'Every morning I'd wake up so excited, I'd race down to the nursery. I couldn't wait to see my baby...I only had six weeks with her...'
The Homes appeared to have a variety of approaches in the best ways for the babies to be cared for, and in how the mothers should be allowed to interact with their babies. The two primary schools of thought were either that contact with baby should be restricted to prevent mothers from growing too attached to a child that would be adopted, while on the other end were those that felt mother and child had so little time together they should have an opportunity to bond and to experience the responsibilities of motherhood before making decisions about their future. These attitudes are reflected in the different ways in which mothers were expected to interact with their babes. All but one of the participants in this study had some responsibility in the care of their infant in the Home. Such responsibility may have included the minimum, doing the baby’s washing and feeding them at scheduled times, to the maximum where they were to provide all care including feeding, bathing, taking baby out for walks, or even rarely sleeping with baby. For the participant who was not given this opportunity her infant was taken away at birth, and the home required the new mothers to pump their breast milk which was then taken in a bottle with their baby to another mother to feed. The women were never allowed to see or hold their own child; certainly an extreme in the case of preventing a bond from forming. In this home the staff provided all other care for the infants, including bathing and changing. On the other end of the spectrum were the homes which allowed the mothers free access to their infants anytime, encouraged breastfeeding for the first month, allowed the babies to be taken out to the garden or into town, and in which the women were expected to care for their babies around the clock.
The ways in which newborns were fed were of particular interest in this study because they provided a clear correlation to attitudes around attachment and bonding. The women who participated were divided near equally in how their infants were fed, with a slight majority bottle feeding. For those that breastfed their infants it was believed to help fulfil the maternal cycle and to offer their infants the best nutrients to begin life, while for the remaining who bottle fed they primarily used formula and were thought to help break the maternal tie, frequently considering breastfeeding an infant to be adopted as particularly cruel. All of the babies would be weaned onto bottle feeding at a few weeks old to help in their transition to life with their adopted families. The majority of the women were given tablets to stop the breast milk, while two recall the painful process of being bound to restrict the flow of milk.
Many of the homes required the mothers to conduct the regular bathing, though in a few cases this was carried out by staff. For those that did the majority of care for their infant, including bathing, they were taught by staff either in the home or the hospital and were frequently supervised in their care. This resulted in mixed attitudes, some grateful for the guidance while others perceived it to be an invasion of their right as a mother to have staff telling them when and how to care for their baby.
Access to the nursery and the infants varied according to the rules of each home, the mothers in this project frequently remembered only having limited access during specified times of the day in which they could care for their infants. They were discouraged from ‘indiscriminately picking up the babies’ or cuddling them too much, expected rather to just take care of the newborns practical needs and otherwise leave them be in the nursery. One home did not allow any of the mothers’ access to their babies, with a participant remembering her one glimpse of her child as through the window of the nursery where she identified the baby by the birth date on the cot. A number of homes would take the babies outside in prams to sleep in the garden when the weather permitted, and a few women in this project shared photos with of their babies on blankets or in their arms in the garden. Babies in the homes most often slept in a nursery, with either a staff member or a new mother responsible for overnight care. A few participants recalled that whichever mother was next to leave the home would be the one to sleep in the nursery, and remembered this as a rewarding time to be closer to their baby before the adoption.
Caring for Baby
Breastfeeding and Binding
'We were expected to breastfeed. There was no question about it... At the time I had no qualms about it..some of the girls did kick up about it and had to be persuaded that it was what they should do. But I accepted it.'
Caring for other girls' babies
'They just told me I had a little girl...she was seven-pounds-eleven. And that's it. I didn't know anything about her. But, we'd go into nursery at night, so we saw our babies. We weren't supposed to but we used to sneak into nursery. We knew when nurses swapped shifts.'
Main job was looking after our babies
'Our main job was to look after the babies..and we looked after our own babies. And I can remember that nursery as if it was yesterday. Cause we all had a table and we all had a cot. And there was two beds in the nursery, and the mothers that had been there the longest slept in the nursery at night.'