Mother and Baby Homes - what happened there?

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Mother and Baby Homes - what happened there?

Postby Daisy » Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:49 pm

Hello, I was wondering if there was anyone who had personal experience of these homes and could tell me how things worked there. My mother stayed in one up to my birth and presumably after I was born, I'm not sure. That particular one was St Margaret's House, 18 Balmoral Place, Halifax, and the year 1960.

There may have been different practices in different homes. But I would be really interested to hear about them, that one in particular, but any others too. I'd like to know if the mothers who were intending to have their children adopted actually looked after their babies and if so, for how long, things like that. I would like to have some idea of what the usual practice was, before I ask the question of my birth mother, in case she finds it too upsetting.

Please pm me - use the pm symbol underneath my messge - if you don't want everyone to read your reply.

Thanks.
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Postby jaaa66 » Thu Feb 19, 2009 4:13 pm

Hi Daisy,

I was adopted in '66 and my b/mum was sent to a mother and baby home run by nuns in Bradford.

From what she told me before we stopped contact they were pretty horrific places to be. She told me that the girls were basically treated like tramps. They got no emotional support and no help after the baby was born.

She told me that they were expected to look after the basic needs of the baby, which they did for 6 weeks (more than long enough for mother and baby to bond) but were not allowed to cuddle us or show any love. On the day that we were taken away to be adopted they were told to go out for the day so that they didn't get in the way.

Apparently on the day I was taken I was playing up (I could probably sense what was going to happen) so my b/mum was running late and she actually saw them walking up the drive to collect me. When she told me about this she said that it was the first time she had been able to talk about it since it happened as it was so traumatic for her.

This is only one story - maybe others had a better experience, although I honestly don't see how anyone could have a good experience of something like that. With regards to your mum - I personally would tread very carefully because I would imagine that it will still be upsetting for her to remember what happened.

Hope this is of some help,

Julie x
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Postby Daisy » Fri Feb 20, 2009 8:26 am

Julie, thank you for your reply, that's really helpful. I had always imagined these homes were kinder than that, I suppose. In my own case, my adoptive mum, who's now dead, so I can't ask her anything else, told me that my b/mother met her and my adoptive dad, and actually handed me over, along with a set of clothes. This now seems a bit unusual and I'm wondering if she could have been mistaken, but I think it's unlikely since all the other details she gave me turned out to be right.

There's a play called 'Be My Baby' about these homes. I haven't seen it but apparently it was well researched, so I must get a copy of it. The playwright said that when she talked to people who were young in the 60s, most of them knew someone who had been in one of these homes! So there must be plenty of women who know something about them, although they were always kept quite secret and probably most of the records have been destroyed.
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Postby jaaa66 » Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:12 am

Hi Daisy,

Maybe some homes were better than others. I'd like to watch 'Be My Baby' too - it sounds really interesting.

It sounds a bit strange that your a/mum and b/mum were allowed to meet like that - I would imagine that it would have been very traumatic if that's the case, but maybe some homes acted differently to others.

I know that my b/mum bought me a new outfit, all in white, that she dressed me in on the day I was taken. I also had a big teddybear from my auntie (b/mum's sister). When I was handed to my adopted mum I was dressed all in yellow and the teddy had vanished. I couldn't believe how cruel this was when I found out about it - what possible harm could it have done to have let me keep the clothes my b/mum had bought as a last gift for me?

You've got me thinking now Daisy - it would be really interesting to hear other peoples experiences of these homes.

Julie x
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Postby alabasium » Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:51 pm

Hi - you might find the following book of interest:

'Half a Million Women: Mothers who lose their children by adoption'. It's by David Howe, Phillida Sawbridge and Diana Hinings.

It was written in 1992 and looks at women's experiences often back to the 60's and 70's. You can buy it directly from the Post Adoption Centre in London.

It's been awhile since I read it so I can't recall if it covers Mother and Baby Homes in say a chapter, but I recall it had personal narratives from birth mothers who had experienced this sort of places, throughout the book.
It's a very engaging read and I found it profoundly moving in many places.
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Postby maxi » Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:48 pm

Hi Daisy

My Mother was also in one of these homes in the late 1950s. Her experience was not good. She still finds it upsetting to recall her time there. It was so bad that she wrote home and pleaded with them to get her out of there. She also said that she could see that the babies were not well treated and was desparate not to leave me there.

Luckily she was able to leave and go elsewhere, but her short stay there left a big impression. She described it as "a big house, a miserable place where the expectant mothers were made to scrub floors on their hands and knees every day". She said that "the atmosphere was oppressive and the mothers were made to feel like they were worthless people". When she had to go for examinations she said they treated her "as if she was a prostitute".

