I first met my health visitor when S was about 3 weeks old. J seemed ok. Nice, even. By that point I had been in hospital for 2 weeks, and had midwives poking and prodding at me all day every day. When we came home my only thought was to get the community midwife off my back. She had been with me throughout my pregnancy, and had me crying on her shoulder more times than I care to remember. She spoke to me on the phone for hours at a time about my relationship with S’s father, and tried to help me to see sense. She knew him, had dealt with him before, and had nothing good to say about him. He knew her too, though, and told me she was a man-hating bitch who had it in for him. I was in a difficult position having her around. He was present every time she visited, and it was not wise for me to get on with her, agree with anything she said, or even make conversation. I was relieved when she discharged us, even though I knew I owed her a lot.
So I was glad when J turned up. She’d never met me before, she’d never met the ex before. Because it was difficult for me to get out of the house with S at the time, and because she knew I was still feeling a bit delicate, she agreed to come out to the house to weigh S every few days. The first couple of times, the ex was here. He stood in the corner of the room, watching the conversation and butting in whenever he knew better than what I or the health visitor was saying. She politely allowed him to say what he was saying, and then carried on talking to me. The second time she came, she asked how I was and I burst into tears. Proper, uncontrollable, shoulder-heaving sobs. I was exhausted from having looked after the ex’s 6 children the previous night, paranoid about missing one of S’s 3-hourly feeds, and constantly on edge that I may say or do the wrong thing where the ex was concerned. As J tried to calm me down and explained I needed to look after myself a bit better, the ex stood on the other side of the room with a blank expression, watching me cry. I knew I was in trouble for crying. To him, crying was a way of manipulating people, gaining sympathy and making him look bad. As J left that day, I heard her saying to the ex, “she’s doing a great job, you need to tell her that more often, and support her.” he vaguely agreed with her and closed the door. When he came back into the room he didn’t mention my crying, my fears or my insecurities. He didn’t tell me I was doing a job, and I knew that was because he didn’t think I was.
On our next visit, the ex wasn’t there. By this point he wasn’t really bothering to visit us much. I told J that he expected me to be spending 3 or more days a week at his house, looking after him and his children as well as my newborn baby, and that I didn’t feel I could do it. He wanted me to paint his kitchen while the kids were at school and he was at work. I told her I’d had the children overnight and it had nearly driven me mad; I didn’t want to do it again but was scared to tell him. She told me to ask him for a couple of weeks’ grace to get used to my new responsibilities. She said if he didn’t like it, to tell him she had told me not to go to his house for a while, and to give him her number; she would speak to him if he had a problem.
A couple of days later, the ex stormed out in a fit of childish self-obsession, and I was left on my own. I knew this time he would probably not come back, and I was petrified. I told him what J had said, about not going to his house for a couple of weeks. He refused to call and speak to her, as I had clearly already told her a bunch of lies about him and made him look bad. As if she knew it had happened, J called to see how we were. I bawled down the phone to her for half an hour about how I didn’t know what to do. She agreed to come out and see us. At first, I was technically still with the ex. He let me stew over a long weekend, refusing to take my calls and sending strange messages about how I was pushing him away. J told me if I wanted, I could invite him to come to her next visit, and she would try and help us work through our problems. I relayed this to the ex and he refused point blank; I had already turned her against him with my poisonous lies; why would he come and listen to more of it.
For the next couple of weeks, either J or her nursery nurse came out to see S and I every other day. I was in a mess, convinced I couldn’t do any of this on my own, until J said to me, “But you already are.Who changes her nappies? Who has always fed her? Who has always dressed her? Who has always laid her down for her naps?” I was still not convinced, but I realised that I had done 99% of it on my own up to this point any way, so why worry about the 1%.
Over a short period of time, J’s attitude went from “don’t worry, you can do this on your own” to “you do not have to have any contact with this man; you do not have to let him into your house; you do not have to speak when you see him in the street,” to “if you take your child into that house, knowing what you have told me about it, I will call Social Services because I have a responsibility to keep your child safe.” That was more than enough persuasion for me; I’ve never even been near the house since.
By this time I was going to appointments at J’s weekly clinic, and left one week with a list in the front of S’s red book: 1. call police and make formal statement. 2. call childrens’ centre and ask about Freedom Programme. 3. Change phone number. I was reluctant to do any of those three things; I felt if I spoke to the police he would find out and it would make things worse. I didn’t think I fit the criteria for the Freedom Programme; I hadn’t been beaten up, just treated a bit badly by a man who clearly had issues of his own that weren’t his fault. I didn’t want to change my number because it would make him angry if he couldn’t contact me. But she had written these things down. I knew she would check with me next time, whether I had done them. So I did all three. And I’m fairly sure they saved my sanity, if not my life.
Suddenly, no more calls or texts telling me I was a bad mother, or that I had to allow him to bring his children to my house to visit S. No texts to say I was evil for keeping S away from her family. I made a statement to the police, shaking the whole way through. I waited for him to somehow magically find out, and come and break in and punish me for it, but he didn’t. I went to the Freedom Programme, feeling like a fraud, guilty that I was making a big fuss over nothing… and found that actually, I did belong there and they could help me. Every week I sneaked into the meeting, and sneaked home afterwards, petrified he would find out I was going there and… well I didn’t know what he would do but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I shook throughout every session, petrified of opening my mouth about what I had experienced, but finding that I needed to tell someone, needed to get it out. He never found out; he never came to exact his revenge on me.
Every time I saw J, she asked how we were, whether we’d had any contact with him. When I wavered and said I could perhaps let him see S at his work, or in a public place, or perhaps have him in the house from time to time, she kept me strong, asking me – can you guarantee he won’t hurt you or your child? Can you guarantee he won’t just pick her up and walk away? You’ve told me you were scared he would do this before, has anything changed? She reminded me why I was staying away, and kept me strong. She told me I was doing well, that S was developing fabulously, especially since she was premature. She told me not to listen to this or that person who had put doubts in my head. She told me not to worry about the ex’s threats to take me to court; she would happily stand up in court and explain why she had advised me to keep my child away from him.
When S’s father left, he had already mentally beaten me into submission. He had spent my entire pregnancy ensuring I would do as I was told when she was born, and he had done a good job. I was broken, petrified of being alone with a child I didn’t think I deserved or could cope with. He had told me repeatedly I was not emotionally or financially stable enough to look after a child, and I had believed him. He told me I had Asperger’s, that I would raise my child to be picky and difficult and scared of everything and weak and sickly and unable to make friends. I believed all of it. If J had not been there to pick me up, dust me off, and remind me I had to keep my child safe from what I knew was a dangerous situation, I don’t know what would have happened, and I don’t much like to think about it.
When I tell people that my health visitor saved my life, I don’t mean it in an over the top, exaggerated, “OMG!!!!” sort of way. I really mean it. Literally.
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