FM expected to apologise to unwed mothers forced to give up babies

Thousands of unmarried women in Scotland were forced to give their children up for adoption in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to formally apologise to women in Scotland on Wednesday who were forced to give up their babies for adoption.

Unmarried women were “shamed” and “coerced” into forced adoption during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

It is estimated that around 250,000 families in Scotland have been affected by the historical practice.

One of the women forced to give up her baby welcomed the expected apology, which would come ten years after a similar announcement in Australia.

Jeannot Farmer was 22 when she gave birth to a boy while she was a fourth year university student.

She did not want to give up her son, but was told while she was in hospital that the baby would be put up for adoption.

Ms Farmer said: “When the Australian apology happened, I was living abroad and had to get up at 4am. I wept all the way through it, that anyone could say those words…

“The thought that those words could be said in Scotland would make me very proud. There’s not a day that you don’t think about your child.

“One of the really important things that will happen, beyond the people who’ll be there to hear, will be the people who are sitting at home hearing ‘you weren’t the only one’.”

Terminally ill Marion McMillan, from Paisley, is determined to be watching from the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament when the apology is made.

Ms McMillan was a teenager when she was sent to a mother and baby home in Newcastle where she said she begged to keep her baby son. The infant was eventually adopted – it was almost 40 years before she saw him again.

“His birthday was always the day I had to be on my own,” she told STV News.

“That was my day with him, to talk to him. I used to buy him a card and write in it, ‘wherever you are, my darling boy Happy birthday, mum’. You do not go away and forget about your baby.”

Ms McMillan has been campaigning for almost 19 years.

“It has been like a living bereavement with no respite,” she said.

“When I searched for help and support after losing my son, I found none. Campaigners in Australia became the dearest of friends and I was contacted by adoptees and mothers from all around the world. When the then-prime minister Julia Gillard made the Australian apology in 2013, I was there.”

Ms McMillan said: “For me, an apology in Scotland is for all the mothers’ graves I have stood at, who never lived to see this day. For all the adoptees who came to us and found their mother’s roots, for some a grave in Scotland.

“For the mothers who had never spoken to anyone in their lives about their baby lost to adoption. Meeting them was the most humbling experience in my life.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who campaigned for an apology, said the move would be a “significant moment in Scotland”.

She said: “Tens of thousands of women in Scotland had their babies taken from them as a result of forced adoption practices.

“We refer to this as a historic act, but the injustice has never faded for those affected.

“It is right that Nicola Sturgeon makes a formal apology on behalf of the Scottish Government. We cannot fully learn from the past unless we acknowledge it.”

The Movement for an Adoption Apology in Scotland also welcomed an official apology.

A spokesperson said: “A sincere apology can provide comfort and validation to a lot of mothers and families who have suffered in silence for a very long time.

“We hope that any apology will include all family members who were affected and guarantee concrete measures that will improve their wellbeing.

“Our recommendations to the government included mental health services as well as reform to access to records.”

The apology – one of Sturgeon’s final acts as First Minister – is expected to come during a statement in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers are acutely aware of the trauma and heartbreak caused by historical adoption practices, having heard the direct testimony of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who suffered greatly as a result of children being unnecessarily taken away from mothers and placed for adoption.”

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