Monday, December 03, 2007

Betty Thomas - forced abortion

There is anecdotal evidence that women who had been treated for TB were “discouraged” from having children, even forced to have abortions though they may have left hospital years ago and were considered cured.

Betty Thomas was one such woman, also her sister. Both had been in Craig-y-nos.
She says:"in our family it was never talked about."

In an email to me Betty says:

"I've thought hard and long about the "abortion story" and I give my permission for you to put it on the web. I cannot explain how I feel ....even now there is a great hurt that just gets me shedding many tears, something that happened so many years ago, buried deep, but never dies.
" Now is the time to be free and forgetting about myself how many more will be able to identify similar hurts, that were always kept secret but not by choice. Let the "dark history" of Wales now be brought out into the light."

Thank-you Betty for having the courage to come forward and speak about a piece of Welsh history that has been a secret and taboo.

Betty, now 86 years of age, came to the recent Patients Reunion. She was in Craig-y-nos in 1941 as a 20 year old

This is Betty's story:

I had to go down to the clinic when I came home from Craig-y-nos to ask was it all right to get married. You had to ask permission, oh dear, dear. ‘Yes, but no children.’
Anyway, they don’t tell you how not to have children, you find out your own way. But anyway, I became pregnant in 1944. I was married in ’43 in the July and I became pregnant in November ’44. Now I went down to the clinic for one of my check-ups and mentioned that I was pregnant.

Of course, a lot of doctors used to have TB, and I saw a Dr and I said, ‘Is it alright?’ I was told, ‘Fine, do you want the child?’ ‘Well, of course I want the child.’ Well, that was fine, so I came merrily home.

Then I had to go down for a check-up again and I went down and I was four and a half months pregnant, and sister who was there – a lovely sister. And she said, ‘Are you pregnant?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ve seen the doctor.’

‘No way can you have this child.’

So anyway, the head one that was in the clinic at that time, a Dr X (Betty requested the person is not named), all lovely people but you know, very dedicated to their work. And there was no way that I was to have this child and they arranged for me to go to see a consultant to have an abortion.

I was five months pregnant. My husband wasn’t even consulted. He was away working. He was never in the picture, never asked. So I went up, they got me into the Hospital, then.

I had this pregnancy terminated. Terrible, terrible time it was. The lady doctor came, and said, ‘You see, my dear an apple tree when an apple is ready to be picked, it’ll come off in your hand but when it is not ripe, you’ve got to tug.’ They sent for my husband who was working then in Oxford. They sent for my mother and they asked would I be all right. The sister said, ‘As long as she doesn’t have any infection.’ Otherwise that would have been it. It’s unheard of at five months, isn’t it, surely?

I did say, ‘Well, why can’t I have this child?’

‘You’ll have a wonderful pregnancy but when the child is born, if you’ve got a child that you’ve got to get up in the night, and you get overtired …’ This is what they told me, ‘… your TB will be back and
Who’s going to look after the child then? Your mother and your husband?’

No, that was it but there was a lot of fear then. Mind, sometimes … not so much guilt but to think that I took a life but really it was all fear that was placed into you at that time.
Well, I look at it like that but that’s terrible, isn’t it?

It was a little boy, and I thought to myself, sometimes when you see things where babies are stillborn, they have a little funeral.

I haven’t told many people, it’s so much in the past. Anyway, it wasn’t a good thing to talk about in those days. You kept it all as a secret."

This is an extract from an oral recording
Betty Eunice Thomas (née Dowdle) gave to Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.

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