Rick and I had started doing our family trees back in 2004 which is how I found my son without actively searching for him. It immediately gave us something to talk about but it also was the start of finding out some of my relatives names had been shortened or middle names used intead of first names. This was quite challenging and interesting at the same time.
Being on Genes Reunited proved to be handy in other ways including getting back in touch with one of my cousins. The last time I had spoken to him had been nine years previously at our Nanna’s funeral. Contact has been sporadic since then but of course it’s easier through Facebook. We met up again at my sister’s 60th birthday four years ago along with another of our cousins and one of his brothers whom I hadn’t seen since our Nanna’s funeral. Sadly that cousin passed on last year aged 59 years and almost 2 months younger than me. At least my last memory of him was being hugged so tightly I could hardly breath at my sister’s birthday party.
During the early months of contact with my son was a bit up and down as he was charming one minute then nasty whenever he was in a bad mood. It was quite stressful at times and sometimes I wonder how I coped.
I remember when I first received a copy of the adoption papers which I should have received when my son was adopted. On reading them it was no surprise to realize that I had a ‘hole’ in my memory I hadn’t given information on them. It was still a bit irritating to read half-truths and lies though, the only absolute truth was descriptions of myself and my ex. The only other bit of truth was about my mum being asthmatic and that she had been in contact with Rubella so I’m partially deaf and a hardly noticeable speech defect. The only thing that really disappointed me was that I thought there would be a copy of the consent to relinquish form and nobody told me that it wouldn’t be included even though I had mentioned not remembering signing the form so wanted to see a copy.
When I saw my counsellor, from After Adoption, for the last time which was the same day as I got the copy of the adoption paperwork I mentioned this. All she could do was mumble was something about the consent to relinquish form being at the court that dealt with the adoption. I left it that as she had never been very helpful about explaining my rights so just didn’t know what to say but it has been on my mind since then.
The subject was brought up in another online group I belonged to specifically for women who have had a child adopted but haven’t had any more children. Some of the others said they have copies of the consent form so it has got the rest of us thinking about this so we are going to try and get copies as well. Yesterday I emailed my contact at the Adoption Resource Centre thanking her again for being so helpful before over the other paperwork then went on to explain what I was after this time.
I hated this feeling of having holes in my memory from that time and I couldn’t ask my parents as it had never been open to debate to discuss Anthony’s adoption. The only person I discussed Anthony with was my dad, post reunion, and then it was stilted, he only mentioned Anthony when they had spoken to each other – I hated that so much. I got more support from my in-laws and they openly admitted they didn’t understand what I have been through. Rick’s eldest sister and brother in law were fine about meeting Anthony the last time we saw him and they often asked after him. One thing that cheered me up is that Rick had second thoughts about viewing the flat of the lady who wanted to do a mutual exchange with us. I wanted to get back down south but I didn’t really want to give up a house for a flat as we had dogs and it wouldn’t be fair on the cat even though she was a ‘house’ cat as she liked sunning herself outside.
Back in early 2005 Rick and I were talking about starting up an adoption support group for adopters, adoptees, formerly fostered adults and foster carers as well as natural mothers. We had been talking to someone who would become a friend but at the time he thought it a terrible idea. Unfortunately, like most people who don’t have have ad adoption connection, he believed that all adoptions are necessary, the natural mothers are terrible people and it’s always best for the babies. It caused a lot of stress for me as he didn’t know much about my adoption connection and it left me very upset.
We managed to get talking about the realities af babies being adopted and it’s not that uncommon for babies to be adopted unnecessarily. He realized then that he had been wrong to assume mothers were drug users/and or prostitutes as the history of forced adoption still isn’t all that well known. Back then I was finding the courage to be more vocal about the subject and knew I was rubbing some people up the wrong way (generally) but I wanted to get the truth out.
I found attitudes were, on the whole, positive towards me when friends found out about my son. Occasionally there were awkward moments which I learned to deal with even if it meant changing the subject. There were also the well intentioned comments about how ‘wonderful’ it was that we had reunited. I would take a deep breath, smile and just nod my head. At times I wanted to scream at them that no it wasn’t wonderful and my son should never have been adopted. People meant well and I knew that I had two choices; either watch what I said or be honest. With time I learnt to say it how it was in a calm way.
I first started a journal back in September 2004 and several weeks after finding my son. I had stated posting on an adoption forums and someone suggested doing so as a way to help myself cope. Up until I found my son I had been silent, not even talking to my husband about him. It had been a family member who had told my husband about my son about six months after we had married.
My adoption journey had started back in 1981 when my son was born on the 3rd August. I had split from his father soon after I fell pregnant and didn’t tell him when I found out. It was wrong not to. I was angry and didn’t want him to have anything to do with my baby nor did I think he would believe that the baby was his. However I wanted to raise my son so kept quiet long enough not to be pressured into aborting by my parents.
