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50 years on: We want an apology, says unmarried Shrewsbury teenager forced to give up baby daughter

By Lucy Todman | Shrewsbury | Politics | Published:

She was just 15, living in a home for unmarried mothers in Shrewsbury and just days after giving birth Felicity Davies was forced give up her tiny baby.

Half a million babies were forcibly removed from their young and unmarried mothers

Now, almost 50 years later, MPs are calling for an apology after half a million babies were forcibly removed from their young and unmarried mothers.

More than 20 MPs have backed a motion recognising the “pain and suffering” of women who were deemed vulnerable and who were subsequently forced to give up their babies by the authorities. Their move follows the government’s rejection last year of a demand for a public inquiry.

The group, led by Labour MPs Alison McGovern and Stephen Twigg, was taking its case for a debate to the backbench business committee today. The move is supported by MPs from Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the SNP.

McGovern said: “After meeting with women who were cast away from their families and communities, and then forcibly separated from their babies, I am determined that their experiences need to be heard. These women suffered a terrible injustice and it must not be forgotten or ignored.

“By holding this debate, I hope we can show that this parliament recognises the pain the state and its institutions caused.”

Felicity said: “I was 15 when I found I was pregnant. My mother lost the plot when I told her – she tried to push me down the stairs, hit me across the face with a poker, broke a couple of ribs.

“I was sent to Chaddeslode House, a home run by the Church of England. It was full of young women having babies. But there was no information or education about it. We’d get up at 6am, go to the chapel for prayers, then start our 'duties' – cleaning and laundry. We became quite docile and institutionalised.

“My daughter was born early and was very tiny. I called her Mary. No one at the hospital knew she was for adoption. I had her a couple of weeks before the social workers realised.

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“The moment of goodbye was awful. I remember standing outside the hospital waiting for a bus and feeling a part of me was missing.

Painful

“I married Mary’s father and we went on to have more children. We are still married. Much later I tried to trace Mary, but just came up against brick walls. Then one day I got a phone call from a private detective who my daughter had hired to find me. We met when she was nearly 40, and had children of her own.

“The adoption was an incredibly painful experience. The feeling of loss persisted and caused me pain and unresolved deep anger for many years until I had help to resolve it. To a large extent it defined who and what I am. In lots of ways I’ve been very fortunate compared with other women, whose lives have been destroyed.

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“Attitudes to women like me were astonishing. It wasn’t that far removed from when they used to lock unmarried pregnant women up for life. It makes me very angry.

“I’d like an acknowledgement of the suffering these women have been through. A lot of it is tied up with the churches: it was under their authority that these things happened. Nothing can compensate for the loss, but an acknowledgement is what we need.”

Referring to an apology made less than two weeks ago by the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, for 126 illegal adoptions between 1946 and 1969, Stephen Twigg said: “This debate will provide the British government with an opportunity to right a historic wrong and apologise to those British mothers and children who were adopted under similar circumstances.”

Varadkar told the Irish parliament that the illegal adoptions were “another chapter from the very dark history of our country”.

According to campaigners, the figure was the tip of the iceberg. His statement followed an apology five years earlier for the Irish state’s collusion in the Magdalene laundries, run by the Catholic church to house “fallen women”. Many had their babies forcibly removed and put up for adoption.

The treatment of single pregnant women and forced adoptions in Ireland was highlighted in the 2013 film Philomena, starring Judi Dench. However, similar practices in the UK have received far less attention.

Lucy Todman

By Lucy Todman
@shroptod

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle based in Shrewsbury.

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