In the past century, distressing situations took place in the Netherlands surrounding forced separations of mothers and their babies. The period between birth and placement in a foster or adoptive family is an underexposed chapter in Dutch history.
Although the terms ‘distant mothers’, ‘adoptees’ and ‘adoptive parents’ are commonly used in the vernacular and in the media, the forgotten and at the same time most important period for the emotional growth of the baby remains largely undiscussed, namely the period from birth to placement in a family.
This is the virtually unknown pre-adoption time of relinquishment.
It was the time in which the babies were taken by force from their unwed mums and kept in large halls, with dozens or sometimes even hundreds of other ‘relinquished children’, deprived of motherly love, care and motherly attention.
More children were forcibly given up than were adopted. Those left behind grew up in various institutions until adulthood.
Moederheil (Mother’s salvation)
Mother Heil in Breda was a Roman Catholic institution run by sisters (nuns). Here, large numbers of young mothers (most of them teenagers) had their newborn babies taken by force immediately after giving birth. The reason for this was that these expectant mothers were not married.
The Christian faith does not tolerate unwed motherhood. Due to the great influence of the church, this became socially unacceptable. An unmarried mother was a disgrace to the family. She had nothing to say against this and was put under heavy social pressure instigated by the church. By the way, the unwed father somehow remained out of sight.
The Mother Heil Foundation, emerged from the Magdalena Foundation (1915), was founded in 1921 and rebranded to Valkenhorst in 1972.
According to the church, the unmarried pregnant women had “sinned against God” and were therefore stigmatized. They were consistently referred to derogatorily as “girls”, whether they were adults or not, and the father was referred to as “progenitor” instead of father. By stigmatizing the biological parents, they tried to emphasize that neither of them, as unmarried people, were (mentally) capable of raising a child.
The expectant mothers were put under heavy social pressure by the church and their social network to give up the child, because it did not fit the classical Christian view according to the Catholic teachings of Rome, of how the composition of a family “ought” to be. This made an unwed pregnancy unacceptable to society and for many of them, separating mother and child was the only “right” way out to remain accepted within their own family and social life. Only to a limited extent did expectant mothers came to Moederheil voluntarily.
Later the institution was run by non-clergymen.
The mothers were taught to keep quiet about it and the children were taught to be “grateful” for being “saved.”
No one cared about the trauma resulting from the forced relinquishment for both mother and child.
The rebranding to Valkenhorst was implemented from 1972 onwards. At that time, many unmarried mothers were still staying and giving birth and they were also forced to give up their babies. Valkenhorst was (also) a maternity clinic for married mothers which served as legitimation for less ‘legitimate’ practices.
As a maternity hospital and shelter, Valkenhorst eventually acquired a much better reputation and, due to the changing society, unwed mothers were increasingly able to keep their children. But even though the institution closed its doors in 1995, the consequences for those forcibly separated are still felt.
The trauma for the mothers and children that resulted from this “merciful rescue” still leaves a major mark on the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Netherlands to this very day. Many have repressed this traumatic experience from their memory.
Seeking the truth
For the victims of forced distance, it is simply too painful and unpalatable that this history has been swept under the rug. Family relationships permanently erased and lives destroyed. In order to do justice to the people to whom this has been done, it is very important that this cesspool is completely opened and the dirty laundry gets to see the light of day.
There are various organizations and institutions with information about Mother Heil and Valkenhorst, but because each organization has its own story to tell, the information is quite fragmented. I want to change this with this private initiative for this website about Mother Salvation.
It is of great importance to those involved that the public is informed about the dark side and the shocking practices that have taken place here and the lifelong trauma this has resulted in.
The goal of this website is to provide a central source of information for the (now senior adult) children who were born in Moederheil and Valkenhorst at the time, their biological family and interested parties. On the one hand by bundling existing online sources and on the other hand by offering information that has not been available before.
You can also find a lot of related general information here that relates to the forced distancing of children throughout the Netherlands. From Distance to Search and everything related to it.
The primary theme of this website is the function of Moederheil as a transition house. And in particular that the often young mothers, under social pressure, were forced to give up their babies. By putting mothers under heavy psychological pressure to give up their children, an efficient way was found to meet the growing demand for adopted children. The way this happened has been downright traumatic for many mothers. The desperation and suffering of these very young mothers has always been an irrelevant facet of the adoption process. There was simply no attention paid to this, just like the entire process prior to adoptions. It wasn’t talked about and so it didn’t exist.
The other functions of the home will also be discussed, albeit to a more limited extent. A distinction is made between transition home, maternity hospital and shelter. In addition, attention is paid to the interests involved in the distance and adoption process.
There is an increasing demand from distance children and parents for answers. The relinquished babies have already reached middle age for some time and look back on their past, especially the period in which they were relinquished and whether or not they were adopted. People seek contact with fellow sufferers, try to restore family ties or they want to get in touch with the caregivers at the time. People are also curious about what actually happened at Mother Heil at the time. The emphasis here is on what being relinquished or renouncing your child does to people.
A relationship or relationship with Moederheil or Valkenhorst, distance or adoption, directly or indirectly is desired to be able to register on Moederheil.nl. So family directly or indirectly, distance- and adoptive parents, former- staff, students, theater makers and media are welcome, provided there is a relationship with Moederheil or Valkenhorst.
For people who do not have a direct connection with Moederheil or Valkenhorst, it is possible to apply for a guest membership. Please explain your motivation during the registration process.
NB. By registering you accept the terms of the protocol.
This website is available in various languages.
You can set your preferred default language for the website by clicking the Translate button at the bottom right of the page.
Picture top: “Girls” entrance at Moederheil
Source: City archives Breda, Netherlands