When my parents found out they were so angry and decided my baby was to be adopted. My mother arranged everything despite me not agreeing to it and refusing to talk about it. The first time I saw a social worker from the adoption agency was after my son was born. I told her how I felt and she told me she would put a halt to the adoption. This didn’t happen and between her and my mother they constantly lied to me. I believed the lies, didn’t know my rights, didn’t see any paperwork and it is questionable I signed anything so I was a complete walkover.
I was expected to get on with my life, never talk about my son and to forget about him. I got on with my life, didn’t talk about my son but I never forgot about him. Subsequently I suffer with depression to the point of being suicidal at times and self harmed.
It was a shock when I found my son in 2004 days after his 23rd birthday on Genes Reunited. It turned out he had been searching for me for five years and had found my family quite quickly. They never told me nor did they ever tell him where I was. I was so angry at the time although I didn’t let him know that. It was a few weeks before I let my parents know I had found my son. Their excuse for not telling me about contact was that they didn’t know if my husband knew about him. All I could assume was either they were telling the truth or they did know what a family member had done. I didn’t want this to get the better of me so left it at that.
However with reunion my emotions exploded to the surface and I found it hard to cope. So when the suggestion of keeping a journal was given I jumped at it. I had been silent for 23 years and now it was my time to talk even if it was by the written word. I started a journal on the forums I belonged to at that time as I wanted to share my feelings.
I had very good intentions of getting my story written here but life has a habit of getting in the way. Different projects/hobbies have started up again such as writing knitting and having pets who are life savers.
My first 18 years on this planet were very average and I was very good girl not getting into trouble apart from the usual of maybe getting home late, fighting with my sister and so on. This changed after getting into a relationship then splitting up around my 19th birthday. It devastated me at the time as the lad believed a lie told by his cousin and refused to listen to the truth.
Eventually I knew I was pregnant but didn’t tell the father as I was angry and hurting. I kept quiet long enough not to be pressured into having an abortion although certain people who can’t defend themselves now would have disputed that. My mother was furious, my father didn’t say much, and she was determined my baby would be adopted. I refused to agree to that and wouldn’t discuss it. My baby needed me not strangers, I already loved my unborn baby.
I still have moments when memories creep up on me suddenly that I force myself not to cry over. My mother was so cruel yet I couldn’t talk to anybody as I didn’t think they would believe me. Fear of my mother finding out scared me too much to talk to anybody as she would make me suffer emotionally and verbally behind closed doors. I loved her but we just seemed to bring out the worst of each other yet in public it was the opposite. It’s sad as we did have so much in common such as reading the same types of book, knitting, music, films, television and so on. I lived for the happy times when we were all happy.
Mother Denied Justice Campaigns to Transform the Family Courts
Victoria Hudson has been campaigning for several years to increase the protection of domestic abuse survivors and children who become entangled in the family court system. Tragically, Victoria and her daughter have themselves experienced untold suffering, trauma, and harm at the hands of the family courts.
Victoria, who campaigns under the banner #JusticeforFCchildren, worked alongside other campaigners to successfully lobby the Government to review unsafe contact orders and the removal of children by the family courts. A report, published by the Ministry of Justice in June 2020 laid bare many hard truths about long-standing failings, including harming children by placing them in danger by “enabling the continued control of children and adult victims of domestic abuse by alleged abusers, as well as the continued abuse of victims and children.”
Victoria is now passionately driven to bring about the radical changes necessary to protect domestic abuse survivors and their children from harmful and unjust state systems and structures, by making the family courts and their proceedings more transparent.
Like too many other women experiencing domestic violence and abuse, instead of protecting them, the state colluded with Victoria’s abuser in the most punishing way possible by severing mother and child. In September 2018, Victoria’s daughter (then aged 2) was physically and forcibly removed from her family home and placed under a Care Order with her ex-partner, who is not biologically related to her. Many other children in domestic abuse cases are severed from their mothers by adoption; the mother being blamed for the abuse rather than protected, and their right to family life permanently erased.
For Victoria and other mothers in her position, it is ironic that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, is conducting an inquiry into hundreds of forced adoptions that severed babies from unmarried mothers during the 1950s to 1970s, when mothers experiencing domestic abuse are currently facing similar infringements of human rights in the family courts.
Victoria is requesting the Ministry of Justice immediately review of her case in the family courts and is requesting the Joint Committee on Human Rights conduct an inquiry into whether family court decisions are breaching rights to family life.
 “Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases” (Ministry of Justice, June 2020)
If you want to support Victoria’s campaign, you can do three things:
First and foremost, email a letter to Lord David Wolfson MP, Minister for Family Courts to request that he instigates an immediate review of Victoria’s own case in the family courts. If successful, this will provide a test case for the campaign and lead to further reviews. Use this letter to draft your own. His email is email@example.com
You can also email a letter to Ms Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, requesting that alongside the current review into historic forced adoptions, she also orchestrates a review of family court decisions in relation to their impact upon the rights of children and birth mothers to family life. Use this letter to draft your own. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Help Victoria to get more supporters and allies by following and sharing #JusticeforFCchildren on Twitter @Victoria_Hudson and Facebook facebook.com/getmhome
 “Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases” (Ministry of Justice, June 2020)
Recently I made a new friend connection on Facebook who is an adoptee and has written Your Secret My Story. I do want to get the book as from the little I know about it has helped me to talk a bit more to my sister.
