Former Wexford county councillor Deirdre Wadding gave birth to a son in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork. She spoke to Helen Ní Shé about it on An Saol ó Dheas on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta this week.
Deirdre, from Wexford, was just 18 and in love with a young man, 17, at the time she found out she was pregnant in 1981. She was studying in Carysfort College in Dublin. She was taken aback at the severity of her parents’ reaction when she told them.
“It was awful, I wasn’t expecting what my mother said… the terrible words she used .. prostitute, animal … She was a good woman, and a good, kind mother until then… It’s very hard to think about what she said.”
“She was afraid my life was over, that I wouldn’t be able to be a teacher, that I wouldn’t be able to marry … she was old-fashioned, older than my friends’ mothers.”
Deirdre was told to keep everything secret, not even to tell her sister, and she was sent to Bessborough. She said that she didn’t feel she had any choice.
“I did as they said … I think now that I was very naive … it was so difficult, I was ashamed because they were so upset, and so angry, I hadn’t a clue what else I could do only go through with what they had planned.”
“We went there in my father’s car … they brought me up to the big doors and I went in and that was the start … I wasn’t the same woman anymore. Our names were changed, I was Ciara now and Deirdre was gone.”
One of the duties Deirdre had in Bessborugh was to look after the babies in the nursery, something very difficult for the young women.
“We worked in the nursery… It was very difficult emotionally, we were giving these babies milk and looking after them, their mothers had left, and we knew that in a few months our babies would be here and other girls would be minding them.”
The company and support of the other women was very important to her, although Deirdre says that the women never discussed where they were from or what their real names were. There was an ‘industry of secrecy’.
Deirdre gave birth to a son, Paul, and she still harboured some hope that her parents might allow her to keep him.
“They went in to see him. I suppose I still had some hope that when they’d see him that they’d let me keep him, but that didn’t happen. And that was the first time I saw him, when I was leaving, and I didn’t see him again for 19 years.”
“I was crying my heart out, it was so difficult .. .My heart broke at that minute, and it left me heartbroken for the rest of my life.”
Deirdre returned to college, and never told anyone what had happened. This had lasting repercussions for her, and caused difficulties in her personal life and relationships. Deirdre has had two failed marriages, and also had a difficult relationship with her mother.
“It was very difficult between myself and my mother … There was a lot of love between myself and my father, a lot of conversations years later, particularly after my mother’s death. I made peace with my mother … I’m sure she thought she was doing the best thing for me. My father said years later that he didn’t think they’d done the right thing, approached it in the right way, and that was very important for me.”
Deirdre finally managed to contact her son Paul when he was 19 years old, and he was very understanding about what she had suffered and the choices she made. She is now in regular contact with him.
Deirdre said that she hoped that the report would mark a new start, and that the apology from the State was very important, especially to some of the older survivors who suffered terribly in the mother and baby homes.
Deirdre Wadding was interviewed on An Saol ó Dheas on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta this week.