I have located where I think the building was. It is no longer a home, but offices now, and has changed quite a bit externally. My mother was not sure from the photos I took if it was the same place, but several of the features of the building that she had described seemed to fit. She is usually quite open about discussing events, but it is clear that this home was a very damaging place to be, and not somewhere she wishes to think about.

After my birth (not in the above home) my mother had to supply a layette and powered milk for me. A older lady my mother had stayed with later in her pregnancy had knitted clothes for "the baby" not realising the circumstances. The lady asked to see "the baby" after the birth and an elaborate story had to be made up by my mother about how "the baby" had to go straight home from hospital so was not able to be taken for a visit to the lady's house. My mother had to stand in a queue, about 6 days after my birth, after having had to leave me at the hospital, to buy the required powered milk - she said she was crying her eyes out at the time.... and the registrar gave her a hard time when she had to go and register the birth, again just after she had left me.

Added later:
The whole set up seemed to be particularly brutal, appearing to be designed as some sort of punishment for an awful wrongdoing. No empathy, no support for the mother and then the mother was expected to go home and get on with normal life as if nothing had happened, to maintain the elaborate illusion, because, of course, no one was supposed to know about any of it.

So, I think I'd go easy when approaching the subject with your mother. Your mother's experience may not have been as bad, but maybe better to err on the careful side. Of all the subject I've discussed with my mother, this is by far the most upsetting for her, and I felt uneasy asking her to remember, but the issues surrounding this were part of my life too, and I felt I needed to know, to understand the full picture. We've both ended up in buckets of tears talking about this period of her life together, but I think they are healing tears now, and being able to share the feelings and experiences, which she could not do with anyone else, has maybe, I hope, helped a little to put some of the hurt and pain to rest.

maxi
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Postby Daisy » Sun Feb 22, 2009 7:59 pm

Thanks for your replies. It sounds as if they were unpleasant places. But it may be important to us, as adoptees, to know if we were neglected - and by that I mean if we were kept separately from our mothers or something like that, because it may well have affected us psychologically. I know my life has been something of a perpetual disaster, although I've tried :)
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Postby jaaa66 » Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:00 am

Daisy,


But it may be important to us, as adoptees, to know if we were neglected - and by that I mean if we were kept separately from our mothers or something like that, because it may well have affected us psychologically


From what my b/mum told me I don't think it was so much that we were neglected - all the mums became quite devious in finding ways to 'get around' the fact that they weren't supposed to cuddle us or anything. In the home she was in they all looked out for each other and gave us as much love as they could under the circumstances.

I think the psychological damage was done more because mother and child bonded in the 6 weeks they spent together, despite the best efforts of the nuns.

Julie x
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Postby Daisy » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:59 pm

Well I'm glad to hear that. That's what I had always thought, that it would have been hard to have me taken away. My mother has said it was an awful place but didn't go into details of why. But later I was worried she might have hated me for causing it all, and I still don't really know that's not the case. I must say I don't understand why people won't talk about it. They could just say, it was awful to be separated or something. But then unfortunately, there's probably a lot more to it than that. Surely it's not good never to discuss it though?
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Postby shedend » Sat Feb 28, 2009 8:40 pm

I was born in 1958 in a Mother and Baby home run by the baptist church, from what I can gather from from Mother is that although the regime was strict the welfare of the babies was paramount, alas not so the Mothers. They were almost bullied to have their baby adopted so it could be brought up by two parents.Like wise she spoke of the heartache of bonding with me for six weeks and then all of a sudden being told that today you go home and your baby will going to his adoptive parents. When I first spoke to my Mother it very quickly became apparent that she really didn't want me adopted and had the pain and suffering of thinking about me for 50 years wondering what had become of me. It was only in the last few weeks we have had contact. It was a stroke of luck that I found out roughly where I was born that enabled me to track my birth and adoption records and about five years to actually find my Mum.
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Postby Daisy » Mon Mar 02, 2009 10:43 am

I think I'm going to need to ask her. She said in a letter that I was taken away and she signed the adoption papers six weeks later. Now that gives the impression that she never looked after me at all, since six weeks was the time you had to wait before the adoptive parents could take the child. Then there was another period during which the mother was entitled to change her mind, before the final papers were signed. Was it possible she left me in the home straight away after I was born, but before I was adopted? I don't actually think that's how it worked though, and she was in that home for three months, so presumably some of that was after my birth. I think she may have been in so much denial that she can't remember exactly how it all happened.