Back in September we went down south to see family and give one of my sister’s granddaughters, our great niece, her birthday present. Before we came back my sister and I went through some crates that had come from our Dad’s home after he passed on. We came home with two crates of photographs and a few pieces of paperwork as my sister knows we are into family history/genealogy. Anything we didn’t want she said to chuck.
While we were going through the paperwork there were a couple of photographs of my son there so we talked about him. She feels bad because she feels she should love him as he is her nephew but doesn’t like him. I can understand where my sister is coming from as he can be very charming one minute then be angry when he doesn’t hear what he wants to hear. I told her not to feel bad about it as we had the same attitude and whilst I love him because he is my son and always will, I struggle to like him at times. We are so much alike with likes and dislike, even mannersisms, but adoption wrecked any chance of a happy reunion.
When we went back down south in November for my birthday the subject came up again. This time my sister mentioned that she and my parents refused to give my son any information as I was the one whom he needed to talk to. At the time when my son found my family I wasn’t talking to them due to an argument but two years of not talking to my parents I got back in touch with them. Instead of being honest with my son they continued to tell him they didn’t know where I was. My sister didn’t know where I was so she was honest. She told me that our parents told him the same and if they found out where I was they would let me know he wanted contact. I told my sister they never said a word to me so delayed contact for three years. It would have continued if I hadn’t found him.
I also told my sister of a conversation I had with our Mum over the phone back in 2006. She was visibly upset when I told her our Mum had said she couldn’t understand why my son wanted to know me as I was nothing to him and his only family was his adoptive one. My sister said it was cruel of our Mum to say that. I haven’t told her of the letter our Mum wrote to my son telling him to accept that I didn’t want to be found.
My sister needed to be told of both as she believed our parents would be honest with me about what actually happened. She has a better idea why I was so angry at that period in my life.
Anne Silke: Fostered to a Fianna Fáil TD, beaten and abused
AS A CHILD, Anne Silke ate moss off the walls of the Tuam mother and baby institution. It was delicious, she would laugh, because she was starving. Before she died earlier this year, she would say with a wry smile that she would never eat batch bread, because of how the nuns threw it at her and the other “home” children, as if they were animals. That ability to crack jokes at the cruelty she experienced when young and the life she carved out for herself as a mother of eight children drew people to her, finding hope in her resilience and warmth in her company. But there was a silence Silke never managed to break before she died, about the influential political family who fostered her. Teresa Lavina, a Galway-based documentary maker, first met Silke in 2019 through another Tuam survivor, PJ Haverty, who was close friends with Silke and had always voted for the family who fostered her. The feature-length documentary, Untold Secrets, that Lavina directed and produced was shown for the first time yesterday at the Galway Film Fleadh, shedding light on Silke’s unspoken experiences and the disturbing allegations that are part of her testimony. Silke gave testimony to the commission of investigation and saw it released just before she died last February, with a few lines referencing her own testimony about eating moss. But she was deeply hurt by the result and felt she still had not been heard. “I feel angry to a certain extent that we’re not getting justice or anything,” Silke said to camera, not long before she died. “Everything is left just hanging on until we pass away.”
In the documentary, Silke described deprivation and cruelty within the Tuam institution but also speaks of her experience of being fostered out to a man who she says was a TD in the Dáil and his wife, who had six of their own children who were already reared. She alleges she was treated like a “slave” in their home. Documentation provided by the state agency Tusla shows that Silke was fostered in 1958 by a “Mr and Mrs Killealea [sic]” and the documentary draws together testimony that the man who fostered Silke was Mark Killilea Sr, a founding member of Fianna Fáil who represented Galway constituencies within the Dáil for nearly three decades, from the 1930s to 1961. In 2014, after the story about the deaths of hundreds of children in Tuam broke around the world, Silke came to Catherine Corless hoping to find more answers and speak out. Corless remembers her as a woman who had “the heartiest laugh” and got on with everyone. “Anne was one of those people who wanted to tell her story because she was born in the Home in Tuam and she had a very tough childhood,” Corless said.
“She was fostered out to a woman in the early stages but that didn’t work out and Anne was sent back to the home again, so Anne is one of the few people that remembers life in the Tuam home.”
At the burial site on the former grounds of the Bon Secours institution, grass grown over the area above the sewage system where the remains of infants and children were found during a test excavation years before, Silke stood in a black and white check coat, a black scarf around her neck, speaking of how she remembered children being brought outside, kept in pens and bottles of milk made by Bina Rabitte, a woman working for the nuns at the institution whose name is a witness on many birth certs, being thrown into them.
Silke described a child being kicked by one of the nuns and never seeing that child again. “We all tried to survive, we used to be starving,” she said.
Her mother, who she was separated from in the institution but managed to make some contact with later in life, told her they were kept separate even while inside the walls. “She wasn’t allowed to hold me, cuddle me or feed me or do nothing for me, it was other mothers,” Silke said.
