Adoption Stories – The pain of giving up a baby for adoption

The pain of giving up a baby for adoption is still raw for some mothers 50 years later, as a fascinating two-part documentary showed.

Love Child, was shown on ITV over two successive Sundays in January and was made by Testimony Films, Steve Humphries’ Bristol-based company renowned for producing oral history programmes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the stigma of illegitimacy was such that many young women in their late teens and early 20s were more or less forced to give up their babies. They were expected to go away to mother and baby homes, and six weeks later, sign over their child to someone else. They were then expected to make a fresh start and forget the babies they gave away.

But the women featured in the programme didn’t forget. Every day, each one of them thought about the babies society wouldn’t let them keep. Some of the stories were heart-wrenching. Doreen, who went to tell her Navy boyfriend she was pregnant only to find he was already married with a family, refused point blank to sign the forms so her son Michael could be adopted. She vividly described throwing the pen across the room as officials tried to force her. Only when she was threatened with being sent to a mental institution did she finally give in.

Parental pressure during the post-war era was a tremendous influence too. Girls who got pregnant were seen to have brought shame on the family. The men involved didn’t come into it at all. Many of these women were ‘sent away’ to mother and baby homes for the duration of the pregnancy and birth, only being allowed home when the baby had been adopted.

The messages were repeated over and over. Young pregnant women were told that adoption would give their baby both a mother and a father and a home full of nice things – things that they wouldn’t be able to do. With little or no support from family or state, it was virtually impossible for a young woman with a baby to support herself financially, or find suitable accommodation.

The women who gave their babies away came across as tortured souls. Most of them were now in their 60s and 70s, but all had vivid recollections of the precious moments they were allowed to spend with their babies before they were adopted.

Though Liz knew that her baby daughter was going to be adopted, she remained heartbroken at not being allowed to say goodbye to her. Her daughter was taken from her cot by the nuns at the mother and baby home as she slept. Liz’s shock at the deviousness of this act was still palpable. Yet this was one of the stories with a happy ending. Though she went on to marry and have seven sons, Liz never forgot her daughter, praying that one day she would try and find her. That moment came when her daughter had a child of her own.

“I had to find out why it happened, why anyone could give up something as precious as the baby I had before me,” she said.

Liz and her daughter – who emigrated to Australia as a child – were happily reunited 34 years later. But not all reunions ended so well. Many mothers were desperate to find out what had happened to their children but it wasn’t until the Children Act of 1975 that children were given the right to search for their birth parents. The birth parents had to hope that their child would choose to get in touch.

The programme focused on two women who were desperate to know more about their birth mothers – both stories ended in heartache as their mothers were found, but chose to get in touch with their daughters only to tell them they didn’t want any contact.

TV antiques expert David Dickinson did manage to trace his birth mother, exchanging regular letters, photographs and phone calls. But they never did meet.
“My mother was always a little wary if I suggested I flew over to Jersey, where she lived. I would have loved to have gone over there but I sensed her reluctance, a feeling that I would disrupt her life. I didn’t want to do that but we remained in close contact, nevertheless,” he said.

The programme offered a moving insight into the experiences of these mothers and their children. It told us as much about the social and sexual upheavals of the last 50 years as it did about our basic human need – to know where we came from.

Though Love Child made thought-provoking television, the spin-off book that accompanies it offers much greater insight into the whole history of adoption in this country. The book, also called Love Child: A Memoir of Adoption, Reunion, Loss and Love by Sue Elliott (Vermilion, £14.99) chronicles the process from before the first Adoption of Children Act in 1926 upto the present day. Elliott, the author, also has her own story to tell – she was adopted as a baby in 1951 and her own experiences pepper this informative work.

164 thoughts on “Adoption Stories – The pain of giving up a baby for adoption

  1. Hi I’m looking for my mums half sister, we have only found out recently that she exists as mums mum never told us and unfortunately my nan passed away 4 years ago. I’ve only found the birth as doing the family tree and my mans elderly sisters are still with us at the mo.
    The story is my nan had an affair, became pregnant, gave birth to a girl in 1951, in St. John’s in Chelmsford Essex, registered her as Denise A. Harden had to adopt her. Apparently to a couple from Scotland. Also the story is this girl came looking for my nan when she was a teen but my nan turned her away (we r not sure how true this is). We would love to find you. Please contact me via the comments.

