More notes on a scandal

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The white-hot incandescent anger induced by the case of the mother whose baby was removed from her by two men, has been replaced by an overwhelming grief and sadness.

Reflecting on the matter further, there are other disturbing factors which have come to light  which ought to be brought to wider attention. Unfortunately, the mother is gagged from being able to talk about which is in itself a worrying development. She ought to be able to tell her story, given this is a matter of enormous public interest, without facing jail. Lib Dem candidate for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming, a campaigner for openness in the courts, said:

‘How will it benefit the child to gag the mother? It benefits the court because it stops her from criticising the court.

‘For people to understand and trust the workings of the courts they need to know what is going on.’

Similarly the Tory candidate and former MP for Esher has said that it is a cardinal principle of British justice that it is not just done, but also seen to be done.

One of the many disturbing factors of this case is that the mother was criticised by judge Allison Russell, for her conduct in court. It wasn’t only the need for interruptions to express milk (obviously the judge has never experienced the unpleasantness and pain of spontaneous erruption, full breasts can be extremely painful – talking or thinking about a loved child can often stimulate an embarrassing and uncontrolled reaction) but what piqued the judge was that the mother interrupted the proceedings to make comments or question statements or representations far more often than the men, whose behaviour was cool, controlled and utterly reasonable.

Firstly there seems to be an issue of misogyny in that the mother was attacked for being ‘emotional’, which is hardly surprising when one considers what was at stake for her here. What leapt off the page for me when reading the judgement, was her utter desperation not to be separated from her vulnerable young baby. It was like a mother polar bear attempting to defend and protect her cubs and ward off any attackers, a typical mammalian reaction.

Secondly, unlike the two men, the mother had no lawyer or legal counsel and was representing herself. Had she been properly represented, she would no doubt have been briefed and advised of how to conduct herself and present her case before the judge, to be honest she seems like a client whom the lawyer would advise to keep as quiet as possible, but the judge doesn’t seem to have taken this inequality into account when critiquing the mother. And because the woman represented herself in the family court, the judge noted that she seemed articulate, passionate, engaged, able to account for herself and not therefore any sort of victim.

The law firm representing the two men was Natalie Gamble Associates. The leading experts in the field when it comes to family law, drawing up surrogacy agreements and self-described champions of assisted reproduction and fertility law. Every time a similar surrogacy mess rears its head in the mainstream media, up pops Natalie Gamble claiming how this is proof that commercial surrogacy needs to be ‘regulated’, i.e. legalised in the UK. Unsurprising coming from a firm whose sole source of revenue and profit is derived from surrogacy or fertility issues, but one can hardly claim she’s impartial on the matter.

So here we have a legally unrepresented mother fighting not to lose custody of her child, versus a firm of hot-shot lawyers and the judge negatively contrasts her demeanour with that of the two men in her conclusions about the woman’s character and passes an order banning the woman from ever being able to talk about it.

I am not defending all of the mother’s actions, from what has been reported it seems as though she did her best to frustrate contact with the baby’s biological father, which is unacceptable. If indeed she did tell lies about the male couple, this is not to be commended, however these  were the painfully transparent actions of a mother who was desperate and therefore fighting tooth and nail, not to lose her baby daughter.

One of the things that she was attacked for was unnecessary visits to the hospital and doctor when her child did not require treatment. The judge concluded that this was to smear the men, but on one occasion the child was diagnosed as having a viral infection; on another, the baby was found to be fine, but the mother was worried that she may have dehydration, just having come back from an overnight visit, where of course she would have been unable to have been breastfed.

One might draw one’s own reasonable conclusions as to whether these visits were wise or even necessary, but then again, how many of us have taken our children to the GP or even to the hospital because of an urgent niggle, only to be reassured that everything is fine? I know I certainly have and have always been told by the professionals to trust instinct and that’s better to be safe than sorry.

Another issue is that she posted numerous threads on Mumsnet in which she repeatedly changed her story on several occasions, which had then to be removed when the administrators realised that she was going through the courts and the story might hit the press. She had alleged history with regards to telling untruths about her ex-husband in order to frustrate his contact with their children.