Catherine Corless saw the pile of records that Anne had been able to get from the State, detailing her time in the institution and her fostering. Since she died, family members have not been able to access the cache of documents she left behind and while Tusla recently released a document to Silke’s relatives detailing a timeline of her experiences within the institutions and confirming the time she spent fostered, Silke’s family could now wait months for copies of the documents to be provided. Before she died, Anne Silke stated to Lavina and others that she was abused and exploited as a child while fostered within the Belclare household of Mark Killilea Sr, a founding member of Fianna Fáil and an influential local politician in Tuam. Silke describes in the documentary how she was exploited for labour, made to milk cows morning and evening, brought home from school early to clean and polish the house, and never allowed to eat at the same table with the family. Silke said she was beaten if she did not complete her work or if she defended herself. Silke described being physically assaulted by one of the older adult sons in the house, who she said took over after the foster father died, and that she was sexually abused by another adult son. She was a child at the time of this sexual assault. According to statements made by family members and details from Silke’s testimony, as well as multiple sources who knew Silke and saw her file, the documentary points to Mark Killilea Jr as responsible for physically assaulting Silke. The ‘Golfgate’ event last year in Galway was a dinner in honour of the late TD and MEP. The documentary points to Jarlath Killilea as having sexually abused her. He was a former head of the Department of Tourism and Catering at Cork Institute of Technology. Both men are deceased. Silke describes how Killilea Jr “gave me awful beatings with the horses whip and that, the mother was hitting me and I was protecting myself so I went to hit her and he said you’ll never do that to my mother again, that’s what it was, and he stripped me from the waist down put me across the chair and belted me, and the blood pouring out of me, [I] couldn’t sit”.
Silke says she was told to tell anyone who asked that she fell.
A mother of eight, in a family photo Silke stands with all of her adult children, four daughters and four sons, all of them head and shoulders above her. Silke told her own children about her experiences and they speak out in the documentary, confirming that their mother had told them of these accounts of abuse and exploitation within the foster household. One of her daughters, Alice Kelly, speaks about how many families like her own are still affected by the ongoing legacy of the mother and baby home institutions, making it an intergenerational trauma. The children, like Silke, were robbed of any real affection or love within the Tuam institution and Kelly speaks about how her mother’s way of showing love was making sure they were sent to school, fed, and had clothes on their back. “I heard the stories growing up and it just became normal, it’s just something I accepted that these things happened to mum,” Kelly says, remembering how she asked her mother when she was a teenager about her experience and whether she had been sexually abused. I was,” her mother had told her. It was something Kelly then almost normalised, warning “that’s the generational impact it is having on this country”.
Another of Silke’s children, her son Seán Kelly, spoke over Zoom from New York to the director, Teresa Lavina, and named Jarlath Killilea as the man who sexually abused his mother and Mark Killilea Jr as the man who had beaten her. “[Jarlath] would have assaulted her sexually, physically, he was the one mum was very angry at too, obviously because she was young and didn’t know, she wasn’t even in her teens like.”
There were other witnesses to her exploitation at the hands of the foster family, according to Silke. “This neighbour, my friend will tell you, she used to collect me after the roll was being called and I’d have to polish the house, they had seven bedrooms,” said Silke.
“I hadn’t the work done and the son came along and he battered my face against the wall and pulled my head and battered me against the wall, and all my teeth destroyed. So [as a] 12-year-old I had four dentures, 12 years old.”
A source familiar with Silke’s file says there are hospital records included. “I’d say he denied it to the guards too,” she said.
“He battered me against the wall cause I didn’t have the work done.”
As well as domestic work, she was made to milk the cows morning and evening, spending her nights sleeping on a bed that she said was rotten through with urine. “Their bedroom wasn’t the same as mine,” she said.
“I’m sorry to say I used to wet the bed and I used to sleep in that bed every night.”
Silke remembered a social worker would come every month but she was told not to tell her that was the bedroom she slept in. Many survivors who were boarded out from Tuam and other institutions as children have spoken about being used for free labour by foster families. “They were making money on us, they made money on us,” said Silke.
“Even though we were not in the home they still got money for feeding us.”
There were many attempts at escape. Silke said she ran away a lot but guards brought her back, telling her to be good. “You were put into that situation that you couldn’t get out of,” she said.
“No matter where you went and told your story, you didn’t know who you were talking to then, it was all going back to them.”
Eventually, she told one of the “sisters”, one of the women in charge at her school, that she’d harm herself before going back. The timeline of Silke’s institutionalisation and fostering provided by Tusla shows that after being “discharged” from the foster family in 1967 Silke was sent to St Teresa’s on Temple Hill, a residential institution run by the Daughters of Charity in Dublin, and a place where there are accounts of another child sent from Tuam who was made to work unpaid in a local shop. The document from Tusla states that after being fostered, Silke also worked for a time in 1968 for another member of the Killilea family.4 states in Untold Secrets that she was “put working down in Kilkenny” before being put into a Magdalene Laundry and running away after six months there.” After that, she started working in a hospital. Donagh Killilea, son of the late Mark Killilea Jr, does speak within the documentary about the exploitation of children from the institutions: “We also have to keep in mind the awful conditions in which some survivors worked, they were forced labour on farms a lot of the time, they were forced labour in industry which was big at the time there was a lot of bad but I think there was even more good but it’s just not being looked at.”
