The ‘invisible’ first mother in family law and popular fiction: rights, redress, and myths of relinquishment

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Maternal invisibility is a common trope of both adoption law and literary fiction. This paper looks mainly to the recent findings of the England/Wales Joint Human Rights Parliamentary Committee (2022) on The Violation of Family Life:Adoption of Children of Unmarried Women 1949–1976, which confirm that unwed motherhood in this era required a permanent walling away – if not a lifetime of silent sham[ing]. The testimonies of mothers and adoptees evidence egregious violations that challenge the notion of family life rights. Ill-treatment by medical staff (during, before, and after labour and delivery) appears near-normative as does non-consensual infant relinquishment, highlighting how such ‘social working’ easily negated blood-ties, maternal dignity, and autonomy. A state apology has yet to be made, in sharp contrast to some other jurisdictions where unmarried mothers and infants were similarly ill-treated. As such, key details of the submissions echo many of the darker plot points of classic and modern works of fiction: in addition to the need for maternal invisibility (Jane Eyre, An Episode of Sparrows), there is torture and degrading treatment (The Handmaid’s Tale), memory-altering drugs (The Giver), and dystopian altruistic anonymity (Logan’s Run, Never Let Me Go) all of which ensured compliance and a good supply of ‘adoptable children.’ Until, indeed unless, a stateapology is made to those affected by harsh adoption processes within the UK, no progress can be made towards determining or providing some form of redress for intergenerational harms and sharp othering.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 05 Apr 2023
EventSocio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference 2023 - Ulster University, Derry/Londonderry, United Kingdom
Duration: 04 Apr 202306 Apr 2023 (Book of abstracts)


ConferenceSocio-Legal Studies Association Annual Conference 2023
Abbreviated titleSLSA 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • adoption
  • relinquishment
  • literary fiction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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