Former unwed mom says B.C. forced her to give up baby
By Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun March 16, 2012
Hanne Andersen was an athletic 15-year-old living in North Vancouver when she was raped.
Six weeks later, she found out she was pregnant.
She had helped raise her younger siblings and wanted to keep the baby. But it was 1982 and social workers convinced her parents - neither were Canadian citizens at the time and unsure of the rules - that the best thing was to send Andersen to a Salvation Army maternity home for unwed girls called Maywood.
Andersen didn't realize it then, but that made her a temporary ward of the state and gave her no say in whether she could keep the baby. She was told she had to give the child up for adoption.
"There was lots of indoctrination going on there," Andersen, now 44, recalled Thursday.
"We had government social workers give us lectures for hours about how we would end up drug addicts if we didn't give up our babies," she said. "There wasn't any other option presented to us. I wanted to keep my baby and was very clear about it from the very beginning."
After a few months at the home, Andersen started losing weight. Her high school counsellor, who was concerned for her health and psycho-logical well-being, helped her leave Maywood.
She was at home for a brief period before she gave birth to her baby at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.
"I had to ask three times to hold my baby," Andersen recalled. "The last time I had to yell."
The nurse handed her the baby until Andersen blacked out. She later obtained her medical file and learned she was drugged and given a lactation suppressant, Andersen said.
When she woke the next day, her baby was gone.
"I cried for a year," she recalled. "There was no followup. No social worker came to see me. I was close to killing myself. I know other mothers who committed suicide."
Andersen is contemplating signing on to a class-action lawsuit being filed today by the Merchant Law Group on behalf of unwed mothers who were forced to give up babies for adoption going back to the 1940s.
Tony Merchant, head of the Merchant Law Group, said unwed mothers were put in homes operated by the province and were often pressured by people from the Catholic Church and Salvation Army to give up babies for adoption. Merchant said he filed a similar class action in Quebec.
Andersen did not see her child again for 23 years - her daughter eventually tracked her down using birth records and set up a teary reunion in 2006.
Andersen said she maintains a good relationship with her daughter today. "She is beautiful, a wonderful person."
But she is still bitter about what she calls the "abduction" of her baby from the delivery room.
"My baby was taken from me, harvested," she said. "We were used as reproductive slaves to supply the demand for healthy babies for infer-tile married couples."
Andersen has contacted police about pressing criminal charges for her baby being taken and plans to file a formal police complaint later this month.
She has also joined a group that has asked the federal government and United Nations for an inquiry into unwed mothers being forced to give up babies for adoption.
"Our babies were abducted on the delivery table," Andersen said.
She became choked with emotion when she said she never had another baby, although she and her husband have been trying.
"I lost the sense of myself as a per-son and thought I could never be a good mother," Andersen said, crying, "because of all the indoctrination in the maternity home."
She said that a few years after reuniting with her daughter, she fell apart emotionally. She quit her $100,000-a-year job in the real estate industry and recently returned to school.
She also started a group, Justice for Mother & Child, which has a website: www.JusticeforMotherandChild.com
Andersen said she isn't interested in joining Merchant's class action for the money. "It's about getting recognition and for people to know what was done."
So far, about 200 women across Canada have agreed to take part in the lawsuits since the firm started the process half a year ago, Merchant said.
Merchant estimates there may be as many as 40,000 women in Canada who are potential class-action members. They include women who gave babies up for adoption starting in the 1940s and ending in the 1980s.
The law firm has a form on its website for potential class members to fill out: www.merchantlaw.com/classac-tions/umaclass.php