Mr Killilea was shown testimony of Anne Silke by Lavina while the documentary was still in production. In response to questions from the Irish Examiner ahead of the broadcast, he described the allegations made by Anne Silke as both “unverified” and “inaccurate” but said “we have nothing to hide”, adding that “everyone involved in this has passed away and I’m very sorry for Anne’s family”.
According to records held by Galway County Council, the minutes of a council meeting show that Mark Killilea Sr opposed the closure of the Tuam institution on the basis that as long as the institution remained in Tuam “the county has the benefit of the money spent there”.
When she was in her mid-20s, Silke says, she went to a social worker in Galway to report “the abuse I got when I was a child with them people” but she was told she was no longer in the social worker’s jurisdiction.
In recent years, people close to Silke say that gardaí from Tuam visited her at her home in Leitrim to take her statement before she passed away. Close family members of Silke say she had been preparing to take Mark Killilea Jr, the alleged perpetrator of her physical assault, to the High Court, but he died before it was possible and she was also dissuaded by fear of losing her house due to legal costs. “Mum always wanted her story out,” her son Seán said.
What did you give us? Fears over drug given to young Scots mothers forced into adoption
By Marion Scott
July 25, 2021, 2:05 pm
Unmarried mothers who were forced to give up their babies were given a controversial drug now linked to cancers and life-changing conditions passed on to future generations. A synthetic hormone, developed to mimic oestrogen, was given to young mothers to dry up their breast milk after their babies were taken for adoption, leaving them at increased risk of developing rare cancers of the reproductive system. Even now, few know the powerful drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) has been linked to a number of breast and vaginal cancers. And it has been shown to cause gynaecological abnormalities and infertility in the children and grandchildren of women given the pills. A major US study found that the daughters of women who took the drug were 40 times more at risk of the rare vaginal cancer adenocarcinoma, eight times more likely to suffer neonatal death, and almost five times more likely to have a premature baby. The study also highlighted increased risks with early menopause, infertility and ectopic pregnancies. The sons of mothers who had taken the drug, which was marketed under the names Stilbestrol, Stilboestrol and Desplex, were also at increased risk of infertility and testicular cancer. The drug, often referred to as just DES, was widely used and marketed throughout the world for a variety of uses, including preventing miscarriage, until 1971 when a Boston scientist first confirmed the deadly links after finding a cluster of young women developing rare vaginal cancers. The drug was sold by a number of manufacturers who have since settled US litigation cases for billions of dollars but little or nothing has been done to highlight concerns across the UK.
Calls for inquiry
Forced adoption campaigners are now demanding a public inquiry and investigation into the health of women given the drug as well as their children exposed to its wide-ranging effects while still in the womb. Marion McMillan, 73, from Paisley, who was forced to give up her baby boy in 1966 simply because she was unmarried, said she was ordered to take 16 tablets a day for almost a week after she gave birth in a mother and baby home. Now dying with cancer, she said: “I’ve met many forced adoption victims over the years who were all given the same drug to dry up their breast milk as quickly as possible after they’d given birth. It was seen as an inconvenience once we’d given birth so we were told to take the tablets, which were handed out like sweets. I was given four, four times a day until my breast milk dried up and I was sent home. Looking back, I fear I was given an overdose of very powerful hormones. Nobody ever explained what they were or whether there were any side effects. I was just ordered to take them, and as a very vulnerable, frightened teenager on my own and disowned by my horrified parents, I had nobody to ask and nobody to protect my best interests. Like the thousands of other forced adoption victims, I simply did what I was told.”
McMillan claims like many other victims she was denied painkillers, there was no stitching after the traumatic birth of her son, and she says she has been plagued by gynaecological problems ever since. More than two years ago she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, which has spread from her lungs to her liver. She has so far defied the terminal diagnosis she was given following aggressive chemotherapy. It took 40 years before she was eventually reunited with the son taken from her, unaware that as she searched for him, he was looking for her. She met husband George after returning from the mother and baby home, and the couple went on to have a family together. The campaigner, whose heartbreaking story brought tears to politicians in the Scottish Parliament last month, has spent decades terrified that the drugs given to her had affected any of her three children. She said: “I was horrified to learn those drugs can cause increased risks of cancer and a number of other serious health issues in the children I had after my firstborn, and I’ve agonised over that and warned them to be vigilant. But it terrifies me that so little has been made public about this medical scandal, and I fear most of the women given this drug will have no inkling of the consequences. I was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over two years ago and I’d like to know whether the drugs I was given played any part in what’s happened to me, and the very least all those other mums and their children deserve is to know the truth about the risks they were exposed to and a check done to see how their health is.”
