I was nearly 40 when I discovered that I had an older brother. My lifelong family position as the eldest of four evaporated in a flash one Sunday afternoon in 2008 when my mother called us all together at her house, saying she had something she needed to tell us.
She opened a box file and with trembling fingers pulled out a black and white photo of a baby. It turned out that my mum, who died suddenly and unexpectedly of Covid in February of this year, had been one of a number of unmarried women — there could be as many as 250,000 — forced to give up their babies for adoption between the 1950s and 1970s.
This tragedy is only just coming fully to light as the women whose babies were taken, now in their seventies and eighties, are being asked to give evidence to a new investigation. The scandal has been declared a human rights issue by Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. An official inquiry has now been launched and the committee is urging birth parents to come forward.
I have no doubt that if my mum was still alive, she would have wanted to contribute towards helping people understand the magnitude of what happened to her and so many others. As she spoke on that Sunday afternoon, some bits of her story we already knew. How she had met our dad, an immigrant from the West Indies, at the Avery Hill teacher training college in south-east London in 1966 and was instantly smitten. How my mum’s family disowned her for ‘bringing shame’ by dating a black man. All this was part of our family folklore, but as for what had happened next, we’d been completely in the dark.
Mum described how — in the summer of 1967 when she was 20, cast out by her family, unmarried and extremely naive — she found herself pregnant.