Please note: For the purpose of anonymity, my child is sometimes referred to as “Baby B”
The Midwife came in to the private postnatal room that had been our home for the previous few days.
“Is it time?” I said, quietly.
“It’s time”, she said, not meeting my eye.
The foster carers were in the next room with the Social Worker, waiting to take my newborn baby away after an Interim Care Order had been issued hours earlier on a “future risk of emotional harm”. I had left my hospital bed, still bleeding heavily, leaking breast milk and taken the witness stand for an hour and made to fight. I hadn’t done anything to this child, the LA had stated there was no immediate risk of harm and that I was a “good enough” parent.
It wasn’t enough.
I had hated the foster carers on sight, having met them in a Placement meeting the LA thought it wise to hold before we had left for Court. I couldn’t bear the thought they would be taking my newborn baby home with them. As the time to let Baby B go enforced upon me drew ever closer, I knew I had to make my peace with them.
I asked the Midwife to invite the Foster “Mum” into my room. All those around me looked shocked and questioned my sanity whilst I asked them to get a chair for her. My son was sleeping peacefully at my breast when she sat down and we automatically reached for each other’s hands, one Mother to another. It was a precious moment.
“This is Baby B. You will look after him, won’t you?”
She couldn’t speak, brimming with emotion, her eyes full, so she nodded.
“I haven’t done anything to him…”
“I know” she whispered.
When she left the room, her sobs could be heard down the corridor.
The Midwife and her colleagues had done everything they could to delay the inevitable so that we could have extra time together, washing, breastfeeding and dressing Baby B in clothes I had picked out knowing I would either be bringing him home in them, or having him taken away from me. I had made videos to explain that this was not the end, that I would see him again and I would fight for his return. The whole ward knew what was about to happen and the grief in the atmosphere was palpable.
The Midwife moved closer, stretching out her arms to take him. A close friend who was with us said that I was smiling, as though I didn’t truly believe that any of this was happening. When the Midwife took him, it felt as though the whole world had sped up. She moved so quickly out of the room that all I saw was the fluffy head of my newborn son disappearing from view. It was real, it was really happening, they really took him.
I heard a noise, a sound that shook me, frightened me. I didn’t know what it was. It sounded like a roar, a scream. And then I realised it was coming from me, from my gut. I fell forward, feeling lots of different hands on me, hands desperately trying to support me, to protect me, to make the pain stop. If you’ve known grief, you will know the sound.
Before leaving, the Social Worker thrust a scrap of paper into my friends hand with the “Crisis Assessment Team” (Mental Health) telephone number scrawled on it.
“Is that it?” my friend said, to an uncomfortable silence.
I became an after-thought in the entire process. An incubator for the LA. It didn’t matter whether I survived the following days, their focus was my child.
I left the maternity ward with empty arms, an empty body and a breast pump left on the edge of my bed by the Social Worker, the Midwife and my friends holding me up as I staggered towards the exit. Then came the surreal juxtaposition of going through all of that, followed by the mundanity of waiting for a taxi.
We returned home to neighbours looking out of their window and coming out for a glimpse of Baby B, the joy in their eyes quickly replaced by confusion and shock when they saw no baby, and a grief-stricken Mother. Afterwards they told me they thought he was dead.
I walked into my home, a home that was ready for Baby B. My breasts were full; my body screaming out for my baby. He had been taken on a Friday evening, and we were not permitted to see each other until the Monday afternoon. The LA had refused to transport my breast milk to him over the weekend, the milk he needed was leaking out of my body, yet he was being put on formula against my wishes. The LA had requested to the Court that only one contact session per week, for two hours, supervised by them in a contact centre was ordered as they “didn’t want me to bond”. My baby was not permitted to meet his siblings, for the same reason. Fortuitously, the Judge granted three contact sessions per week, though still for two hours, supervised and in a contact centre.
Those first few hours were utter torture. I screamed, I wailed, I cried, I sat silently staring out of the window. Disenfranchised grief. I was grieving, but he was still alive. Still out there, under the same sky as me.
We live ten minutes away from the beach, and through that first night, I wandered down there, stopping many times to rest. I found a bench looking out to sea and watched the sun rise, my knees up to my chest, my whole body shaking with my sobs. That bench became a focal point for me in the coming days, weeks and months afterwards and I often wandered down there at night. Through the day, I risked there being babies, and at times that was just too difficult to be around. But I always came back to that bench.
When I returned home that morning, I felt like I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t see any way through. The pain in my chest was too much, and there was nothing I could do to alleviate it. A friend that was staying with me that weekend has reflected back on that morning many times and said that she thought I was “too far gone” at that point. That I wasn’t “coming back”, the grief was too much. Many friends got in touch over that morning, willing me to keep going, saying whatever they thought might help.
Then came a message from someone who said “Get up, dry your tears and fight”. I don’t know what happened to my psyche at that time, but that word: “fight”; I needed to hear that word. Was I really just going to dissolve, let myself go, emotionally leave my children who needed me? Was I really going to roll over and let the LA be proven right? This was wrong. Every fibre of my being told me that they were wrong. I was a good Mother. I had mental health problems, but I was a good Mother.
Damned right I was going to fight. And fight I did. It took a long time, but baby B was returned to my care, despite LA plans for him being non-consensual adoption.
