It seems that Julia's book is stirring up quite a bit of comment. Beyond the article in the Guardian, I was planning on stepping away from the debate. But it seems I don't have that luxury. The heavily abridged version of Mog's story which appeared in the Mail on Sunday last week seems to have have been welcomed and loathed in equal measures. I would sit back and watch, except that it appears this blog, and comments I have made elsewhere, have become a part of the debate.
I suppose that was to be expected. After all, in Julia and myself, you would appear to have two women who have made completely opposing choices. As a fostercarer, I take in children who need an alternative home, whether that is for a few days, a few years, or forever. And Julia would appear to have walk away from her own child, *insert appropriate gasps of horror here*.
I'd disagree. I'd say that we are both women who have put their children's needs above their own. India Knight quotes me as saying "We all have different skills. I couldn't work in an office. If parents can't cope with a child, the most loving thing they can do is make sure the child is cared for by someone who can." And asks, "Is it?"
You asked, India, I'll respond. Of course it is. What is the alternative? If you aren't coping, and you can't cope, if you believe you cannot keep your own child safe, and if you are not getting help and support, what do you do? Carry on regardless? There are far too many parents who have carried on, beyond the point of coping, and who have found themselves badly injuring (or worse) their children. Parents who have found that love turn to hate or to utter withdrawal, children damaged by a one off fit of rage or by sustained years of emotional abuse, neglect, cruelty. I don't know that this would have been Mog's fate - none of us know that. But it was a possibility. Is it better to leave your child somewhere safe or to take them into danger?
We all get stressed, angry, frustrated (or am I a freak?). We all have ways of coping, ways of stepping away from the stress. I'm lucky - most of the time it is enough for me to put the screaming baby down somewhere safe, and walk to the other end of the house with a cup of coffee for five minutes. Just time to draw breath and step back into the fray. But what if that fray is unending? I'm also lucky in other ways- I have a supportive family, I have social services carers, and as a fostercarer my local authority provides me with financial support too. And with Mog, in those early months when she was screaming all the time (and I know, "all babies scream" - not like this they don't. Even sleeping, Mog was full of tension, full of anguish), I had Julia. I had a night off from Mog every single week, a night when I could focus on my other child (who, thankfully, found Mog's screaming wickedly funny, so spent those months giggling happily which also took away a good deal of my own stress), a night when I could just sleep.
I wonder how many other families would be able to cope better if they had that level of support? Some do, formally through social services, or informally, through family and friends. Many don't. Some don't want it (at least according to parents I talk to out in the "real" world, or over at Special Kids in the UK), but would give anything for other kinds of practical help. Clearly, the majority of parents do somehow manage to hang onto their children and muddle on through. Some outstandingly well, in a way that leaves us all gasping, and others just taking each day, each hour, as it comes and dealing with that. Sufficient unto the day and all that.
But you know what? For every child in fostercare, for every adopted child, there's a first family, a birth family, who got left behind somewhere along the way. Some of those children will have been removed from their birth families for their own protection. But others, hundreds of others, have been voluntarily accommodated, signed into care by their birth parents. Are all those parents monsters? Are the parents who signed their children over voluntarily somehow greater monsters than the parents who had their children removed against their consent? Are parents who have children in longterm fostercare, or who have given up their child for adoption, more monstrous than parents who have taken the decision that their child needs any other kind of residential placement? Boarding school with respite in the holidays? 52 week boarding school? Residential homes? If there is a difference, what is it?
I'm in contact with other fostercarers, other adopters. So many parents walk away, once the decision has been made that the child would be better cared for away from the birth family. Contact tapers off, dwindles to the odd letter or phone call, or to nothing at all. Or contact continues, with birth parents and fostercarers in conflict over child-rearing. Apparently small decisions - style of haircut for example - can become major problems. Fostercarers who have the day by day responsibility of raising the child may say no to a particular toy or article of clothing, only to find the birth parents buying this for the child on a monthly contact visit. From the birth parents' perspective, they are giving the child something he or she wants, they are bringing pleasure to their child during the time they are able to be with that child. From the fostercarer's perspective, they are being undermined and ignored, and they then have to deal with the fall out from that visit - one child now newly reprovided with a toy the fostercarers had banned due to an unhealthy obsession with it, or with an item of clothing forbidden at school, so mornings will now be a battle. Or simply a child who learns that if one family says no, the other family will say yes. I'm sure many divorced couples with children can sympathise. With both sides of the argument.
But Julia didn't walk away. Mog has not been abandoned by her birth family. As is clear in the book and the various articles, Mog's family stay in touch. She is a part of her birth family. She has gained a new family in my family, without losing her original family. More parents, not fewer, more help, not less. I am sure it would at times have been easier to make a clean break. To walk away, to grieve the loss of the child, and to get on with life. It must be hard at times to stay in touch, to watch Mog grow and thrive, and also to watch Mog suffer - because she does suffer. Not always; she's a very different child from that small stiff bundle of misery, but her disabilities are profound, her problems are severe, and she is frequently ill or in pain or having seizures. As she makes progress cognitively (against all the Drs predictions and against what ought to be possible, according to her scans), so she loses ground physically. Is it any easier to watch this at a distance? I wouldn't have thought so.
I have read comments criticising us for deciding against adoption. Adoption would not be right for Mog. She doesn't need to lose family, she doesn't need to be protected from her birth parents. Instead we are choosing Special Guardianship, a legal process whereby I become her parent alongside her other two parents. She will have three parents, three people able to take the complex decisions involved in her life, three people to rely on in difficult times.
India, isn't that the loving thing to do?