  2. Hi, my wife wrote on here earlier this year, still looking for my birth mum, my birth certificate says Northamptonshire adoption service, does anyone no anything about what this means, is all that I kinda no is mums surname was piper, maybe age 19 at the time and she had me in in an adoption center in Northamptonshire 4/5/1970, had me and left me there, my birth certificate is dated 5 months later October 1970, I can only guess this is when my adoptive parents picked me up, any information however small would be helpful many thanks, Paul,

  3. Trying yet again to find a lady called Monica Kernan , she was training to be a nurse in the late 1950 s early 1960 s at st Lawrances Hospital.Monica had come over from Ireland. Does anyone remember her.?

  4. I’m just taking the first steps in tracing my birth family. As of today, I learnt my first appearance was at 48 Wood Street, Chelmsford. This enquiry is primarily addressed to Bella, whose mums half sister, like me, arrived in 1951. I presume that Wood Street was actually St John’s. Was this a Mother and Baby Home/Unit within the hospital? Unfortunately, recently demolished, this is now a new housing development. Any information would be great! Thanks – Jeff.

  5. Baby girl born in Nairobi Kenya on 18/03/1967. Biological mother out on holiday had affair with married man. Do you have any info?

  6. Reply for Jeff…
    Hi there, like you I don’t have much information. I’m assuming St. John’s did have a mother and baby unit going by previous posts and a little research online but that’s as much as I really know unfortunately. Good luck with your search. Perhaps we could exchange email addresses so that if we find anything that may be useful to each other we could collaborate? Bella.

  7. My name is Alice Hunter im trying to find my niece who was adopted in either 1972 or early 1973 .in South of England somewhere near Brighton names Eastbourne or Bournemouth ring a bell .I think her birth name was either Carmel or Carmen Nugent .Her birth mother was Mary Nugent .. her name probably was changed when adopted which I think was a couple of days after birth .she had dark hair and blue eyes but colouring may have changed as she got older .please get in contact if you read this .I came across this site trying to find where I could register to be found .still haven’t found number and I’m not good on here so prob wont find this site again I live in Braintree Essex hope I find you xx

  8. I am trying to trace my natural birth father, I have tried to get this information for such a long time that I am met with closed doors at every opportunity.
    My story is back in June 1967 that my birth mother Heather Tocher went into a mother and baby home to give me up for adoption, my name was Anita Tocher. The home was based as far as I am aware in Bebbington on the Wirral, my birth mother did and still does live in Wilmslow to this current day.
    The information that I have found out is that she claims not to know who my father is, but I dispute this for various reasons. What I have found out is that when she was younger she was dating a male, and both of them were friends with another couple (two couples). My birth mother went onto marry this male, but to now further explain almost 40 said years on, she has divorced the male and are now with both with each other’s partners from all those years ago. There are other children involved, and yes I have asked the question are these men my birth parent? I have been assured that they aren’t…..but I want to know for health reasons.
    It’s almost like when you give your child up for adoption, there is no thought for what devastating effect it can cause on the adopted child later in life.
    Can anyone advise me what to do please?
    Kind Regards

  9. Hi, I’m looking for my adopted sister. She was adopt from the bell hostel in eastbourne. My mum Margaret waller had to give her up for adoption as this brought disgrace to the family. My mum named her linda and she was born on the 21st November 1962 and my Mum mothered her until she was 6 weeks old and was gave up for adoption to scout masters. They did send a letter to my mum but this letter never reached her. Please could you help me find her.


    I was in a Mother and Baby home in Baddow Road Chelmsford in the 1950s.

    Mothers were sent to the home for 6 weeks before baby was due then stayed 6 weeks after, then baby was taken for adoption….Babies were born at St Johns Hospital Chelmsford.

    The home I am pretty sure was called Bartletts…

    I only just found this page so hope the information helps Bella and anyone else looking for that home…

  11. My message to Bella was also to Jeff. I will answer any questions if I can help further. I still live in the area.

  12. Hi, I am looking for my grandmother or any of my blood line. I have limited information which I am hoping is correct, but my adopted grandparents have been reluctant to help in this matter.

    My mother was born I believe on 30/04/61
    She was adopted very early 6months or under from Bournemouth
    I believe the mother (my grandmother) was a young unwed mother, possibly from the Channel Islands (Although I am not sure where this information came from!)
    There was knitted and lace garments, which gave the air of a wealthy family and possibly the letter J embodied, I am not sure if this was a family surname or the initial of my mother birth name (which she believed to be Janette :/)

    If any of this rings true to anyone please get in touch.

  13. Searching for birth mother Winifred Mary Stubbs – you went to St Monica’s refuge at 13 Croxteth road, Liverpool and I was born in Sefton hospital on 15/12/1950.

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