Saturday 8 March 2008

Breaking point

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?



Anonymous said...

here here.
I read what was posted on mumsnet and felt sick that people could be so cruel and nasty about someone they plainly dont know and without even reading the book. Judgemental? Hugely! Shoes, in someones, hard to judge til you are in them...comes to mind.
I personally didnt ask for my daughter to become sick, but i never pretended that i could cope. I have upmost respect for people who voice their opinions but no respect for those who judge without all the facts.
Above all, I know that Mog is one happy child.....isnt that the most fundamental factor here? surely!

Anonymous said...

I also found India Knight's article and most of the comments on it, to be very judgemental. People's resources are not limitless and do not come from the same sources for all people and not everyone is capable of doing all things, however much society deems it as the higher moral choice.

I don't know where the money from the book is going, and I haven't read it. I hope it's going towards caring for Mog, which I imagine is not cheap.

Anonymous said...

Many of the mums on Mumsnet, do have very disabled children. They are in Julias shoes and thus are entitled to an informed opinion.
Julia portrays herself, and has been described as brave. But we do not believe that she is.
We have to challenge, this view that what she did was brave. I could sympathise with anyone, who has struggled and come to such decision.
But to do this at the first possible opportunity ? And then you should atleast occasionally question your choice. Did I do the right thing ? Julia is totally in denial. She has blocked out what she did and thinks that she did the right thing..
The mumsnet thread is a fair debate of all the issues surrounding this case. Mostly from people in that very situation.

Tia said...

Perhaps the bravery comes down to being open about her decision and choosing to share it with the wider world?

Behind every child who comes into fostercare or becomes available for adoption, there is a mother (and father). Julia is not unique in making the decision not to remain the fulltime parent. Where are those women's stories? Where are those women? We hear about women who have had children forcibly removed by social services, but I'm not aware of anyone openly talking about having actively chosen to place their child in fostercare. And yet there are plenty of women who do.

Respectfully, I don't think the Mums on mumsnet have been "in that very situation". Undoubtedly, they (we) have been in situations which are unbearably difficult, close to breaking point. Surely though, the fact that their children remain with them, indicates they have not (yet?) reached that breaking point? Hanging by a thread perhaps, but that thread has not quite snapped.

The parents who have been in that very situation are the other parents who have taken that decision. I have had messages from a few of them, mainly saying "Thank you for having the courage to speak out about this". None of them have (so far) been willing to talk publicly about this - and seeing some of the reactions towards one woman who has done so, I can understand why.

I'd also like to point out that the article in the Mail on Sunday is a heavily abridged version of the book. Very heavily - to squash 250 or so pages into one article takes some editing. Perhaps it would be sensible to read the book in full (as some have done) before assuming that the full details are known? I know some people are objecting to spending money on it, but perhaps a local library might be able to obtain a copy?


Anonymous said...

Was the article in the Daily Mail, the first review of the book ? People can only comment on what information they have been given, to date. They may not have read the book. But there is plenty of information, radio broadcasts, blogs, previous articles written by Julia.
Everyone is also entitled to an opinion. Even if they have not been in that specific situation.
If someone chooses to deliberately place themselves in the media spotlight, then they specifically choose to make themselves a topic for discussion.
This newspaper article was being discussed in my office yesterday. Most people are of the same opinion: She didn't really try. Immy didn't fit her perfect life picture that she had. So she got rid. Good job that Beatrice wasn't disabled. Would she have got rid of her too, and kept on trying until she got the child she wanted ?
If JH thinks that this is not what is being discussed by the ordianry person on the street, at mothers groups etc, she is mistaken.
We all make mistakes. We all fail/ get beaten. There is no shame. Sometimes I wish I had done things differently. I can symapthise with anyone facing her difficult situation.
Does JH realise that she comes across as so unemotionally cold ? With no humility.
I hope that she takes some literary advice as to how to paint the other side of herself, that I pray exists.

Anonymous said...

sadly a lot of the mums on mumsnet have been in that position. or very close.
my severely disabled 13 year old daughter is with us because she is part of our family and we love her. her brother is VERY close to her. and has found as only a 16 year old can this "story" disgusting" i won't repeat his comments as they might offend.
JH has put her "story" into the public eye and she will have to accept that not everyone in the sn world is going to accept that her decision was right.
I have read your blog and have a lot of respect for you. I love the way you write about your children.

Anonymous said...

The part of this I struggle with is not that a mother put her child up for adoption, that in itself is not that unusual.

What I find upsetting is that JH is writing a book about it and seeking to become some kind of minor celebrity on the back of it.

I have two disabled children myself, and I wonder at the kind of message that the book at the accompanying publicity is sending to our society.

I adnmire the job you are doing in looking after a very special little girl, but I cannot condone the book.

Style Police said...

Well said Tania. India always writes to make us think, but by golly, she can be a bit liberal with her vitriol!

I think that we all need to read Julia's book - I know I do - the one thing I am struggling with most is the idea of all of Imogen's belongings being taken to the tip... it's just heart-breakingly sad.

I hope that you & your family, including Imogen, continue to thrive.

Anonymous said...

"She now has another sister, little Beatrice, who is the lively, challenging companion we hoped Immie would be."

"the incapacity that makes her a great big rag-doll"

"but I cannot celebrate her in the way I celebrate my other children."

'Together we had created this poor child, and together we excised her presence from our home'

Is is not that Julia couldn't cope, that I have a problem with.
It is the words she chooses to use in her book, that I can not accept.

Tia said...

Have you read the book?

The Daily Mail altered the chronology of events as a part of its abridgement. Other articles, if not actually written by Julia (or by myself - Guardian for instant) have not necessarily taken things word for word.

Yes, the sentiments expressed by Julia in the book are shocking. The feelings behind them are more common than one might think. I have spoken to several parents who admit to having considered suffocating their child or not treating a seizure, "putting the child out of their misery". They've all decided against it, but the consideration was there. That is shocking, but I think that having someone talk openly about this is opening the debate, is helping other parents in that situation to talk about it. If just one parent hears Imogen's story, and makes a call to social services rather than injuring (or worse) their child - and I include non-disabled children here - then I think the story has been worth telling. If the book is getting people talking about the support available to parents in Julia's situation, then I hope that is a good thing too.

I'm sorry that the book has offended you. And I am truly sorry if my attempts at explanation are adding to the offence. It just frustrates me to see things taken out of context (I don't mean by you) and used to work up a storm of protest.

It isn't comfortable for me, having our lives displayed like this. But I think the loss of privacy is worth it for the importance of the story being told. Do you have suggestions for how the story could have been told more effectively? Or how it should now be told?



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