My Mum Was Forced To Give Up Her Baby And Couldn't Tell A Soul. Until Now.
My mother has a secret. It’s something she’s kept buried deep within, meticulously hidden, yet festering away, for more than 40 years.
But now, she’s finally ready to reveal what happened all those years ago.
And she’s asked me to help her share it with the world.
So here it is …
My mother, Bridget, was just 21 years old when she got the shock of her life – she was pregnant.
It was 1971. She was unmarried, in the midst of an unhappy and emotionally abusive relationship and she was living in London, a long way from her tiny village home on the West Coast of Ireland.
She dealt with the revelation the only way that seemed reasonable for a young unmarried Catholic girl.
She kept it secret.
But as the months passed, her secret grew within, bulging out through her pregnant stomach, to the point that it was impossible to hide.
Eventually she was summoned by her boss at the hospital, where she worked as a nurse. And she was banished to a hidden institution where “her situation would be dealt with.”
That institution was called a Mother and Baby Home.
There, Mum, along with dozens of other unwed pregnant women were forced to do gruelling labour -- scrubbing tiles while their pregnant bellies barely hovered above the floor, cooking, cleaning, dusting, mopping, heavy lifting … it never stopped. When they weren’t working, they were being scolded by the nuns or social workers about their “shameful sins” and “wicked ways.” And despite those young pregnant women all sharing the same shame, the same fears, they never confided in each other. They remained silent. Just as they were supposed to.
My mother was even silent during the labour.
When contractions first stirred within her, she didn’t make a sound. For one thing, she didn’t know what was happening - none of the women were given advice or education of any kind about childbirth. But mainly, she didn’t make a sound because she didn’t want the other pregnant women around her to know what sort of pain they too were destined to endure.
Even in the final stages of labour, when the agony surged beyond anything she’d experienced before, my mother clenched her teeth, scrunched her eyes and stayed quiet.
I have no right to make a sound, she’d thought. I deserve the pain.
After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, my mother (like many thousands of other unmarried mothers in Australia, the UK and Ireland) was forced to give her child away. And then she was left to carry on with her life as though everything was normal … without her child, with a part of her seemingly eternally missing. And she was urged by authorities, by those who should be been supporting her, to never speak of it again.
Thankfully that missing part in her life was filled when her daughter, my sister, Reynagh, tracked her down in the mid 90’s. They reunited, in Perth, more than 14,000 kilometres from where they’d last crossed paths.
And just like that, my mother was finally whole again. But even in those joyous times, as she rekindled a relationship with Reynagh, the baby girl she’d been forced to give away, my mother felt as though she couldn’t share the news with the most people in her life. She was crippled by the shame of her past. The silence still had its hold on her.
And it’s stayed that way since. She gave in to the silence just as countless unmarried mothers were conditioned to.
That is, until now.
Since mum spoke out, we’ve been flooded with messages. They have been wonderful messages of support and praise. We’ve also heard from other unmarried mothers who are now sharing stories from their past for the first time in their lives. We’ve heard from other men and women too, who’ve experienced different kinds of adversity in their past, and kept it secret, until now.
That’s why my mother spoke out -- to set herself free from the secrecy, the shame. And to set others free. And hopefully, once and for all, break that horrible culture of silence.
You can read Bridget and Daniel's full story, Bye Baby, here.
Hear more from Bridget and Daniel live on Studio 10, Thursday July 26 at 10.50am AEST.