I wrote this article during the summer and it was published on the Mum’s Days blog on the 13th of June 2014, it was her most shared article on Facebook until then. I am really proud of myself for writing this article and that it turned out so well albeit a difficult subject matter.
I am terrible for not reading the news. It upsets me, so I look the other way and try to pretend it isn’t happening. I get cross for the level of detail stories are described because I don’t want to imagine it happening. I never write about important world matters. I ignore politics. Thankfully, and I’m unsure how, I have managed to attract intelligent people to read my blog and participate in the Mums’ Days Facebook Community. My internet friend Seriously Hilary wrote to me last weekend with an article that she felt she HAD to write about the Mother and Baby homes in Ireland and the recent discovery that almost 800 babies were buried in a septic tank in Tuam. I am honoured that she would choose Mums’ Days as a place to speak her mind.
I need to warn you that this article is extremely disturbing, but don’t be like me, please read it. Mothers are no longer the quiet people we used to be. We have power, we have resource and we need to unite to stand up for what is right. It’s time to get political…
Mother and Baby – A Mother’s Heart
Over the last few weeks it has come to light that, following the research of Catherine Corless, 796 children, most of them infants, died in one “Mother and Baby” home in Galway, Ireland between 1925 and 1961. Their deaths are recorded, but there is no record of where they were buried, it is suspected that a great number of these baby bodies are in a septic tank on the grounds of the home. Firstly can I urge you to sign this petition to request the investigation of this mass grave?
For those of you who didn’t know, these bones were discovered in 1975, and quickly covered up again by the church, please don’t allow that to happen again!
Reading the articles that sprung up in the days that followed the discovery, I felt like none of them seemed to say what I was feeling, so I wrote it myself. Who am I? I’m not a journalist, not an historian, not an investigator; I’m just an Irish mum…
A mother’s heart is a unique thing. It breaks a million times everyday at the slightest thought of anything bad happening to their bundle of joy. My son’s first day at crèche turned me into a sobbing mess for about a week. I felt guilty for ‘choosing’ work over staying home with my beautiful baby. I missed him so much it physically hurt. I knew that they would take fantastic care of him. I knew that he would enjoy hanging out with kids his age. I knew it would be good for him to learn to interact with other kids and get to know the world outside the protective arms of mama and papa. But it still broke my heart to leave him there. Of course I realise that these feeling are not logical, but tell that to a mother’s heart.
Having a mother (or father) heart, watching movies with sick or disadvantaged children makes you want to go upstairs and camp beside your little one’s bed. The thought that he would just get ill and you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult things you have to wrap your head around as a parent. (Watching the movie “Broken circle breakdown” nearly killed me)
From the film Broken Circle Breakdown
My son, Lucas, was playing in the bath today, he was pretending that the shower was rain, “Mama! Rainin’!” My son, Lucas, who loves Peppa Pig, who gets excited every time he sees the number 8, who has recently been learning the “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” dance. My son, Lucas, who has a normal life surrounded by people who love him. Looking at him, I can’t stop thinking about the babies and children from the Irish “Mother and Baby” homes. Did they ever see a bath or a shower? Did they ever feel loved? Did anyone ever play with them or teach them things? The idea of a child growing up in fear and cruelty is gut wrenching. Those poor children, how could they even begin to understand why they were being punished?
Why were they being punished? What crime did they commit that was SO bad that they were not even seen as human, but as little monsters to be sold, used as slaves or destroyed and disposed of?
Here is what happened: their mothers became pregnant without being in possession of a piece of paper, a marriage license. A piece of paper invented by people following rules created by an imaginary being in the sky. Their crime was the title ‘unmarried mother’, which brings me back to the here and now. I am an unmarried mother, as are many of my friends, and we have fabulous ‘unmarried father’ partners to raise our children with. A piece of paper has no influence on how wonderful and beautiful our children are.
To lay it out for those of you who do not know, here is roughly how it went for those mother hearts:
- A woman became pregnant, be it from a loving relationship, rape, incest, a silly mistake, it didn’t matter.
- Her parents (or in many cases just her mother, who was afraid to tell anyone) brought her to a “Mother and Baby” home to hide her pregnancy and to give birth.
