had Danny, and then my daughter, Emily.
They were such gorgeous children, but there was something missing.
‘You have an older brother,’ I’d tell them often.
As years passed, I stopped looking inside prams and watched out for toddlers who might be Damien.
As time went on, he was never far from my thoughts.
I’d desperately scan faces in crowds, wondering if one was my son.
Finally, 19 years after his birth, I found the courage to search for him.
Ringing around adoption agencies, I tried to get the word out there.
‘I’m looking for my son who was forcefully adopted out on April 28, 1973,’ I said.
Sadly, I heard nothing back. I was scared my boy might not know he was adopted.
I even worried he might be dead.
In 2013, when Damien would’ve been 40, then prime minister, Julia Gillard, made a formal national apology for the pain caused by the government’s past forced adoption policies.
But it was too little, too late. The damage was done.
Then, in 2018, my cousin Veronica took a DNA test through Ancestry.com. When the results were registered, a man named Jeffrey appeared as a familial match.
The next day, I got a phone call from my sister Claire. ‘We’ve found Damien!’ she cried.
I just burst into tears.
Contacting the Department of Human Services, I got confirmation that my son Damien was adopted out and renamed Jeffrey in 1973.
Sending him a letter, I explained everything.
I always wanted you, but I was never given the chance, I wrote, my tears dampening the paper.
Amazingly, he wrote me back straight away!
Jeff told me he had two daughters, Crystal and Ellie, plus a grandchild, Decoda.
I’m a great-grandma! I thought, feeling amazed.
After exchanging letters, we decided to finally meet on Jeff’s 45th birthday.
Mum, I’m on the way… I love you, he texted before he set off on the three-hour drive with his whole family.
The words made me sob. I’d waited over four-decades to hear him call me Mum.
When he arrived, we both collapsed into a hug.
‘I finally found you,’ I cried.
Holding my beautiful great-granddaughter Decoda, one, I felt a surge of love.
Thankfully, Damien had a wonderful childhood and was raised by two loving parents.
His mum and dad had no idea he’d been adopted without my knowledge. They were told I was a 14-year-old who didn’t want him.
Nine months on, it’s been so incredible reconnecting with my lost son.
I urge other mothers who lost their children to forced adoption to never give up hope.
My heart is so full now and all my dreams have come true.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life, on sale now.
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From 1950 to the late 1970s, thousands of young, unwed mothers in Australia were tricked, believing they were signing a form to register the birth or authorise a medical procedure, when it was actually the adoption consent.
Some were told they had committed a terrible sin and should be ashamed, that they would be unable to raise their child, and were undeserving of a child.
There’s no way of knowing exactly how many forced adoptions there were.
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