Margaret’s 1971 adoption story
How did you feel when you first discovered you were pregnant?
I first discovered I was pregnant during a holiday to Jersey with my friend, Gladys, in October 1970. I went down to breakfast one morning and had to rush back upstairs and threw up in the bedroom sink! I swore Gladys to secrecy and told her not to tell anyone, especially my parents. I bought an all-in-one girdle and managed to keep my baby all to myself until January 1971.
Who were you able to talk to about your feelings and emotions at the time and how much support were they?
I did not feel I wanted to talk to anyone. I could not begin to imagine what the outcome would be. My mother and father, how they would react? My brother? What about work? How would the baby’s father react? I’d probably lose my job…. It was just too much to think about, going round and round in my head all the time. I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my mother. She had such high hopes for me. I guess at that stage I was thinking that I had no option but to have my baby adopted as it would break my mother’s heart that I had brought such shame to the family. The only person I could talk to was Glad. She wasn’t really much help though. I did talk to my baby’s father, but he could not do anything, as he was married.
How did you find an agency and an adoptive family for your child?
I was packed off to the Midlands at seven months pregnant to stay with my sister. I had no idea what to expect. No one in the family would discuss the birthing process with me, not even my sister. Mother had got in touch with the Church of England Children Society, as instructed by our Vicar, and just prior to moving to my sister’s I met someone in Taunton who talked to us about adoption. My father never involved himself at all. He never discussed it with me before or after. There was no one independent that I could talk to.
How old were you when you gave David up for adoption and what year was it?
Aged 19, on 24 April 1971, I gave birth to David on my own in hospital. It was very scary as I had no idea of the birth process. But I can remember feeling elated after the birth. I felt so different in myself. I was now a mother. There was no way I was going to give him up. I was taking him home. He was part of me. However, it did not work out that way.
When I got back to my sister’s, I had to deal with the adoption agency. A social worker chatted to me about how I could look after him, but she painted such a bleak picture of all the pitfalls – that he would be illegitimate and how would he feel about that growing up? He would be called a ‘bastard’. How would I feel about bringing him up in a bedsit? With little heating and perhaps no hot water? There would be little chance of work because who would employ me? I had my job waiting for me back in Somerset but I couldn’t take my baby. Who would look after him whilst I was working? Certainly not my parents.
I felt I was moving in a fog, numb and disengaged with everything going on around me. Despite feeling so low, I made a real effort to make sure I had registered him with a name I had chosen that had the meaning –‘beloved’. He was my beloved son and I wanted him always to know that.
My lovely baby was placed in foster care. I had to write to the agency to say that he must be adopted. My mother talked of ‘duty’ and ‘doing what’s best for the baby’. I briefly met my David’s adoptive parents in a handing-over ceremony. The social worker barely let me touch him before he handed him over himself. I did ask for a photo but it never came.
How did you reconcile with David?
On December 11, 2017. I was sitting on my bed doing some work and my Facebook messenger pinged. I looked over to see that a guy had sent me a message. My son had found me! Tears came into my eyes, I was absolutely overjoyed to hear from him. More than I had ever hoped for. We exchanged messages, then emailed each other, and about a month later, we met! What a meeting! What a hug! We have a wonderful relationship and it’s going from strength to strength. I now have loads of photos of him from the time he was a baby right through to adulthood.
What makes me very angry is that the adoption agency admitted in their letter to David’s parents in 1971 that ‘she was hoping it would be possible to have kept him… but that she was experiencing an enormous amount of family pressure’. Despite knowing that my wish was that I keep my son they offered me no constructive help or support and allowed the adoption process to happen.
If you could change anything about your adoption experience, what would it be?
Had I known what I know now, I would never ever ever have agreed to the adoption. I would have done my very best to look after my baby myself. It is the biggest regret of my life that I allowed it to happen. I was coerced into thinking that giving him up would be in his best interest.
I would have liked to have had the opportunity to have spent some time on my own with David in an independent environment away from my family so that I could have had some breathing space to explore with someone independently from my family as to what help was available. The social worker said in the letter to the adoptive parents at the time that I had “a bright outgoing disposition” and was an ‘extremely sensible and level-headed girl, so why couldn’t this ‘extremely sensible and level-headed girl’ have been supported to look after her son herself?