'How can something so wonderful be so bad?': Unmarried mothers whose babies were taken away and never seen again


It's believed half a million British women were persuaded to give their babies up for adoption in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Campaigners from the Movement for an Adoption Apology want the government to acknowledge that many women may have been coerced into giving up their babies against their will, and apologise.Those women have lived with the heartache ever since, and many never saw their children again.

These are their stories.


Jean's story

Jean Hands last saw her son over 50 years ago, when he was taken from the hospital where she gave birth by a 'moral welfare worker', and placed for adoption.



"I think I was taken out in a wheelchair and I just remember being whisked down the corridor.

There was this room, with windows, and I was trying to look in because I knew he was in there. And I was just taken away.

I haven't talked about this. Ever."



1969 was the year Bob Dylan played the Isle of Wight festival, the Beatles recorded their final album, and US astronauts landed on the moon.

It was also the year that Jean's life changed for ever. She was 17, living in Smethwick, and studying at Art College in the West Midlands, when she fell pregnant.

The odds were stacked against her. She couldn't afford an abortion, and the baby's father didn't want to know. The stigma of unmarried motherhood was immense.



She gave birth to her son alone in hospital.

"Being so alone was such an overwhelming experience for a 17-year-old. I think it just completely changed my life. It was a very, very alienating experience to feel so uncared for."

She had three days with her son before he was taken away and adopted.

Jean found him in 2009. They have emailed, but never met. 


Pat's story


"Tears flowing, yelling, but I was just told to shut up. My dad was there, quite firmly making sure I didn't make too much fuss. It's one of those things you never forget, just like it was yesterday."

Pat King, was 15 in 1973 when she fell pregnant. She says she was forced to hand over her baby son to be adopted.


No-one else in the photo knew, but on this family holiday, Pat was pregnant

The only child of strict parents, her pregnancy was a total shock, and she didn't really know what had happened.

It was the head mistress of her girls' Grammar School who guessed, and wrote to her parents, who were livid.

She gave birth three weeks later.



Pat, from Whitchurch in Shropshire, cared for her son in hospital for two weeks, feeding him, washing him, and dressing him.


Pat treasures the memories of her son's birth

Then she was told to get him ready, take him down to the front steps of the hospital, and, in floods of tears, in front of her parents, she handed him over to a social worker.

"She was of the view that you'd committed a sin and this was the best thing, and loving couples out there needed these children.

It was almost like that was her goal, to find babies for the parents she'd got on her list; she didn't care about the person giving the child away at all."

Despite looking all her life, she never saw her son again.


Pamela's story


Pamela was born in 1962, to a 24-year-old shop assistant, who was still living at home.

Her mother had been sent away from home by her parents to have the baby, "to avoid publicity in her home town". She was told she could return home afterwards, but not with the child. 



Her mother had wanted to keep her, but couldn't afford it on her shop worker wage, and also didn't know if she'd still have a job after the birth, such was the social stigma.

She was able to look after Pamela for four weeks, before giving her up for adoption. 

Pamela had a very happy childhood, and still has the dress and cardigan she was wearing when she was adopted, but never stops thinking about her mother.


The outfit Pamela was wearing when she was given up for adoption.

"I always grew up knowing I was adopted. I was always told I was chosen. And very wanted...but I don't think any adoptee will ever sit on a train without looking at people and thinking, 'Am I related to them?'

You just want to know where you're from, it's like filling in the last piece of a jigsaw."



Pamela now lived in Lambley in Nottinghamshire.

She traced her dad, who had died when she was three. She also managed to find her dad's other daughter, so she has a half sister who looks very like her. 

She has never found her mum, although she keeps looking.


Dr Matt Cole, a Social Historian at the University of Birmingham, says the moral outrage at this time was such that there were welfare concerns about the prospect of a child being brought up by a mother who had given birth outside of marriage.

The courts could declare an unmarried mother 'unfit' and force her to give up her child.


We asked the Minister of State for Children and Families to comment on these women's stories, and they sent this response.

"Whilst we cannot undo the past, we now have a society that takes a very different attitude to single mothers and lessons of the time have been learned and have led to significant changes to legislation and practice."

They also said,

"There is help available for those affected by past adoption practices, including intermediary services - provided by local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and registered adoption agencies - to help them trace their birth children or birth parents and establish whether contact is possible."