'In the afternoons, after our chores were done, we were free to do as we pleased. We'd watch tv, go into town, knit, or just chat.'
Recreation in the homes was often intertwined with the women’s relationships with the other expectant mothers. It was these interactions which framed their free time and provided them welcome refuge from or insight into their pregnancies. Leisure time made up the moments when the young mothers weren't otherwise doing their chores or caring for baby.
Most women recalled having roommates, anywhere from one other woman sharing their room to large dorms with six or eight bunking down. Most recalled there being about twenty girls in total in the house, plus the nursery for the babies. One said she ‘got along well with the other girls because everyone was in the same boat’ a fairly common sentiment. While another remembered her room as having an iron bedstead in each corner, and every night someone was crying, demonstrating the shared grief and anxiety they carried with their pregnancy. Their fears were shared, when they would go to the local shops people would stare and know they were 'from the Home’. Uniquely one participant described the Home she was in as discouraging the girls from mixing, so she was never sure how many mothers were in residence. She had a few roommates who she would chat with, but they were otherwise kept apart from women in the other rooms. Most of the women remembered a large part of their downtime was spent making stuff for their babies, one in particular recalled ‘we were there, we had done something terribly wrong, and we would knit them stuff to send with them’. While lovingly creating garments for their infants in their downtime, it too was sometimes interpreted as an act of atonement for their sins.
With their afternoons free once they completed their chores the women frequently spoke of passing the time just chatting with each other and knitting for their babies. For many, talking with the other mothers was the first time they were able to relate to someone else about their situation. Even in the homes where the girls are described as being from very different backgrounds they all had something in common. This commonality offered a freedom to discuss their situations, the looming birth, care and relinquishment of their children, and the unknowing of what was to come. Away from the judgement of authority they could reveal their desires to keep their children, their concerns on whether they could truly relinquish a child after giving birth, and demonstrated small acts of resistance such as sneaking into the nursery for a glimpse of the infants or the pantry for a slice of tart. Most recalled being able to leave the home for their leisure town, taking trips into town to go shopping, to the cinema, or having a cup of tea with the other expectant mothers. When they remained in the Home for the afternoon they could occasionally gather around for special television shows such as Top of the Pops, though not all had televisions. A few Homes attempted to offer organized activities such as sewing or handicraft classes, discussions groups or films, but most seemed to leave the women to their own devices for their leisure time. While these women spent months sharing intimate discussions and moments of rebellion, forming strong bonds between some of the women during their stay, few remained in contact with their friends from the Homes once they left. They were all encouraged to drop all ties to their ‘unfortunate incident’ and proceed as if it had never happened, just one spoke of returning to the home immediately after and another remained in contact with her friends. As communities develop, both online and off, many of the women who spent time in the Homes have reached out looking for their previous roommates, a few have successfully reconnected with women that shared those moments so many years ago.
What was notably absent, both in speaking to participants and in reviewing the 1968 study of Mother and Baby Homes, was any attempt to educate or inform the women about their circumstances. Considering the one commonality between the residents was illegitimate pregnancy, the homes could have done more by offering classes in preparation for the confinement, talks and discussion groups on such topics as adoption, fostering, day nursery facilities and social security benefits which many would have welcomed. However, only one woman in this study spoke of the home providing explicit information on the birth process in the form of a slideshow of an actual birth. Otherwise, none were told what would happen during their confinement nor explicitly given information on the adoption process.
Recreation and Roommates
Recreation and the Other Girls
'Then I saw some of these girls and I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. I was 15! They took you 'round and they showed you the recreation room and I can remember looking in and they had these trestle tables and there were these girls sitting on the side, playing cards, and they had cigarettes hanging out their mouths. Oh! I just thought, what am I coming to? I was terrified!'
Down time with the Other Girls
'I do remember we used to sneak down to the kitchen at night and have a slice of tart. Dreadful. I can't remember if we watched telly, I don't think there was telly. And we used to sit around knitting baby clothes. We all used to go to town.'