Today’s women can ignore the church – but we can’t ignore nature

Source: The Guardian

It’s been sad and moving, the outpouring of anguish that has greeted an apology from the Catholic church for its adoption policy during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It’s reckoned that half a million babies were prised from their young mothers’ arms in the days after birth, within the context of a wider society that backed the actions of the church.

Disapproval of girls who got “themselves” “in trouble” and an unwillingness to accept them and their babies was the norm. Even a “divorcee” with children was looked upon with a mixture of pity, disdain and sneaking admiration. So there are many more of these awful tales than we have heard.

It isn’t surprising that for so many of the people affected by this policy, the apology means little. It has come in the wake of great societal change. The people taught the church the error of its ways, not the other way round. It’s good that the church acknowledges that what it did, again and again and again, was grotesque. One rather suspects, however, that the apology has been made to allow the church to draw a line under the matter as much as to make amends.

It’s astounding, of course, that such moralistic barbarity was occurring on these shores just 40 years ago. In truth, the girls who had their babies taken were simply the most egregious example of general attitudes that insisted not only that the sole fulfilling role for a woman was to be a mother, but also that the context in which motherhood could be attained was narrow, prescriptive and financially dependent. My own mother, who married at 26 and had her first baby within the year, said many times that before she met my father, people feared that she had been “left on the shelf”. My mother had feared it too. In the early 1960s, a first baby at 27 was considered rather elderly.

Yet, even though a revolution in attitudes to women and their babies has been achieved since the last home for morally repugnant teenage sex maniacs closed, the motherhood issue remains fairly fraught.

Women have escaped from the ghastly idea that they must find a partner and start a family, strictly in that order, so that they can properly begin their lives. But they haven’t escaped from the uncomfortable fact that in one respect the church was right. Biologically, the perfect time to have babies is when you’re in your 20s. The church didn’t go around controlling the lives and reproduction of women without keeping a shrewd eye on what served it best, in the way of producing a new generation of recruits.

The sad stories of reproductive regret and anguish are different now; but they’re still around. This week, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authorityannounced that the number of babies born through IVF in the UK has now passed the quarter of a million mark. That’s a quarter of a million happy endings. Of course IVF is great when it works.

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