McMillan, who is due to meet Children’s Minister Clare Haughey along with other campaigners, is calling for a public inquiry so all the health risks and human rights abuses they suffered can no longer be “swept under the carpet”. She said: “For almost 60 years the 60,000 women who were forced adoption victims have been treated as if we are Scotland’s dirty little secret when our only ‘crime’ was that we were not married when we became pregnant. But this is no longer just about challenging the morality of society at that time. There are extremely serious health implications that must be addressed for the women who were given this drug and the generations of their children who may be suffering the lasting effects. The health time bomb is ticking and the government cannot continue ignoring what was a truly dreadful part of Scotland’s history. Very few women given those drugs will even know the danger we were exposed to, or the effect on our children and grandchildren.”
Civil law expert George Clark of Quantum Claims said the government had a duty to investigate: “The government must find a way to fully assess just how widely these drugs were administered, and health authorities must be able to follow-up with health checks. Everyone affected must be given the full information available on all the known side effects so they can be vigilant and seek treatment if necessary.”
MSP Monica Lennon, who has led Holyrood’s Cross Party Committee on Women’s Health said: “It’s bad enough that SNP ministers have tried to sweep the mental health impact of forced adoption under the carpet. The physical impacts must be brought into the light too, including the potential link between cancer and drugs women were made to take to stop their breast milk. A formal apology from the Scottish Government would finally acknowledge all of the damage inflicted on the mothers and their babies, and unlock a full investigation into these cruel and sinister practices.”
DES was developed by British biochemist Edward Charles Dodds in 1938. Dodds never intended it to be used as a drug and didn’t patent it, allowing more than 200 drug companies around the world to manufacture DES. Increasingly concerned over the many uses DES was being prescribed for, Dodds spoke out fiercely about the use of synthetic hormones due to the unknown effect they can have on the body and future generations. Diethylstilbestrol, known as Stilbestrol in the UK, was initially thought to prevent miscarriage and help with period pain. It was also used for a number of other issues, including preventing women growing too tall. It was even used as chemical castration, administered to Enigma hero Alan Turing to “treat” his homosexuality as an alternative to prison. The side effects were awful and Turing would later take his own life. In 1970, a Boston doctor identified links between the drug and rare vaginal cancers in young women and after a Food & Drug Administration alert, it was gradually withdrawn except for small doses used to treat prostate cancer in men. Despite huge settlements in the US to victims, very little is publicly available in the UK. Australia’s forced adoption victims asked their government to act during the country’s official apology in 2013, but are still waiting.
Hollywood writer Caitlin McCarthy is about to cast her film Wonder Drug which will tell the story of how DES was given to millions of unsuspecting women with devastating consequences for generations of children.
McCarthy, 50, said: “I only discovered when I was 35 that I was a victim of this drug. It was given to my mother before I was born and of course she, like so many other women around the world, had no idea she’d been given it or what the consequences would be. I’m what is known as a DES Daughter, although the effect of the drug continues down through generations, too. I have structural differences in my cervix, and need regular check-ups as I’m at increased risk of breast and vaginal cancers. I was extremely lucky to be diagnosed when I was, during a routine operation, simply because the doctor I had was experienced in recognising the effects of the drug. It was devastating, not just for me but also for my poor mother Ann who immediately felt terribly guilty even though she had no idea she had even been given DES in a prenatal vitamin treatment. After the shock of what I’d been exposed to subsided, I began researching how this happened and discovered DES was given to millions around the world. My film exposes the fortunes made by the drug companies, and those who turned a blind eye and did little to warn victims even when the cancer links became clear in 1971. For over 40 years this scandal has been shrouded in silence even though so many people and at least three generations are affected. Everybody has heard about Thalidomide. But hardly anyone has heard about DES. I aim to change that.”
McCarthy is calling on governments around the world to alert women who were given the drug and for health checks for them and any children they have since had.
She said: “It’s desperately sad DES was given to victims of forced adoption who not only suffered by losing their babies, but their health and the health of their other children has been put at dreadful risk because of this drug. It’s a tragedy that this happened at all. But the resounding silence that surrounds it is one of the biggest medical scandals of all time. The silence cannot be allowed to continue. People deserve the truth. They need help and support. Governments cannot continue ignoring this issue. It saddens me and angers me that in all these years there has been no proper apology from either the drug companies or the watchdogs who were supposed to prevent any of this happening. When the first links with cancer were first identified in 1971, the Food & Drug Administration could have issued a ban and taken action so the rest of the world would sit up and react. Instead all it did was issue an alert and little notice was taken. That was shameful. In 2011, the FDA finally admitted DES was a ‘tragedy’. But they still did not apologise.”
Oscar-nominated director Matia Karrell aims to premiere Wonder Drug next year. McCarthy said: “I hope the film will get people talking. The silence has already damaged millions of lives. It has to end.”
