These are just a few of the stories that have come to Movement for an Adoption Apology from individuals affected by the adoption process. Each one’s experience is unique and different. We cannot ‘compare’ stories but we can listen to each other.
If you would like to offer your support to MAA by sharing your story for this page please email to MAANPN@gmail.com saying whether you want to be named or anonymous.
Our thanks to all contributors.
I was placed in a nursery from birth in 1965 by my mother where I remained until the age of three. I was adopted in 1968 and lived with my adopted family until the age of ten where sadly my adopted mother died of cancer. My adopted brother and I were placed in a convent run by nuns previously arranged by my mother before she died, where I stayed and then moved again after a few years to another home run by the same children’s society until I was sixteen.
I then moved back to the family home with my adopted brother lived with our adopted dad. By the age of seventeen I was pregnant and my adopted father did not wish for me to remain living at home, he contacted my social worker where I was then moved to a mother and baby home in Finchley where I was isolated into an area I did not know. My father and brother came to visit me once.
As a young person I did not have any plans except that I would keep my baby and that was it, I did not think of how or where. One day I had a visit from a social worker, (not my social worker) and she had told me in conversation that there was a family who had been waiting five years to have a child but could not have children. I did not understand quite what she meant at the time.
The social worker had visited me again and mentioned the family and explained to me that I was young and that I did not have any means to financially support my baby, neither did I have a home or a family and that I was young and had my whole life ahead of me. She explained that I would have 6 weeks to make up my mind after I gave birth. I had requested a photo of my son every year in which the social worker had said she had asked the family and they had agreed.
After she left I felt sick, then I felt guilty, guilty that this family had no children and had waited for so long, I became confused and desperate as to what to do, I went around to churches to see if I could get support when I gave birth, my adopted dad and brother had visited me once perhaps twice and the father of my baby had visited me once, he said that his mother was not happy that I was pregnant.
The social worker came to visit me again prompting me that I can always have children when I am older and that if I were to get the baby adopted it would be best not to see him after birth, that it would be easier for me. I looked through my draws at the baby clothes I had bought and felt at a loss, I felt I had lost him before I had even given birth. I had a good pregnancy, I ate well and I was happy until I met this social worker.
I cried many nights and tried to prepare myself as the social worker had said not to see my baby at birth, I attended all my antenatal classes.
I remember giving birth in July 1983 and the nurse taking my son away, I did not see him, smell him or touch him. I was placed in a ward in the hospital where all the other mothers had their babies with them and my cot was empty. Some of the looks I received as if the mothers wanted to ask where my baby was, but did not except for one woman who was a prisoner with a guard on either side.
As I tried to sleep babies would wake up and cry and then again throughout the night. I stayed in the hospital and received no visitors and left after a few days with nothing. I felt numb, like a zombie, nothing felt real. I returned to the mother and baby home with nothing. The other mothers and mothers-to-be at the mother and baby home felt awkward around me and did not say anything. I looked again at the clothes I had bought for my baby and slept with them next to my face.
After a week I asked the social worker for my son, I did not know where he was but I wanted him with me, I tried to look after him for a couple of weeks, I did not know what to do with him, neither was I given any support, the social worker came again and talked to me about the same family and that they were upset that I had changed my mind. The she left. What was I to do, I had no –one to help me and I needed help, I tried to find ways in my head as to how to keep him that maybe I would get some help but where from I did not know. I had no friends and no family.
It seemed inevitable, I was pushed into a corner where I could see no way out, I brought him up to a room where I spoke to him, I told him I did not want to do this but I did not have any choice, I stared at him for so long I did not want to forget him and as I gave him away my heart felt like someone had tugged it out of my body.
Shortly after I was moved to another children’s home where I hid my pain inside, deep inside. The same social worker worked where I had been sent, she looked at me as if she was guilty of something, I never spoke to her.
I grieved for many years, I always wondered if he was alive, if he was well, what he looked like, mixed with deep regret, guilt, loss, hope to perhaps see him again, the continuous immense feelings every day.
Several years later I realised that I could of got help and support with housing and help financially in which I was not informed of so I could make choices for myself and if I would of known then what I know now I would of brought the social worker to court for manipulation and tried to get my baby back. I also never received any photos except for one when he was 6 weeks old which I lost years later in a house fire.
I emailed the Catholic Children Society to ask if I could have a copy of the adoption order, and I found a clause in the Adoption Act 1976 where it says if you are under 18 then a guardian would have to countersign, my adopted dad was not really around so I do not think he signed it, but when I rang up the law society last week she informed me that my social worker at the time would of signed as a guardian for me, I am not sure if this is correct, as although I was a child in care I was out of care at the time and residing with my adopted father.
