Tuam has once again become a target of international news. 796 bodies wrapped in blankets found in 12 separate underground septic tanks, connected to an unused sewage system. Tuam was a mother baby home in County Galway, Ireland, and between the years of the 1920s through the 1960s young unwed women who became pregnant were sent there so as not to shame their families.
Imagine giving birth in one of these 10 mother baby homes throughout Ireland, but the only time you’re allowed to tend to your baby is to feed it. Then one day with no explanation you’re alone. You don’t know why or what happened.
Rumors spread quickly. One girl tells you she saw an infant put in a car that drove off, believing adoption to a rich family in the States had been the option. Another girl tells you a child has been fostered out to a local family. Later in the day another girl tells you she watched a priest give last rites to a newborn. When you go to the Sisters, they tell you nothing, instead you were forced to return to work, after being slapped for your question.
The Sisters called these women sinners, and told them their babies were bastards, but even worse, these new mothers were expected to forget what had happened to them. No mother forgets her baby. They never forgot us. They remembered our birthdays, our weight, the color of our hair, and even the touch of our fingers as we grasped hold of our past.
What happened in Ireland was a crime, a crime to those mothers, a crime to those babies, even to those who survived. Every day I question how it was that I survived, even though I was as sick as they were.
I was not born at Tuam, but at Castlepollard where their dead babies weren’t discarded in tanks, but buried in unconsecrated ground located behind a wrought iron fence, with a small cross outlined on the gate.
Caretakers at the home pounded a nail into a seven-foot rock wall each time a tiny corpse was handed over for burial. That nail acknowledged the fragile innocence of each child. As of the closure of the home in 1961, there were over 500 nails in that wall.
Though I never became a nail in Castlepollard’s wall, I don’t feel as grateful as I was told I should be for making it out. I was heart broken for those babies, and their mothers who never had a chance. I survived and now my goal is to be a voice through my writing.
Almost 800 babies in Tuam over 500 at Castlepollard, discarded like trash. How many other babies across Ireland would never have the chance to be grateful?
Many people believe that too much time has passed, and these events need to be forgotten because it’s over and no malice could be found. Just to let you know, as a survivor, it is never over.
I can only speak for myself, but it stays with me everyday. When I look at my children, and grandchildren, I realize my survival created them. When I think of my adoptive family, I know that because of their care, I am whole again.
Who is to blame for these crimes committed against innocent women? Many people say that the Catholic Church should accept responsibility for what happened, for allowing such atrocities to take place.
When I met my birth mother, she told me she didn’t blame her church. She said, “ Each individual person woke up every day, and made the choice to act the way they did.”
It may well have been individual people, but one neglected child was one too many. We must come together and offer hope, so these atrocities are never forgotten or repeated.