News Good News Woman reunited with disabled son she thought was dead

Woman reunited with disabled son she thought was dead

Sue McDermott
This is only the third time Sue McDermott has met her son Shaun in 50 years. Photo: ABC
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Sue McDermott was only 19 when she started feeling the tell-tale nausea of pregnancy.

It was 1967 and when her suspicions were confirmed, the morning sickness was replaced with even more unease.

“I was very nervous about having to tell the family because I knew there was going to be no chance of keeping him,” she said.

“We had no money and also our family was sort of ruled by a very patriarchal society, so I was told that it would be massive shame on the family.”

Shortly after giving birth, Ms McDermott learned her son Shaun had cerebral palsy.

“The doctor came in and he said, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you but we think Shaun is a vegetable’, which is the term they used in those days,” she said.

“He said, ‘He’ll never be able to sit up, walk, talk, anything. He’ll have no thoughts, no feelings’. And I, of course, cried and cried and cried.”

Sue McDermott
Sue McDermott was just 19 when she gave birth to Shaun and was encouraged to give him up for adoption. Photo: Sue McDermott

She said she was advised to give him up, a decision she said was heartbreaking.

Every birthday and Christmas since then Ms McDermott would think about the baby she gave up, until 20 years ago, when she was told he had died.

Then last November she got a phone call she never expected.

“[The caller] said, ‘Did you have a son in 1967?’ And I said, ‘Yes I did’. She said, ‘He’s looking for you’. I said, ‘He can’t be, he’s dead’.

“She said, ‘No, he’s very much alive and he’s here with me’.

“I have never in half an hour felt so many different emotions. I was angry, I was happy, I was sad.”

‘Everyone deserves to have someone to love them’

Shaun McDermott had been living in disability supported accommodation in Ballarat, Victoria, when staff at the home noticed how excited he got by other clients’ relatives visiting.

One of his carers, Kirstin Grayson, said it reignited years of searching for his family.

“Everyone deserves to have someone to love them and it was one of those things where you start talking and you go, ‘Wouldn’t it be great…’.”

Shaun McDermott as a teenager
Shaun McDermott as a teenager in 1982. Photo: Sue McDermott

Ms Grayson’s search finally led to Ms McDermott.

“When we first found Sue and spoke to her, everyone in the house was crying, we were like, ‘This is just beautiful’,” she said.

“I suppose it’s the affection that family can give that as support workers, we don’t. He gets love and affection from Sue and he gives it back.”

The pair first met last Christmas and Sue recently returned to mark a very special milestone – Shaun’s 50th birthday.

“For me it’s 50 birthdays in one isn’t it? It’s just wonderful,” Ms McDermott said.

In just nine months, they’ve been packing in decades of getting to know each other.

“He loves trucks, he loves pulling things apart, he loves videos, and he loves Slim Dusty,” Ms McDermott said.

Ms McDermott lives in Brisbane and said she cannot move to Victoria to be closer to Shaun because she has her own health problems and no support networks down south.

But she’s confident he’s in good hands.

“He’s had a fantastic life. They’re all wonderful to him, they all love him, but it’s not the same as a mother’s love because they’re not allowed to hug them or kiss them,” she said.

“He still has trouble coming to terms with being hugged and kissed because it hasn’t ever happened to him and I guess I’m a bit the same. So now we get them in whenever we can.”