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'Wake up, have breakfast, do your chores...'

For some women their first encounter with the Home was upon visiting for an interview. One participant recalled the terror she felt in visiting the home, and just stood at the windowsill staring out at the snow-capped hills beyond wishing herself away from the situation she found herself in. This particular participant recalled the visit as beginning with an interview with the matron where she was asked of her background and that of the father of the baby, followed by a tour through the home. Upon reaching the recreation room she looked in at a trestle table lined with pregnant mothers, smoking and chatting, and she was utterly terrified of her future in the home. She felt young and unable to manage the challenges of living in the home and interacting with these other women that seemed so hardened. Yet, just weeks later she found herself residing in the home and befriending these same women who at first came as such a shock.


For one woman her arrival at the home came after the birth of her child as she went into labour two months early, and she recalled her parents leaving her on the doorstep of the home ‘with a baby in one hand and a suitcase in the other’ as they drove away. The first day in the home for many women was imprinted with the vastness of the home, with getting acquainted with how it ran and getting to know their new roommates. Frequently they described meeting with the matron in her office, though few recall the details of that meeting. Some were given a tour of the home, or introduced to another expectant mother to show them around and teach them the ins and outs of how the home ran. They were assigned a bed and given chores.


They quickly learned the routine of the home, and a typical day was often described as rising early (around 7:00am for most), having breakfast and getting dressed. For some the bathrooms offered up basins and screens for a strip wash, others had one massive bath and the women were made to book a bath at whatever time it was available. Attending a morning service or prayer was compulsory in some of the religious homes, while others expected attendance only on Sundays. Once dressed and fed the women were meant to complete their chores, which frequently took them into the afternoon. The chores varied, sometimes dependent upon their condition, though most assigned duties regardless of the women’s health. A few recalled being made to scrub the floors and stairwells up until the day they went into labour or fetching buckets of coal or water days after giving birth. While another had been placed on bedrest her chores were altered so that she would do mending or other jobs that could be done from bed. For all participants in this project chores were obligatory in the Home as part of their stay.


Once their chores had been completed for the day women could have tea, engage in recreational activities at the home, or take trips into town. The options for leisure time and the rules around trips to town varied greatly between the Homes. Some participants recalled a variety of leisure activities, including watching television or participating in classes while others recalled little more to do than to chat with their roommates and knit. For those allowed to leave the residence, they would walk into town with the other expectant mothers for tea, shopping or occasionally to the cinema.


On certain days the Homes often allowed visitors, so the women could spend time with family and friends. While the rules around visitors varied by home, it perhaps varied even more so by the situation of the individual women. Some recalled a healthy stream of visitors including family, friends and co-workers, while others didn’t remember anyone coming to see them. Feeling abandoned in a Home, banished from their community and from their previous lives. The majority who participated in this study had at least one or both of their parents visit them a couple of times during their stay.


Health checkups or meetings with social workers were the final component for many women during their daily life at the Home. For homes which had their own maternity ward they would also have midwives or doctors on staff to conduct regular checkups on the women’s physical health, others would have visiting doctors from local hospitals or would go to the nearest hospital for their exam. These checkups were primarily focused on preparing for the birth and in no instances of the participants in this project did they recall being offered any kind of mental or emotional health services for the adoption separation to come. A few asked their healthcare provider questions about the confinement, but the majority felt uncomfortable or unable to do so and were left in the dark wondering what would happen during the labour and birth. Social workers were also meant to visit the expectant mothers to discuss their options and keep them informed on the adoption process; however few recalled visits from the social worker and studies have shown many social workers were overburdened in their case load and infrequently made the necessary visits. After the baby was born some would visit, or the women would have to go to an agency, to make arrangements for the adoption.


In many ways the Homes can be seen as the supportive residential environments for expectant mothers offering shelter and health services around their confinement which they intended. However others still followed in the footsteps of the Rescue Homes of Victorian times and their daily schedule implied occupancy as a time of penitence and atonement for the expectant mothers.


On Arrival and a Typical Day

Can you describe a typical day?

'Yes! You got up, you had a..a big washing area. There were all these basins with curtains round, and you'd have a strip wash. And you'd get dressed, and have your breakfast...and then certain days of the week there was a chapel there. You had a morning service. Then you'd go off and do your various chores.'

What would you say a regular day would have been like in the home?

'You would get up, go for breakfast, then it would be cleaning. Everybody had a cleaning job. That's what you did. Um, there wasn't a cleaner in the home. All the girls did it. When you were just about to have your baby..or had been there quite a while. You might get to do matrons office.'

Can you describe an average day?

'You get up, have your breakfast. I don't know what chores we had to do. Then you go into the school, and do your work. Because I still studied for my O-Levels. So, we'd be doing work all day then she'd read us a story around 3:30 or something, then we go back. I suppose it would be about tea time.'

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