A single mother at 16, I was forced by my parents
to give up my baby for adoption
When I found out I was pregnant at the age of 16, I was shocked.
It was 1967 and I had been in a steady relationship with my 17-year-old boyfriend for six months by that point. When I told him, he was actually excited. Suddenly, we talked about getting married and he said how pleased he was at becoming a dad.
But three months into my pregnancy, my parents found out and put a stop to all of that. Both of our parents were firm that the baby should be adopted, so that’s when my boyfriend simply left.
My parents then involved our family doctor, who put me in touch with a Church of England social and moral welfare officer. I felt I didn’t have a say in the matter. What followed was an agonising forced adoption where my baby was taken away from me.
I was just one of an estimated 185,000 mothers who were coerced into giving up their babies throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It’s why I fully support the recommendations of a recent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights for the Government to apologise to people like me.
One of the biggest challenges of being young, single, and pregnant in 1967 was the abject shame bestowed upon me – and therefore the shame transferred to myself. In most people’s opinion, I had committed the ultimate sin – a fallen woman.
My social worker, family doctor, and my parents all told me it would be heartless to keep my baby with the stigma of illegitimacy forced upon him. I felt worthless, not listened to, not supported emotionally, and with no counselling or advice, nor any mention of financial support, which I now know would have been available.
My parents allowed me to stay at home until my baby’s birth but made it clear that if I wanted to keep him, I would have to leave home and fend for myself. Throughout my pregnancy, I felt very alone, very scared, and very upset.
The birth itself was a lonely experience.
The nurses showed no empathy whatsoever and I had no choice but to get through it on my own. Even before my baby was born, I had felt a strong bond with him – it was as if it was me and him against the world.
Those feelings became even more intense after his birth when I got to care for him day and night for the 10 days I was in hospital. Visiting times were restricted to fathers only in the evening, and when that happened I would take my son from his crib and sit and nurse him alone.
I lavished him with love and attention. I wanted to give him all the love I could in the short 10 days we would be together.
During that time, I held out in the hope that my boyfriend would suddenly return and we would be together again with our baby. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and that’s when I realised that I was going to lose my son forever.
I left the hospital and had to take my son to his foster carer on Christmas Eve. It was the most terrible time for me.
I was inconsolable for many days – so much so that my mother eventually contacted the foster carer to ask if I could go to see him. Kindly, she allowed this, and I could even take him for walks in his pram, which gave me huge comfort.
I was allowed to do this up until the day came when we had to travel down to London to take him to the adoption offices. Once there, a lady came into the room and asked if she could hold him, then immediately told me to kiss him goodbye.
That would be the last time I saw him for a very long time. It was devastating.
Back in the day, the law was that mothers and children should never have any further contact once the adoption was finalised, so I had to sign a legal document to that effect.
The people who should’ve been supporting me constantly told me time and time again: ‘If you love your baby, you will give him up’ or ‘You will put all this behind you and get on with your life’. If only people knew how impossible this was.
In the ensuing years, I was always thinking of the son I had lost – wondering where he was and what he was doing. I’d try to reach out to him spiritually – just by sending him thoughts – every year, especially on his birthday.
Little did I know then that he was doing the same throughout all those missing years.
Then with changes in adoption law in 1975, it became possible for adopted adults over 18 to have access to their birth records – and a contact register was set up. So on his 18th birthday – as the only present I could give him – I added my name to the register in 1985.
It felt like a eureka moment – finally there was a possibility he might want to find me. Nine years later in 1994, I received a letter out of the blue asking for details of my whereabouts. It was from my son, Ian.
To say I was overjoyed would be putting it mildly, but it was also hugely emotional. In the days before email, our contact with each other was by airmail letter. This is when I learned he’d moved to Auckland after his family emigrated when he was just six years old.
We must have written dozens of letters over the next few months, until the day came when I flew out to New Zealand for us to meet for the very first time in over 26 years.
One of the first things he said to me was: ‘Now I know where I get my blue eyes from’. We had a wonderful time together sharing memories and feelings. He took me to some of his favourite places in New Zealand – the beautiful beaches, the forest and other landmarks that had formed part of his childhood.
When I had to fly back to the UK after two weeks of being there, it was like losing him all over again. Our reunion brought back so many emotional issues – coping with loss, grief, bereavement, anger, depression, melancholy.
Since then, the relationship my son and I have has grown immeasurably in ways that we could never have dreamed of. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve spent together – either me going to New Zealand alone and with the rest of my family, or just with my husband. He’s been over to the UK maybe half a dozen times as well.
We are definitely all one family now – myself, my husband, other two children and granddaughters, as well as Ian, his wife and his two daughters.
I consider myself very fortunate to have the support of other mothers in the same situation, by virtue of peer group support meetings held regularly at the PAC-UK offices in Leeds. Just thinking about all the ‘what ifs’, and how it might have been for us if we hadn’t been parted in such a cruel way can be all consuming.
Thankfully, Ian has never harboured any grudges or resentment about his adoption.
The campaign for an apology from the Government has been ongoing for many years now – thanks to the Movement for Adoption Apology. This is why we are all so thankful for the recent outcome of the Joint Committee for Human Rights, which was chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman.
The Committee’s recommendation was for the Government to give a long overdue public apology on behalf of the State for the wrongs done to us. It also advocates for funding, counselling, better access to birth documents, and support for all the families who have suffered for so long.
I – and many mothers like me – fully endorse that recommendation.
All mothers deserve to be better supported. We shouldn’t expect babies and children to be taken from their birth families and then those families deserted and left to their own devices. It doesn’t serve the mothers or children well.
Those mothers like myself have been the forerunners. Because of our pioneering and campaigning, we have helped to force through changes to adoption policy and practice, and we will continue to do so.
We should be acknowledged for our patience and suffering. We definitely deserve an official apology, which would vindicate those of us who have been vilified for so many years.
Jill Killington is supported by PAC-UK – the adoption service of Family Action.