Enfield resident Jean Robertson-Molloy is calling for a public apology over the treatment of mothers forced to give up their children
In the mid-20th Century sexual mores were changing but abortion was still illegal and contraception unreliable and mostly unavailable. Pregnant unmarried women were stigmatised as ‘shameful’ and were often forced to give up their children for adoption.
In 1960, aged 24, I sailed to New Zealand to ‘rescue’ my sister Marion who had emigrated there on the £10 scheme encouraging British people to move Down Under. After a major breakdown, Marion had been in a psychiatric hospital for a year. When she was discharged and went back home, I decided to stay on and see more of New Zealand. I found a job as a social worker in a hospital outside Auckland.
Much as I enjoyed New Zealand, I was still utterly determined to go home in the end. As I travelled for a few months before sailing home, I let my hair down and ended up pregnant. It felt like an utter disaster, a catastrophe. Friends in Auckland arranged for me to have the baby in Australia. Margaret was born in January 1963.
As an unmarried social worker I gave myself the usual social-work advice; ‘adoption is the best thing’. Years later I traced her and learned that she is happily married with three daughters. I met Margaret several times but she now chooses no more contact.
I went into therapy at home and was fortunate to have two more children. Many women were less lucky. Often they were sent to mother-and-baby homes run by church organisations, where they scrubbed floors and were treated like sinners, then sent away afterwards – the child being given to new parents. Most of these mothers were offered no support but were told to go away and forget it and not talk to anyone – the worst possible advice.
The loss of a child to adoption often feels to a woman like a death. But the grief that would normally be acknowledged after a death cannot be expressed if it has to be kept secret. And this can end up causing long-term problems, including depression and conditions such as agoraphobia.
As for the fathers, those who did not vanish were often told to do so by outraged parents. Some did suffer subsequent grief and problems, but at least they had more time to recover.
Some of the affected mothers formed a support group, Natural Parents Network, in the late 1980s. The Movement for an Adoption Apology (MAA) was formed in 2010 as an online group campaigning for a government apology for past adoption practices. Other countries, notably Australia and Canada, have already begun to do this.
I still regard all those mothers, many of whom struggled desperately to keep their children, as my soul sisters. Although I don’t feel entitled to an apology myself, I support this campaign strongly and was a co-founder of MAA. I want to see a public apology with full publicity as well as the publication of hidden information and help for women with tracing, counselling, and emotional support. Too many women are still unable to speak about their loss because of the shame and guilt over what happened years ago.
For further information about the MAA campaign: