Mother-and-baby homes: 'They called us fallen women, bad women'

Adele relives her experience of a mother-and-baby home, as an NI report is to be published.

1/26/2021 5:28:00 PM

'They took our dignity. They took our rights. They took our freedoms' Reliving the experience of a mother-and-baby home in Northern Ireland

Adele relives her experience of a mother-and-baby home, as an NI report is to be published.

Adele had herself been adopted from a mother-and-baby home in Belfast in the 1950sAdele is almost 70 - but even now she said the smell of lavender wood polish triggers a memory rewind of more than half a century.Aged 17, she was brought to Marianvale mother-and-baby home in Newry, County Down.

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She had been taken in her parish priest's car after discovering she was pregnant.Once she arrived, Adele said the nuns who ran the institution took away her name."They said I could no longer use my ordinary name, and I was given a name to use while I was there," she explained.

Adele herself had been adopted from a mother-and-baby home in Belfast in the 1950s, after being born to a single mother.Her adoptive family were "good people" but she feels "there wasn't a lot of affection and love in the household".

She said she "looked for love in the wrong places".'Dance like monkeys'The journey to Marianvale was "frightening", she said."I didn't know what was going to become of me."Aside from the distinctive odour in the home's main hall, Adele remembered being brought to meet the other girls with whom she would share a dormitory.

They were told not to tell each other about their own circumstances - but "of course, we did talk".Life in the home was "very austere, very regimented".She worked in the kitchen, and scrubbed floors on her hands and knees.Later, she cleaned a family home, but was given no wage.

Nuns "repeatedly called us fallen women, bad women - told us we had to pay for our sins".image copyrightimage captionThe former nuns' residence at the Marianvale mother-and-baby home in Newry, County DownOne memory seems to sting particularly sharply: "On one occasion, we had to put on a show for them.

"I can't remember whether it was St Patrick's Day or Easter."We had to dance like monkeys for their entertainment."It was horrendous, and it will stick in my head until the day I die."'I can die now'She gave birth to her son in hospital in Newry - an experience she described as "traumatic" and "lonely".

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Adele returned to Marianvale with her boy."I had been told by my family and the nuns, in no uncertain terms, that the baby was going to be adopted," she said. "I was given no other option."After a few months she was told the adoption arrangements were in place and she was to get the baby ready.

"I dressed him in some of the clothes which I had knitted and some of the things I had bought," she recalled."I wrote a little letter and I hid it at the bottom of the bag to send to his adoptive parents, telling them a little about me.

"Then I carried him down a corridor, handed him to a nun, and that was the last I saw of him for forty years."This is the point in Adele's powerful, brave story when she is the most visibly emotional.'Guilty secrets'She went back to her family and her child was never mentioned in the house again.

Later she married and had more children.Ten years ago, her first child made contact with her and she went to meet him in a hotel."I had so many feelings, it was frightening, it was exciting, it was upsetting."It was so marvellous to see the baby I had given birth to, now a grown man and the connection was there immediately, on both sides."

She has met his wife and children.She had always wanted to know what his life was like: "Was he loved? Did he have a decent home?"She found out that he had "a good life" during their first meeting and remembered saying to herself: "I can die now, I'm happy."

media captionMarianvale was one of a network of mother and baby institutions in NI and the Republic of IrelandShe wants a public inquiry into the institutions for unmarried mothers in Northern Ireland and for those who ran them to be held to account."They took our dignity. They took our rights. They took our freedoms.

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"You have to shine the bright light of truth upon this; it's no longer acceptable for them to hide in the shadows and for us to hide guilty secrets."They're not guilty and they're not secret any more."The people who were born in the homes also want accountability and answers.

'Sort of made-up'Mark McCollum was born in Marianvale in 1966 and then taken across the border to an orphanage in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.He said the fact he was taken out of one jurisdiction and adopted in another, where laws were different, was "not right on any level".

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What about the others in England? Why are they left out? England was just as bad for my mother.I was lucky to survive adoption, abortion, still abandoned by my father, who had money, family of his own.. refused to accept his responsibilities to his death. Sounds like the I.R.A 'We, the babies, were the physical embodiment of sin. We weren't regarded as being worthy of love and affection, because we were spoiled fruits.' I think that's just nonsense to be honest. Some of the most moralising people might have believed that, but it wasn't the norm. Sorry.

That's god for you. I don't think he cares really They should just re-brand the BBC the History Channel. Thought they were referring to lockdowns. Sounds like Gilead thank you very much for your work