Women who had their newborns taken from them and adopted out to married couples from the late 1950s to 1980s are calling for an inquiry into forced adoption.

In Australia a Senate inquiry led to then Prime Minister Julia Gillard making a historic national apology in 2013.

I had no idea about the pain I would experience on losing a child. I thought about him 24/7, I feel I cried until I had no tears left.

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The issue was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film

Philomena

, which documented the forced adoption of babies in Ireland.

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Maggie Wilkinson gave birth at St Mary's home for unwed mothers in Otahuhu at the age of 20, and her daughter was adopted out shortly afterwards. Now 72, she has started a petition for a Government inquiry into forced adoption.

That effort has so far fallen on deaf ears. Justice Minister Amy Adams has no plans for an inquiry, saying other issues that affect more New Zealanders like domestic violence law reforms will take priority.

Wilkinson and other women who had similar experiences made emotionally charged submissions to Parliament's social services committee today.

• Maria Hayward

At 18 years old, Hayward got pregnant to her boyfriend, a fellow university student, and ended up in the Catholic Home of Compassion.

"The building was behind a huge cement wall so we could hide our shame. I worked all day and cried all night."

Hayward's son was born in April, 1974, and taken away immediately: "I asked if it was a boy or girl and was curtly told. I asked if I could see him but was not allowed. Then I think I passed out."

Her boy was briefly shown when her parents visited.

"My mother sobbed when she saw her first grandchild. This makes me cry today remembering her sadness," Hayward said, her voice breaking.

"I didn't know at that point that she had visited the home several weeks earlier and expressed that she and my father wanted to adopt this child and bring him up in our family. She was told, 'no, we already have a family for this child'."

For some weeks after the birth Hayward was in significant physical pain. She went to a law office 10 days after giving birth to sign the adoption papers.

"I was very frightened but by this stage I was used to doing what I was told and used to being silenced. The lawyer gave me papers and reminded me that I was not permitted to see my child ever again. I was trembling. I was alone.

"I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I had no choice. I signed the most terrible piece of paper in my life."

Years later Hayward said she read her notes and saw that her son's adoptive parents had asked for a child with tall parents, a boy, and not a child with "dark blood".

"The key point that I want to make is that everything about the social, political, ecclesiastical and legal environment conspired against allowing a young mother to consider keeping her child.

"My records show I clearly expressed a desire to keep my child, at the very least to know about him. I had no idea about the pain I would experience on losing a child. I thought about him 24/7, I feel I cried until I had no tears left.

"I spent the next 12 years looking for my boy in every pram, every picture of a child that age, every story of an adoptive child. I wondered what he might be like. The thought he might not be loved terrified and haunted me."

• Christine Hamilton

Hamilton travelled from Sydney to tell the committee her story.

She ended up in St Vincent's Home of Compassion in Auckland after a referral from a nurses' clinic GP at a public hospital, who told her she didn't want a baby to ruin her life.

Hamilton's son was born in September, 1973. Her records showed she was given a cocktail of drugs before, during and after the birth.

"I lost the capacity of functioning normally and thus was prevented from having a normal delivery and access to my baby.

"My son was removed from the delivery suite and hidden from me. He was not given to his mother, me, to see and hold. None of this had been discussed with me. I had not signed any documentation to say this could happen."

Hamilton said the common practice of removing children immediately was a "cruel, brutal and calculated act" to break a sacred bond between mother and child.

"After my traumatic delivery days passed and I asked for my baby so I could love and feed him. But all requests were denied by Sister Jay, the only nun that came near me. Powerless and broken, I was silenced."

In 2005 Hamilton read her records, which observed the new mother "appears rather depressed".

"Nothing was done to relieve me of my pain. I always blame myself for not having the mental strength to rescue my child and myself. It wasn't until that moment I realised I had been defeated at every stage. I wept for days.

"Our lives meant nothing. We were expected to go away and forget about this trauma, silently cope on our own. That was the beginning of our demise. The never-ending emptiness you carried in your body could not be ignored. An aching heart, unresolved grief, shame, loss, rejection, depression."

Hamilton later met her son but the reunion was fleeting.

"His emotional pain was too great," she told the committee. "I have lost my son to adoption twice. Thank you for listening."

• Maggie Wilkinson

Wilkinson was 20 when she gave birth at St Mary's. Her daughter, Vivienne, was immediately taken and Wilkinson was soon escorted by the matron to a lawyer's office and ordered to sign adoption papers.

At the age of 17, Vivienne tracked her mother down and sat beside her, along with Wilkinson's other daughter, Rebecca, during today's committee presentation.

"I speak for the women who have died without having their sorrow validated. Also the women who are unable to live with the pain and grief of losing their child to adoption and consequently took their own lives," Wilkinson said.

"The crime of taking a child from its mother was not a single event. It was a nationwide, state-sanctioned baby scoop."

The language of adoption portrayed the act as one of rescue, Wilkinson said.

"My child [was] rescued from me - the sinner, the deviant. We were called the dirty girls, and given to the righteous.

"I was left bleeding physically and mentally after the birth of my child. My milk had been stopped by some pharmaceutical invention, without consent.

"My suicide attempts were the result of never-ending grief and depression. I thought if I remove myself my dear family would have relief from the monotony of my constant despair. I did not find my voice until the 1990s. I will fight until the day I die."

• Merilyn McAuslin

McAuslin became pregnant when working as a high school teacher. The principal he told her she had to resign, and a doctor in Hamilton told her adopting out her baby would be the "only way to get on with life".

McAuslin told the committee she believed there would be tens of thousands of similar stories in New Zealand. Hers was not because of a connection to any church.

"All of the experiences were different but they were all the same. Everybody put you down, diminished you. You got beaten down.

"The Department of Social Welfare was not on my side, gave me no information. It is a Government issue. It is Government, I believe, that sets the social norms in any society."