Sex was a word uttered in hushed tones, often accompanied by childish giggling. The only thing we really knew was you had to be married to do it. Whatever “it” was.
Small wonder then that during the 1950s, 60s and 70s a quarter of a million babies were born to women who are now talking about the heartbreak of being forced to give up their child for adoption because they were unmarried. And it tears me apart listening to them because I was one of those babies. I almost feel guilty for their pain.
I was born in a Church of England home for unmarried mothers in the late 50s. I like to think, for my own sanity, it was a caring, loving place. Many were not. I know the woman who ran it called my adoptive parents every year on my birthday for the first five years of my life. So it seems she was a good woman. I hope she was as kind to the woman who gave birth to me.
My birth mother was just 20 when she was sent there. Like so many she left without me. I never met her. The space on my birth certificate for my father’s name is blank.
As a child growing up I was well aware of the stigma of being born illegitimate, as it was then termed.
I don’t even know who taught me the word. It certainly wouldn’t have been my mum or dad, the couple who adopted me at 10 days old, whom I loved with all my heart. Instead, from being a toddler, they taught me I was special. They also taught me never to judge the woman who gave me away because she had no choice. Worse still, she was instructed by her parents if I was a girl she had to have me adopted. If I were a boy she could keep the baby. I will never forgive her parents for that. I forgive her wholeheartedly but fear it will have changed her forever.
Some women are going further and demanding an apology from the Government and that is preying on my mind, too. Because as a mother myself I am truly sorry for what they went through. Many were completely destroyed by an era that considered there was no greater sin than to give birth to a child out of wedlock. Well there was – the way they were treated.
But who should say sorry – a present-day government? All religions? We know some religious organisations were instigators of a terrible judgmental attitude towards these women. Some acted immorally and illegally. Should we demand any apology for these women from their long-dead parents? The whole of society?
It is a huge question I can only answer by saying it was another time, another era. But that does not make it right. While it is just that the pain and suffering of these poor women is acknowledged, we must also remember there are three parties involved in every case. The mother, her child and those who took up the mantle of caring.
We must never forget those who adopted us and gave their all to try and repair the damage of rejection (because that is how it felt).
They must never be considered a lesser part of the story than the mothers and their babies. They must never be made to feel that the very fact they adopted us was in some way a failure.
Because without them it would have been even more disastrous than it already was.
There is no doubt that to be adopted is difficult to come to terms with and it often makes for a difficult child until you do. And that means being an adoptive parent is never easy either.
So many questions where the answers are never simple, such as when to tell a child and what to say in an era when there was very little support once the papers had been signed.
But they must not be forgotten in a debate which has been a long time coming. They did nothing wrong. In fact they did everything right. I loved my parents very much. Above all, they gave me the security of being loved. And that is everything to an adoptive child.
I made a decision long ago not to try and trace my birth mother until after my parents died. It felt wrong. I now live with that decision. When I did I discovered my birth mother had died more than a decade before my mum, but if I had met her, I would have told her that I was lucky to find my parents, because that is who they were. Then that might have hurt her even more.
But above all, I would have told her I was sorry for all the pain my birth caused her. But conversely I was not sorry to have been part of the most loving family any child could have wished for. Does that sound complicated? It is. And always will be.
As an adopted child we can’t right the wrongs of the past. Nor can we carry any more burdens. But please, in saying sorry to these women can we remember that those who took up the challenge to raise us must never be made to feel that somehow they were part of the problem. They were the opposite – more often than not a happy ending to an unhappy beginning.
And in their memory I don’t want them to be forgotten because they gave me, and thousands like me, a future. And for that they deserve all our gratitude.