My adopted son and his wife found me but he is so angry he does not want any communication and I have met my grandchildren twice and it was so lovely but he could not cope with it all so it just a continuing loss, he also has 6 other siblings 4 of which are the same father, so this made it even harder for him but he does not keep in touch with any of them.
I became pregnant in June 1976 as a 17 year old and gave birth to my son in March 1977. My parents were sadly not approachable regarding my condition and I therefore hid my pregnancy from them until 4/3/1977 (my baby was born on 19/3/1977). When they learnt of the pending arrival of my baby I was ushered off to the GP, who in turn set the wheels of Surrey Social Services turning.
It was expected that my baby would be adopted; no-one offered me a lifeline to help me keep my child. At no time was I informed that there was financial and social help available for single mothers to enable them to keep their babies. Adoption, as far as the GP, Social Services and my parents were concerned was the only answer.
My baby was born in the early hours of 19th March 1977, I laboured alone, I laboured unsupported by medical staff and I laboured in a state of fear all because I was an unmarried young mum. My baby stayed with me in hospital for 9 days, and then I took him to his foster home where I left him and walked away. There was an expectation that I would revert back to my life and my son was never, ever spoken about again.
My heart was utterly broken and my baby was adopted in September 1977.
The coercion between society, social services and medical personnel to place infants born to young single mothers with married, often infertile couples was immoral and wicked.
Much of the current media attention centres on Church Society adoptions, but please don’t forget those of us whose adoptions were not conducted by The Church. I have no doubt that if I had told my parents when I first knew I was expecting a baby I would have ‘disappeared’ into the ether – probably to a hostel for unmarried mothers.
But the bottom line is the same ……. my baby was adopted because I was a young single mum with no financial means to care for my infant – at no time was I told that my child could stay with me and that we would be financially supported by the welfare and benefit system at the time. My parents would under no circumstances welcome my ‘bastard’ baby into their home. For me there didn’t seem to be any alternative.
Many thanks for taking time to read this brief outline of ‘my story’
I am actually British and was living in the UK at the time my baby was born, in 1972. St Bridget’s Mother & Baby home in Chester, was run by Anglican nuns at the time, I often think how the girls, and their babies, that went through there are doing.
What has been most insightful for me during the lead up to the Australian Adoption Apology has been how coercive and somewhat bordering on illegal, or even downright illegal, the authorities were. It’s amazing how much shame and responsibility we have had to carry within ourselves, despite only wanting what was natural. I truly hope that the girls in England, and their children, will also come to an understanding of what they were made to do to suit a social situation. Only then can we really start to pick ourselves up from where that part of us has stood still.
For myself, being involved in the Australian Apology, it unlocked a trauma of an incident in the magistrates court where, despite being primed by the Social Worker, to acquiesce to the Magistrate that I wanted the adoption to go ahead. I actually advised the Magistrate that I did not want to give my baby up for adoption. Outside the court room I was berated and made to feel even more worthless by the overbearing Adoption Social Worker, a Mr Benning, looming over me. I had just turned 16 years old and did not have family or friend there to support me at the court.
I was living with my boyfriend’s parents during this time, although my boyfriend no longer saw us as a couple, and I was clearly unwanted in their home. My parents would only allow me home if I signed the adoption papers, and I wandered like a lost soul for weeks before caving in to their wishes. I remember my Father telling me that I was being so unfair to the baby because he was now living with his adoptive parents, and I felt that I was being bad to my baby for my want of him. As a kindness to me (?) I did not have to return to the Magistrate’s Court and was instead, taken by my Father, to a local JP’s house and was presented with the form for my signature. I returned home to help with the family business – and to look after my 3 year old sister!
I’m not saying it’s easy for us Mothers to deal with the repressed memories, it’s painful, in many ways, but, for myself, it’s about working through it, and growing out of the hurt and loss, that helps make us the people we were meant to be. I would not be on my own in saying I could not do it without the guidance and sensitivity of my Counsellor, she has been a God send. Hearing that the Australian Government is going to give financial aid now for (Adoption-loss) counselling support is very welcome, as rebuilding that part of us which is lost is an on going process that we need to address as and when the need takes us.
I hope with all my heart that the UK Government gives all the British Mothers, affected by adoption loss, their rightful acknowledgement, and the practical funding for the support they so deserve.
Here is another part of my story, one I have had difficulty trying to bring to mind and deal with. It actually hurts my head to think about it, as I remember it as the one of the most ‘alone’ moments during that time.
I was 15 at the time of my son’s birth. After his birth I left the Mother and Baby Home and returned to the family home and started back at work. I couldn’t stop thinking about my baby and if he was alright. I can’t remember how I found out but I knew the foster parent’s address and I went there. I knocked on the door and told the lady who answered who I was and she let me in. She showed me into the lounge and where my baby was, sleeping in his pram. She accepted me as his Mother and she left me alone with him for the rest of the afternoon. I could see that he was safe and with a lovely family. As I held him I weighed up the alternatives for him, my parents wouldn’t have us both back home, I had no home or financial support if I gave up work ( so I was told). My baby was moving on to loving parents, a father who was a policeman and a mother who had a lovely home and garden.
