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Apology for forced adoption 'would heal' Scottish women's shame

A Scottish mother forced to give her baby up for adoption in the 1970s says an apology for the cruel practice would "lift women out of shame".

The Scottish government is facing calls to issue an official apology to Scottish mothers who were pressured into giving up their children.

It is estimated 60,000 women had babies adopted simply because they were unmarried.

MSPs debated the issue of a government apology at Holyrood on Wednesday.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, many women were coerced into handing over their babies. Many were denied access to housing and social benefits which may have allowed them to have kept them.

Some of the women affected never had more children and say the loss caused them a lifetime of grief.

In 2013 Australia issued the world's first government formal apology for forced adoption, taking responsibility for the practice.

Three years ago, the Canadian senate recommended the federal government issue an apology to 300,000 Canadian women.

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And in January of this year, the Irish Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, apologised to former residents of mother and baby homes in Ireland for the way they were treated over several decades.

But there has never been a formal apology issued in Scotland.

Asked about an apology during First minister's Questions last week, Nicola Sturgeon said she was "very committed" to considering the matter properly.

Understand experiences

She said: "Like everybody else, I feel deep sadness that, in the past, women were forced to give their children up for adoption because of prevailing moral and social attitudes.

"We are engaging with campaigners who are calling for an apology, so that we can better understand their experiences and consider the issue more fully.

"I give my commitment that we will continue to do that."

Labour MSP Monica Lennon tabled a motion on historical forced adoption, calling the Scottish government to say sorry on behalf of the nation. She asked that ministers should speed up the work being done to reach the point of making the apology.

Jeannot Farmer, a member of the Scottish branch of the Movement for an Adoption Apology, described the hurt caused to her by the practice.

She became pregnant at 22 in her fourth year at university. She planned to have her baby until a bad exam result made her reassess her situation.

She told the Good Morning Scotland programme: "I failed my exam at about the six- month stage of my pregnancy and began to really reflect how I would go forward. I had assumed I would get my degree and have the baby, perhaps stay home for a year then go out and find a job and I would be in a very good position to support my child.

"When I failed my exam I went into a bit of a slump I thought maybe I should consider adoption."

She spoke to social services to find out all the different options, hoping they would give her sound professional advice and asked how it might work.

She never formally agreed to put her baby up for adoption and said she would consider what to do once she had her baby.

However, when she went into hospital, she said staff were already saying the child would be adopted.

"The birth was very traumatic and the nurse was hostile," she said.

She felt she was treated differently from how she had ever been treated during ante-natal classes and ante-natal checks.

She said: "It was really a bit of a shock to be treated quite brutally. I was bullied into accepting being induced. When I told the doctor I felt my labour was progressing well, he said I wasn't in enough pain."

'Shrouded in shame'

Her son was taken away from her after he was born in 1979.

Jeannot was reunited with him 31 years later and although it was a positive experience, it has made her reflect on how she was treated.

Ms Farmer said: "For me there was no grieving process in losing the baby that way.

"All this grief bottled up over these years is shrouded in shame - your thoughts of this child are shameful, you are shamed into giving your child up and then shamed because in the view of the world you didn't love your child enough to hold onto them."

She now believes an apology from the government could help her and women like her to heal.

She said: "An apology would be rehabilitative and would say to the world this is something that was done to us, as women, and now we have met and talked we find our circumstances are very similar.

"An adoption apology is not about blaming people. It is about lifting women out of shame who have never had anyone tell them they didn't do anything wrong and they were worthy of raising their children."

Monica Lennon said: "Our nation cannot undo the loss and pain these mothers have endured, however, an apology from the Scottish government would help them to heal from this cruel injustice.

"An apology will come too late for many of the mothers, so the first minister must act quickly.

"Scottish women were instrumental in securing an apology from the Australian government in 2013, and access to specialist mental health support. Women in Scotland deserve no less for the trauma they have suffered.

"We must confront Scotland's past and finally treat the victims of historical forced adoption with compassion. All they want is for the first minister to come to Parliament and say sorry."

Following the debate at Holyrood, Children's Minister Clare Haughey said: "I am deeply saddened that in the past, women felt forced to give their children up for adoption.

"It is right that we look at this issue properly and, for me, that means listening to the voices of women, children and wider families whose lives have been profoundly changed by the experience. By doing that, we can work in partnership on next steps."

She gave her assurance that she would do everything possible to understand the needs of the parties involved.

She said she was due to hold meetings with the Movement for an Adoption Apology and was working to meet other involved groups.

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