I love it when my columns jolt memories that are then shared with me, and which in turn spark debates concerning the attitudes that surround them.

Following my piece that discussed Methodism and illegitimacy, Janet Pearce got in touch with her story. “My first born was ‘illegitimate’. When I went for my first antenatal appointment (1981) the mums in front of me were sent off to the waiting area and I was sent to see Sister. A red line was drawn across my notes and Sister gave me a bit of a lecture!”

When the time came for Janet to have her baby, there was an unexpected perk: “The best thing was that I was put in a room on my own with my baby because they did not like single mums being in the four-bed wards with the married ones.”

I’m trying to think why that might be. Was it a punishment for the perceived ‘shameful’ behaviour? Or did they think that having an unmarried mother mixing with the marrieds might somehow ‘taint’ them with all those ‘loose morals’ flying about?

Darlington and Stockton Times: Janet Pearce with her newborn baby Ben in 1981. Because she was an unmarried mother, she was put in

Janet was a qualified paediatric nurse at the time she had baby Ben, and in what some might call a case of double standards, was asked to show some of the married mothers how to give baby his first bath, saving the busy ward staff a job.

Wednesdays were set aside just for fathers to visit their wives, so Janet was not allowed anyone to come and see her on that day. Can you imagine them trying to get away with that today? Back then we would obediently adhere to whatever rules the medical professionals saw fit to put in place. Now, if one of my loved ones was in hospital and I was told I couldn’t go see them for any reason other than for absolute medical necessity, I would break the door down to get in!

Read more: An illegitimate prejudice - early Methodists and children born out of wedlock

During the 2020 lockdown, my middle son was admitted to hospital suffering from severe stomach pains. He was in a bad way, but because of the rules around hospitals and Covid, he had to go in by himself. It was tortuous not being able to be with him, even though he was an adult, and I sat in my car fretting for several agonising hours. Thankfully he recovered, but I’ve not forgotten how awful the enforced separation felt at a time when I should have been at his side.

There is still some stigma attached to ‘single mums’, not helped by distorted headlines thrown about by certain national newspapers. One Daily Mail-reading friend put a ranting post on Facebook about lone parents sponging off society by living off benefits handed out by the state. I don’t know what evidence he based it upon, but I was quite offended by it.

I politely reminded him that I was a full-time single parent. I told him that when my ex-husband and I started a family we decided that he would pursue his career while I looked after the children and worked part time. After we split up, he moved abroad, leaving me to look after our children alone and I found that, surprisingly, I couldn’t manifest a new high-paying job out of thin air and thus for a time, had to rely on state benefits to help make ends meet. I wasn’t on them for long, but they were a lifeline, and stopped me and my children from going under at a time when we really needed help. Without exception, the single parents I have spoken to would rather work than rely on benefits and will only do that if they absolutely have to.

Going back to the 18th Century Methodist preacher Joseph Pilmoor, Neil McBride declared shock at how women like Janet were treated as recently as the 1980s. Neil (whose question about how Pilmoor tackled the subject of his own illegitimacy inspired my previous column) added: “I was identifying as Humanist until I found they support assisted dying which I am not comfortable with due to possible misuse. Now, there is a subject for debate!”

It sure is, Neil, and thus we have a topic for another column! Have you witnessed someone with a terminal illness suffering? And if so, do you think an assisted death would have been preferable to the painful wait for the inevitable end? Contact me via my webpage at countrymansdaughter.com, or email dst@nne.co.uk.