The following day, the Social Worker was at my home when I got home from work. The Foster Mother had advised him that I had visited and he and my parents were upset and angry with me for causing further distress by going behind everybody’s back to do such a deceitful thing. ( I have my records of this time where the SW writes of me doing this).
The adoption hearing soon followed and was at the local Magistrate’s court and the Social Worker attended with me. He briefed me to just answer ‘Yes’ to the Judge’s question regarding my consent to my baby’s adoption. I stood there and meant to say ‘Yes’ but ‘No’ came out of my mouth. I remember being hustled out of the court and being shouted at by the overbearing Social Worker. Again, I had let everybody down. I couldn’t return home as I had upset my family, again, so I wandered the streets in a daze. I stayed at my baby’s father’s parents home but didn’t quite fit in there as we were no longer a couple. I had no other family to go to as no one else was supposed to know or I was told I had let the few ones who knew, down.
It was just before Christmas and I was feeling very, very sad and alone when I phoned my parents and asked if I could return home. My Dad said I could if I signed the adoption papers as the baby was now settled with his parents and I was being very unfair to him. I said I would sign the papers and was allowed home and to the sanctuary of my own bedroom and belongings. It was subsequently arranged, for my benefit, for my Dad to take me to the home of a local JP where I could just sign the adoption papers instead of the Court. That done, everyone around me was happy that it had been sorted and “normal life” resumed, part of which was my continuing to look after my 3 year old sister whilst my parents ran their pub.
I never understood any of it, I never could deal with my parents complete abandonment of me through some horrific times during my pregnancy and put it all out of my mind. We never spoke of it again. The Social Worker, Mr Benning, was a horribly abusive, overbearing man. Even though it didn’t seem right for my child to leave me, I had been brought up to respect all authority and never questioned my parents, or him, about anything as I thought they must know what was best for my baby and me. How wrong and how misled we all were.
My relinquished son has a good relationship with his adoptive parents. He lives in the UK and I reside in Australia. When we meet up there is a division between us and I think it is because he does not trust me because of what happened. I have tried to explain that I didn’t want to let him go but I think he sees that I am the cause. Sadly, when my three other sons were born, my parenting was filled with fear and anxiety for their safety and they are dealing with the repercussions of that. My life’s choices and decisions have all been in question since my first son contacted me and brought all this to the fore. The Government of the day had no idea how they were going to affect individuals in so many ways for so many years. They should listen, gain an understanding from us, acknowledge the mistakes of the day and give the support needed to help us deal with it better.
In Western Australia I am blessed to be part of a Birth Mother’s support group and have had some Adoption counselling . There have been many, many dark days of “remembering” and without this support I do wonder if I would have made it through to today.
I truly hope the girls in the UK get the acknowledgement and the support they so dearly need for themselves, and their children, through Government aid.
Certainly then pregnant, and an only child and as a 17 year old when my son was born in 1962, coercion was very much the modus operandi. I was told, as was common, that if I really loved this child I would give him up to parents who could do the right thing by him, ie they were married and had a few years behind them of stability, while I had nothing to offer in their view. I was still at school, my boyfriend did not desert me but my parents disapproved of our relationship and would not sanction a marriage between us, saying they had influence in our town and no judge would permit me a minor (age of majority then 21) to marry this young man if I took their refusal to court. My boyfriend was honest, hard-working and caring. But the power of my parents, and my fear of abandonment was such that I felt unable to withstand the pressure. I was taken to the Childrens Dept of Social Services, as a minor, the social worker only addressed my mother, and no options were offered other than adoption. The social worker looked at me with disdain. I was sent to an unmarried mothers’ home, well away from my home, sworn to secrecy. And told I should be grateful that I was not being cut off from my family. I was shamed, and made to believe that I alone was responsible for my predicament. As my parents rejected him, my boyfriend then betrayed me, suggesting it may not be his baby. His parents then withdrew any support they may have provided, leaving me rejected by both sides. 43 years later that by then ex-boyfriend apologised – he was only trying to hurt my parents as they had hurt him, and being young and not sufficiently articulate had foolishly and inadvertently made it seem that I had slept around. He knew this to be untrue. At no time was anything other than shaming and coercion used to indicate that no way could I expect any support should I choose (!) keeping my son. How would I do that, where would I live, how my son would be stigmatised throughout his life, how could I impose that status on my son? Etc etc. The home was not cruel, but was linked to an adoption agency, and the sole purpose was to ensure the women and girls knew they were there to give up their child to a better home than we could provide.
