The photo was faded, a little yellowed, but still clear enough to send shivers down my spine.
I blinked harder. Was it really evidence of a secret my mother had kept for more than 60 years?
It was Christmas after she died at the age of 82 and I was going through her old pictures, some lying loose in a box, others in a little black album. Suddenly this one picture of her caught my eye.
My mother was always very petite – less than 5 feet tall and rarely weighed more than five pounds. But in this photo, taken in 1932 at the age of 18, she looked plump, almost fat. ‘My goodness’ I thought. “She was a lot taller then.”
Then another thought came. Was it possible that she was pregnant? Certainly not. She hadn’t met Dad then. . .
Mysterious Baby: Linda’s pregnant-looking mother (right) in 1932 with her sister. “The photo was faded, a little yellowed, but still clear enough to send shivers down my spine. I blinked harder,” Linda writes
My head was spinning trying to figure out the dates. It must have been a good 15 years before I was born in 1947. I have two brothers. One died at two weeks, the year before I was born. The other is three years younger than me.
I felt a shock wave. Had mother had a baby as an unmarried teenager, with all the stigma and shame that went with it at the time? What happened to the child? And why on earth hadn’t she told me?
While she and I had never been in a relationship where we shared all of our emotional ups and downs, we lived close, visited regularly, and I nursed her when she became ill. It made me sad that she couldn’t confide in me. But what if the truth was so painful she could never have said it?
Was the truth so painful that mom never spoke about it?
I tentatively asked my brother what he thought of it, but he said he didn’t want to know; he felt it had nothing to do with him.
Then my friend Rosemary, a retired midwife, took one look at the photo and told me that Mom looked “quite of age” to her.
As a writer, I knew this was a powerful story. So I set out to find out what happened all those years ago.
Pictured: Linda. She says: “An estimated half a million unmarried women and girls were forced to give up their babies from the early to late 20th century, many of them paralyzed with heartache and guilt.”
With the help of another friend, I searched birth certificates for my mother’s maiden name.
The date of birth came immediately. The baby was a girl: first name June, middle name Heather, born March 1932.
My mother’s address was Prisk, Maendy, near Cowbridge and the place of birth was Blaengarw in Bridgend. I knew my mother was on duty in Wales because she had spoken of her sister “looking for her a job” there. After further searching, I found June’s birth certificate — with my mother’s name on it, but not her father’s — and the word “Adopted” on the side.
My heart sank. An estimated half a million unmarried women and girls were forced to abandon their babies from the early to late 20th century, leaving many paralyzed with grief and guilt. The thought of my mother being one of them and then keeping it a secret felt desperate and pathetically sad.
I saw the shame that still surrounded it when I visited my Aunt Frances, one of my mother’s sisters. I decided to come straight with it. “Did my mother have a baby when she was a teenager?” I asked.
Pictured: Linda and her mother Bessie having Christmas dinner together. “Mum had always been very understanding of unmarried mothers too; oddly for the time,” explains Linda
My aunt went very still and then said, ‘No babies.’ That was it. She said – wanted – nothing more. In fact, she said it in such a voice that I didn’t like to ask her about it.
Meanwhile, however, other memories were beginning to make sense. I wondered if it explained why my mother had never been a very emotional or affectionate mother. I know Mum loved us, but she wasn’t the one to wrap her arms comfortably around us.
As a teenager, had she been forced to deny and repress motherhood to such an extent that it damaged her forever?
Mum had always been very understanding of unmarried mothers too; strange for the time. I remember her saying things like, “You are more to be pitied than blamed” and “Well, she’s not the first and she won’t be the last”.
I was obsessed with childhood memories.
My parents had met outside of Woolworths in Paignton, Devon during the war and my childhood had been very happy in many ways. I suddenly remembered a particularly happy time that might hold the key to the whole mystery.
When I was about eight years old, two young women came to Paignton for a holiday. Matilda (Mattie), my mother’s cousin who lived in Wales; and a woman in her early 20s whose name was June. Mattie and June took me to the beach and treated me to ice cream and cotton candy.
Linda at the age of 15 with her mother and father. She writes, “I have no idea if my father knew who June really was, but he was a very calm, laid-back man and I can’t imagine him judging my mother.”
I remembered sitting with them at the kitchen table and my mother was happy too. Mom was very skilled with a needle, and she sewed summer dresses for them. It was a nice visit.
But none of the young women ever came back.
The more I remembered, the more convinced I became that June was the unborn baby in this picture of my pregnant mother. The age difference between us, 15 years, seemed about right. Had she been taken in by Mattie’s side of the family?
My mother had many relatives and I asked around but no one seemed to know. Most of the people who were alive then were dead now. Or maybe nobody wanted to say anything because of the stigma that Aunt Frances still clearly felt.
Another incident struck me as terribly revealing. When I was in my mid-40s, I had to tell her that a close relative had been sexually abused. I was extremely upset. My mother gasped in shock. She got up and I thought she was coming to comfort me. But she didn’t. Instead she left the room.
Linda (pictured) says: “The more I remembered, the more convinced I became that June was the unborn baby in this picture of my pregnant mother.”
When she came back after 15 minutes, she just said: “Stop crying – it makes you sick. These things happen.’
The “June”, who only visited us once, could be that child
I didn’t think anything of it at the time because my mother wasn’t a sensitive person. But I’m wondering now if that happened to her. I really hope not.
I have no idea if my father knew who June really was, but he was a very calm, easy-going man and I can’t imagine that he would judge my mother.
There was one more clue. After my father died in 1994, my mother often asked my husband Roger if he could drive her across the moors in the fall. “Heather is my favorite flower,” she said.
The poignancy of it often brought me to tears — my mother giving the daughter such a cute middle name that she had to give away.
It was hard having a mum to brush away emotional things, especially when I was a teenager and later as a mum going through postnatal depression. I never saw her cry. Today I see her very differently. Maybe the lack of emotion was a cover for all the pain inside.
I’ve gotten to a point where it’s probably impossible to find more answers. But maybe someone reading this will know more.
June would be 90 now. If she’s out there I’d love to hear from her.
- As Jane Corry has said her latest novel We All Have Our Secrets is out now (Penguin Viking) £7.99.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-11120911/Woman-shares-photo-revealed-mothers-secret-baby.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Woman Shares Photo That Revealed Her Mom’s Secret Baby