Ministers urged to apologise to victims
Marion McMillan will urge the Scottish Government to give a formal apology to the victims of Scotland’s forced adoption scandal when she meets a minister this week. She will see Clare Haughey on Thursday when she will ask the minister for children and young people to encourage the Scottish Government to apologise. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she felt “deep sadness” over the issue and would consider an apology after Labour MSP Neil Bibby raised the cases of Marion and 60,000 other Scottish mothers. Meanwhile, MP Lisa Cameron, who sits on Westminster’s all-party Health Committee, said the revelations about the drugs given to victims were deeply concerning: “This is yet another disturbing, hidden aspect to the forced adoption scandal. I’m raising questions in the House of Commons and have written to the Scottish health secretary.”
The Scottish Government said: “We have enormous sympathy for the women and families who have been harmed by Stilbestrol.”
It will “highlight this issue” with UK drug watchdog the Medicines Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which said in 1973 the Committee on Safety of Medicines wrote to doctors to advise against using the drug to treat pregnant women. In 2002, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported 14 cases of cancer linked to the drug. It said: “Women who believe they may have been exposed to DES in utero and are concerned about the risks of vaginal and cervical cancer should be offered careful monitoring by annual colposcopic examinations.”
*Please note; my views on surrogacy are exactly that my views.*
Firstly I do actually understand why people choose surrogacy over adopton and/or fostering but for me it’s something I couldn’t do. I’m probably very influenced of being a survivor of forced adoption and not having more children. and, while it wasn’t impossible to have more children, it was very unlikely my husband and I would.
What people don’t think about is that another woman carries a baby for a couple or single person so automatically the baby(ies) suffer trauma of being taken from the only mother they’ve known. They carry DNA from the mother as well. Babies aren’t born as blank slates so have a right to know, like adoptees, who carried them for 9 months. Not telling them is living a lie the same as sperm donor conceived children deserve the truth although now sperm domors can’t be anonymous now in the UK.
Why are donors no longer automatically anonymous?
Before the law was changed in 2005, we consulted widely with donor-conceived people and donors about how donor anonymity should work. We found there was a strong desire on both sides to leave the door open to potential contact if both parties wanted that.
We recognise that the prospect of being contacted by someone conceived from your donation can give rise to a lot of complex emotions.
We also give donor-conceived people the option of having a support worker on hand to act as an intermediary if they’d like to make contact with you.
The British couples who paid £40,000 for a child from Ukraine’s hellish baby factory: Exposed, the heartbreaking reality of slick promises sold to desperate surrogacy tourists
Bianca, 45, and Vinny Smith, 40, said surrogacy dream turned into a ‘nightmare’
The couple from Cheltenham paid £40k to a surrogacy company in the Ukraine
When they arrived for birth of their sons, Max and Alex, four, they were shocked
They saw women kept on a sweltering maternity ward with no air-con ‘like cattle’
By Tom Kelly and Susie Coen For Daily Mail
Published: 23:29, 23 June 2021 | Updated: 08:55, 24 June 2021
Bianca and Vinny Smith went through their packing checklist one last time. There was the paperwork, of course, all carefully ordered, double-checked and labelled. Foreign currency, phrasebooks and medical kits. Then, neatly stacked side by side, tiny Babygros and vests, packs of newborn nappies, bottles, teats and tins of powdered baby milk. For tomorrow, they would fly out to the Ukraine as a childless married couple and return a few weeks later as parents, to twin boys, born via a surrogate. After eight failed rounds of IVF and years of heartbreak plus thousands of pounds spent they’d almost given up on their dream of becoming parents. Now they were buzzing with excitement and nerves that finally their dream was about to be realised. Bianca heard about the biggest surrogacy company in the Ukraine on a Facebook group. ‘They were offering a take-home baby guarantee,’ she says. ‘You pay around £40,000 and you keep going until you get a baby. They’ll swap out egg donors or surrogates until they get it right. And we thought, well, perfect.’
But author Bianca, 45, claims their surrogacy dream turned into a ‘nightmare’ after they flew into the Ukraine for the birth of their sons, Max and Alex, now nearly four. There she saw, first hand, the true scale of the country’s shocking surrogate baby trade: women kept on a sweltering maternity ward with no air conditioning ‘like cattle’. Surrogates forced to wash with bottles of water in filthy toilets, as there were no showers and they were too terrified to complain through fear of reprisals against their families. The Smiths have since discovered that their surrogate, an unmarried mother-of-two from rural Ukraine, was rushed into emergency surgery for several blood transfusions after giving birth to their twins. They still feel guilty about what the surrogate went through on their behalf. ‘It’s very difficult for us to find out exactly how the surrogates were treated because of the language barrier,’ says Bianca. ‘But everyone I know who has been through the same firm as us has not been happy.’
The unavoidable fact is the couple, who are originally from Cheltenham, unwittingly fuelled a scandalous billion-pound international surrogacy trade in the Ukraine. ‘We adore our boys, but we are always thinking about our surrogate,’ Bianca says. ‘If only we had known about how she was treated, we would have done everything we could to make her experience better.’