I try not to be bitter, I try to think that my son had a good life, after all this is the story he tells, he had good parents who loved him. I know that love is the most important element for a child. But I can’t help that I am angry that parents were chosen for him who did not share my values and attitudes, I had no say in it. I am concerned he has not had a career path, as my other 3, and his father’s other 2 children have had. We were supposed to be less able to provide for his future, yet our children are much more secure. So I blame myself that this first son did not apparently have the same opportunities that he may have had if he had remained with the parents to whom he was born. My son and I do not discuss these issues, I would not want to appear critical of the parents he loved, and perhaps he was headstrong. It’s confusing – I am so glad the outcome for him was positive, and he does not express anger or suggest he felt abandoned by me …. I am lucky to have him in my life, and at the end of it all we share a warm caring relationship, tho it cannot develop as I would like. When I hear the problems others have in reconnecting with their lost child/parent I believe myself to be fortunate.
I also have been angry with the UK system, less acknowledging of first parents than here in NSW, at least in 1997 that was the case, that in UK a mediation was arranged with his parents, and he was then 35! I protested but was told “this is the way we do it here”, “we know from experience” etc etc. It was back to 1962 attitudes, a very humiliating experience again of marginalisation and the suggestion of undeservingness on my part. I thoroughly support your cause but would find it hard to show respect towards those holding the power and information. Trying to get information about my son was slow and difficult, and even in the 1990s, it took several years before I could discover that indeed there was a clause stating that mediated contact could take place when a child was over 25. I would not have known this without being very persistent. And it’s difficult from the other side of the world.
I co-facilitate an adoption support group here, and am on a couple of adoption related committees in NSW. While we got our apology here, the govt is calling for faster tracking of adoptions both local and overseas. We wonder which group will be next in seeking an apology ….
All the very best in your efforts, I remain a supporter, despite my cynisim!
I live in Australia and I am active here in Sydney regarding adoption issues, providing support to other mothers, including running a support group for the past 6 years, and write submissions to our federal govt on adoption matters as they arise. I can’t help thinking that you are very disadvantaged by the unequal laws there regarding access to information. In NSW adoptees and mothers have equal rights to information, and equal rights to veto that access. They are also entitled to copies of files regarding hospitalisation and from adoption agencies. I believe the community in England still considers mothers to be less deserving due to such differences in legal standing.
That brings me to a different subject, ie my own situation, and I wonder if you are able to enlighten me. I am not familiar with all of the issues there in England. I lost my son in 1962. After 2 months caring for him in a mother and baby home, shortly before my 18th birthday I was required to take him to the adoption agency (then the National Adoption Societyin London) for him to be directly picked up by adoptive parents. Am I entitled to copies of any of my file information, from Brent Social Services who now hold the papers, from my own local Children’s Department who worked closely with that of his adoptive parents, or the hospital where I gave birth? Information from Brent was shared with NORCAP to attempt mediated contact with my son in 1997. Also Brent many years ago provided me with copies of newsletters previously sent to me between relinquishment and the adoption order. During the past year I have requested other documents, in particular the Adoption Order. But I have had no reply either to an email or a letter sent to Brent. I wonder if you have been able to access such information. I lost all my paperwork many years ago during frequent changes of address. Do you know if copies of such documents should be made available?
I do have my son’s adoption certificate acquired in 1997 – I searched the files in London with a friend and we noted details of all boy babies registered a month after my son’s court date. When NORCAP attempted the mediation they told me his new given names so it was easy from there. There were 2 Simons on our list so we applied for both certificates and BINGO! When the mediation was unsuccessful I wrote to him anyway, providing some information about myself including contact details. He was very angry about NORCAP’s efforts as well as about receiving my letter, but it opened the door for him to follow through, which he did after both his adoptive parents had died – 9 years later. I have posted my story in Australia on ABC Open on their Separation project, tagged Jenny P, and also on the Australian archives site under their Forced Adoptions project, titled Adoption Loss and Reunion. I also have had an article in the NSW main Saturday newspaper. The latter was in conjunction with my dear next door neighbour – more about our friendship than our stories. I will try and attach it, you may like to read it. She and I have been running a support group for the past 6 years, and are volunteer support people at Sydney’s Post Adoption Resource Centre.
It has taken me years to become comfortable in the telling… such a relief to dispel that burden of secrecy.
I have been trying to obtain documents, such as the court order through International Social Service (ISS). I live in Australia and I have found that at least ISS gets a response. Last year they obtained exchanges of letters between me and the adoption agency, and included my adoption consent form. I have absolutely no recollection of signing this nor of the answers I had apparently given to questions put to me. It came as quite a shock.
