Monday 21 May 2018

Life doles out hard lessons on love and loss

Philomena Lee's story inspired an Oscar-nominated movie Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Philomena Lee's story inspired an Oscar-nominated movie Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fiona O'Connell

This week will see schools once more in full swing. Not a marvellous prospect for the pupils, though many of their mothers are perhaps looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet.

But in a uniquely Irish riddle, some mums never experience much peace, despite not having their children charging around them all day. Because while today's society protects and provides for unmarried mothers, thousands of walking wounded still suffer in secret from the ramifications of the regime that once ruled this land.

For rarely are they obvious, even though there were approximately 60,000 victims of that shameful era. Unmarried mothers had their babies taken from them under the policy of forced adoptions that operated in this country.

The State has never apologised to these women - many of whose lives were blighted by the horror of what happened to them - or to their children, some of whom cannot comprehend the cruel circumstances that led them to be given up.

The plight of one such mother - Philomena Lee - inspired an Oscar-nominated movie that brought the issue into public consciousness. Alas, it has done little to overhaul a system that stops adopted Irish people from having access to birth records - despite international law stating that all children should know their parents and be able to establish their identity.

Philomena eventually married and had more children. But she thought about her lost son every day. Typically (and conveniently for the real culprits), she blames herself.

"The burden of shame and guilt that Irish society placed on women like her should be lifted," says Susan Lohan of Adoption Rights Alliance. "Responsibility lies with all of Irish society."

Tell that to 'Eileen', a countrywoman who gave up her daughter for adoption over 30 years ago.

"If only I could get past my grief… old grief that won't just pack its bags and go. I'm having flashbacks still. You think you're over the worst of it - and then it comes back again."

For Eileen, there is no happy ending.

"I found my precious daughter and met her once. I know I have to respect her wishes - but at times it gets too much."

Eileen's daughter resents her birth mother for giving her up and doesn't want any contact with her.

Eileen tries to be philosophical. "I keep telling myself that at least she is happy and her mam had the joy of having her. I can't be selfish. But I would love to just be able to say hi and not intrude."

Denied that chance, her suffering goes on. "I'm looking for closure. I never got to explain anything to my daughter."

Maybe it's time our Government did so on her behalf, to finally free these women from such loathsome life sentences.

Sunday Independent

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