The Baby Scoop Era is the period immediately after the Second World War to the early-mid 1970s when hundreds of thousands of young, unmarried women were either forced to relinquish or excessively co-erced into giving their babies away for adoption. Many of these new mothers were not even allowed to see the child they had just given birth to. Many of these young women were told there was no other option other than to give up their child – this really can be called only one thing – baby stealing.
There is a little variation between countries, but largely this forced adoption was carried out by religious organisations or the State. The Catholic Church, the Salvation Army and other religious organisations were known to have run “Unwed Mothers’ Homes”. The young pregnant woman (or teenager) would arrive or be taken to one of these Homes during her pregnancy, and remained until giving birth. Often she was allowed little or no contact with family and friends during this period. Some young women remained for a period after the birth (and I had read of at least one case where this was years afterwards).
The women/girls were frequently put to work in these Homes, duties such as laundry or sewing. Clearly the set up was a form of imprisonment and slave labour by any other name. It was society’s ‘punishment’ for females daring to have intercourse outside marriage, and certainly a percentage of these young mothers would have been impregnated by rape. During this period, unmarried pregnant women were seen as deviant or immoral and the practise of forced adoption was promoted as being ‘in the best interests of the child’.
The estimated numbers* are truly staggering.
- In the US, between 1940 to 1970, an estimate of between two and a half to four million
- Canada, from post-WWII, an estimate of over 400,000 (which actually sounds like a low estimate compared to other countries and the number of Homes in Canada during the period)
- In the UK, around its peak, around 600 babies per WEEK, over 150,000 by 1967
- Ireland, between the 1930s to 1960s, an estimate of around 60,000
- Australia, between the 1950s to 1970s, an estimate of around 150,000
- New Zealand (no estimate found, but didn’t want to leave you off the list!)
* Please note that these figures were not extensively researched by me, and represent a guide only.
For mothers, adoption is frequently ‘bad enough’ when wanted and consciously decided upon, and even those who make the decision willingly and in an informed way may still suffer some form of separation anxiety. For the mothers coerced, pressured, shamed, lied to about adoption (and the usual instant separation at birth) the trauma can be severe and lifelong. These women and girls were told at that time that they “would get over it” and “could start afresh”, meaning find a husband and “start a real family” – however a recent survey found that 35.3% of these women suffered subsequent infertility, most likely due to some of the appalling conditions and facilities of these Homes. Large numbers of these women and then-girls did not in fact, “get over it” at all.
For adopted children there are large numbers (but not all) that feel unwanted, rejected, discarded and insecure after finding out they were adopted. It is hard to reconcile the emotional level to any logical level, that circumstances were not favourable for their mother to keep them at the time. Buried resentment can later make the adoptee not want to reunite with their mother, even if she wants to reunite with her lost child.
The forced adoption era has really only become more generally known in recent times, probably the last decade or less. I can only hope that it will make reunions more likely, and with less blame or resentment. The internet has certainly made more reunions possible and there are a number of forums on which to leave messages. I wish them all the best.
Linda Radfem wrote a post last year that touched on the Australian Aboriginal children that were taken away and raised by white families (known as the “Stolen Generations“). This was primarily to anglicise the children and destroy their cultural connections. The Stolen Generations recently received an apology from the Government, now the mothers of the Baby Scoop Era await the same. The Church and State should be ashamed of themselves.
I came across this quote which I think sums up The Baby Scoop Era perfectly:
“Adoption is not about unwanted children.
It is about unwanted mothers.”
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- Trackers International & Trackers International Factsheets
- Silent Violence: Australia’s White Stolen Children (2005 Thesis by Merryn Moor)
- The Baby Scoop Era (Wikipedia)
- “Say Sorry” (newspaper article with video – essential to watch)
- Exiled Mothers & Factpage
- Homes for Unwed Mothers 1945- (Canada)
- Origins International
- The heartbreaking story of Margaret, 35 years in the laundry, and never freed