A further shock was the inclusion of a letter I had received from the agency in 1962 (that I no longer had) which in around 1994, when I enquired about it, the agency denied it had ever been sent, though they sent me copies of all other letters they had sent me. I was incensed that the social worker who wrote to me in 1994 was the very same person who sent the letter I requested last year to ISS. I wonder what sort of game that lady was playing, why she wanted to conceal it in 1994. I would love to present myself to her office and confront her with her deceptive behaviour!
It was on your advice when this lady was ignoring my letters requesting information that I approached ISS to help me, so I must thank you for your help, it was certainly more effective than my own efforts and I’m sure you would be giving the same useful advice to others. Being very disempowered as a 17 year old in 1962 its infuriating to still feel dismissed by the worker who holds my file. The court has said they may eventually get into their archives for the adoption order, so at least they replied, as did the hospital where my son was born.
Do you ever hear from any of the women who spent their latter confinement weeks at a mother and baby home in Northampton? I often wonder what the outcomes have been for some I knew at that time. I was in “Elmleigh”, Harlestone Road, Northampton. The house is still there but looks like it’s been majorly extended and developed maybe into flats with most of the gardens swallowed up. I checked it out on google. I was there from end January 1962 – mid May 62.
I asked my UK MP to support the early day motion but he said he was not allowed to do that.
I read, with amazement an article in ‘You’ Magazine, Mail on Sunday about the ongoing fight to have an apology for the way we pregnant, vulnerable women were coerced in to letting our babies be taken for adoption.
My baby was born in Bolton Lancashire on 9th November 1967 in the local hospital, prior to that I saw a welfare lady and others I believe, I was never told that I might be eligible for monetary help, I was only told, that my baby would have no chance with me, because I already had a 3 year old daughter from my failed marriage. Most years on or around her birthday, I either wrote or telephoned the Church of England Childrens Society, to ask if there was any news of her. In later years I told them that I would love to meet her again.
I again got in touch the the C of E Childrens Soc in Nov 1992 and was stunned to be asked to go to Southport for a meeting. I duly went and was told that they could find her for me, month of heartache and worry passed, after exchanging letters with my beloved lost daughter and a wonderfully heart stopping phone call, I drove down to Cirencester on 25th March 1993 and met her. The massive hole in my heart then started to heal.
some time after our wonderful meeting, the Southport branch asked if I’d like to start going to a monthly meeting, to meet with other mothers who had ‘lost’ their babies. I was the only one at that time (in the meeting) to have found my ‘lost’ child. Again I was stunned to find out that we all could have had help, we could have kept our babies with just a little help.
I have never got over losing my baby, I went on to marry and have another daughter, but if asked, I always said I had 3 daughters, when people asked where my other daughter was, I just said that I lost her….which was true. No one ever asked the circumstances, I would have been too ashamed to tell them what had happened. Even now, I cannot tell any new friends about any of this.
I wish you well in your endeavours, we mothers have been made to feel ashamed and I still feel ashamed. My ‘lost and now found’ daughter lives in Skegness, quite a distance from me, at the start, we were often in contact and I drive over to see her as often as I can, but she feels distant now and I don’t feel that I can ask anything of her, because I gave her up. I love her and always have loved her just like my other two daughters but feel unbearable sadness at all those lost years. we’ll never be able to make them up.
I was never offered the chance to keep my daughter. As soon as Mum and I visited our local GP she never in any way gave me any options to keep my child and more or less told my mother that sending me away to have the child and then have it adopted was the best way. I was an emotional mess and could not think straight as I was so frightened but I do not remember anybody being ‘kind’ to me. Then of course when I was sent away to the Mother and Baby Home in Scarborough I met the same cold unfeeling staff there. Of course I was just one of many but I can remember those feelings today. Years later I decided to get ‘my baby back’, got pregnant and had the most fervent desire that this time nobody would make me leave my baby. In my mind I was carrying the baby I had lost but life is not like that. Louise was born and whilst I loved her it did not ease the pain of losing Sarah, if anything it made my feelings of loss even greater. Now 45 years later I am reconciled to the fact that I will never meet Sarah. My only comfort is that I gave a life to someone. I hope telling my story in some way helps the cause.
I feel so strongly about this. It ruined my life and that of my daughter who is now 44 and I have never met her. I hate the institution of marriage. Why should married people get to keep their babies and I couldn’t? The government want to save the institution of marriage. Maybe they should do their homework.
It is difficult to say that I felt ‘coerced’ into giving up my baby, as the coercion was very subtle. It was more true to say that there were no alternatives given. It was taken for granted that because of my actions, I was not fit to bring up a child and that she would have a better life without me; the adoptive parents-to-be had more to offer than I. Certainly no financial help or accommodation were mentioned or offered. When I read my adoption file many years later, it was clear from the notes that the social workers were just waiting for me to give in, and were confident I would go along with their requirements eventually.
