The irony of these statements from religious organizations is not lost on those of us who lost a child to adoption.
Recently a committee of the Senate held hearings and received submissions on post-war adoption practices in Canada. Origins Canada travelled to Ottawa and spoke of the numerous rights violations that were perpetrated at that time.
As frequently happens, I learned something else that I was never told “back then”, a right I didn’t know I had and could have exercised. Something that might have changed everything.
Here is the link to the Senate Report on the hearings.
The most recent edition of the Origins Canada Newsletter devoted a page to quotes about unmarried and pregnant young women and adoption from the ’60’s.
Here they are in all their dubious glory. I remember once when I was in university after I had had and lost my son, I came across a book about unwed mothers. They were described very much in the terms you will find below.
I am tempted to link to a few old posts of mine to some of these quotes but, as we say in the legal profession, “Res Ipse Loquitur” – meaning the thing speaks for itself.
Quotes From Origins Research…
“In 1964 in Canada, the most recent year for which we have figures, 26,556 babies were born to unmarried mothers. We can safely assume that practically all of them were not wanted”
Chatelaine Magazine, March 1966, Vol. 39, No. 3. pp. 28, 79
“A Children’s Aid Society official says he has seen unwed mothers discard their babies “as if they were used Kleenex.” Winnipeg Free Press, June 27, 1966.
“Chances are good that she won’t make a second “mistake“, her emotional scars will heal and she’ll be happily married a few years later.” Mrs. G.H. Loosemore, Director, Humewood House.Toronto Star, April 22, 1963.
“Generally the most unstable want to keep their child, the more stable gives the infant for adoption.”
Captain Scoville, Booth Hospital. Toronto Daily Star, March 16, 1965.
“We hope we won’t have to resort to encouraging girls to keep their own children. We still can’t prove that the baby gets the best of the deal when it’s raised by its’ own mother.” Sister St. Augustine, Director, Rosalie Hall. Toronto Star, December 20, 1965.
“Mrs. Doering reports that during a recent conversation with Children’s Aid Workers she has been advised by them no longer to counsel a girl that the unselfish thing for her to do is to place her child for adoption as the Society can no longer assure placement.” Consultation on Counselling, Victor Home for Girls, June 7, 1965.
“Single girls who hang on to their babies invariably attempt to defend their position by claiming their love is so great that they cannot give the child up. Such “love” is questionable. It is a sick kind of love turned inside out –an unwholesome blend of self pity, mixed with self-destruction and a touch of martyrdom. This isn’t mother love, it’s smother love, with all the suffocating aspects that the word implies”
Ann Landers, Toronto Star, April 25, 1961.
“Most of the girls we have seen who are financially and intellectually able to keep their babies decide not to. It’s the “other kind of girl” who is more apt to make the decision to keep her baby.” Sister St. Augustine, Director, Rosalie Hall. Toronto Star, December 20, 1965.
“The more emotionally healthy unmarried mother usually gives up her child for adoption as best for him.”
Miss Gwen Davenport, Superintendent, Armagh. Globe & Mail, March 11, 1963.
Read ’em and weep!
The first surprise I got at Philomena was the number of people in the audience. We, my husband and I, arrived just before show time because I had read that when other mothers saw it, there were not a lot of people in the theatre. But when we walked in, the centre section of the large theatre was almost full. But the audience seemed to be configured in an unusual way. Two people together interspersed with many many people who were there alone. An empty seat separating each pair or single. It looked liked everyone had tried to give everyone else space. Maybe privacy, as much as you can have in a movie theatre.
When we found seats, much, much closer to the screen than we usually sit, our immediate neighbours were a woman of about my vintage and a woman who looked to be in her forties. This forty something woman (an adoptee maybe) sat leaning forward in her seat throughout the entire movie. The woman on the other side frequently wiped tears from her eyes.
I am not going to go into the plot of the movie because the story is pretty well known and others have described it in great detail and well. I refer you here and here. See also the radio interview link at the end of this post.
I must confess I went to see Philomena almost out of a sense of duty. I said to my husband, “Let’s just go and get this over with.” I’d read the reports from other mothers of non-stop tears. For many reasons I wasn’t really up for that.
But sometimes you have to take one for the team and so I wanted to go, to support the movie, to support the fact someone was finally telling our story. Because whether you were in a laundry in Ireland with mean nuns, or in a maternity home in North America, or just isolated from your friends and potential supporters by your parents, this is your story because it is the story of the loss of and the search for your own child.
So the movie started. I had the Kleenex ready but to my surprise, I didn’t cry. One of the drawbacks to being a writer is you watch to see how they are doing it, how they are telling the tale. I always think the sign of good writing is you feel like someone is taking you by the hand, a confident, competent someone, and saying “Come with me, I’m going to take you on a journey.” So many people have gotten this particular journey so very wrong that I was a little nervous about that. But I knew a few minutes in that I was in good hands. Faith in Dame Judi Dench’s project-picking abilities is maintained.
And so we are going along and I am not crying. I am watching. There is a flashback where Philomena is in labour and my hand is on my chest but it’s not too bad. I am Ok. I breath. I recover. We are out of the flashback, we are back in the present. But then comes the scene where they take Philomena’s son away and give him to a wealthy couple from America and I feel such a pain in my chest, like something has been run straight through my heart. I think I can’t stand it. I’m not sure I can keep it together. I think I am going to let out a sob – sobs. I start to breath again, deeper, more slowly, this time. I look at my husband beside me. And I recover again. Read the rest of this entry »