- “Girls were stripped of their names and clothes as soon as their mothers left; their hair was clipped short, they were given rough uniforms and heavy wooden shoes/clogs, and assigned a “house name”. They were ordered not to talk to each other.” *ref4
- “Women report having been subjected to emotional and physical abuse and having to undertake manual labour while heavily pregnant.” *Ref6
- When it was time to give birth, this happened without doctors or nurses, without any kind of pain relief, and without any aftercare. “Girls must suffer their pain and put up with the pain of being torn —they should atone for their sin.” *Ref7 A ‘midwife’ was sometimes present, but that was often one of the other mothers who had stayed to do this task without training. The nuns verbally abused the girls during the whole birth.
After the baby was born:
- “Those from moneyed families who could afford to pay £100 were allowed to leave after 10 days, but many had nowhere to go.” *Ref7
- “Girls in poverty, who could not afford to make donations to the Sacred Heart order, had to spend another three years after their babies were born cleaning and working to ‘make amends’ for their pregnancy.” *Ref7
And what happened to the babies?
- They were starved, beaten, neglected, received no medial attention, (or any attention for that matter) and a lot of them died. The main cause of death? Marasmus. In layman’s terms — malnutrition.
- The nuns, the women, who carried out this torture and abuse were able to do so because they believed that these mothers and babies were less than human, they “referred to the babies as ‘bastards‘ and ‘illegitimate’ but their particular favorite was ’the Spawn of Satan‘.” *Ref4
- “For those children who survived, adoption was the only choice. In many cases, these children were adopted illegally and, in some cases, for money.” *Ref6 “Parents who adopted children often speak of their children’s underdevelopment when they collected them. The children were noticeably months behind the norm in speech and walking skills due to lack of attention.” *Ref4
- Some became ‘Banished Babies‘ illegally adopted to America. This was child trafficking on an industrial scale. “The reporter and writer Mike Milotte has estimated that the church earned $30 to $50 million in today’s money from the trade in babies.” *Ref4
- They were used for vacine trials. “For thirteen years, the state and the Borris-Wellcome foundation (now part of GlaxoSmithKline) conspired to turn between 200 and 300 babies and young children into human lab rats in the three Sacred Heart Mother & Baby homes and other institutions and orphanages”. Dead babies were ‘donated’ for routine dissection practice by medical students and/or research. “In both the vaccine trials and the ‘donations’ of bodies, consent was neither sought from, nor granted by, either natural or adoptive parents. Nor were they even told the truth about their children, living or dead.” *Ref4
- Stillborn babies were not registered.
- The mothers were shipped off to England or other far away places, never to see their families again and never to know the fate of their babies.
Image from an article in the Financial Times
Knowing the ache in my heart I felt leaving my baby at crèche the first time, and then imagining the heartbreak these women have felt every day for the rest of their lives, makes me feel sick to my stomach. It must be unbearable. It is so unfair.
I believe that what we need to do is let the world know that we do not agree, that we will no longer allow the ‘powers that be’ to convince us that a beautiful baby could be anything other than innocent and wonderful. We need to show the world that we do not condone what happened. We need to imagine these things happening to our child or grandchild and to stand up and say NO. Say that we no longer support an organisation that would treat children and mothers so so badly.
Sean Ross Abbey in the 1950s – image via Brian Lockier posted here
Writing this I was interrupted by my 2 year old who was crying hysterically because he did not want to go to sleep. I spent a while by his bedside, stroking his hair, telling him to breathe calmly, telling him that his baby doll (that I handmade) was also going to have a little rest. Back downstairs I ended up crying into my lunch thinking about those thousands of babies who had no love, no one to calm them and tell them that everything would be ok. No toys, no food, only fear, sadness and cruelty. I am overwhelmed by how UNFAIR it is. Those mothers and babies being punished for breaking an imagined rule, a rule criminalising the victim, a rule made by people who had no business telling us what to do in the bedroom.
There are so many people calling for the truth of what happened, and while I agree we don’t know the details or the names or numbers, and I fully agree that all of those mother and baby sites need to be dug up and the figures need to be known… If we think about it we all know the truth, we know what happened to those children and their mothers. We have always known, but it is easier to look the other way and convince ourselves that it was a different time with different rules and that we can’t do anything about it now anyway.
This video is on a different topic but it perfectly illustrates what I am trying to say here.
We allow things to happen by looking the other way. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It is time that we DO SOMETHING!