So the woman is clearly not a saint; she needs some sort of external involvment, not least counselling in order to ensure that her children are not deprived of the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their father. The same goes with the father of her baby, clearly some sort of intervention needed to be had to ensure that a relationship could develop.

As to whether or not she is guilty of the greatest thought crime of the twenty-first century ‘homophobia’, I’d say this is unlikely given her original friendship with a gay man and agreement to enter into a surrogacy arrangement. It’s difficult to ascertain precisely what happened, but it seems as though initially she had contributed a large sum of her own money into the deposit on a house where all three of them were going to live together and she would take a role in the raising of the child. There were even emails about the baby sleeping in the mother’s room with her in a cot. But then something happened and the relationship, especially with the father’s partner, soured.

It does then cast the judge’s decision that the baby should go the the male couple, because that is where she was always intended to be, her ‘natural family’,  into doubt.

The mother’s registering of the birth, choosing a name for the baby and baptising the child are all things which she was legally entitled to do as the baby’s mother.

The male couple obviously had their legal options lined up, claiming that they were being utterly reasonable and had been forced into taking action, despite the fact the mother had broken no laws. Another horrific facet of this sorry tale is how the mother was forced to have regular meetings with a lactation midwife in order to plan how she could stop breastfeeding by the time the baby had reached 9 months, with the aim that the baby could commence overnight visits.

The problem with this, as any breastfeeding mother knows, is that with demand-led feeding it goes on for as long as both the baby asks it and the mother is content to feed. Breastfeeding is entirely between mother and child; though the child is non-verbal they are still able to communicate their need for the breast to their mother. It is absolutely not for anyone, let alone state agents to determine how long a mother ought to be feeding, in order that her baby may be prepared for handover and get used to sleeping alone in strange unfamiliar surroundings without the scent or comforting presence of their mother.

I was reminded of the dreadful cases of pregnant women in Nigeria or other Islamic countries, sentenced to death for alleged adultery with the execution stayed until the child has been weaned from the breast. No wonder the mother was as keen to delay taking the child off the breast for as long as possible; I know I would too, and equally I would not let my children stay overnight at anyone else’s house until they were at least beyond the age of 3. This is exactly what is advocated by child psychologists; to split their time between two houses and sets of parents is confusing and unsettling for children.

What leaps off the page is, is a mother desperate enough to go to silly lengths to keep her baby and whose fear of having her child removed led her to some rash actions, which ultimately counted against her.

The story seems to have touched several personal nerves for me, perhaps because I adopt similar parenting styles so critiqued by the judge and used as justification for removal of the child. I breastfeed, I wear my babies in a sling, I co-sleep, I am predominantly a stay-at-home mother. Over the years I too have been accused of being an unfit parent on the grounds of projected moral deficiency, I’ve had trolls and stalkers attempt to tell me that I am not fit to raise my children and am causing them harm, either by neglect (thanks to being able to type quickly and turn out long considered blogposts ) or thanks to my religious and social beliefs. I too, have been branded harmful and the welfare of my children been called into question by random internet strangers. It isn’t too hard to envisage a socially conservative woman finding herself at the centre of similar proceedings, with her children deemed to be ‘at risk’ from homophobia or indoctrination, if her parents do not hold liberal conformist views.

And there’s one final and as yet undiscussed aspect to this whole sorry mess. We are constantly informed that women need more representation in politics, in business and on the judiciary. Here we see a female judge who has chosen to pursue a career instead of a family attacking and unnecessarily removing the child from the care of a woman, because she is completely unable to empathise with another woman, or understand the rationale behind her mothering. She has imposed her own vision of what motherhood ought to look like (one completely devoid of evidence) onto another woman and punished her and her child, for falling short. Is this really the sort of female representation that we should be aspiring towards?

It is clear that no harm was being caused to the baby. It was arbitrarily decided that the baby girl would fare better in the care of two men based on the subjective negative impression that the judge formed of the woman, for being ‘emotional’, too involved,  too ‘homophobic’ and that the baby would have a better, healthier and more balanced future with two men.

It’s an awful mess and while I want to scream at the injustice of it all, I also want to weep for a little child, removed from the comfort, warmth and welcome of her mother’s breast and bed and instead placed into, no doubt a beautifully attractive and immaculate wooden cot, in a room all of her own, in a house without a woman.