Anne Biggs has used her real-life story, of being banished to the U.S. by the Irish Church, as the basis of her novel, The Swan Garden.
Anne Biggs’ mother was only fourteen when she was raped, sent to a home and forced to sign documents for her daughter’s release. Biggs, who was born in County Westmeath in 1949, was sent to St Patrick’s Home in Dublin, which secretly exported 254 Irish children to the U.S. for adoption from the 1940s to the 70s. Biggs was adopted and sent to America at the age of four.
“When I came to the States in June 1953 I had rickets, malnutrition, epilepsy, intestinal parasites. I could neither walk nor talk. And I was one month away from turning five.
“When I look at the papers that my parents have, they do not in any way look legal. I haven’t been able to get my passport, I have tried since 1990.
"For 10 years they donated money to the Church. Part of the agreement was that they would make donations every month to the orphanage and I remember sitting in the dining room watching my mother writing out the checks.”
Biggs, whose birth name is Philomena, spent 23 years searching for her birth mother. The pair did not meet until 2008 because nuns failed to pass on the letters they had written to each other. Unfortunately, Biggs found that the trauma and shame her mother experienced left the two unable to establish a relationship.
“I was told she didn’t want anything to do with me, that I was a mistake, and that was not the situation at all. Even though things have changed and we’ve come a long way, these women were still left to live with the secret and the shame that they had felt.
“She has a family now and she’s doing very well but after we met, she was very clear there would be no communication.
“I was not allowed in her house, I was asked not to contact her children and, when we did meet in 2008, we met in a city outside of Dublin to have lunch.
“It was probably the most overwhelming thing I had ever experienced.
“I was originally told that my mother had died at childbirth and all the records were destroyed.”
The Irish Mirror reports that Biggs, who lives in Fresno, CA and is married with two kids and three grandchildren, has recently landed a book deal to tell the story of the life she thinks her mother would have lived.
“It was just so wrong. She was 14. She didn’t do anything wrong.
“When I met with the sisters they basically admitted they had so many children they were left in cribs all day. So we weren’t given individual time.
“It’s just striking that there was that kind of neglect.
“They were looking for us to have homes because the orphanage was overflowing. And most people wanted babies, they wanted the newborns.
“But I had a good adoptive family, I had a good life, I was cared for.
“I don’t think there is anything missing in the physical sense but quite simply, I had a hole in my heart.”
Her novel ‘The Swan Garden’ is available here.
* Originally published in April 2015.