A woman from Seaford will recall the misery of being forced to give up her baby when she addresses the audience before the showing of BAFTA award-winning film Philomena.
This will take place atSeaford Community Cinema on Friday April 11 and Saturday April 26.
Veronica Smith, now 73, was 24 when she became pregnant while unmarried. She was sent to a Catholic hostel and, as in the film, later made to give up her child for adoption. She says she has never been able to forgive the religion for what happened to her and is co-founder of a group which is campaigning for mothers like herself to receive an official apology.
Many years later Veronica found her daughter, Catherine, and enjoys a close relationship with her, but the experience of being forced to give up her only child still haunts her, and, she says, has caused suffering to Catherine.
She hopes that the British government will follow the example of Australia and apologise to women whose children were taken away and adopted by others in the 1960s.
“I, and thousands of women like me, were coerced into giving up our children,” she says. “I was a perfectly healthy, capable adult. I’m still angry that my child was taken away.”
Veronica, then in her early 20s, was working as a nurse at Butlins holiday camp in Bognor Regis when she became pregnant after a brief fling with a Red Coat. Although the convent-educated young woman plucked up the courage to tell her mother, her father was kept in ignorance. “It was a big thing to deal with because there was a real stigma about unmarried mothers at the time. I just knew I had a situation that needed to be dealt with.”
Like Philomena Lee, Veronica was sent to a Catholic hostel to wait out her pregnancy. After Catherine’s birth in hospital she was allowed to keep her for just seven days.
She was advised to go home and get on with her life, but the experience had a lasting impact on her ability to form relationships and she was in her 50s by the time she met and married Roger.
By her late 40s and suffering from gynaecological problems, she had a breakdown and the grief she had hidden for so long flooded out. Signed off work, she started watching TV programmes like Kilroy in which adopted children were reunited with their birth parents.
In 1989, after following up a few clues given by the Catholic Children’s Society, which arranged the adoption, she made contact with her daughter, then 24. The relationship was shaky until Catherine gave birth to her own daughter.
Veronica said, “When her daughter was nine months old she emailed me and told me she had a daughter, but it was another year before we met.”
Now Veronica would like an official apology to compensate for some of the pain that she and many others endured.
“Just because women weren’t married, they lost their children,” said Veronica.
“I find it abhorrent. Hopefully, the more I talk about what happened, the more women will come out of their closet and stop feeling ashamed and guilty.”
Philomena, which won the Best Adapted Screenplay BAFTA this year, is being screened at Seaford Community Cinema, The Barn Theatre, on Friday April 11 at 7.30pm and Saturday April 26 at 2.30pm. It stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
For more information, visit the website at www.movement foranadoptionapology.org