Saturday, May 26, 2012

Birdhurst Lodge - One Woman's Tale

From the Independant:
Nowadays, it seems incredible that women should have had to hide their 'shame' – a Victorian word still in common currency in the 1950s – in such forbidding institutions, austere relics of 19th-century workhouses and 18th-century penitentiaries. Even worse were the cases of unmarried mothers discovered in mental asylums in the 1970s, having been incarcerated there for decades, thanks to the post-war influence of such notorious experts as the child psychiatrist John Bowlby who condemned "the neurotic character" of the "socially unacceptable" unmarried mother.

The turnover at Birdhurst Lodge was brisk, with each woman's stay limited to three months: six weeks before the birth and six weeks afterwards. The timing was partly to give the mothers a chance to bond with their babies before deciding whether to have them adopted, but also a calculated move to let enough time elapse to make sure the babies were developmentally healthy, since adoptive couples did not want disabled children. The official stigma surrounding illegitimacy, together with queues of childless couples wanting to adopt in the days before fertility treatment, meant that the mother-and-baby homes that were widely established in Britain between the two world wars by the main churches and the Salvation Army were seen to be neatly solving two societal problems at once: they effectively operated as baby farms. And of course it made economic sense, since the adoptive parents would donate money to the religious charities running such homes.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was born at Birdhurst Lodge in October 1949. My mother had been obliged by her own mother to give up her baby (me) for adoption. My mother always maintained that the regime was harsh, the staff hard-hearted and the heavy laundry work the girls were required to do was to make them have still births or late abortions. My adoptive parents were told the girls were well-looked after and the babies healthy. In fact, after my mother left me at six weeks, I stayed at Birdhurst until April 1950 by which time I was grossly undernourished. Not such a nice place, I think.