While surrogacy is legal in the UK, the only payments allowed are expenses, i.e. those incurred as a result of the pregnancy, such as medical bills and compensation for time off work. Consequently, the number of UK women volunteering as surrogates is small which drives many couples abroad. The Ukraine is one of the few places in the world where commercial surrogacy is allowed, since Cambodia, India, Nepal and Thailand all banned it in recent years owing to the abusive treatment of women. Some countries, such as Spain, refuse to register children born from surrogates in the Ukraine because of similar concerns. With no such restrictions here, dozens of highly organised Ukrainian companies are free to target the UK market. Through slick, promotional events, they use marketing videos featuring happy British couples with their babies. Their surrogates,they assure customers, are treated ‘like diamonds’. But the brutal reality is that women are frequently kept under ‘surveillance’ during the final weeks of their pregnancies, banned from having contact with partners or other loved ones and forced to live under curfew, facing hefty fines if they break rules. Some were abandoned while in terrible pain, left with huge medical bills and are unable to have children of their own following complications in pregnancy. One who had been through open-heart surgery was allowed to bear a child despite the risk and was forcibly separated from her own son. Another woman revealed the clinic had missed her now incurable cervical cancer in pre-pregnancy checks. While the women are paid around £10,000 to carry babies for foreign couples more than twice the average annual salary the mental and physical cost is painfully high. Meanwhile, there seems to be no age restriction to couples who want a surrogate child. One agency told of a UK couple who wanted an heir for their property empire so had a child in their late 60s using the father’s sperm and a donor egg. When our undercover reporters posed as an elderly couple, they were told by several agencies it would be ‘no problem’. Bianca, who lives in Cozumel, Mexico, where Vinny is stationed as a military consultant, says the couple had tried to accept being childless. Then Bianca found out about the Ukrainian ‘guaranteed baby’ VIP programme for £43,000. They flew out in July 2016 for a consultation, and Bianca says: ‘Everything seemed perfect we were excited.’
Three months later, they returned to Kiev for Vinny’s sperm deposit and to choose their egg donor from a database that included pictures and videos of the Ukrainian women, and details such as eye colour, height and weight, education and occupation. Their surrogate, a 29-year-old baker, was found within a week. ‘I knew she was doing it for the money but that didn’t alarm me. I have a friend in the U.S. who has been a surrogate four times and does it for the money. I didn’t see it as exploitation,’ Bianca says.
They then met the surrogate, signed the paperwork and paid the deposit. The next month, the donor had her egg retrieval and by December the surrogate was pregnant with twins. For the next few months, their only contact with her was via Skype with a translator employed by the clinic. ‘We found out only her boyfriend and two kids knew about the surrogacy a lot of them do it in secret because it’s frowned upon by the locals,’ Bianca says.
As the babies’ due date approached, in July 2017, ‘everything started unravelling’. ‘It began with the service we were given when we arrived for the birth,’ says Bianca. ‘We were told we would have a “luxury” apartment but it was filthy absolutely disgusting. It was definitely not an environment for a newborn baby.’
The couple complained to the agency and asked for a cleaner but they did such a ‘terrible’ job they were forced to buy cleaning products and scrub down the apartment themselves. Bianca and Vinny, 40, had also paid for a private hospital for their surrogate, but were told she was going to the public hospital. ‘It was filthy and reeked of cigarette smoke,’ Bianca says. ‘The private hospital is used to surrogates, but in the public hospital, we were screamed and shouted at. They didn’t want us there.’
They’d also been told their surrogate would live in an apartment in Kiev for the last few weeks of the pregnancy ‘so they could keep an eye on her’ and ensure her pregnancy was going well.
SURROGACY IN THE UKRAINE: THE RULES
~ Only married heterosexual couples are allowed to use surrogates in the Ukraine and they must have a medical reason why they cannot carry their own children.
~ There has to be some genetic link between the prospective parents and the child, either through the sperm or the egg. The surrogate cannot use her own eggs.
~ For the surrogates in the Ukraine, the rules are much more strict. Women must sign contracts waiving their right to even hold the baby after the birth and are hit with hefty penalties for infringements, as seen by our undercover reporters.
~ The contract states if the surrogate is left infertile due to the pregnancy or childbirth, she is only entitled to £5,700 in compensation from the prospective parents.
~ If the child is born ‘with abnormalities through the fault of the surrogate’ she must pay the parents £11,500 in compensation.
~ She will also have to pay a £17,000 fine for the ‘refusal to issue documents’ confirming the parental rights of the intended parents.
~ She is not permitted to ‘pick up the child(ren) at the hospital and cannot object to the potential parents picking up their child(ren) immediately after birth’.
~ The largest possible fines which can be issued to a surrogate include for a ‘breach of confidentiality’ speaking to the Press, human rights or public organisations which would see a surrogate fined £22,000.
~ The surrogate must reimburse the parents ‘for all medical expenses’ if she refuses to have an abortion ‘if the child(ren) is found to have abnormalities and the potential parents opt to terminate the pregnancy’.
~ The contract also states she must: ‘Strictly follow the diet, lifestyle and regime of work, rest, physical and emotional stress’ that is recommended to her.
~ She cannot even ‘swim or sunbathe’ without the consent of the parents, agency and a physician.