'We had to prepare for baby: 12 nappies, so many matinee jackets...'
While the day-to-day activities of completing chores, watching telly or chatting with roommates, and attending church was meant to fill the expectant mothers’ days, their growing bellies were a constant reminder of the looming change to come. To prepare for the birth and the baby the homes offered little in the way of practical guidance or education. A few would recommend ‘relaxation classes’ or ‘breathing classes’ at a local hospital that the women could attend, but because these primarily were for married women they felt uncomfortable participating. They commented that it seemed everyone was looking at them, or knew their child was illegitimate. A woman in the Post Adoption Centre study commented ‘unmarried mothers didn’t go to pre-natal classes, especially with babies for adoption. Bad enough to be unmarried, but for adoption, well! Single mothers don’t get the same pre-natal care and people think it’s because they are slack about it but it’s this sort of thing that puts them off.’ (p.53) As a result the women often would not receive sufficient advice or information prior to the birth, and were left anxious and worried over what was to come.
One expectant mother was placed on bed rest due to a health condition, which located her inside the maternity ward long before her own confinement. As a result she witnessed and learned much more about the birth process than most of the other women in the home were aware of. In a 1968 study matrons were reported as saying they would be happy to give advice to the expectant mothers if they asked, but the mothers of the same study either did not realize that was an option or didn’t feel it was something actually available to them. One participant reported the home she stayed in showing a slideshow of a birth as a way to educate the women on their impending confinement, and while this did much more than the other homes, this particular mother wished she hadn’t seen such graphic images beforehand.
Medical checkups did take place both in the homes by midwives or visiting doctors, as well as in local hospitals. However, the expectant mothers reported that they didn’t feel necessarily comfortable in asking too many questions about the birth. As a result, the day-to-day lives of the women in the home were designed to pass time more than to prepare for their child’s birth and adoption to follow.
With anywhere from days to months in the home leading up to the birth of their baby, many of the women spent their downtime preparing ‘baby boxes’ as advised by the home. For some the baby box was a formalized activity, requiring girls to visit the newsagent to get a plain box with a lid on it. They then decorated the boxes with pretty papers and other craft items. Inside the box they were to place a selection of layettes, blankets, nappies, etc. Some were also encouraged to include something for their baby to open on their 18th birthday. Women would use the pocket money they had access to through benefits to purchase necessary items, or would spend their time knitting or crocheting for their baby. The baby box was to provide the necessary components for the standard six-weeks following the birth when they (or someone else) were caring for baby, then to be sent with the baby to their new home with their adoptive parents.
For all the people that reacted and judged the expectant mothers for their situation, the one constant who at times provided comfort was the actual baby inside them. Their unborn child needed and valued the mother, and in her pregnancy she often formed a bond, feeling protective against a hostile world. Some of the women wished ‘a knight on a white horse would just come in and save me and the baby’, wanting somehow to have the experience legitimated so they could keep their child and raise them as their own. Another developed a deep connection with her child and realized she did not want to give her baby up for adoption. In the following weeks and months she wrote endlessly for jobs and housing, but no one would help. She asked her parents if she could briefly return home with the baby while finding a house and job, asking for a ‘stop gap’, but they refused thinking it was the wrong decision for her to keep the child. She persisted long after the baby was born, but when no one would aid her in her search for housing or work she eventually was forced to forfeit her child to adoption.
These women experienced the preparation for their baby’s arrival in many ways, some treasuring the short time they had together, others fighting vehemently to keep their child, and others struggling to remain distant to avoid the chasm of pain that would come with relinquishment.
Preparing for Baby
Getting ready for baby
'We got everything prepared. We had to..we had to prepare. We had to have three dozen nappies, so many matinee jackets, everything. You had to buy everything. And name it. Put the name in the little clothes. And shawls. There was a list.'
Making Baby Boxes
'There was this sort of process in the home, you had to make a box for your baby's things. So, you had to get a cardboard box from the newsagents with a lid. And you had to cover it .. with glue in baby paper. Make this lovely box, and all the baby's clothes and nappies and everything got put in there.'
'Well, this Miss Somebody or other...she was horrible, and everyone hated her. She was the one that was always present when the doctor's came to examine you. And there were two hospitals...'