Sophie was a recovering alcoholic terrified that someone was going to take her baby away again; St Michaels had to work hard to help her feel happy to bond with her baby.
This is the story of a mother who came for a Family Residential Assessment at St Michael's.
Her parents were alcoholics
In its work, St Michael’s sees lots of cycles repeated over different generations.
Both of Sophie's parents had been alcoholics; her mother left home when she was a child. Alcoholism had, up until she became sober, destroyed many parts of her life. She was now fighting with everything she had to show she could give her baby, Mia, the love and care she needed.
Baby is taken from the hospital
Sophie arrived at St Michael’s angry and very anxious. A few weeks before, she had given birth to her baby. Joy turned to shock when social workers unexpectedly came to the hospital. They told her they were going put apply to put her baby up for adoption.
“I felt angry because they took my baby from me. But I was glad there was somewhere I could go to prove, to myself and other people, I could look after my baby and that it was the wrong decision to remove her from my care.”
She didn’t trust anyone
Denise was Sophie's key worker, “When Sophie came to St Michael's, she was understandably quite traumatised after having her baby removed in the hospital and then having a positive drugs test which turned out to be false. She didn’t trust anyone.”
Homeless, abused and addicted
There was a lot of past trauma. She had been homeless for many years, was a recovering addict and had been the victim of domestic abuse.
Sophie was glad she had the opportunity to show she could care for Mia at St Michael’s, but she found the start overwhelming.
“I felt anxious because I haven’t lived in a shared facility for a long time. I found it quite difficult when I first got here, to share space and it was very challenging for me, to live with other people you don’t know, while you are being watched and monitored, and things wrote down about you all the time. Adding to that, living with people who are from different walks of life made it even more challenging.”
Wanting to give up
The situations were triggering her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she locked herself away in her room.
“I dealt with it by first staying in my room and bringing myself out of [the shared space]. I was told I couldn’t do that…[because] I am basically living in one room and I have to overcome it and just try and get on with it.”
The events over the last few weeks had shaken her confidence
“I had all that stuff happen to me. All that was going through my head was ‘they are going to take her away from me again. They are going to take her away’. Not [St Michaels] but [social services] are going to take her away from me. ‘It’s too good to be true.’”
Seeing her strengths
A few times, Sophie said, she wanted to give up. She thought she couldn’t do it. But Kate, the centre manager and her team, saw something in her, moments of strength, and they encouraged her to carry on.
“They slowly did build my confidence up to show that there wasn’t going to be any tricks gonna happen, you know trickery. And I cannot think about losing [Mia] and I can build a bond with her.”
Lots of parents when they arrive at St Michael’s are worried staff are just there to prove they can’t look after their baby. It takes a lot of time building trust to help them to realise, yes they are assessing them and putting the child's needs first, but they are also there to support the parents learning and give them the chance to show they can care for their child.
Supporting parents with past addictions
Crawford House, where Sophie was staying specialises in supporting parents with past addictions. Staff help as much as they can but also encourage them to go to outside recovery groups.
“I have been doing my recovery on my own through not drinking for over a year now. I was doing it on my own through my pregnancy. Since coming here, [the team] have supported me to go to a local drug and alcohol support services, where they put me onto an abstinence programme. I meet other abstinent people who are recovering as well so I can speak about emotions.”
Finding support outside the house
“Because you can’t speak in [St Michaels] about emotions because it all gets wrote down and then can be twisted to be turned against you. And people don’t understand alcohol and drug addiction so it’s best to talk to people who have been through that and are in recovery and can understand.”
Helping build up mums confidence
As well as supporting Sophie with her recovery, the team also helped build her confidence as a mother. Her self-esteem was so low, so they helped to give her tips and advice which she followed. Sophie explains,
“They also helped with my baby putting her into a routine, showing how to feed, sterilising bottles and playing.”
“Nights were difficult, to begin with. But the night staff were brilliant here. And one particular night staff, spent lots of time with me, to build my confidence up …, [Mia] was being fed every three hours. And, I was on my own.”
“So it was quite difficult me doing all the feeds, looking at families with partners and getting a bit of resentment against them. Thinking ‘oh my god I would love to sleep all night.!’ But that was just down to my own issues and it's all fine now. At least I don’t have to share her!”
When talking about the difference the whole team had seen in Sophie, Denise, her key worker, looks momentarily emotional thinking about how many battles she has had to fight. The work our teams do with parents is consuming, they are assessing but also building relationships and watching people’s journeys.
So proud of her effort
“As Sophie’s confidence grew as a person, her confidence also grew in her ability to parent her baby. She was working really hard on herself and reflecting on her interactions with others. Using her CBT book that she had also brought to Crawford House and also using mindfulness as a way to focus her attention and try to manage her anxieties.”
“The difference between the Sophie who worked through that door 12 weeks ago and the Sophie leaving next week is huge. I am so proud of the effort she put in and how she focused everything she had on getting this right.”
Hopes for the future
“My hopes for me and my daughter in the future is to move on and forget the whole hospital, the whole involvement of social services. To feel safe. To keep the support we got through St Michael's so we can be together and no one else can separate us.
“Also a sense of belonging. I have never had a sense of belonging in my life because of my past addiction. I tend to, and because of my appearance, shy away from people I don’t really have anything in common with, and in these recovery groups we all have something in common.”
The impact of addiction on her life
Sometimes Sophie feels embarrassed about the way she looks. The years of alcohol abuse and homelessness have taken their toll. Going into shops, she feels eyes on her and feels judged. She sees the recovery groups as a safe space.
Importance of reaching out
“We’ve all had to recover from a long, long addiction or domestic violence. So it’s nice to come together to a place where I belong. And even though we have had different journeys, I understand what they have been through, and they understand what I have been through. And that we deserve a pat on the back, not always having to fight and defend ourselves.”
She looks weary at this point. It can be exhausting telling your story, going over such emotional ground.
“Alcohol has impacted on my life massively. Once you are labeled, you can’t get rid of that label.”
Struggling against the life-long label
“No matter how much you try and prove to other people, you are a different person, that it was a long time ago, and that you made mistakes. I am glad I made those mistakes a long time ago, so I can think of the future now with me and my baby.”
“But it’s hard; and you have to prove yourself all the time to people, that you are not that label that’s stuck on you now. I will have that label for the rest of my life even when I have been sober for 20 years. I am still going to have that label ‘she’s an ex-addict,’ which isn’t nice.”
Giving people another chance
Sophie finished off by saying, “I think people deserve a second maybe third chance you know, which is what St Michael's gave to me.”