I think that becoming a parent, no matter what the age is, is one of the most overwhelming experiences a human can go through. People of all ages are faced with so many different situations when they find out they are pregnant that it can talk all a women’s strength to make it to the end of the pregnancy without going insane.
My mum once told me, …. sitting on our back doorstep…. “Kendra, it doesn’t matter if you become a mum at 15, 25, 35 or 45…. It doesn’t mean that you will be a better mum because you are older, it does not mean that you will have an easier birth because you are younger…. nothing prepares you for becoming a mum no matter your age”.
I was 15 when we had that conversation. My mum sat on the back doorstep, cup of tea in one hand, cigarette in the other as she watched me pace up and down our garden taking deep breaths. I was having a panic attack. I had them all my life. But this was a bad one. She had been trying to clam me for a few hours, and now here we were…4 am in the morning….my mum watching me pace backwards and forwards…gasping for breath…. taking to myself…with my hands on my hips as I walked.
To support my back.
Because I was pregnant.
I was 15 and pregnant and there was lots of talk about what would happen to the baby when it was born, lots of conversations that I was either not involved in or ignored when I was there.
That afternoon we had gone to a meeting with lots of professionals and they had talked of timelines. Timelines of what I needed to achieve as a mother to keep my baby.
Even when I think of that meeting now, so many years later, I feel my breath quicken. I can feel that little tightening of the chest and the heat on my cheeks as they started talking about the “probability” of me being able to keep my child safe.
These conversations made me feel many things but mainly scared and dirty. They were preparing for me to fail. They were making it clear that they expected me to fail. We left that meeting with paperwork that held all the rules and regulations that I would have to meet to keep my child. We got home and my mum went through them with me. Halfway through she shook her head and said “this is all unrealistic, most new mothers would struggle to operate like this…I’m going to challenge them”. And so, I spent the afternoon reading all the things I must do.
And that evening the anxiety started so bad. I spent an hour laying on my bed, curled up, feeling like I could not breath at all. My mum found me…tried talking…tried to run me a bath…tried to comfort me.
By midnight I had convinced myself that the best thing to do was give the baby to my mum when it was born and just run away, I spent hours sobbing in my mums’ arms saying that I had to give her the baby and run away…but I was going to miss her so much. And then I would just sob.
My mum rocked me and soothed me. And now she was being factual as I paced the garden struggling to breath.
“you are going to be a good mum” she said …. “If you struggle…I will be there. I will never take over. I am the nan, and you are the mum. We will do it together”.
I paused for ages…looking at her…then looking away…
“what?” she said eventually. “What’s on your mind…say it”.
I gulped down the tears as my eyes were actually hurting. I looked at her but didn’t want to say it in case she thought I was mad. What if she thought I was mad and couldn’t keep the baby safe…and then she had to look after the baby, and I had to go away….and so the sobbing began again
“say it” my mum said loudly.
I stopped. I turned to her. Hands on hips and sway and said…. “What if I can’t love him”?.
Waited for her to say that was not ok to say. Waited for her to tell me that she would speak with social services in the morning…organise for the baby to be signed over to her. I was holding my breath…watching her…searching her face to see how angry she was. My mum pulled a face I couldn’t quite work out what she was thinking, and she said slowly.
“He…you think we are having a boy”.
I just stared at her…mouth a little open. She got up…waked over to me and grabbed my arms and said “you already love him. He already loves you. And I love both of you so…we will work it out”.
That has stuck with me ever since. I am 40 now. The power of my mum showing me that It would be ok. That the love she had not just for me…but my unborn child…. would make it ok…. Has got me through my darkest days, even when she was not with me anymore.
When I gave birth…alone on my bathroom floor (My mum was in the living room on the phone completely unaware) I had this moment that I imagine most mums have.
I was in shock…. this human had just come out of my actual body…. I was a kid. But as I instinctively held him to my chest and looked at him…I have never felt an emotion like it. I guess it is called love, but it was not a feeling that I had ever read about or had explained to me… It was like every part of me was now joined to him. That I now lived for him. I felt like I had met my sole mate. I can never explain that feeling.
The next day the social workers came and started the process of assessment. I have never felt so under pressure in my life. But the thought of my son being taken away overcome any other feeling. I would have been broken if they had taken him, even after being with him for an hour. He was mine. I loved him with every inch of my being and if anyone would have taken him away, I would have been in the same state as a wounded animal. Broken and lost.
I always thought I had it hard…in terms of what I have just told you.
However, reading the news today I have just realised how blessed I am that I was not in the same situation in 1967 where they would have ripped him from my arms as I would have been 16 and an unmarried mother which was described in 1967 “as a fate worse than death”
Reading the story of Jill Killingworth has floored me this evening. Because I know that she would have felt that rush of love when she had her child, but they took her child anyway.
Or Ann Keen who gave birth at 17 and was not even given the chance to say goodbye to her child. Eight days after he was born, she went to the hospital nursery to se him and he was gone. Never to be seen again. Adopted out. Because she was young and unmarried.
If I had of been pregnant then…I wonder if my mum would have been strong enough to fight for us. I think she would. But society would have made it so hard.
And what was the crime…. becoming pregnant young and unmarried…. that justified taking your child away!!!
To enable these adoptions, mothers wee made to sign consent forms. Some of the mothers were children…. some were in shock…some didn’t understand…some were bullied into it. Some had just given birth and like any new mum, had no idea what they were thinking or feeling as a million different emotions whizzed through their body.
Some were signed by other people like a GP or even their own mothers.
Hundreds of women have now written to the Prime Minster today that deserve an apology from the UK government, on behalf of the institutions and individuals that treated the so badly.
Ann Keen, who went on to become an MP and junior minister, says: “I did not give up my son or abandon him. An apology would clear my name and my son’s name. An historical injustice is what happened. It’s time to say sorry.”
The suffering that women suffer never fails to shock me. The fact women are having to ask for an apology sickens me.
To know that I could have been in the same situation if I had been pregnant in a different time scares me.
If a sorry will bring these mothers some comforts, then why are we even still talking about it. We should be shouting it from the roof tops for fuck’s sake.
I have cried for the mothers I never knew tonight, For the children taken away and the women that were left destroyed as part of them was ripped away.
When will women and girls not have to suffer.