I often wonder also how it was that these mothers could be assured their details wouldn't be accessible to their child and then that was so easily overturned by the 1975 Act. After reading some stuff on the Internet, it appears that the adoptive parents always had the birth mother's details since the child couldn't be officially transferred to them until the required period had expired, and that was after they'd had the child for some weeks. Until then the child officially kept their original name. Of course, many adoptive parents may have seen fit to destroy the information, which is why it was important for adoptees to have access to it officially, but maybe the original availability of the information made it easier for the law to be changed. From what I've seen - mothers saying they were never made aware of their rights, etc. - I think it's likely it was also considered that these mothers' rights to confidentiality could relatively easily be ignored because that had always been how it worked, ie, it was easy to keep them in the dark about their rights and coerce them, etc.

Having said that, from my point of view, I would say I am completely entitled to have access to the info.
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Postby JJ » Mon Mar 02, 2009 4:10 pm

Until I read my file I assumed that my mother had spent the first 6 weeks with me before handing me over. In fact, she had pleaded with the adoption agency to be let home to look after her mother and I was sent to a foster home after 2 weeks in hospital being cared for by the hospital staff, before going to my adoptive parents at 6 weeks. It was nine months in total before the final papers were signed, which I believe was fairly standard, during which time she could have changed her mind. Difficult for the adoptive parents in terms of bonding with the child. It may not be connected at all but throughout my early life until I was about 20 life I had issues with both commitment and separation anxiety.

As far as knowing the birth mother's details goes, my parents were told her name and were given a rough idea of whereabouts in the UK she lived; I know the adoption went through the High Court; maybe that added to the level of confidentiality? Or maybe all adoptions back then were subject to the same degree of secrecy.

I would agree that you should be given access to information pertaining to you before your adoption, although maybe your birth mother isn't best placed to do that for the reasons you allude to..

Incidentally, the play 'Be My Baby' was aired on radio 4 a few months ago; somewhere I posted a link for it, but it may not still be available. Possibly worth a try tho.
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Postby Daisy » Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:47 pm

Yes, you know I think she might have been mistaken as to the times things happened. Maybe she wasn't even that reluctant to give me the details, and I'm just assuming that. We haven't been in touch that much. And I suppose the point is that I feel I want to get the information without asking her, since she hasn't shown much enthusiasm for contact with me. If she was prepared to have some sort of relationship, I think I would be happy not to push her on all the details, but that hasn't been the case, so maybe it's the being excluded that makes me want that sort of information, since it might be all I'll get. :?
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Mother and Baby Homes - what happened there?

Postby pauline » Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:55 pm

Hi Daisy

I am an original mother who spent time in a Mother and Baby Home. We looked after our babies for six weeks, had to follow a fairly rigid feeding routine (four hourly and no breast feeding), were not allowed to take our babies out of the nursery or have them with us at night after the first few days (a member of staff was on night duty and responsible for babies during the night) and we took over again from 6am feed. We did all their washing, bathed them etc and we all bonded with them. We were and are ashamed and have had to live with the guilt. After the six weeks girls who were giving up their babies had to take them to the adoption agency and leave them in the nursery there to be handed over to the adopters. We then went home and lived a pretend life. We had to bury our emotions very deep.

As you say your mother was beginning to share confidences and then you couldn't reply for several months it is possible that she is trying to protect herself. It is almost impossible to explain just how painful it is to deal with the emotions that arise in reunion and maybe she is just a bit afraid to let you in. I think you have every right to contact her and ask questions but I would tell her why you left it so long before contacting her
again. She might have thought that you didn't want to be in contact with her after all and been very hurt by your silence. These are just thoughts, obviously we are all different and noone else can know the reasons why people act as they do but don't give up on her just yet. The professional advice in reunion is to go very very slowly and that is so difficult to do but
hopefully trust will then build up gradually.

Hope this helps.
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Postby Daisy » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:25 am

Pauline, thanks for your reply. I'm grateful to you, and everyone who's replied, for sharing your experience, and I hope it's not too upsetting for you. In my case, I did write and explain why there had been the silence from me, without being too heavy about it. My main problem there is that my mother was still saying she wasn't glad I'd looked her up. And she had also said straight away that she had wanted the matter to be closed, then, in her second letter, that she still regretted becoming pregnant with me. Perhaps she doesn't see that that gives me the message that I should never have been born, which is not a positive one for me. Maybe she didn't mean it to come across that way... Or maybe she doesn't care.

Have you reunited with your child Pauline, if you don't mind me asking?Please send a pm if you prefer.
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