Sunday, March 09, 2008

Care controversy

This book, When the Bough Breaks by Julia Hollander, has been causing a lot of controversy on the web in the last week. The story of a mother who gives her profoundly disabled baby up into foster care, it was done no favours by a distinctly sensationalist feature in the Mail on Sunday last week.

To be honest I wasn't going to read the book because it feels far too close to home. I know a little about Julia's daughter Immie and there is absolutely no doubt that she is in a very loving and caring foster environment where she is thriving. Julia and her partner were also lucky that such a suitable carer was available in their own county so they could keep close contact with Immie. That wouldn't necessarily be the case everywhere.

But deep down I do have some slight misgivings. Giving away a disabled child so young could send the wrong message to her siblings. No one has a right to a 'perfect' child, it is a risk that is taken with every pregnancy. Even children who seem healthy can later become disabled by accident or illness. If that should happen to one of Immie's siblings, or if they should go off the rails in adolescence, what would the parents do?

I didn't expect to be a carer to both my children as teenagers. But if son 1 had already seen us put son 2 into care, would he have worried that we would do the same to him when he had his breakdown? Fighting for both of them has worn me down, has affected my own mental and physical health. But I wouldn't have done otherwise. Son 2 has made progress beyond all expectations and we have so far managed to keep son 1 out of psychiatric hospital. For me that is reward enough and yes, I too have had to have counselling because I felt that I was not a 'good enough' mother.

As I said, I wasn't going to read the book. But having now read a much more balanced feature in The Guardian and knowing the background that I do, I've changed my mind. Unlike many of the commenters on the web, I will not judge Julia Hollander's actions until I have read her whole story.

Three notable things:

1. A tutorial in London yesterday gave me a chance to browse in the Gower Street Waterstones, where I purchased this book.

2. I finally managed to get a piece of work together to submit to the bloggers' War Child anthology. In the end I edited a piece from some life writing I did on my OU writing course two years ago. I was surprised at how much rewriting I needed to do, a sign I think of the improvement in my writing.

3. I caught up with an old friend for coffee on Friday.


Lane Mathias said...

I read about this in The Times yesterday (India Knight) I can't make judgements but an interesting article.

Good luck with your submission:-)

Anonymous said...

You are so right, no one has a right to a perfect child. No child is perfect. Yet we should (in theory) love our children unconditionally. And most of us do.

I am afraid I cannot feel any sympathy for parents who give their children away for foster/adoption care just because they are disabled. I knew absolutely nothing about autism and spent the first 12 months of Amy's diagnosis year going on courses, meeting professionals and getting a general idea of what I had to deal with.

Crystal xx

Sue Guiney said...

C -- We all are "broken" in some way, aren't we? I suppose we all have to make our own decisions, but it is quite difficult to watch when others' vary from yours. I've been a parent of a troubled child myself, and I have also, unfortunately, lost a child (he would have been 21 yesterday). Could I ever give one up? You can imagine my answer to that. But there is a truth to how mothers who have struggled tend to bond together, even across oceans or internets. That is something special we can rest on, too. xo S

Cathy said...

Sue, yes you are so right. One thing that made me sad about the story, or at least as it has been reported, is that those parents never even gave themselves the opportunity to find the support of others.x

Crystal... yes that is exactly the same route I went down. Learn what you are dealing with then get on with it. I know what a brilliant Mum you are to Amyx

Lane...India didn't mince her words did she?! Hope your submission gets into the book...

merry weather said...

This is poignant and I do agree with Sue. You must be very busy and yet you write so calmly with great optimism. Good luck.

Beth said...

I read the Guardian article yesterday. Obviously that can never describe the full story, but I thought the points like the foster mother being entitled to help where the birth mother wouldn't have been incredibly sad. If it wasn't for insane pieces of illogical legislation like that maybe Imogen's birth parents could have managed without the help of a foster carer.

