Exclusive: Midwife’s memories of young women shunned by society

A midwife who helped deliver babies of young women sent to homes across Northern Ireland because they got pregnant while unmarried has broken her silence to back calls for a public inquiry.

Teresa McGarry decided to share what she saw after watching the investigation into the mother and baby homes scandal by UTV’s current affairs programme Up Close.

She was only 22 when she became a midwife and is the first health worker to go public about experiences during that time.

“Their human rights as human beings were removed,” Ms McGarry told UTV, speaking about the fearful and anxious young women she recalled being admitted to the hospital where she worked.

“And it was shameful.”

Those young women were forced to live in a world of secrecy, shame and stigma because they were to be unmarried mothers and were then separated from their babies.

“You were told not to speak about them, their personal lives, or where they came from – definitely not the father of their baby or their social life,” the former midwife added.

Ms McGarry believes many of the babies put up for adoption were taken away against their mothers’ will.

“I remember very clearly one mother in the nursery – we handed the baby over to the social worker… You could hear her screaming at City Hall,” she said.

Asked if she felt any guilt for inadvertently having been a part of such a system, the former midwife said simply: “Yes.”

A recent report commissioned by the government found that both Catholic and Protestant clergy, parents, and social services all played a part in what happened to the women and girls affected.

Paul McClarey was one of the many babies adopted – he is pleased people are starting to speak out.

“I thank that lady for coming forward and being brave and sharing her story,” he said.

“And hopefully there are more people out there who were involved in this who will have the courage to come forward and give people like me some answers to questions that have remained unanswered for far, far too long.”

An independent investigation is underway, but there is growing support for a public inquiry.