Do you remember way back in January 2011 I started a series on Sandy and her adopted daughter? At my writing course, I submitted the opening chapter with some slight modifications and among the suggestions made, was to write it in the first person. So here it is, covering some of her thought and feelings during the unexpected pregnancy and now.
As usual, I had a quick look through the emails before starting into the day. Also, as usual, there were several trying to sell me something and so these were all deleted without opening. But there was one that jumped out at me. The subject line read ‘Are You My Mother?’ and for whatever reason, I didn’t send this one to the deleted box.
Without even opening the email I was transported back to a particularly hard time in my life. It was the 1960s – hedonistic time, no responsibilities, Mary Quant, Elvis, fun and free love, with no thoughts given to tomorrow.
I left home at 16, just as soon as I could. I felt locked into my parents’ world. Father took the 7.52 each morning to Paddington and returned on the 5.47 pm. Moher’s Day was filled with good deeds; raising money for poor children, arranging the flowers in church, whist drives or bridge, and book clubs. It was so boring and I couldn’t wait to get away.
I arrived in London where I met up with a friend who had space in her flat for me. Jobs were plentiful and very soon, I was enjoying this good life. That is until a few days after my 17th birthday when I realised I hadn’t had a period for a couple of months. A visit to the doctor confirmed it, I was pregnant. Because of the life we lived, I didn’t know who was the father. The pill was not freely available then. So what was I to do?
Maybe somebody knew of a way to get rid of the unwanted child. I had heard there were people who would perform this operation for cash. But I had no cash and didn’t know anybody from whom I could borrow some and most of all I didn’t know who amongst my friends and acquaintances would know where to find such people.
The alternative was crawling back to my parents. Mother would be ashamed and less than supportive and father would retreat into his study and let mother deal with the situation. No that really wasn’t an alternative.
I passed the church each day on the way to and from work. And that day, walking home after the doctor’s visit I saw the door was open and for the first time in many years, I found myself inside a church. I sat down in a pew at the back and quietly thought about my situation. How could I deal with it all alone?
A quiet voice intruded into my chaotic thoughts “You are troubled, my child. Perhaps I could help?” The speaker was an elderly clergyman who had noticed me sitting at the back of the church, deep in thought. His quiet voice interrupted my thoughts and I burst into tears. I then told him my problems. I had no family to turn to, no money and few friends and I was pregnant.
But of course, the clergyman had heard this tale many times. Young people thinking they were invincible and convinced that nothing bad could happen to them. He told me of a home for unmarried mothers where I could stay until the child was born. I would have to work while I was there in the laundry, kitchen or the garden until my time to give birth was close. I didn’t much like the idea of institutionalised living but really did I have a choice? No, the option being put forward by this clergyman was the better of the two.
The clergyman left me and then returned saying the home was a short walk from the church and so reluctantly I left the sanctuary and the peace it offered me. During the walk, the priest talked quietly “The home is run by the Anglican Sisters of the Community of St John. They will look after you and they will help you make a decision on whether or not to have the baby adopted when the time comes.” “Oh no, “I said. “There is no question of my keeping the child. It will have to be adopted.” We stopped in front of a two storey house that looked no different from the other family homes on the street. There was nothing proclaiming its role and obviously, those involved in running the home did so quietly. On any other day I would have passed it as just another family home.
He rang the bell and the door was quickly opened by a smiling older woman who embraced me and welcomed me to their home. The house was quiet and comforting. In the background was the sound of a baby crying but it didn’t disturb the peace I felt in this house. The priest left me then and I never saw him again.
One day, after the birth of my daughter, I went to the church to thank him but he was no longer there. He had been transferred to a parish miles away.
Life in the home was not hard. I had heard awful stories of the way some people treated unmarried mothers, but the sisters were kind and caring. They didn’t preach to us although we were expected to attend prayers morning and night and to say grace before each meal.
The sisters wore their uniform of long tabards and white wimples, girdles, and caps at all times. This made them very visible in the streets and they were often called upon to help in the community. When they were in the House they still wore their uniforms but without the caps and with aprons to protect their uniforms.
At the beginning of my stay I was placed in the laundry to wash sheets and towels etc. not only for the Home but also for the community as this was a way in which the sisters supplemented funds. it was quite hard and Sister Margret-Angela who was in charge of the laundry was a hard task master. When I was moved from the washing to the ironing area, she would check each piece before it was put into the basket for delivery to its owner. But she was also very quick to notice if any one of the women was in pain or in need of some help.
Then, later on, I was put to work in the kitchen. The meals were simple but planned for women about to give birth. Here I learned the basics of cooking that hadn’t been taught either at school or at home. Mother always had help and she didn’t want me disturbing the running of her house by talking to the help. And here I developed a love for cooking. I found a peace in preparing the vegetables and following the simple recipes put forward. This really has served me well in later life.
And then one day, when I wasn’t really expecting it, Mother Nature took control. Within a short time, I was rushed from the kitchen to the Maternity ward where what seemed like an eternity later, my baby daughter was delivered. I got to hold her for a short time before she was taken away from me and put with the other babies.
Sister Christine came to talk to the mothers individually shortly after they had given birth. She was kind and caring, and in no way tried to influence my decision. But I just knew that I was in no position to care for a child alone and the best option for my lovely baby girl was for her to be adopted.
The process was quick and although I was not involved I was told that baby had been adopted by two loving people who were unable to have children of their own. I had to work hard to stop crying when I was told that my baby was on the way to their home.
I left the home and put the birth of my daughter into the back of my mind.
Later, I met and married Greg and subsequently had a son Ian, whom I love dearly but through the years I had often thought of this daughter. Where she was and how she was living. Was she in a loving family home? Did she have siblings? What was she doing now that she had finished school? So many unanswered questions. But my experiences in those months spent in the care of the caring sister who ran the home convinced me that the couple would have been properly vetted and I just knew they would give my daughter a good home.
Greg, now my ex-husband had been told of the adoption but we had never shared the information with our son agreeing that he need never know.
Still not having opened the email, I went to bed with a million thoughts dancing around my brain. When I awoke the next morning I had no answers and was no closer to making a decision on opening the email.
I presumed that as she had written to me, she would want to meet me. What if we met and we took an instant dislike to each other; then old wounds would have been opened for nothing. What if it was a trick and how had this woman tracked me down anyway.?
But what to do? I remembered having met an ex-Nun at the Women’s Resource Centre when I dropped off some clothes that no longer fit. I’d had a long talk with her and discussed maybe volunteering at the Centre. Perhaps she would be a person to whom I could talk. I quickly finished breakfast and set off for the Women’s Centre before I could change my mind.