Adoption as we know it now is very different to the situation in the three decades spanning the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in Scotland. Then the idea of an unmarried couple conceiving a child was one which attracted much disapproval.
This meant that many birth parents were denied the opportunity and choice to raise the children they conceived. The nature of these highly moralistic times meant every effort was made to conceal pregnancy outwith wedlock. This had huge repercussions for all involved.
Birth fathers were denied the opportunity to have their name on the child’s birth certificate and were often forbidden further contact with their partner. Birth mothers were often sent to the many mother and baby homes run by religious organisations across the UK, where they would be kept away from their families, friends and neighbours in order to give birth quietly and secretly.
Often, women were expected to work for the duration of their stay at the homes – without allowance being made for how far along a pregnancy was or whether the woman had just given birth. During pregnancy these women met with professionals who persuaded them that giving up their baby for adoption to a married family was what was best for the baby. The welfare provisions made for single parents were often not made clear to women in this position and with pressure from their parents and professionals, mothers were often left feeling that there was no other option but to concede.
We know now that the impact that adoption can have on the mothers and fathers involved and the consequences can be vast. It is almost impossible to imagine the huge amounts of grief and loss experienced by those who felt coerced into giving up their children. There are incredible amounts of anguish suffered by birth mothers and fathers who were not afforded the opportunity to make the choice to keep their child. The feelings of guilt and remorse felt by these individual’s every time their child’s birthday comes around, and the weight of keeping this a secret to conform to the norms of society, can often be intolerable.
These adoptions raise many issues, among which is the fear that you may be “outed” as a birth parent. Not everyone is brave enough to go public in the media, especially when the original message was to forget your pregnancy and the birth of your child and keep the secret. Secrecy is everywhere in these adoptions.
How must it feel to be an adopted person, and due to the nature of the times, find out much later in life that your parents did not give birth to you? The questions of your own identity that this must raise and the fear that you were not wanted by your birth parents are just two of the challenges for adopted adults.
The times have changed and while many birth parents have realised that they suffered a punishment without a crime, there are some older generations who still feel under pressure to keep this secret.
Increasingly since the 1980s, birth parents and adopted people were afforded the opportunity to find out what information was held on them in the adoption records and case files, making it possible to piece together and own something of their own story.
Other developments are also welcome. A documentary which aired on ITV in November, Britain’s adoption scandal; Breaking the silence, has very much propelled this topic into the public domain. The documentary involved birth mothers speaking up about their experiences and fuelled renewed enquiries to organisations such as Birthlink in Edinburgh from individuals affected by the topic discussed in this programme.
There is call for a public inquiry on the matter and the Catholic Church has apologised for the part played by their organisations.
Birth parents in Scotland have yet to receive an apology from either church or state for the distress and trauma caused them. While an apology will not relieve even the tiniest amount of hurt caused by this scandal, it is a step towards recognising that the pain and anguish caused were not the fault of the individuals themselves and it may afford individuals with some small amount of closure in the knowing that they were a victim rather than a perpetrator.
An apology is the least that is deserved.
Louise Kerr and Debbie O’Beirne, University of Edinburgh social work students.