My daughter was born in Epsom General Hospital in September 1963. I was 21 at the time, a very immature colonial from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I was renting a front room from my sister, so resisted going into a Mother & Baby Home. My mother (who now lived in South Africa) and my Godmother (who was a health visitor in Lincolnshire), trying to help, organised a private adoption; my Godmother intended picking up my child straight after the birth. The local social workers objected to this plan, putting pressure on me to follow their ideas.
Just before the birth, the pressure and emotional conflict caused me to suffer mental health problems, and I remember very little of my child being born. Apparently I screamed and screamed when my Godmother arrived and the nurses wouldn’t allow her to remove my daughter. I was put into a separate ward from the other mothers, and allowed to bond with her. I moved back into my sister’s home and resolved to keep my daughter, but my health started to deteriorate again, and I knew deep inside that I would not be able to look after her properly without help. So I contacted the social services again and went through with the adoption the way they wanted.
A week after my daughter was taken away I had a breakdown and was sectioned. I was taken by ambulance to Netherne Mental Hospital where I spent six weeks and was given, I think, about ten sessions of ECT. From what I can remember I was taken from the hospital to the Adoption Society where I signed the consent form, waiving all rights to contest the adoption. That could qualify as coercion as I was in no state, emotionally or mentally, to sign anything! I then flew to South Africa to rejoin my family.
I think it is important to highlight the lack of support or therapy offered or given to the grieving young mothers who had just given up their babies, or were about to do so. Certainly I was offered nothing, either during my pregnancy, after the birth or whilst I was in hospital. Losing a child to adoption and the way we were treated contributed to the lifelong health problems. Because of the lack of support and help then, many of us suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder later in our lives.
Certainly I did! I returned to live in Epsom in 1979 with my husband and our two children. I’d had no health problems giving birth to my other two children in South Africa but, in 1984 when studying sociology at degree level, I had another breakdown in the form of a personal crisis where I went through a ‘change of belief’ (or Existential Experience as I was told much later).
I struggled for years with unresolved grief and it affected my relationships with my family, friends and the wider society. I met my daughter a few years ago, and we are building up a good relationship; I count myself very fortunate.
But I think an apology from the government about the treatment meted out to us at the time, and the attitude shown by Social Services to us unwed mothers, would help many women who have suffered lifetimes of anguish and regret. It could also help those children who were given up for adoption between the 50s and the 80s as it is so difficult for them to understand the morality of those times, and to understand why their mothers gave them up for adoption.
The coercion was subtle but there was no way that Social Services were prepared to accept any outcome other than their pre-determined judgment that because I was an unfit mother, in their view, an adoption was the only way forward. If I had contested this, I’m pretty certain they would have gone to court to achieve it. My mother had given me the choice to fly back to South Africa with my child where the family would help me … but I think any such action on my part would probably have been blocked.
I went out to NZ at age 24 to see my sister and try and get her out of mental hospital where she had been for a year. My parents paid for my fare as they were so worried about my sister, though they could ill afford it. They had had no word about when she would ever get out. She had already had breakdowns in this country and was not a very happy woman. She was then 28 and had had major breakdowns with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Just before I sailed on the five week trip, we heard that Marion had been discharged, but we decided it was best for me still to go out there. Marion had always refused to come home but a couple of months after I arrived she sent for the money to return home. I would like to have gone home too but felt it was too much money to expect of my parents though they offered it. So I decided to make the best of being out there and got a job as the first social worker in a mental hospital just outside Auckland. I was afraid to tell them why I was there, I think it was in case they would reject me as unsuitable. Mental illness was a very taboo subject in those days.
So Marion went home and I stayed on. I did quite well in the job and two years later was invited to speak about social work at the first ever national social workers’ conference in Dunedin. After that I was supposed to be coming home but I went on a trip round S. Island NZ and during that time, about three weeks, had sex with three different men. I had been engaged to someone else before I left Auckland but suddenly knew it wouldn’t work and was quite mixed up and unhappy about three wasted years, as I saw it. Arriving back in Auckland I found myself pregnant and was in total despair. Contraception was of course pretty unreliable in those days (1962) and abortion still illegal.
I didn’t want my family to know, so I decided, with the help of friends in Auckland, to go to Melbourne, where I was put in touch with a family to stay as an au pair for a few months, until the baby was born, and arrangements were made for adoption which everyone assured me was the right decision. I was allowed to see my baby when she was born and visited her regularly in the nursery until I was discharged after three days. A family had already been arranged for her and I was given the ‘favour’ of signing the final consent documents before I left hospital. I cannot say that I was badly treated in the hospital except for the episiotomy and subsequent stitching which was excruciating largely because the doctor did not bother to turn up until several hours after my daughter was born, by which time the body’s natural anaesthesia had worn off, and also his attitude to me was contemptuous which made it all the more horrible.
