The most surprising finding for me was the lack of education or awareness happening in the homes
in regards to the birth. One participant in this project revealed that her home showed a slideshow of a birth, and offered Lamaze classes and had a fairly open dialogue about the birth process. However, for the majority, there was little to no discussion on what would happen once labour began. Preparations for the baby were more focused on knitting matinee jackets and collecting nappies rather than informing women about the intense (and generally solo) experience of birthing their child.
A 1968 study on Mother and Baby Homes found that while routine care was being carried out in the Homes by a general practitioner or midwife, there was surprisingly little instruction on what would happen during the confinement, the birth and after the baby was born. This study found that many of the residents in the homes evaluated specifically wanted instruction, one girl stated ‘we should be told what to expect when the child is born as some girls do not know and get very frightened when the time is near. There ought to be someone who knows and could help us.’ (p. 108) None of the homes in the study provided instruction as a matter of routine, though a few offered relaxation classes or recommended the girls attend relaxation classes at a nearby hospital, but residents overall felt poorly equipped in understanding what was awaiting them. Most relaxation classes took place at a local hospital which included married women, making the residents in the homes uncomfortable, leading the study to suggest that unmarried mothers likely did not wish to talk about their pregnancy in the same way as married mothers as they were frequently more ignorant on the process and apprehensive about what was to come. My own research on this project, as well as the research conducted in the 1968 seem well supported by a view put forward in a 1958 Ministry of Health Survey that stated ‘preparation for motherhood was not well covered’ in homes for unwed mothers. (quoted from study, p.108)
Prenatal care outside of the home such as in relaxation classes offered through local hospitals, were generally set up to support married women. For unmarried expectant mothers they felt they were being looked down upon or treated differently and as a result didn’t always seek out as much prenatal care. One woman in the Post Adoption Centre study exclaimed, ‘They just assume we don’t care about our babies that we’re not looking after them before they are born.’ (p.53) They perceived health workers and other married mothers as believing their children had no worth or importance to the mother because she would be relinquishing the child for adoption. When in fact the mothers developed strong and emotional ties to their children they carried within them for nine months. At a time when the expectant mother most needed the support of the people around her, she was given a vote of ‘no confidence’ and treated as a miscreant rather than a mother. At such a time the women would find their only support in the friendships they developed with others in the home, or with the baby they carried.
During the time leading up to the birth and immediately after the mothers were in a frequent state of emotional distress as they tried to balance between others’ attitudes and their own emotional and physical needs. They were trapped with no winning option; if they kept their child they were irresponsible, if they relinquished unmotherly. They were perceived as having brought the situation upon themselves and had to bear the burden and emotional weight of the situation with contrition. The birth of a child is universally seen as a celebratory moment, and yet these women suffered from guilt and grief as they were being treated in a grim-faced fashion for having gotten themselves into the situation. The arrival and relinquishment of baby was not the conclusion of the experience which those around the mother treated it as, but rather the apex of a long and painful journey with grief and loss.