And speaking as someone who has an aunt who has nearly killed herself looking after a mentally disabled child (now in his mid 20s and - not able to look after himself more than the basics)? Someone who had a large, supportive family but still barely coped? I would have loved to see something like this when he was growing up. Because it's incredibly difficult to dedicate enough time and energy and love to the most perfect child.

I'm not angry or taking offence at other posters here, by the way. YMMV. Just sharing my own perspective.

(err, hi. I followed Sue Guinea over, although I think I've been too shy to coment on her blog yet. Hi Sue, too!)

Cathy said...

Welcome B!

I think it is a very complex situation. Yes there is probably more help for foster carers, as there rightly often is for single parents rather than couples. But that is not the whole story.

My own son, now 14, has severe autism. He will need 1:1 care throughout his life. Although he is not physically disabled to any significant extent, that brings its own challenges, in that his behaviour can be violent.

Yes it is hard. When he was younger we had some part time shared care respite with a foster family. It was going well but when they moved away Social Services could not find anyone else to have him because of his aggressive behaviours. I asked for some help in school holidays so I could give more attention to my other son, I was told I didn't need it.

We have struggled immensely over the years but things have improved. We are still together as a family unit, my husband is very supportive and takes on a lot of care when not at work. We have made huge, financial, lifestyle etc but we have persevered and it has paid off.

I do also understand that not everyone is willing and able to do that, which is why I would not wish to pass judgement. Having said that, whilst the family concerned have found a solution which works for them, I don't think it would be conveniently available to everyone. They were lucky.


Cathy said...

Merry Weather - thank you. :)

Beth said...

My aunt ended up an alcoholic from the stress. Dry now, but still.

And I did also mean to clarify that I know nothing about the case other than what was in the Guardian.

It's sometimes harder when it's mental disability like your son's autism making him violent. External people just see the violence and not that there could possibly be any reason behind it. It must have been difficult for you.

And yes, that family were very lucky.

I will be back here again :)

Beth said...

Errm, I just reread that and it sounds like I'm trying to top your story. I'm not, honest, and I'm sorry it came out that way.

Cathy said...

Didn't think you were, B! I'm sorry about your aunt. Sadly that sort of situation is all too common.


Anonymous said...


I read about the story in Red, it made uncomfortable reading although I think in a way they did (possibly) the right thing as both parents confessed to urges to kill the child, I think if they hadn't gone and told someone that they had had those urges and then gone ahead and carried it out, then it would be people saying "If only they'd said something". Having said that I'm not sure how I could live with myself if that happened to me, looking at my two 'perfect' children and thinking "Well I kept them."

Cathy said...

I haven't read the article in Red, Lacer, but I know what you mean about uncomfortable reading. In this case there is no doubt that the outcome was the right one, but I'm still not sure it was a 'brave' decision as the media is portraying it. I'm withholding judgement until I've read the book...

Anonymous said...

You are right about how we do not have the right to a perfect child but as a mother who looked after, loved and cared for a daughter with Rett Syndrome for 19yrs before she passed away in aug 2006 and still stuggles to come to terms with the loss. I dont think we should judge so hastely, I think it must of taken a great deal to admit to yourself never mind others that you couldnt cope with this child. I have have been in the position of my child crying 24hrs aday and being told i am an over anxious first time mother and that there is nothing wrong with my daughter, but i am one of the lucky ones, we got through it and Rebecca brought me 19yrs of love, happiness and tought me to be tolerant and NOT to judge

Cathy said...

Sharon, I absolutely agree that people shouldn't pass judgement too hastily and I also know not to believe everything I read in the media,which is why I am going to read the book, because I want to understand the whole story better.

I too have had a child who couldn't communicate with me, who struggled to breathe, who would be screaming for much of the day, up all night crying, trying to feed and vomiting. I know how wearing it is. We too are one of the luckier families who, so far, have just about held it together and our younger son (who has severe autism) has in many ways got easier to care for as he gets older. For that we are very grateful.

I'm sorry for your loss and know that Retts is not an easy condition to deal with, but it sounds as if your daughter brought much to your life. Which is how it ideally should be.