I traced my daughter years later but our three meetings were not very successful and she at present does not want any more contact with me. But she has three daughters and I still have hopes that one day she or they will contact me again. I eventually married and though that marriage failed I did have two more children who are great. I had a lot of therapy over the years and was lucky that I realised I needed it and that I could afford it and had some good therapy. I joined the MAA campaign nearly three years ago to try and help other women who are still suffering a lot of grief.
I first heard of MAA from a friend, then I read the recent article (27.10.13) in the Guardian online yesterday.
Although I didn’t go through the experience of mothers of that era I do understand the pain of surrendering my son in 1981. I was 19 years old, had split from his father, but had a job so I could have financially raised my son without help from benefits. My sister had been pressured into having an abortion when she was 15 so I kept quiet long enough so the same couldn’t happen to me. Instead my parents decided my son was going to be adopted. There was no discussion, I was told he was going to be adopted, even had lines used on me on the lines of the BSE lines. I believed what I was told because my parents had never lied to me before to my knowledge so it never occurred to me they would lie then. I had also been raised to respect my elders so believed the lies told to me by the adoption agency. I didn’t know my rights, didn’t see the paperwork. The only form I signed was for my maternity grant. I didn’t even know I couldn’t consent to surrender my son until he was at least six weeks old. It is terrible that even in the 1980s social workers would use any tactic to get babies adopted. I do understand now though. It took reunion and 23 years later for me to find out what happened to me is legally known as a forced adoption and illegal, but social workers got away with it simply because I didn’t know my rights.
Since I found my son I have become very verbal as I found out what happened to me wasn’t unusual even in the 1980s, although I have found out that it was even worse for mothers up to the 1970s.
Philippa (who has a blog at forgottenmothersuk.org.uk)
I got pregnant in 1968 and was expecting to marry my boyfriend as soon as his divorce came through. Three months later, he threw me out of his house and installed a new woman. I was broken-hearted, homeless and didn’t know what to do. My parents were strict and moral, so I couldn’t go home. I hitch-hiked down to London, met some hippies and moved into a squat, then found a temporary job and a mouse-infested room up 89 stairs, where it would be impossible to bring up a baby.
I attended an ante-natal clinic and as soon as I mentioned I was a single mother-to-be, I was put into the hands of religious social workers who were utterly horrible to me. They ground me down, pressurised me, told me that if I had been a good, moral girl who had read my Bible regularly, I would never have committed such a dreadful sin and found myself in this position. I was an intelligent young woman, a university graduate of 23, but they made me feel evil, dirty and a blot on society. They told me I was nothing but a feckless little hippie who had nothing to offer a child and insisted I got the baby adopted. There wasn’t an ounce of sympathy or understanding, or empathy for a young woman in a vulnerable state, alone in a strange city. I felt trapped in a social system that was cruel and merciless. How ironic that only a few years later, single mums would be given council flats and the kind of help they badly needed.
My perfect little girl was born in February 1969, when snow was on the ground. Ten days later, I had to travel by bus to deliver my tiny bundle to the Church of England Adoption Society in central London, sobbing all the way. I shall never forget my tears as I stood shivering at the bus stop afterwards, empty and alone, with painful breasts full of milk. I told the adoption society that I wanted a few weeks to try and find a flat, as I didn’t want to give her up. They gave me a six week deadline, but every time I answered an accommodation ad, I was firmly told, “No babies allowed.”
My child was placed in a foster home in South London and I was allowed to visit once a week. Sometimes I walked all the way there from North London and back, a distance of several miles, as I had no money for the bus or tube. When I got there, I was too scared to pick her up and cuddle her because I knew the bond would be forged and I wouldn’t be able to give her back and would want to run away with her, even though I had nowhere to take her.
It was a ghastly time. Unable to find a home for us, I signed the adoption papers and for the next few years, I felt emotionally dead. I was unable to form a lasting relationship with a man and couldn’t consider ever having a child in the future, as it felt like an insult to the daughter I had been forced to give up. I couldn’t bear to look at a pregnant woman and shunned even my closest friends when they were pregnant, as the sight swamped me with painful memories and terrible sense of unfairness that they were allowed to keep their babies, but I wasn’t. Once a year on her birthday, I would light a candle, get out the photos which the adoption agency passed on to me via the generosity of the couple who had adopted my baby, and allow myself to cry and send her mental messages to tell her how much I loved her.
Thirty-six years later, I finally managed to trace my daughter and we had a good, loving reunion and are regularly in touch now. She told me she always felt linked to me and knew I was thinking of her on her birthday, which drives home the fact that there is a blood bond between mother and child that may be invisible, but is strongly, powerfully there. How dare the government slice that psychic umbilical cord and snatch a baby from his or her natural mother in the name of some moral double-standard? What right does any individual or any system have to do that?
