Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Fallen Women

Amherst Lodge, Ealing - now a luxury block of flats
It is still difficult for me to write that I spent the first sixteen years of my life in care. Sometimes I am still shrouded in the shame that my birth caused. I was born in 1958 and my mother was not married. This means zilch nowadays but back then my grandparents, like many other Irish Catholics, refused to have me in the house. At six weeks old I was taken from my mother who had been staying in a mother and baby home in Ealing and put into a residential nursery in Barratts Green Road, Harlesden. This was to be the beginning of a journey that took me to various foster homes, children’s homes, spells with family and too many schools for one small child to cope with. The only reason I was in care was because society had decided that if a woman became preganant and was unmarried, she was deemed unfit to be a parent. If the immediate family refused to help, which was mostly the case, the baby would be put up for adoption. And even though help was available, financial help, as well as housing, this was very rarely offered, due to the adoption market that was predominant back then.

When I was taken into care, ‘bad blood’, was bandied about because my mother suffered from depression, possibly bipolar, although in those days the psychiatrists weren’t as knowledgeable as they are now. If the parent of a child had any history of mental illness, a 
baby would not be put up for adoption. 

A couple of years ago I made contact with Phil Frampton, whose story was very similar to mine. His mother was also unmarried and Phil was placed in a children’s home. But the reason he wasn’t adopted was not because his mother had a mental illness but because he was mixed-race. I found Phil through a website that listed children in care who had made a success of their lives. It has always been important to me to succeed in life, and not to end up as a prostitute, in prison, homeless, a drug addict or an alcoholic – I am too familiar with the negative stereotypes that children in care have to grow up with. I think possibly I was close to being an alcoholic at one time in my life as the friends who used to carry me home would probably tell you.

At around the same time as meeting Phil, I met Josie O Pearse at an event hosted by Lemn Sissay, another successful child of the state. Josie had been in care as a very young child and was then adopted. When I was much younger, I would occasionally meet someone and immediately feel some sort of bond – this was the case with Josie. Whatever her experiences, we clicked and became friends. Phil, Josie and I started the https://www.facebook.com/UmbrellaMAA. We are campaigners, activists, supporters of direct action. Back then the mother group, the Movement for an Adoption Apology did not seem to include children who had been in care and we felt that our voices weren’t being heard, so we set up our own organisation. We met in Parliament and sat in a room with other mothers and children who had been affected by the social policies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. 
Our aim was to get the government to apologise to the women and children who suffered and who continue to suffer from the impact of the forced child adoption practices in the UK during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Phil and John Leech MP for Manchester Withington, created an early day motion EDM92 Forced Child Adoption. Early day motions (EDMs) are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons. However, very few EDMs are actually debated. What EDMs can do is create publicity around the motion so that more MPs will sign and become involved.

There has been a lot of publicity about the apology made by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to people affected by Australia's forced adoption policy between the 1950s and 1970s. Tens of thousands of babies of unmarried mothers, were thought to have been taken by the state and given to childless married couples. Speaking in front of hundreds of the victims, Ms Gillard said the "shameful" policy had created "a legacy of pain".

An UMAA supporter got Lord Greaves to "ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have made to the government of Australia regarding its apology for the past practices of forced adoptions of children of unmarried mothers; and whether they plan to issue a similar apology on behalf of past United Kingdom governments."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): “The United Kingdom Government have not made any formal response to the apology issued by the Australian Government. The Government have no plans to issue a similar apology.”

As mentioned, the EDM has created publicity, apart from the many newspaper stories of mothers and children being reunited, and shows like ‘Long Lost Family’, there are now two films that are being shown in the UK this month. The first is 'Philomena'. After falling pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in 1952, Philomena Lee was sent to the convent of Roscrea to be looked after as a “fallen woman”. When her baby was only a toddler, he was whisked away by the nuns to America for adoption. Philomena spent the next fifty years searching for him in vain. The film stars Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. The premiere is Wednesday 16th October. 

