Motherhood Silenced: The experiences of natural mothers on adoption reunion Ruth J A Kelly The Liffey Press 2005 213 pages 14.95 [pounds sterling]
Motherhood Silenced is a welcome addition to existing research studies about the experiences of birth mothers who, through social stigma and pressure, had no choice but to place their illegitimate child for adoption. By focusing on Irish birth mothers and their experiences of reunion it usefully addresses a previously neglected area.
Ruth Kelly, a social worker specialising in adoption, conducted a small qualitative study of birth mothers who had been reunited with the children they had placed for adoption. Just 18 birth mothers took part, of whom six initiated the request for contact and 12 had their contact initiated by their adopted child.
Writing from a feminist perspective, using powerful, in-depth interviews with birth mothers, Kelly provides information about how they experienced the pregnancy and relinquishment. She reports on how the reunion affected the mothers, the positive and negative aspects of these reunions and the development of post-reunion relationships. There are also helpful comments about the practices of the intermediary agencies involved.
The majority of relinquishments had occurred in the 1970s when the force of social, religious and family stigmas against single motherhood was still very powerful. For example, Kelly quotes how, in 1967, 96.9 per cent of all non-marital births in Ireland resulted in adoption. Keeping the pregnancy secret was of paramount importance. Where mothers were unable to conceal their pregnancies from their immediate family, the family would conspire to ensure secrecy and silence. This prevented mothers from grieving naturally and robbed them of their maternal identity. In Ireland this attitude prevailed until relatively recently, something that, in my experience, is not always easily understood by adopted people of Irish parentage raised in the UK within a more liberal attitude to pregnancy outside marriage.
Birth mothers in this study had to use intermediary services and reported the importance of having a social worker available to offer counselling and support, within an ethos...