This heart-rending article appeared in the November 25-26 Weekend Australian Magazine. Regrettably it is now behind a paywall - I had a fulltext copy emailed to me courtesy of my public library’s subscription to Australia and New Zealand News Stand.
I was away, taking a much-needed break myself, when this article appeared about the relinquishment of an 8 year old boy, Sam, to the State in Queensland by his mother, who could no longer care for him on her own.
I only found out it had been published when letters appeared in this weekend’s magazine. I’m publishing a large chunk of it here and I will contact The Australian to ask them to put it all online again. But you can find it yourself quite easily from a State or local library website.
I have not known many days as awful as the one on which I gave up my eight-year-old son Sam. His departure itself had been uneventful. To an outsider it might have seemed that a run-of-the-mill Saturday morning outing was about to take place. I had strapped him into the back of the four-wheel-drive, kissed him as many times as he would allow and held my daughter’s hand as the vehicle reversed down our driveway. The driver returned our waves with a cheery toot of the horn but my little boy sat expressionless, looking straight ahead. There was nothing unusual in that either. His could be a hard eye to catch.
Depending on what perspective one chose to take, it could have been considered the beginning or the end of my life. It was the end of purgatory but the next destination did not feel like either heaven or hell. Rather, another in-between place, a post-cyclonic wasteland - or even the real world. That was a place I had not lived since 2004. It was certainly the end of my longing for a miracle. I had finally stopped hoping that my child would be restored from the mysterious neuro-psychiatric disorder that had swept tsunami-like into his life in the four months prior to his third birthday. This mysterious condition had robbed him of his ability to speak, to move freely, to do almost anything that boys like to do.
What I find toughest to deal with is this woman’s continuing psychological suffering since her son being taken into care. Her struggle to return to normal life involves crucifying her body at the gym so she can sleep:
In the months that follow I find myself struggling to find equilibrium and giving in to tears that rise as naturally as breath. I am unmoored by grief that seems rawer than it did five years ago. For so long, hope and fear had battled for supremacy in my thoughts while adrenalin and fatigue co-piloted my body. Now, when all of the above have decamped, I am left alone with myself, a redundant shell, and even less of a mother than ever for my daughter, the child left behind.
Born just as the catastrophe struck, she has no experience of parenting that is more than cursory, or of what life might be like in a home that is not a fortified asylum. I did this not just for myself but for her - to try to give her normality and a mother who once in a while might be able to come when she called.
Exercise becomes my solace and I spend hours in the gym each week or pounding the pavement, hoping to buy some private peace - or at least a straight stretch of sleep. After six years of half-slumber, straining to hear the manic giggle, the shout or the cry that would herald a 2am start to the day, it’s not so easy to just roll over and wake up at seven. And there’s grim satisfaction to be had from forcing the body to work beyond its normal limits; counting the reps and increasing the time the flesh can withstand the insult. My pleasure in the pain does not go unremarked, even in this space so scented with the sweat from oversized arms and washboard stomachs. “You’re like a machine. What do you think about?” is an enquiry I have heard more than once. The answer is “exactly nothing”, and that’s the reason I can be found here every other day. I need to keep a lid on my own emotions while I help my daughter to process hers, to understand that we are still a family, a small, fractured family, not the woman and child we now appear to outsiders to be.
The Weekend Australian Magazine, November 25-26, 2011.
Nobody should be forced to such a decision, should they.
We need to do better here in Australia. We need to do it now.