I regret being denied the chance to bring her up and bitter about all the wasted years when I felt that part of me was missing. I am angry about the fact that there wasn’t a shred of help available to me as a single mother in the late Sixties, despite the explosion of so-called free love and the advent of the Pill, which should have seen a relaxing of the ‘moral code’.
I am also angry that the system put so many blocks in place to prevent birth mothers and children from finding each other a later date. As soon as she was 18, my daughter, with the blessing of her adoptive mum, came to London and tried to trace me but, even though my details were on the GRO contact register, no-one told her it existed. All the agency did was to hand her the letter they had asked me to write in 1969, explaining why I had had to get her adopted. Even that was censored, in that I was told not to be critical of the adoption system but just to say a few words about myself. It’s so sad to think we could have known each other for 25 years, rather than nine. It cost me hundreds of pounds to trace her in 2004, using a specialist agency. A few weeks before my 60th birthday, I finally made contact with the little bundle I had handed over all those years ago, who had grown into a beautiful adult woman, sadly without me.
My life was deeply affected by the punitive system that was in place in previous decades and I am furious that any government official thought they had the right to condemn me for falling in love, and make me feel filthy and an outcast from society. I am supporting the MAA because, although an apology cannot heal the pain of separation that thousands of women like myself have had to live with, I would like to hear someone in authority say that simple word, “Sorry”. We have a right to it.
Responding to your request for our stories I am writing to give you mine. However, the end result is somewhat different to the others or so I would expect. After my parents learned of my pregnancy I was placed the very next day in a home called Hopedene. It was situated in Newcastle upon Tyne in Gloucester Terrace off the Elswick Road. It will always remain in my mind as the house of horrors. The year was 1964 and I was in there from late February until mid June. It was run by the Salvation Army. The home itself was dark and grim and very very strict! We all did as we were told, we wouldn’t dare not to! The first week I was there myself and the other new girls were marched up to the local hospital to be tested for VD. That did a lot for our morale! We were made to feel the lowest of the low for being pregnant and unmarried. We were all so frightened of what was to come. We all knew we were there to have our babies and then give them away. I can still remember the nights I used to lay in my bed and be thinking please let me be strong when the time comes when I have to hand my baby over to someone else. We were told we would soon forget about it and have other children. We were told that if we really care for our child we would be happy for them to go to a married couple who could give them everything and would be selfish not to!
Well as it happened I never had to do that. I was just about due to give birth, not that you were ever told that because if you dared to ask how much longer you had to go you were told ‘It will come when it’s ready’. I was told my blood pressure was very high and had to go upstairs (by the servants’ stairs in the back of course because we were never allowed to step on the grand staircase at the front except to clean it) where there was a small hospital where we all were to give birth. They also took in private married patients. I was shown my bed for the night. The next morning I was told I could take a bath. I stepped into the bath and upon sitting down was gripped by an agonising pain which seemed to consume my whole body. I managed to get out and wrap myself in a towel before going out into the corridor where I happened to see the sister in charge. She told me to go to the delivery room where she examined me. She then told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and that I certainly wasn’t in labour and to get back in my bed and stop wasting her time! Well the pain went on all day. No nursing staff checked on me at all. It was as if I wasn’t there! One of the girls from downstairs happened to see me rolling in the bed in pain and told some of the others. A few of them went to see the sister and were told again that there was nothing wrong with me and that the only trouble with me was that I had seen too many girls in labour and just wanted to be one of them! The girls told me to hang on as she would be going off duty soon and the other nurse would come on. So I did. It was terrifying! At last she went and the other one came on and, seeing my condition, phoned for a doctor. When she arrived she examined me then actually put her arms around me as she told me my baby had died as there was no heartbeat. She called for an ambulance and several hours later I gave birth to my stillborn daughter in the general hospital. I stayed there for a few days then was taken back to the house of horrors to the hospital there. The doctor who had helped me that night came to visit me. She said she was so sorry my baby had died, that she needn’t have, but did. I felt she was telling me a mouthful! Needless to say when the sister in charge walked into the ward and saw me there, she started talking about what a beautiful day if was outside. I wouldn’t even look at her let alone answer her.
My parents were of course quite happy with the outcome as it solved a lot of problems for them. My mother even had the nerve to say how glad they were that it had been a girl that died as one day they would love a grandson. That’s something I have given them four times over since. I married and we have four sons who I adore but never did have another daughter. Last year with the help of my husband I managed to find her grave and put a plaque with her name on. That makes me feel a bit better instead of thinking about her buried under a lawn where nobody knew she was there! Yes I am angry and it doesn’t get any better and yes, I like many others have suffered depression over the years and am still on treatment for it now.
Sorry this has been so long but I just wanted to let you have another story about those terrible times. Thank you for reading it.