A Donegal woman and her daughter have spoken of their shock at the limits of the Government’s redress scheme for Mother and Baby Home survivors.

Esther Doherty from Convoy gave birth in a Dublin Mother and Baby Home in 1982.  Her baby girl, Louise, was adopted out of the home three weeks after Esther had to leave. The untruths told to Esther at that time, and the traumatic experience of both mother and daughter have made them victims for the rest of their lives.

The government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes excludes people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

The opposition has made repeated calls for the scheme to be extended to include the 40% of survivors (24,000 people) not entitled to any redress. A further two-thirds will be denied healthcare if the scheme passes as it is.

Esther and her daughter Louise say the denial is re-traumatising for them, forty years on. They feel that they, and all other survivors, should be entitled to support no matter what length of time they spent in the home.

Over the years, Esther and Louise have been searching for records to explain a three-week gap in Louise’s medical history.

1982 – Esther’s last days with her baby girl before she was adopted

Esther left St. Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on Navan Road three weeks after giving birth, fully believing that her daughter would be collected later that same day by her adoptive parents.

However, baby Louise remained at the home for a further three weeks. What happened to her during that time is unknown, but Louise’s health complications later in life have left her wondering.

Experimental vaccination trials at St Patrick’s were reported last year by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

Louise, who now lives in Holland, said the lack of knowledge has caused anxiety at many points in her life, particularly when she was diagnosed with cancer three years ago.

Louise said: “In 2020 I was hospitalised with an unknown illness. I was near death due to severe anaemia. I received multiple blood transfusions and luckily started to feel better.  I was interviewed by various doctors to try and figure out what had caused this. In the end I was diagnosed with a rare form of chronic leukaemia, the cause for it is unknown. The missing 3 weeks of my life caused much anxiety during the days of the testing when I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was unable to give a full medical history because there are just many things I don’t know.”

Louise Steenhuizen in Convoy. Photo: North West Newspix

Esther said she believes that her baby may have been subject to vaccine trials. 

“On Saint Brigid’s Day my child received just a fraction of their birth tracing information and they were one of the first to request this information. They were kept at the home for 6 weeks after I left.  After I was told, and their adoptive parents were told that I had left the same day as the child was picked up. It was revealed that they were hospitalized during this period, and we are not sure why. I believe I know why.”

Esther and Louise count themselves as very fortunate to be reunited after adoption. Esther moved to New York shortly after her time at St. Patrick’s, but was brought back in contact with Louise in 2001. They met in Dublin, and since that day, they bonded and kept in close contact. Last summer they celebrated two milestone birthdays together – Esther’s 60th and Louise’s 40th – in Convoy.

The recent debate on the mother and baby home redress scheme has stirred upset and anger in Esther and Louise. They have both written to the government telling their story and appealing for the scheme to change.

Esther wrote: “We want closure, we want peace. We want to get on with our lives. Whatever time we have left, we want to have serenity, peace in knowing we tried our very best to be heard. Not just heard, understood. And to teach other young women to be treated anything like this is wrong.”

Six years ago, Esther was one of 550 people to give an interview to the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes.  The hope she gained from the investigation has now vanished.

“I am a woman of a certain age as they say and am comfortable in my life.  My baby is a young parent who suffers because of the trauma experienced. Yet against all the scientific reports, early childhood expert reports, O’Gorman (Children’s Minister) and this government clearly state that a human baby can not feel or remember anything until they are 6 months old.

“This is high crime against humanity.

“This did not happen in the dark ages, this happened in our time, our watch, our dashes.”

Esther Doherty in her home village of Convoy. Photo: North West Newspix

Louise said: “To say that I have not experienced mental anguish or trauma from the adoption is just insulting. To be denied from receiving recognition by being excluded from the redress scheme is hurtful and retraumatising. Once again adoptees are being told to get over themselves, that they have nothing to complain about, that they should be happy with getting lip service. To be told that having access to my information is fair redress is a slap in the face. I should have had access to my information years ago.

“I am fully aware that I am lucky. I wasn’t placed with an abusive adoptive family, I didn’t spend years in industrial schools or other care homes. There are many, many cases that are far worse than mine but that doesn’t mean my trauma isn’t real.”