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This is a review of the 2012 book 'The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers' by Angela Patrick with Lynne Barrett-Lee. I was captivated by the front cover which shows a 1960s barefoot teenager (Sandy Shaw style) in a maternity smock standing outside a convent. Obviously this is just a photo library picture but it really fits the way the book describes its main character Angela and gives a clue towards what's inside the story.
The book follows Angela Brown who falls pregnant at 19 to a short term boyfriend. She doesn't even tell him she is pregnant as they have split up before she finds out at four months that she is expecting and in the '60 for a single catholic girl this is really bad news. She discovers that it is too late for a termination so goes through with the pregnancy, coping with her mum throwing her out and losing her job. She admits herself to a convent that arranges adoptions for the babies and spends the last three months of her pregnancy working her socks off for the nuns.
Emotions naturally run high in the book. Angela would dearly love to keep her baby but she knows it is not an option and has to live the rest of her life with her secret burning deep inside. After giving birth she is allowed to spend eight weeks with baby Paul at the convent before handing him over to his new parents. Those eight weeks are closely monitored by the nuns, just feeding (and no breast feeding or extra contact), bathing and changing and dressing are allowed at certain times of the day. Anyone caught kissing their baby is in deep trouble and the nuns make sure that the girls are aware of their sins and are punished for them.
In the convent, Angela bonds with some of the other girls who are all in the same situation and they grimly get on with their jobs, sharing their stories when they can. Angela is lucky in that she lands working the milk kitchen, cleaning and preparing milk bottles round the clock and this is relatively easy work compared to those who are heavily pregnant and tasked with scrubbing the already clean floors around the convent, or those in the laundry working in unbearably hot conditions. It is all seen as punishment for these girls who have lost their way.
Angela leaves the convent a shell of her former self and deeply sad about being parted from her baby. She is welcomed home by her parents but the subject of the baby is taboo and not mentioned at all. Angela is glad when her brother and sister in law offer her a room in their house and she feels relieved to begin a new life and get a job again. She is terrified of dating and meeting new men and is scared of getting herself in a situation where she may be pregnant again so when she meets a potential suitor she is reluctant to date him because of her past. Credit to Angela she is very honest and prepared to tell her future husband what has happened as she believes that he needs to know and is ready to accept that he may not want to know her once he finds out.
The book begins with the party where Angela conceives, then follows her to the convent, then spans the next thirty years of her life. It is really well narrated and easy to follow and keeps you hoping and guessing whether Angela will ever be reunited with Paul her baby.
This book was an excellent true account of Angela's experiences and whilst she is sad about the past, she is accepting of what happened and realises it would have been difficult to keep her baby in those times. The nuns made her take a bus on her own to the hospital when she was over her due date and going to be induced which is not acceptable. Then, her treatment at the hospital during the birth was terrible where the nurses did not tell her what was happening and made her feel like she had done something wrong, only to find out later that she nearly died during the long labour. Although what happened when she was 19 has affected Angela for the rest of her life, this is something that a lot of people went through and still live with today and reading the book has made me really empathetic to those who are in an impossible situation and choose adoption.
I would recommend this book if you enjoy reading people's life stories. It is interesting without being 'poor me' if you know what I mean. Angela is a nice lady with a lovely supportive family and it is amazing that she has been able to write this detailed account of something which has caused her a lot of pain and sorrow in her life.