'Unfit mother' speaks up: church should better understand the pain of adoption, former Armagh resident says.
Karen Lynn was a 19-year-old university student when she became pregnant in 1963. In a situation she described as "typical," her mother quietly made arrangements for her and her baby. Lynn was sent away to Armagh, a Presbyterian-run home for unwed mothers in Clarkson, Ont. (now part of Mississauga) which she said was "physically a beautiful place." Her mother and family doctor decided the child should be adopted by some of his married clients. And Lynn was told never to tell anyone that she had an illegitimate child.
Today, Lynn is president of the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, a support and advocacy group for women who have "surrendered" children for adoption. "We gave up," she said. "Because it's not that we wanted to do it--it's just that there were no options."
Although Armagh's policies allowed mothers to return with their babies, the vast majority of children went to the Children's Aid Society to be adopted by married couples. According to a 1965 General Assembly report, of 120 babies born to mothers admitted to Armagh the previous year, only 10 were kept.
"The social workers were saying, my dear, you would be selfish if you kept your child," Lynn said. "Your child could have a much better life, and you are an unfit mother. How could a 16-year-old be a good mother? So that was the culture."
Lynn knew she was not in a position to keep her baby in 1963, but losing a child is "the most devastating thing that can happen to a woman," she said. When a child dies, "there's an outpouring of support from the community ... They take care of you. They take care of your grief. But when you lose a child to adoption, you're not even supposed to talk about it. The grief is never resolved. So you see, to me, the church should have figured that out. That's what churches are supposed to do."
In response to a series of April National Post articles about coercive adoption practices in Canada, the Presbyterian Church agreed to compile a list of archival documents that relate to Armagh and programs for unwed mothers.
"I think revealing the truth of whatever we've got is what's going to be important," said Stephen Kendall, principal clerk of the General Assembly "Anyone is welcome to research [in the archives]. They're not closed documents. We're doing our own due diligence to find for ourselves what we have."
Armagh was the only maternity home run exclusively by the PCC after the United Church was formed in 1925. It opened in 1955 and effectiVely replaced the Presbyterian Home for Girls, a property in the Yorkville area of Toronto, which closed two years earlier. With an extension completed in 1957, the house could house up to 22 women.
The role of Armagh has changed over the years, Kendall noted. "Early on it was a place of refuge for young mothers; and I know the church wanted to be involved in providing a place of refuge where there was need."
In the 1950s and 60s, the maternity home often kept a waiting list. By the 1970s, fewer and fewer unwed mothers were sent to maternity homes. The house was renovated in 1980 to accommodate a program for young women with "emotional-behavoural problems."
Today Armagh provides second-stage housing for women and children fleeing abusive relationships and is governed by an independent board.
'We gave up. Because it's not that we wanted to do it--it's just that there were no options'
Connie Wardle is the Record's senior staff writer.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2012|
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