The course of Ann Keen’s life changed the moment her family doctor – to her embarrassment – confirmed that she was, indeed, pregnant.
Ann was 17 years old, Christian, and most pertinently – she was unmarried.
For some, 1960s Britain is popularized as the “swinging sixties” – where laissez-faire attitudes dominated the hearts and minds of many young people.
But for Ann – or Ann Fox, as she was known then – the latter scenario was far from her lived experience.
Hailing from a proud, working-class family in Wales, she knew she had to do what was deemed “right.”
The only option presented to her was adoption. Forced adoption.
“It was,” Ann told Sky News, “for the greater good.”
“Or that is what I was told. But ‘for the best’ has had the most serious consequences.”
Around 185,000 children were taken away from their unmarried mothers and adopted between 1949 and 1976 in England and Wales.
Women and girls who became pregnant outside of marriage were seen as having shamed themselves.
It was commonplace for families and institutions – including schools and churches – to send expecting mothers away from their homes, in order to hide their pregnancies.
A new report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights places “ultimate responsibility” – for the young mothers’ pain and suffering – with the government, asserting it railroaded mothers into unwanted adoptions.
Harriet Harman, Labor MP and committee chair, is calling on the government to apologize to these victims.
She said: “(It) must acknowledge publicly, clearly and unambiguously that what happened to these women was wrong. It would never happen now – and it should never have happened then.”
The MP added that recognition would be a poignant step not just for the mothers – but their children.
“It’s important to their children, who have been brought up being told that ‘your mother didn’t want you, she gave you away, you didn’t matter enough to her.’
She added: “(An apology) would say to the children very firmly: You were separated from your mother without her consent.”
Consent is the key word here. Ann says there was none – and that it was all about “controlling women”.
She says she received no pain relief during her birth – a reminder of her “wicked” ways.
Ann was told by a midwife that she was growing “too attached” to her son – which was posing a problem, as he was soon to be adopted.
Consequently, unknown to Ann, a few days after his birth, he was ushered away to a different building, away from her. She was devastated.
She said: “A midwife told me I’ll never see him again.
She took me into a cold bathroom – made sure I was in the bath – and she grabbed my breast. She started to express milk from me – because she said I would never need to.
“I knew then that I had no rights. I felt so lost… And afraid.”
Ann’s experiences, she says, led her to become a nurse, and then later an elected MP. What happened to her – she said – could never happen again to anyone else.
A government spokesperson asserts: “We have the deepest sympathy to all those affected by forced adoption.
“While we cannot undo the past, we have strengthened our legislation and practice to be built on empathy.”
Ann was reunited with her son in 1996.
“My baby. You’ve found my baby. My baby,” she kept repeating.
But of course – in walked a 27-year-old man.
She told Sky News: “He had my wicked sense of humour. My husband Alan said we had the same political wit – that I had met my match!”
Her self-worth, however, is something that the former health minister has always struggled with.
An apology, she says, can help her healing journey by helping provide closure.
“It’s not a lot to ask. But it’s a lot that they can give. It’s a really big thing that they can give us back.