A little over 20 years ago I was reunited with my daughter, who had been adopted at the age of six weeks. We have become friends since then and I felt I owed it to her to explain the circumstances surrounding her birth and relinquishment. I have done this as an adult, in conversation with her, but there is only so much we can say to each other face to face. She knows my adult self but I wanted her to understand how my teenage self felt about losing a child, and to understand the shame surrounding illegitimacy at the time she was born. In the 1960s in England, “bastard” was still a dirty word. My parents dealt with the shame of my pregnancy by never speaking of it. They built a wall of silence. It took me 30 years to climb that wall: The attitudes I encountered as a teenager have not disappeared altogether. The shame of teenage pregnancy is still very much an issue in Ireland, for instance. The events I have written about took place in the late 60s in England, and I have tried to give a picture of the culture of the time. Women who gave birth to illegitimate children in the 60s and into the 70s were judged harshly by doctors and nurses and treated with less care than married women. So Many Lovely Girls is an extract from a longer memoir piece, which could be termed relational, because it deals with an intimate relationship, but I prefer the classification of autogynography, a term coined by feminist critic Donna Stanton in The Female Autograph. Stanton uses the term to differentiate women’s life writing from men’s.
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