Philomena Lee’s story will inspire others in similar dilemma, says social worker

Priority given to tracing older mothers who gave up children for adoption decades ago

Philomena Lee’s courage to speak out about her experiences when she was forced to give up her son for adoption will help many women still in a similar dilemma, says social worker.   Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons /The Irish Times

Philomena Lee’s courage to speak out about her experiences when she was forced to give up her son for adoption will help many women still in a similar dilemma, says social worker. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons /The Irish Times

 

Philomena Lee’s courage in speaking out about her experiences when she was forced to give up her son for adoption can serve as an example to many Irishwomen of her age who had similar experiences, according to a adoption social worker.

Triona Hall, acting team leader of HSE Adoption Services in Cork, said Ms Lee’s decision to share her story would help many who were still in a dilemma about whether or not to meet a child they had put up for adoption decades ago.

Ms Hall told a conference on adoption entitled “Redefining Adoption in a New Era: Opportunities and Challenges for Adoption Law and Social Work Practice,” in University College Cork, when she heard Ms Lee tell her experience at the conference it was an extremely positive experience.

“I was just so heartened when I heard Philomena Lee tell her story because in an ideal world, I would love birth mothers of Philomena’s generation to hear her - they would have got such strength and comfort from what she had to say,” she said.

Ms Hall told the conference, jointly hosted by UCC’s Faculty of Law and the School of Applied Social Studies, HSE staff were prioritising meeting women in their 70s and 80s who had put children up for adoption as well as adopted people who were seeking medical information.

“We inherited a huge legacy when we took over 25,000 files from the Sacred Heart Adoption Agency in 2011 and in the first year alone, we dealt with 1,000 inquiries and we were pretty overwhelmed but one of the things that became apparent was the need to prioritise,” she said.

“We were very conscious of that generation of birth mothers over 65 -that we are going to lose them and that people were coming to the service too late only to discover that their birth mothers had passed away so we began approaching women in their 70s and 80s,” she said.

“However, for many of these women having a child out of wedlock was a huge stigma at the time.”

Ms Hall said many of the woman had forgotten details as a means of coping and were reluctant to revisit the experience.

“They told us that nuns told them to go away and keep the birth a secret and make a good marriage for yourself and never tell your prospective husband - the relinquishment of a child was so traumatic that they buried it emotionally as a way of coping,” she said.

“It’s so sad because you have these lovely old ladies and they’ve been carrying this secret for decades - one woman I have met is in her late 70s and she’s carried the secret for 55 years and will only meet me in a car park - she won’t meet me in a cafe in case someone knows I work in adoption.

“We meet in my car - she’s very comfortable in my car, there’s tears, there’s laughter - what’s good about her is that her daughter, who lives in another country, came to meet her and we did that very privately.

“It’s probably the only time they will ever meet and it’s been huge for her daughter but the sad thing for her daughter is that this woman will never introduce her to the children she had afterwards when she married and the woman has made it clear she will take that secret to the grave.”