Article taken from Best Magazine – women’s magazines do occasionally have articles worth reading – too occasionally, in my view. Words Antonella Lazzer
Jill Killington with her baby son before she had to give him up for adoption. Picture Jill Killington Words Antonella Lazzer
“For decades, thousands of women in the UK were forced to give up babies for adoption, some as recently as 1976. Left traumatised and alone, we ask…
When will the apology come?
For 10 days, Jill Killington drank in every feature of her baby son. From his tiny nose to the bow of his perfect lips. Cradled him as he snuggled in her arms and listened to his gentle breaths. I felt an incredible bond with him even before he was born,’ she remembers now.’ It’s now recognised that even in the womb, a baby recognises his mother’s voice.
‘When he was born. I had never known love like it.’
Jill, from Leeds, was 16 when he fell pregnant. In an age where single mums document every bit of their pregnancy and birth on social media, it is almost impossible to remember a time when having a baby out of wedlock was one of the most shameful sins of all. Treated almost like criminals, women like Jill were packed off to mother and baby hostels where they were ‘punished’ by being made to do menial chores.
Jill was ‘luckier’ than most. Her parents allowed her to stay at home only if she hid until the baby was adopted. As her bump grew, she desperately tried to think of ways to keep her baby but says sadly: ‘I never had a chance of keeping him. All I heard from the moment I said I was pregnant was how my baby was going to be taken away. It was like a mantra, my parents, my GP, the Church Army, moral welfare office, all of them said over and again, “If you love your baby you will give him up” No alternative was discussed.’
After the birth in 1968, she spent those few precious days with her son in the hospital before he was sent to live with a foster mother. Three months later she took him on a train to the National Adoption offices in London.
‘I was utterly distraught. I never saw his adoptive parents. A lady came in and said, “Oh, he’s a lovely baby, can I hold him?” then she told me, “Kiss him goodbye” and walked out. All I had left of my son was a little black-and-white photo,’ she says, ‘I treated it like it was the most precious thing on earth.’
Jill went on to marry and have two children, but never forgot her firstborn. ‘I suffered terrible grief, loss and anger over the years. How I recognise it was PTSD,’ she says. She was united with her son Ian when he was 26. ‘The moment we met we felt this indescribable love,’ she says.
Jill was just one of the estimated 185,000 women who were victims of forced adoption – single mothers who, between 1949-1976, were forced to hand over their babies to strangers.
In 1968 nearly 17,000 children went through the system – three out of four of them were under the age of one.
One such mother was Veronica Smith, who in 2010 helped set up the Movement for An Adoption Apology (MAA). ‘It started after the Australian government issue an official apology in 2013 for forced adoptions in their country.’ She says, ‘I thought if they do that, why can’t Britain? We want an apology for a lifetime of pain, secrecy and shame. We were not unfit mothers we were simply prevented from becoming mothers at all.’
Progress has been frustratingly slow, but last year a Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published a report titled The Violation of Family Life: Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949-1976. A team of professional academics also testified about the wrongdoings the Government and its agents had done.
In its report, the committee stated that there was ‘an overwhelming feeling amongst the mothers we heard from that their treatment during and after giving birth was deliberate punishment for their pregnancy while unmarried.’
The report also stated, ‘One of our overriding impressions has been of the long-lasting feelings of stigma and shame, which in some cases persist to this day. We were also struck by the ‘double dose’ of shaming that the mothers suffered: first, the stigma of having been pregnant out of wedlock and second, the stigma of having ‘given away’ their baby.’
Until now, the British Government has refused to issue an apology for forced adoptions, saying it was not responsible for them, even though it has apologised for the wrongdoing to the homosexual community and offences committed by soldiers on Bloody Sunday. It is only 185,000 women’s live ruined!
But the JCHR is now demanding the Government says sorry to the thousands of mothers made to give their babies away. ‘What happened shouldn’t have happened and continues to cause pain. An apology by the Government and official recognition that what happened to these mothers was dreadful and wrong would go some way to mitigate the pain and suffering of those affected.’
Veronica is hoping that an apology will come soon: ‘It is not enough to say, “For 50 years I never told anyone about my baby until in 1989 I had a breakdown and realised I needed help. The pain and suffering for many women lasts their whole lives’
The moment Helen Jefferys was forced to hand over her son for adoption still haunts her. ‘To this day, I cannot understand how anyone could have wrenched him from me,’ she says. ‘I was absolutely hysterical.’
Helen was 17 when she fell pregnant and was desperate to keep her baby. ‘But I was sent off to the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child.
For two months after Adam was born I spent 24 hours a day with him. I asked the social worker if I could get a job and arrange childcare for him. She just said “no” and arranged an adoption. I agreed under duress and four days later Adam was taken away from me.’
When Adam, now called David, was 26, he and Helen were reunited. She now campaigns with MAA, saying: ‘An apology would be a vindication that we did nothing wrong and that instead, wrong was done to us mothers in a big way.'”
I had a cousin this happened to, she was reunited with her son, who turned to have chosen to work in the same industry as his mother. I think she and her mother found closure through joint therapy.
For more information, see movementforanadoptionapology.org and Facebook.com/adoptionapology.
Somehow yet again, women’s issues are not on the priority list. Maternity underfunded, the worst scandal in NHS history – maternity in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, Domestic violence cases are rising, and convictions for rape are pitifully low. A lot of the women who were forced to give up their babies are now very old; this should push the priority of this apology to the top.
#ForcedAdoptions#BullyingMothers #adoptionapology #movementforanadoptionapology