Keeping my baby: the single-parent choice
Documentary tells of isolation and hatred faced by unmarried Irish women in the not-too-distant past
Evelyn Forde and Annette Hunter-Evans, founders of Cherish. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
As soon as the “little tot” was put in her arms the feeling of all- consuming love took her breath away. “The overwhelming outpouring of love was something I wasn’t prepared for. I suppose my emotions had just been frozen for nine months. It was overpowering.”
It was 1967, and Annette Hunter-Evans, then 25, from Co Sligo was in St Kevin’s Hospital, Dublin (now St James’s). She was unmarried and a Church of Ireland primary school teacher. She had been sent to St Kevin’s as she would have “anonymity” there. She had been sent to Dublin by her family to stay with a family while she had her baby.
Annette had been in a relationship with an older man, and says she “naively thought” they would marry when she got pregnant. He made it clear they wouldn’t.
“The plan was that I was going to give the baby up for adoption. And I did try. But he was sick, and they kept him in hospital for a few weeks, so I was able to go and visit him every day. Then I left him in the Cottage Home – a Church of Ireland children’s home in Dún Laoghaire. The lady running it was quite flexible, and she felt it was important that the mothers could get to know their child while they figured out what to do. So I visited Peter there too.”
Annette taught in Athy, Co Kildare, at the time. She tells now how she would live for the weekends when she could go up to Dublin and take her little boy out. “I took him out every day, all the time wondering if it could be possible to keep him. Even best friends were telling me how difficult it would be to keep him. ‘A child needs his father.’ That kind of thing.”
Adoption in London
Evelyn Forde was 27 in 1972. She was an office worker for a semi-state body when she became pregnant and found out the father was married. She got sick leave when six months pregnant, telling her employer she had “pernicious anaemia”, and went to London to have her baby and give it up for adoption.
Again, she speaks of having this “bundle” put in her arms in a London maternity hospital and of a sensation of “maternal love” engulfing her. She left Robert with a foster family in London and returned to Ireland “to take up the threads of her life”, but she was “in bits” and returned to London to see her baby several times, before eventually “going to collect him”.
“Financial independence was the key,” says Annette. “Most women in our situation didn’t have that. They could never have kept a baby. It meant we could – even though it seemed impossible – keep our babies.”
She didn’t know any other single mothers. Her decision to keep Peter was “the most difficult I’ve ever made”. Before she even faced society, she had to accept herself. This took almost a year.