'I was crying so hard, she just said: "I'm going to take baby." And she took him off me...I never even got to say goodbye.'
While some Homes’ matrons were the lead social work provider, many still had external social workers associated with their case. The majority of these were church of England Moral Welfare Workers, followed by Roman Catholic Moral Welfare Workers, then child care, local health authority, or other social workers. It was the intention of most social workers to visit the girls in the Homes both before and after the birth of their child, to interview them about their desires on whether to keep or adopt their child and to provide guidance on resources to help with whichever option they chose. The reality was that an overworked and understaffed handful of workers rarely succeeded in making the requisite number of visits or interviews with the women, and failed to provide an overview of options, rather setting the girls on a particular ‘track’ leading to adoption with little guidance on what this really meant. Many of the women in the 1968 report, as well as those participants in this study, were unaware that the social worker could provide resources beyond placement into a Home and adoption. Women had only a hazy notion of what it meant, both practically and emotionally, to have their child adopted and were often ignorant of the most basic facts on how the adoption would proceed. This lack of information caused significant anxiety, the women often turned to each other for advice not believing others (such as their social workers) available to provide such guidance, and as a result became even more confused as different adoption societies had different rules and procedures leading to each resident potentially having different information. Without having their families willing to discuss options, nor believing the social workers or matrons willing to have such conversations with them, the women were left desperate to sort out their situation with little legitimate advice on available options. Whether they wished to have their child adopted, or felt coerced or forced into doing so, all of the women involved in this study relinquished their child for adoption. Their reasons for doing so generally falling into four categories: pressure from family or parents (‘It’s for the best’), belief that it was best for the baby (It’s only fair to the child), belief it was best for the mother (I had the rest of my life to think about), or that there was no practical alternative (What else could I do?).
Most commonly infants were adopted at six-weeks old. This was due to the fact that a mother could not give legal consent for their child to be adopted until it was six-weeks old; however most of the women in this project were unaware of this reason for the six-week period until much later in their lives. For the majority of the women they understood the adoption would occur at the six-week point and they treasured each day with their baby knowing they were counting down until they day they had to hand them over for adoption.
For some, finding adoptive parents was more of a challenge. Doing so required meeting with social workers or visiting adoption agencies with or without their infants to be interviewed on their backgrounds, education, and hobbies along with those of the baby’s father. Women with mixed race babies had the most difficult time in securing adoptive parents, sometimes requiring a much longer stay at the Mother and Baby Home or visiting numerous adoption agencies. One woman spoke anecdotally of another mother in the home with her who had a mixed race child and was never able to find adoptive parents, until finally she was forced to return to her parent’s home with the baby. Eventually the child was placed in foster care. Another recalled having to visit numerous adoption agencies to secure adoptive parents as her child was of mixed race. Interestingly, many participants as well as other resources have suggested that it was considered better to have a girl as boys were perceived to be less adoptable. Some speculated that this was because men did not wish to adopt a son that wasn’t of their own genetic making, while others suggested that boys are ‘too much trouble’. A slew of adoption research confirms that girls are in fact in higher demand for adoption, with an American Census Bureau study suggesting there are 54 boys adopted to every 100 girls and with academics asserting it has less to do with supply and demand and more to do with parental preferences, though reasons for these preferences tend to vary. Regardless, it is something a number of participants in this study referred to, and those that knew their baby had to be adopted expressed some relief in knowing it was a girl because she would be ‘more adoptable’.
Understandably the most painful moment for the women who shared their stories with me was the day in which their babies were taken for adoption. With some the adoption occurred directly from the Mother and Baby Home. For these women they shared a few intimate moments alone with their baby, carefully bathing and dressing them, singing or talking to them, leaving them with promises to find them again and drenching them in tears. For every woman who has spoken of this final day, the memory is haunting and sore. It forms the apex of their painful journey. Some women were required to take their infant to the adoption agency on the day of the adoption. Going through the same careful steps of bathing and dressing their babies, they set out by train, by taxi, or in the car with their parents, for the agency. They were taken through the steps of signing paperwork, and were kept in a particular waiting room. The emotional stress of the occasion led most to tears, some to sedatives, as the social worker took the baby from them and left the room. In another room were the adoptive parents, waiting for their new baby. The mothers were not allowed to see the adoptive parents, but some could hear their infants cry through the thin agency walls. Most were required to wait until the adoptive parents left before they were allowed to leave the building. One participant who was not allowed to care for her child in those six-weeks only knew her child’s adoption day had come when she was dusting, looking out at the driveway beyond as she watched a couple climb into their car with an infant in their arms. That evening she raced to the nursery window and found her child’s cot was empty. Most participants felt the day of adoption was traumatic, and none were offered much in the way of sympathy or emotional support as they relinquished their child and were expected to then ‘get on with their lives’.
Can you describe the adoption day?
'It was awful. Well, my mum had some tranquilizers. So, she knew I would need one. So, they came to the home (mum and dad). And you had to put them in their best outfit, and we fed him before we went on the train. And we had some feeds with us that we had to take for the handover so they would have some for the journey home. And all the time on the train he was asleep, and every time the train stopped I wanted to open the door and run.'
How did you know it was adoption day?
'I saw her taken away. I was dusting the windowsills and I were dusting, above the front door there was a long window, and I was dusting the windowsill. And a couple came out with a baby and got in a red car and drove off. And my baby weren't in nursery that night. So, I actually saw her go...'
Do you remember the adoption day?
'Firm memories about it. I do remember the actual leaving of her in her cot after having been given time with her on my own. That is something they did let you have just before you were leaving. You had time on your own with your baby. You had time to put her in the clothes you were giving her away in. I can remember all that. I can remember putting her in her cot and walking away and going through the door knowing I'd never see her again.'