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A backstory to Female Factor

The Gift

April 1973

My darling daughter,

I've never written to you before, but I have to try and explain why I gave you away.
          I have a photo of you taken just a few weeks ago; you're beautiful, and look so much like your father.
          Your father. I met him when I was just your age. I was naïve but not particularly innocent, and it was all too easy for him to take advantage of that. A lot of smooth lies got me into his bed, but I believed I was in his heart as well.
          Nowadays, kids who get pregnant get a choice, but things were different then. I was terrified. Your father abandoned me as soon as he knew and I had to confess to my family alone. The rows and recriminations went on for several days: my mother weeping and wailing and Dad shouting. Mainly about the shame I had brought on the family - we weren't the sort of family that had teenage unmarried mothers. How could they hold their heads up in the street, or at the bridge or golf club?
          I let them take the lead: of course my parents knew best for me. The family doctor was consulted - in strict privacy, of course - and arrangements were made. A quiet clinic, somewhere in London where no one knew us. In and out in a couple of days, and no one would ever be the wiser.
          Except me. My parents might one day be able to conveniently forget that I was ever pregnant, but I wouldn't. I knew there would always be a part of me that would regret it if I allowed them take my baby away.
          So I let them take me to London. And before I could be booked in at the clinic, I slipped away, carrying one bag containing as many of my clothes as I had managed to fit in.
          I phoned my parents at the hotel and tried to explain that I would come back if I could keep my baby. They told me to go to the clinic otherwise I would no longer be their daughter. I hung up.
          Even now, I wonder how I survived. I had a meagre amount of savings which kept me going until I found work in a cafe, neither of which was enough to finance a room somewhere - a corner of a bedroom in a squat was all I could manage. But the cafe chucked me out when I was too obviously pregnant to be able to hide it, and a few weeks later I had to throw myself on the mercy of social services.
          I was the youngest at the hostel they put me in, but not by much. Some of the girls were hookers who would give up their babies and return to the streets; others were kids like me, caught out in their first relationship, whose babies were up for adoption. I was going to be different; I was going to keep you and work to support us both.
          Of course, I didn't. I didn't take the decision to give you up lightly, but I'd been alone for long enough to have lost my naivety. My life was going to be tough and though I didn't doubt my ability to survive, I knew it wasn't fair to put you through it.
          It broke my heart when they came to take you. You were just three weeks old, but already the most important thing in my life. I couldn't change my mind; I'd already signed the adoption papers. At least - I think even then if I'd really wanted to, I could have - but deep down I knew I was doing the best thing for you.
          The couple had been trying for several years for a child and were overjoyed to finally have a daughter, a tiny baby whose arrival was a cause for celebration. They were financially secure, respectable, and married. I kissed you and handed you to your new mother, wishing she would take you and run, before I tried to reclaim you.
          But she didn't. Cradling you, gazing at you tenderly, she thanked me. Thanked me for you, for giving her the most precious gift.
          They left their address, and for a few months I stayed in touch. But those few months saw a change in me, in my lifestyle. I was working the bars - it became easier and easier to use men and be paid for it. Eventually your parents forbade me to get in touch with you, although they promised to send me photos.

I expect you're wondering why I've chosen now to write to you. It's because I've just been helping a girl; someone who could have been me.
          This copper I know, Ray, came looking for her. A runaway he said, showing her photo, just 14 - too young to be on the streets. I tried to forget her, but when I came across her just a few hours later fighting off a drunk I had to step in and help.
          Whilst waiting for Ray to arrive I talked some sense into her, and I hope she'll go home and work it out with her parents.
          I wish I had been able to do that; but I can never regret having you. I only know you from a series of photos; I'll never hear your voice or hold you again, but you're still my daughter.

Be happy, Sara.

Brushing away a tear, Betty closed the unsent letter and replaced it in Ann Seaford's folder. Maybe one day, they could show it to her daughter.

© Carol Good - September 2003