Standing for Truth

1

On 25 August 2018, the Pope visited Ireland. He would stay 36 hours and his presence would console some while angering others. The couple of costly days would bring divisions in Irish society roaring to the fore.

I didn’t go to see the Pope in 1979 and I certainly wasn’t going to attend in 2018. Instead, I went to the Garden of Remembrance at 3pm on 26 August. I wanted to be there but as the day drew near, I was decidedly unsettled. I can’t put my finger on it. I wanted to be there and to be counted and yet, I was very shaky. Maybe it was due to the fact that I had never made myself visible as someone born in a Mother and Baby home before. I warned my daughter that I might change my mind.

I did attend and I am happy I attended. It was very special in many unexpected ways. The first thing which struck me was how cross-generational the event was – from teen to pension, we stood side by side. And the second thing was the different groups represented. The sheer number showed how the Roman Catholic Church had splintered Irish society in the adverse effect it had on so many. We stood and remembered them all.

Walking arm in arm, and in overwhelming silence, we made our way to the site of the last Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street. To see so many people in front, beside and behind made it a fitting remembrance day and impacted on all those present. I was annoyed when I bumped into someone who dismissed it all as an anti-Catholic rally because that’s not what this was about. I was there to remember and to be counted. I wasn’t there to rally against any church, let alone one I am not even a member of. I was there as someone born in a Mother and Baby Home and in respect for all those who had passed through similar institutions.

I wrote two posts on Facebook – one before the event:

“Today, my daughter and I will stand with others in the Garden of Remembrance. We will remember my birth mother, Kathleen, and will think about all the women and crib mates that passed through St Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin and the other facilities that blighted our beautiful country. We will hope that, some day and in some way, we will reconnect with our families and reverse that decision to sever that precious bond before it ever had a real chance of forming.”

And one after the event:

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt alone. Unconnected. Disconnected. Separate.

Having been adopted, it doesn’t matter how many times people compare you to others they know or assume adoptees are all identical in origins and experience, I was still alone. I don’t think about it on a daily basis but when it rears its head, in reaction to such questions as who do you most resemble or if there is a history of some illness in your family, I feel alone again.

Today, I stood with my daughter and I no longer felt alone. I felt a part of something. And that felt nice.”

*****

I walked back to catch the bus home. I had listened to the speeches and contributions and we’d chatted amongst ourselves. I thought nothing else could impact. Walking down Marlborough Street, I suddenly stopped. All along the railings of the Pro Cathedral hung tiny, baby shoes – representing those small children whose remains were dumped in a septic tank at Tuam. The sight of those shoes took my breath away.

 

2

 

Define “lucky”?

In April 1965, I was born in St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road in Dublin. Since then, I have always been astounded by the ‘knowledgeable’ opinions people espouse on my beginnings. As a fellow adoptee says, “The minute you see the head tilt, you brace yourself for what is to come.”

There is a spectrum of opinions that adoptees are used to. At one end, there are the kind and caring views, the ones who listen. Then there are those who think that if you were adopted, your beginnings and life are identical to all those who were adopted and try to convince you otherwise if you object. And then there is the other end of the spectrum, the ones which are judgemental and often, cruel. Surprise is constant as you can never predict who in your life will say what.

Being adopted is always public. Efforts to keep it private are futile. It is the inevitable response to questions like “Who in your family do you look like?”, “You’re the image of your mother/father/brother/sister/cousin/family pet,” “Is there a history of heart disease/diabetes/rabies in your family?”

And with origins so visible come comments, quips and judgements. Here is an example of such:

A friend told me recently that my birth mother and others like her were so “lucky” to have the nuns to take them in when their parents threw them out.

Seriously?!?

The Catholic Church condemns these girls for committing a sin. Family throws them out. Church (which created the problem by judging these girls) now takes them in and, in many cases, brutalises many physically and mentally before, in many cases, capitalising on their unpaid labour. They seek to temporarily or permanently separate child from parent with no care for the long-term impact on the psychological health of either person.

“Lucky” is therefore not a word I’d use to describe such a situation.

And where were the unmarried fathers’ homes if sex before marriage and pre-marital pregnancy were such grave sins?!?