The women who participated in this study represent just a few of the half million women who have lost children to adoption in England. Their choice to forfeit their child to adoption was contingent on a number of factors, not least was the social attitudes towards unmarried motherhood in the mid-twentieth century. Unmarried motherhood carried a strong stigma, provoked feelings of shame, resulted in fractured relationships with parents and friends, caused the women to leave school and give up their jobs. There was little support in place to help unmarried women to keep and raise their children as single mothers, and any support that was available was rarely if ever told of to these women. Many were young, still living with their parents, and terrified of the consequences of their pregnancy. The fathers seldom remained in the picture, and even fewer provided any kind of support. From the moment they discovered their pregnancy the lives of these would be mothers was never the same again. Their pregnancy was a time of emotional, physical and social turmoil where their lives were turned upside down, and life after the adoption continued to carry the grief, pain and loss associated with giving up their child.
For the purposes of this research I interviewed nine women, all who had spent time in a Mother and Baby Home in some capacity and forfeited their child to adoption in England c. 1959-1968. They were born c. 1937-1952, with their age at pregnancy ranging between 15-25. Eight were English (89%), one was European (11%). Their hometowns were geographically spread throughout England, as were the Mother and Baby Homes to which they were sent. They came from a range of social backgrounds, with parents employed in professions from day labourers to heads of companies and barristers. They identified as Church of England, Roman Catholic, or a ‘lapsed’ version of one of these. Not all women could remember who ran the home they were sent to, but it is believed that 4 of them were in Church of England Homes (45%), one in a Catholic Home (11%), one in a Christian Home of other affiliation (11%), and three in either secular or unspecified homes (33%). Seven have reunified with their child (78%), one has found but not successfully reunified (11%) and one is still seeking their child (11%). Seven went on to have more children (78%), while two did not (22%). All were unmarried and pregnant with their first child in regards to this study. All responded to an advertisement I placed through the Natural Parents Network, a support organization in England for birth parents of adopted children, and are therefore self-selected participants in this study. With each I emailed back-and-forth with them about their experience, then interviewed them individually in person using a semi-structured oral history methodology with interviews averaging 2.5 hours each. Their participation was wholly at their discretion, with no monetary or other benefits for participating beyond the ability to share their story with an interested researcher.
The girls of Birdhurst Lodge, 1951. These are not the women from my study, but rather represent a group discussed in a newspaper article in The Independent, 'Sin and the Single Mother' published on 26 May 2012.