This was a Christmas present we had not expected, but as you can imagine this baby, of good appearance, has become quite a favourite with the staff – notes taken at Bendigo and Northern District Base Hospital, dated 19/2/1969
The baby was 7lb, 10oz and 19.5 inches long when she was born in the early hours of Christmas Day, 1968.
She was described as having very little brown to dark hair, with a slightly olive complexion.
Her details were recorded as they would read in the birth notices of a local newspaper, celebrating the arrival of a newborn.
But in this case, those details were included in lengthy police and hospital notes – detailing the particulars of a tiny, hours-old infant whose identity was unknown.
An infant whose birth did appear in the paper, but on the front page.
“This was a police case, as the baby was admitted by the police to this hospital on 25/12/1968 as an abandoned baby, having been found unclothed on the back of a verandah of a home in Nelson Street, East Eaglehawk. The babe has remained on ‘g’ floor to this date. She was named by the staff ‘Helen’.
Unclothed and only a few hours old, the baby was left at the back door of a house in Eaglehawk – discovered about 4.20am by a man who thought he heard a kitten crying.
The Bendigo Advertiser reported at the time, the man woke his elderly mother and police were called. The baby was taken to hospital for exposure, having been left uncovered. An appeal went out for the child’s mother to come forward, with authorities concerned she may have needed post-natal care.
As the search for ‘Helen’s’ mother continued, the infant thrived. Hospital records noted the little one was ‘a baby of good appearance, performing normally and taking feedings well’. She was doted on by nursing staff, and those at St Aidan’s orphanage.
In the weeks that followed, the infant’s mother was found, and in February, the decision was made to place Helen for adoption.
On April 1, a northern Victorian family longing for a daughter, received a letter from the director of family welfare.
The one-page letter noted particulars about the baby, her mother and the few details known about her father.
Excerpts of the letter read: ‘I am writing to tell you that there is a little girl available for adoption whom we feel might suit your family … being an attractive little girl she is quite a favourite.
“The baby is located at the Bendigo and Northern District Base Hospital. You will need to arrange to spend an entire day in Bendigo so that you can see the baby, have some time alone as a family to give yourself a breathing space and a chance to consider and then return later in the day to collect her, if this is what you decide to do.”
Baby Helen then started her new life. And in their own way, all those who crossed her path did the same.
I am that baby
Re: The Bendigo Advertiser December 26, 1968 and December 27, 1968 – in regards to some articles you ran on the above dates back in 1968 about a baby that was born in the early hours of Christmas morning – obviously a home birth and then abandoned by the mother on a back porch of a person’s home.
Hi, my name is Helen and this is my story. I am the child of these articles and this was my start to life. I am now 40 years of age and after years and years of searching for some answers, I’m turning to you … to see if you can please help me. I am looking for information regarding anything about my birth father.
That email came on April 22, 2009, to the Bendigo Advertiser – but after several conversations, Helen decided not to tell her story.
She was nursing her mother through illness, and watched her pass away in August of that year.
Her mother was her idol – the woman who loved and cared for Helen since making the day-long trip to Bendigo back in 1969.
There was no need for breathing space and time to consider whether Helen would join their family that day – they loved her from the outset.
Helen says “dad still laughs that he bought me for 10 pound or 10 quid and it was the best money he ever spent – I’m still the apple of his eye”.
Another 10 years
It would be another 10 years before Helen again decided to reach out and share her story – not to cause pain to those involved so many years ago, but in the hope of connecting with her biological father, and to let people know she is okay and has enjoyed a good life.
Her early years were spent in northern Victoria, where she enjoyed a childhood surrounded by older brothers who adored her.
At the age of 10, Helen was told she was adopted; that her biological mother loved her, but couldn’t care for her.
It wasn’t until Helen’s mid teens that her story, and the subsequent newspaper clippings, were shared with her.
“The way I was told and the way it was in the family was like it was no big deal,” she said.
“There was never resentment or negativity.
“It was never a dark secret. To me the gravity of the whole thing, being abandoned, I never saw it has really horrible, or bad of my mum to do that – just that’s what she has done and it’s OK – my mum would say you should never judge someone for what they have done, as you have never walked in her shoes.
“I want to be very respectful to my biological mother; she is still living at the moment, I know she has a family. I don’t want to cause her any grief or pain or heartache.
“Even though we don’t have any contact, I still have respect for her.
“My mum would say be grateful you’re here – she has given you life. They were fortunate enough to adopt me and wanted a little girl for so long, she would say ‘we were very lucky and very blessed she gave you life and we’ve given you a life’.
“I always knew I was loved, I was just born into this world at a time when she was unable to look after me.”
When Helen fell pregnant with her first child at 19 years of age, she started looking for answers.
“I started questioning a lot of things. I was young, thinking I’m repeating that history – that’s when I started to search and was thinking I need to know more, why I was given up for adoption, what she went through.
“Becoming a mum myself, I had a lot more empathy towards her – and thought this could happen to any of us.
“I had a partner at the time, we got married – I knew I wasn’t in her situation – but I could relate to it in a certain aspect.”
Helen soon started sending letters to the only address she had – the address of her biological grandparents. Her first letter was not returned, so Helen wrote several times a year – until about three years later, in the late 1980s, she received a reply from her biological mother. Helen was told there would be no further correspondence, but she kept writing.
The pair then had contact for about 14 years. Helen met her siblings, grandmother and other family members.
“I am grateful that I was … I won’t say accepted, but I was welcomed into the family,” she said.
But as Helen wanted to learn more about her father, her biological mother distanced herself.
“I had never walked in her shoes, so I can’t make assumptions or judge,” she said.
“She welcomed me and I was part of her life, but I was also part of a life that she didn’t want to remember – it was part of her life she wishes to forget
“As far as where I fit in, I don’t – and I knew that.
“In later years I have had contact with her, and this is where I had to be very mindful and respectful when I asked questions like was it consensual, was it under duress circumstances – if it was any of these circumstances this matter would have been dropped. If she had said yes I would walk away and never ever ask another question, because she would have been through enough as it is.”
Helen’s biological mother assured her she was not conceived in any of those circumstances.
But questions remain, and Helen fears she is running out of time.
“I’m getting older, the people involved in the situation are getting older … I feel I’ve tried to do it as best as I can and discreetly as I can, but I feel it’s getting me nowhere,” she said.
“I’m still mindful of all the parties involved – but I don’t know where to go from here.
“I want answers, I want to find out the truth. I know, whoever my father is, he is obviously in his 70’s – whether he is still alive I don’t know.
“I have to be mindful he would possibly have family, possibly children my age – they would have no idea. But I don’t want to sit back for another 10 years and say I should have done more, I don’t want to live with regrets.”
A good story to tell
While Helen has wondered many times throughout her life about her family tree, she is adamant she has a good story to tell.
“It’s hard to go through life when there’s always a thought there that takes you back – to those underlying questions,” she said.
“But I don’t want people to think I’ve had a horrible life – I’ve had a good story since then.”
That story includes five of her own children, and hopefully grandchildren in the near future. She was raised in a loving home, brought up by “great parents and a great family”.
“I want people to know there are good stories out there – I think I’ve had a good story in the end,” she said.
“I just hope people can understand why I’m doing this – I just want to fill in the gaps, so I can pass down to my kids and their kids, this is who I was, this is who nan was.
“I’ve got to put it out there now. And I know there were people involved in the case when I was born, a lot have since passed away – one thing I do regret is I didn’t get the chance to thank people who were involved
“I never got a chance to say thank you to them, never got a chance to let the man who found me know I’m still here, I’m okay and thank you.”
Helen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org