At first I was shocked that the newspapers did not pick up this story immediately, that no one seemed to care, that it was not ‘newsworthy’. Now I feel like this slowness and disinterest was because we all knew about it already. We knew about the darkness and the evil. Our grandparents knew about the girls who disappeared and in the past we were too afraid to speak out against it, the police and government were in on it, where could we turn? What could we do? I do not believe that this is still the case, we have to be able to do something to show the church that they no longer have a place in our lives, that they no longer have the power to control the police and government, that we will no longer accept their horrific treatment of the weakest members of our society.
It is not only in Ireland, this revolution is happening all over the world and we need to stand up and take our place in it.
But what can we do? That is the question that has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. I think that Donald Clarke’s article highlights a first step we can take, a step away from the church, a step towards freedom from the unfair and cruel punishment imposed on us.
“If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals. Get married on the beach to the strains of Robbie Williams. Celebrate the latest birth with a trip to the dodgems. When you die just have your corpse flung onto the nearest bonfire. After all, as we’ve learned recently, there are less dignified ways to dispose of a body.” *Ref3
Create your own rituals to celebrate the beautiful things in your life, wear a white dress to your beach/castle/forest wedding if that makes you happy. Be spiritual if that is what you want, but don’t invite the church, don’t give them your money, don’t give them power over you, don’t tell them that you support them, don’t give them the message that you think it’s ok to torture and murder babies. Listen to your heart and realise that you don’t need their piece of paper to validate your life choices. And realise, that piece of paper comes with a great price, the lives of innocent babies. Do you still want to be a part of that?
Image courtesy of Action Against Abuse
I know this is a tough cookie to swallow, I know that in writing this article I will not make myself popular, I know I will possibly offend friends and family, I know it is difficult to see through a life time of brainwashing and indoctrination, I know because I am fighting it myself. My son was baptised last year and now I wish I had persisted in my idea to organise a non-religious celebration. Yes it is easier to go with what the majority is doing, to do what is considered ‘normal’ but we need to change the majority, we need to create our own ‘normal’. We are no longer slaves to the church, and we need to let the world know that. Believe what you want, talk to loved ones in the sky if you need to, but walk away from the men on earth who use the power of the church to perpetrate such unimaginable evil.
I know people will argue that the church has also done good in the world, and of course there are people involved in the church who are good and working towards positive things, my argument would be that these people could do this good work without the label, judgment and control of the church. We do not need the church to tell us right from wrong.
At the end of the day all I am just asking is that you think about it and decide for yourself, setting aside the prejudices that we have all grown up with. As highlighted by The Rubberbandits and Tara Flynn on social media, a crime has been committed, and that is a fact that cannot be changed by what you believe or who you support. Everyone deserves justice, and no one is above the law. Don’t we live in a strange world when comedians are the only people who are voicing this fact?
As for Tuam, I cannot imagine that it is a possibility at this point NOT to dig up the site and do a full forensic investigation. This HAS to happen. Those little bones need to be looked at, described and catalogued, cause of death needs to be found and relatives need to be informed. Their story needs to be told. And not only in Tuam, this needs to happen at the site of each “Mother and Baby” home in Ireland.
The idea that you would need to set up a petition to request the investigation of a mass grave is mind-blowing in itself, but here is the link again, please sign it.
I hope that the broken mother hearts who are still living get the chance to learn the truth of what happened to their babies, to know if they are alive or dead, to maybe even meet their grandchildren and cherish them in the way they would have cherished their own children given the chance.
I would like to thank Hannah “Mum’s days” Parker for publishing this for me and for her tireless work supporting mothers and babies, providing a forum for all questions ‘mother’ related, for making birth stories a little less scary and for being an inspiration to parents everywhere.
Thank you so much for your article (and your kind words at the end), Hilary, a brave post.
What do you think about the Mother and Baby homes? Do you agree or disagree with Hilary’s point of view? Leave you thoughts in the comments below.
- The true story of a little girl who ran away in 1960s Ireland by Donal O’Keeffe
- ‘You became so frightened eventually you toed the line‘ by Claire O’Sullivan
- If you don’t approve of the church then don’t take part in its rituals by Donald Clarke
- Report into the History of Adoption in Ireland Since 1922 by Adoption Rights Now!
- Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves by Emer O’Toole
- Mother and baby scandal hidden in plain sight by Conall Ó Fátharta
- Midwife’s memoir reveals the horror of Bessborough by Claire O’Sullivan
- ‘We can offer a better class of baby with a good background‘: The 1961 letter from nuns to adoptive parents By Alison O’Reilly