MAA issued this statement: 

"MAA has tried indirect action over the past three and a half years to no avail, now is the time for DIRECT ACTION. PROTEST DEMONSTRATION FOR AN ADOPTION APOLOGY AT 'PHILOMENA' PREMIERE. We intend to stand outside the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square on the 16th of October at the premiere of the film 'Philomena’ with placards demanding justice for the birth parents of the past (many of us are still alive but getting older all the time). Thousands of women of our generation, were pressured by the authorities into giving up our babies, just because we were not married…What good would an apology do? It would be an acknowledgement, a recognition, of what so many women suffered. Many of us never had any more children and many suffered serious mental health problems for years afterwards." 

Many people say things like, that was then or what's the point of an apology. My mother died when I was 13, and I believe that the way she was treated by those in authority as well as her own family contributed to her depression and subsequent death. So I am campaigning for my mother, for all the women that were forced to hang their heads in shame and were cruelly treated and had their babies stolen. Babies whom they would have loved with a deep passion and who, children and mothers, were never, ever the same after the separation. And I'm also fighting for myself, Phil, Josie, and many other children whose lives were damaged, lives that were interrupted, lives that were stolen. I hope that like the Australian mothers and children, we will one day gather in a large hall somewhere and listen as our government takes responsibility and gives us an apology.

Ann Fessler, author of The Girls Who Went Away and director of the film 'A Girl Like Her' - both about mothers in the US who lost children to adoption in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s - is coming to London to screen her film A GIRL LIKE HER. It's a special one night screening at THE FOUNDLING MUSEUM (what a perfect setting) in London on Thursday October, 24th. Ann will be doing a Q&A afterwards, so please spread the word. She wants to meet fellow adoptees as well as moms from the UK and Scotland at the screening (Marion McMillan who started Origins Scotland will be there). 

I will be attending both the premiere, where I’ll be standing with my head held high, outside the cinema in Leicester Square, in the appropriate colours like a true Sufferagette! And a week later I’ll be at the screening of ‘A Girl Like Her’, at the Foundling Museum

I have written a story called ‘Fallen Women’, that has autobiographical moments and that is published in the Greenacre Writers anthology. To see an extract click on the Stories link at the top of the page.


Anonymous said...

I am glad I have found you here.
Rosie, I can assure you as a literary artist, you will be blown away with Ann's Film and presentation. LOOK OUT FOR THE TARTAN CONTINGENT.(((((Tartan Hugs))))Marion.

Emily Benet said...

I'm sitting at my computer feeling moved to tears. I'd never heard about forced adoption policy. I always assumed it must've been tough to be a single mother in those times but I didn't realise that there wasn't even a choice if your family didn't support you. So cruel.

Good luck with your campaign, with your passion and heart I know you'll get your apology.

Rosie said...

Thanks Emily, your comments mean a lot.

Rosie said...

I will do Marion, I'll see you there.

Anonymous said...

I was asked today why am I so angry, my baby had a good life, and GREAT PARENTS....I have a righteous anger, I retorted, NOBODY IN THIS WORLD SHOULD HAVE BEEN HIS MUM BUT ME. Adoption is an act of unmitigated cruelty, SOCIETY need to address the CULTURAL DENIAL of the suffering of grief and loss of mothers/fathers and our lost children whether to adoption or to THE SYSTEM. INSTITUTIONALLY INDUCE GUILT, led many mums to suicide some mums are still in mental health care today, mums like me lived our lives sinking,surfacing, ebbing and flowing, on and a diet of anti-depressants. IT IS LIVING BEREAVMENT, and truly a BOTTOMLESS ABYSS OF SORROW. Rosie, from the depth of our being, mums across this GLOBE, thank you, using your gift in writing to portray truthfully our history, and BRAVE ROSIE, THANK YOU,
for sharing your own account of life without your mum(((Tartan Hugs))))