Last time we visited this story, Julie had her baby. Just less than five pounds of perfection. My beautiful granddaughter.

You will recall, there were issues around this baby’s birth, with social services involved and very cautious about Julie and her partner keeping the baby.

On day two of her little life, Autumn saw her mummy leave her in the care of a nurse. Julie had to go to a big social services meeting, with midwives, social workers, hospital staff and others. I was going, along with the butterflies in my tummy.

One of the main allegations was Julie would receive her money then she would, under the influence of her partner, spend it all. It meant they had no money for food. She would have a new phone or designer clothes, and the cupboards would be empty. Julie would be left going to the food bank, and on a few occasions, I went with her. 

I would come home and I would just curl up on my bed and cry. A Visit to the Food Bank
It’s not like Sainsbury’

To her credit, Julie got the things she needed for Autumn’s arrival. She enjoyed getting ready, getting the pram and clothes for the little one. We were so happy because the baby was a girl. Julie showed me the things she had ready, some for newborn, some for three months old. There was real joy in collecting the tiny clothes that were necessary for this new life. 

But she was still under the influence of her partner and this is where things went wrong.

Autumn was due on a Thursday, which was the day she got her social security money. But Autumn came two days early, so they had no food in the cupboard.

Julie wanted to breast-feed, but she was put on medication, anti-depressants, that she couldn’t breastfeed with. The doctor had prescribed these, and Julie maintains she told the doctor that she wanted to breastfeed Autumn. I wasn’t there so I don’t know if it was true. Maybe Julie’s partner said she wasn’t going to breastfeed and she dare not contradict him?

Because she was dead set on breastfeeding, Julie hadn’t bought all the accoutrements that go along with bottle feeding Autumn. So not only was there no food, there was no provision for Autumn.

The midwife at the meeting told everyone she wasn’t happy about Autumn going home with Julie and her partner when there wasn’t any food at the house. The director of the meeting asked me my opinion. I told her that I was able to provide food and milk for the baby. But I was disgusted with Julie and her partner for not getting ready for the baby properly. When I think of it my jaw clenches….how could they be so foolish?

They agreed that, providing I bought food for them and milk for the baby, Autumn could go home with Julie and her partner. She was delighted. I had promised Julie when she was in labour, I would do my best to help her keep her baby. So we went to the local supermarket and I stocked up for them.

Julie’s partner had a previous conviction for domestic violence. I knew that he was hitting Julie but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. She told me he hadn’t hit her while she was pregnant, so she felt he wouldn’t be violent anymore.

I didn’t believe it. Most violent men hit women more when they are pregnant. She wouldn’t leave him; he had destroyed her confidence to the extent she believed that she couldn’t live without him.

No wonder social services was concerned!

For the first week, I visited Julie and Autumn every day. Social services had arranged for three visits each day to make sure that the house was tidy and clean, that Autumn was well and being fed and cared for, and that there was food in the house. These were the three main proviso’s that they had to abide by.

Twenty-one visits per week, can you imagine the cost of doing that? Just so Julie could keep that baby.

The next week I visited four days, spreading out my visits. I was trying to gradually leave them to be a family. At first, it seemed that things were going okay. Julie kept the house tidy, loved Autumn and kept her happy and healthy, and there was always food in the house.

But her partner was more and more cruel and violent to her. I don’t know all that went on but one day she took Autumn and ran to the social services a few streets away. Julie was frightened for herself and Autumn. To run to social services was okay but then, Julie took Autumn back home to her partner! That was a mistake. 

The third week I only visited three days. While I was there, things seemed to be fine. They didn’t change her nappy as often as I would have liked, but Autumn had no nappy rash or anything, so there was no real issue. Autumn seemed like a normal baby, she wasn’t particularly awful at sleeping or anything.

But I think it must have been very tiring for Julie because she had to do everything. All her partner did was lie around and play on his phone, or watch pornography.

Some things social services said were wrong, I felt. Once, Julie was let Autumn look at some nursery rhymes videos on her phone. It’s not what I would have done but I didn’t think it was that bad. I am absolutely sure that there were lots of things that went on that Julie hid from me.

One day, when Autumn was about a month old, we had her at our house for a night. We had to be assessed and so I made sure everything was as perfect, I cleaned and cleaned until everything gleamed. The day arrived and we were so happy to have her stay with us.

I have ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome)and without sleep, I am neither use nor ornament. My husband stayed up all night with Autumn, playing with her when she was awake and watching her while she slept, making sure she was absolutely fine every minute. We both love Autumn.

One of the assessment groups went round to Julie’s house while Autumn was with us, she had some friends over, smoking pot. That didn’t go down well. I wish she had just got some sleep and had a quiet night in. It would have been much better if, when they arrived, she had been in bed asleep. She could have said she was just catching up on sleep, while we had the baby.

Autumn’s social worker was great. She told me there weren’t many babies that she lost sleep over, but she lost sleep over Autumn. I understood why. It was just a chaotic situation; no-one knew where the next issue would come from, but we were all sure that it would arrive. And it did.

My mother lives on the other side of the country. I was taking my boys down to see her for ten days. I reminded Julie: “It’s ten days. You just need to keep it together for ten days.”

I knew I shouldn’t go down there. I wish so much I had listened to my gut. If only I could rewind to that point!

Autumn’s social worker promised me, I will call you if anything terrible happens.

I got the call.

I had been at my mother’s a few days when social services called. Julie and her partner had put Autumn on a bike that was too big for her. Yes, they were supporting her head, yes, she was okay. But one of the observation groups saw them and reported it. Social services told Julie they were going to give Autumn to a foster couple, so she could have some respite time.

Julie called me, sobbing between words. She asked me: 

“Should I give her to them?” 

I didn’t know she had been given a whole bunch of forms to sign, I thought it was an informal thing. Julie didn’t tell me and I didn’t think to ask.

But there was the legal paperwork for them to foster Autumn. If I had realised, I would have told Julie to see a solicitor first. But I didn’t know.

I told Julie to let them take Autumn so she could get some rest and sort things out.

Autumn in foster care. She was seven weeks and five days old.

Julie’s heart was broken.

I was 400 miles away with my sons, there was nothing I could do.

But, Autumn was safe. I kept reminding myself of that.

Autumn is safe.

Ruth Stewart is a writer, a mother and wife. She would love to write books and earn a comfortable living from writing. She loves dogs and horses, and dreams of wide open spaces and solitary homes on wind swept plains.
Ruth Stewart is a writer, a mother and wife. She would love to write books and earn a comfortable living from writing. She loves dogs and horses, and dreams of wide open spaces and solitary homes on wind swept plains.
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