But, how did I get there, that day in the hospital? How did it come to pass that an intelligent, articulate woman, a Mother who, by the LA’s own admission gave “a higher than average standard of parenting care”, had her baby removed at birth by the LA in case he was “emotionally harmed” in the future? Who had defined the “emotional harm” I may or may not do to him? Where was the benchmark? Who decides?
And what do you do if you are faced with this? How do you survive a newborn removal and those first few minutes, hours and days? I have put together some things that helped me below.
Back to Basics
Like a sudden death, the trauma of newborn removal rocks you to your core. As such, eating, drinking and sleeping become secondary to the grief. But in order to survive, in order to get through, in order to fuel your fight, your body needs you to take care of it. Whether you are a Mum who has just given birth, or a Dad who has just supported their partner though birth, your resources will be low and you need to replenish them.
- Eat little and often. Small snacks, fruit, nuts, cereal, toast.
- Drink water, fruit juice, keep your hydration up. Avoid alcohol, it only makes you feel ten times worse and you’re far more likely to do something you’ll regret.
- Sleep – this one is the hardest. But everything becomes intensified when you’re tired. Even a cat-nap will help give your body some down-time.
Aside from the basics above, the next most important tool you need at your disposal is as much support around you as possible. Be that family, friends, or professional support in terms of your GP, Perinatal Mental Health Team (your Midwife can refer you), Community Psychiatric Nurse, Counsellor or your church and community.
I was not left alone for those first few days after Baby B was taken, I couldn’t go to the toilet without friends hovering around outside to make sure I was ok. You might feel like telling everyone to go away and leave you alone – I get that; you might feel that they just could never understand because they haven’t been through it. You’re right in a way, unless you’ve been through this, you don’t truly understand. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying and they can’t help. Don’t push people away, you need them.
Post Natal Care
You’re probably feeling pretty suspicious of all Professionals right now, but it’s very important that Mum receives proper post natal care after delivery. Your Midwife can visit you at home for around 10 days after you’ve given birth, but that can be extended for up to 28 days if you feel his or her support is helpful or you had a particularly difficult or complex delivery. I know it’s difficult to believe, but your Midwife isn’t in cahoots with the LA and will simply want to know Mum is healthy and well. My Midwife was fantastic, a real rock, and I couldn’t have managed those early weeks without her support.
If you’re a breastfeeding mum, it’s even more important to keep your fluid levels up. Whether your milk has come in or not, your body will need a lot of water. If you still want to continue breastfeeding, your LA should (though they don’t always!) support this in any way they can, as the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. A helpful link can be found here.
Expressing breast milk
If you are expressing your milk to be given to your baby by the foster carers, you will ideally need a hospital-grade double pump. You can hire these from (the few remaining) SureStart Centres, hospitals, toy libraries, NCT, and various other places in your area. Your Midwife and Health Visitor should have more information and there should be a designated breastfeeding support worker close to you. As the LA should support breastfeeding, you can request that any cost involved is covered by them. I did this, successfully.
The LA should support the transportation of expressed breast milk, but in practice they often cite “Health and Safety” and refuse. Below is a link about the safe storage of breast milk:
Breast Milk Storage
Contact is likely to take place in a contact centre, supervised by the LA. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you as parents to attend. Don’t think that your baby won’t know you – In my first contact after Baby B was taken, as soon as he heard my voice, his whole body jolted. He knew me. Your baby will know you, your voice and your smell, I can promise you that.
Hold your baby for the entire session, take pictures, feel their skin against yours, drink them in. Don’t be upset, or take it personally if your baby sleeps for the whole session; they’re newborns, that’s what they do – eat, sleep and poop. Just holding them, that closeness will be therapeutic for both of you.
After contact is over, it can feel like you have lost them all over again. I remember it so well. The staff in the contact centre sometimes had to pick me up off the floor as I was an absolute wreck after Baby B had left. Please ensure you have someone to take you to the session, to pick you up afterwards, and stay with you for a while once you’re home. I’m not going to lie to you, it never ever gets easier saying goodbye after each session. But you do find the tools within you to be able to accept that this is where you’re at, for now.
Finally, attend every single session. If you can’t attend for whatever reason, ask for it to be rearranged. If you are in Court and it falls on a contact day, the LA are duty bound to give you another contact. I really can’t emphasise enough how important it is for your baby, for you and for your case to attend everything offered to you.
Look after yourselves
It sounds obvious, but the stronger you are, the more equipped you are to fight your case to have your baby returned to your care. So, whilst you absolutely must take care of your physical health, you must also take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing. Different things work for different people, but I personally found Mindfulness to be very helpful. The NHS describes and explains mindfulness here.
Fortunately, within my local area there are free mindfulness stress-reduction sessions which I attended. I also found “Headspace”, an App, very useful: Headspace.
Your local Health trust should also run free courses through your GP which help with stress, depression, anxiety and related issues. Ask your GP to refer you – they are short courses lead by Professionals, normally held in a central location and outside office hours (such as 6-8pm) so it shouldn’t affect your contact. I completed many courses like this in the months Baby B was out of my care and they helped to focus my mind, address some of my issues and feel as though I was doing something. A useful link is the NHS MoodZone which can be found here and includes links to free online courses, and helpful tools.
Whilst I can’t promise that following these tips will take your pain away, these are the sort of steps that I took to get me through those first early days without my baby. They helped me, and I hope that they help you, too.