In the last two parts of this story (which you can read here and here,) we see baby Autumn born into a chaotic, vulnerable situation. It’s no surprise she found herself in foster care. Social services told Julie it was on a temporary basis.

I was visiting my mother with my two sons while this went on. My daughter Julie, complete with a violent abusive boyfriend, was here in Scotland. That’s four hundred miles away from where we were on holiday.

I called Julie on the phone, I had no clue what to say, I wanted to give her a chance to express herself. She was angry and bitter. She blamed me for Autumn having to live in foster care. She was beside herself with emotion —they flowed out of her, pouring everywhere like some unstoppable tide. But she wouldn’t talk to me, she hated me at that moment. Autumn not being with her was all because of me, it was all because of me, every bad thing in her life was because of me.

I am sure her boyfriend rejoiced that she hated me, he may have even instigated it. And because of him, because he wanted Julie to himself — he told social services that I wasn’t allowed to see Autumn.

They were both allowed to see her under supervision. They went to the contact centre and saw her, at first, 3 times per week. Then social services upped it to 5 times per week.

Then they started arguing in front of her, in front of the staff. He would criticise the way she handled the baby. She would argue back. I told her I would have agreed that black was white if it meant I got to see more of the baby. My words fell, once again, on deaf ears. Social services dropped visitation back down to 3 times a week. Then social services said they had to come and see Autumn on separate days.

Time went by, weeks went by, I hadn’t seen her. Julie took pictures every time she had contact, but it wasn’t enough for me. I’m Grandma, and it’s my job to love Autumn, to hug her, hold her, to help take care of her. I missed Autumn so much, but also I found myself worrying about Julie. She seemed “okay”. I didn’t expect her to be great but I knew something wasn’t right.

Then one day she started talking about a new friend, Sharon. Sharon didn’t have a washing machine so she would come round to Julie’s and borrow hers. Sharon wasn’t a taker, she gave Julie some money for soap powder and electricity. She sounded like a nice girl. At least she gave Julie some money for borrowing her washing machine.

Julie phoned me one day and I asked if she had seen Sharon. I wondered if Sharon would encourage her to leave her partner. Sharon was single. I asked Julie if Sharon could be a source of support. I had, by this time, completely fallen out with her boyfriend. 

I couldn’t bear the sight of him, his ‘know it all’ arrogance and his dismissive attitude to me. He was a bully and I hate bullies, I hate the fact that he raised those hands to my daughter and she was so blind, believing that he loved her. It was difficult for me to even go and see Julie.

Julie told me she shouldn’t get too close to Sharon because Sharon was on heroin.

My heart dropped to the bottom of my boots. I knew right there and then that Julie would take heroin. To be honest, looking back on it, it’s possible she had already tried it.

Social services were in and out of her home. I don’t know exactly what went on but there were lots of meetings. Later I found out that Julie knew she had a few months to get her act together as a mother to get Autumn back.

Julie then went on heroin.

I was distraught. There was nothing I could do. Grandparents have no rights under the law. The only thing I allowed by social services was buying Autumn presents that Julie could give her. Which I did do, but it was so sad to see Autumn with the things I had bought her when I couldn’t see her, couldn’t be close to her.

Julie got close to a family support worker named May. May was ace. She also had time for grandparents, and she allowed me to slip up to see Autumn at the end of Julie’s contacts. Yes, Julie was still allowed to see Autumn on supervised visits, even though they knew about the drugs by this time.

So, I met Julie at the contact centre and sneaked up the winding staircase with the family room at the top. And there was my wee girl Autumn. The image with this story was me on that day, the first time I saw her even though I wasn’t allowed. I had about ten minutes with Autumn. I was happy for the rest of the day, knowing my lovely girl was happy and safe.

Julie was less safe.

Drugs and crime went hand in hand. Some criminal asked her to be the lookout while a “friend” robbed a pub. She did it.

Julie also allowed Sharon to do some quite sordid stuff in her home. Sharon had a “friend” (client) who liked some strange sexual behaviour, messy stuff. Julie got involved in that, to what extent I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

Then, one day I get a phone call, Julie had sustained injuries from a fight, she was in a bad way. She wanted to be away from her violent partner. Could she stay the night at my house? It was May, the family support worker.

I asked May when Julie had last taken heroin. May couldn’t understand my question at first; it was like she didn’t know. But May checked with Julie and it was a day ago. I couldn’t have Julie at my house with my two young boys.

I searched around for a hotel where Julie could stay for the night and found a place not too far away. I phoned May and told her about it.

May had taken photo’s of Julies injuries and got the police involved. Julie’s name was on the rent agreement and not her partner’s name. The police went in and forced her partner out, he spent a chilly night in a police cell, and he was no longer allowed in Julie’s street.

Julie went back home alone.

Julie wasn’t good at doing alone. Her partner would go and stand at the end of the street and she could see him. She would go out and spend time with him. I am not sure if she was intimidated into it, or she still believed that she loved him. She even took off for a week, living rough with him. Social services were not amused, especially as she was completely out of contact, no phone, nothing.

Julie was not allowed to feel anything unless her partner said so. She was obedient to him. While she was on heroin, she had 27 opportunities to see Autumn. Of those, she missed 19. It hurts my soul to even write the sentence.

Can you imagine that baby, so young, and yet every time she should have gone to meet her mum, her mum didn’t show? It must have been so troubling for her.

During this time Autumn lived with the same couple. I met them a few times and they are lovely people.

One time when I sneaked in to see Autumn, I was sitting waiting for the husband to come to pick her up. The traffic was awful and he was running late. She was sat in her car seat, I was singing nursery rhymes to her. All of a sudden, she started smiling like crazy, waving her arms and legs. He had arrived to pick her up and I could see that she loved him. No baby would fake it; the reception she gave him was loving and genuine.

But with Julie, things went from bad to worse. She was using, friendly with dealers, and she knew about a plot they had.

The client of Sharon’s had boasted about how much money he had, how he had five bank accounts. The dealers were going to steal his money. So they set up a plan for him to come and see Julie. She took him to the dealer who demanded the money from his account.

He refused, so they cut his finger off. They kept cutting his fingers off as he kept refusing. He lost a lot of blood; they beat him up and threw him out on the street. Some kindly stranger called an ambulance for him, while the poor man lay there.

No-one sat with him, he was on his own, curled up crying out for his Mum and drifting in and out of consciousness.

The ambulance took a long time to come, and it took him to the hospital. He lost a great deal of blood but he did survive.

Julie was back in her flat while all this went on. She watched from behind the curtain. When the police arrived in the street she told them everything she knew, which was enough to get the drug dealer put in prison.

The following day Julie noticed a stranger at the door of her apartment block. They were short, but in a hoodie, with the hood pulled down over their face. Julie said the police had told her they would look after her, but the dealers knew it was her that had told on them.

Julie phoned me, crying, terrified. She was sobbing, her voice shaking, whispering her fears because the hooded person had got into her block. She thought she was going to die.

I had enough by this time. I called the police and asked them to help her, to bring her to me. They were reluctant but in the end, I said: “look, she is scared, she is in fear. And I am in fear for her!” At that, they went around to her flat and told her to pack up, and they brought her to my house.

She stayed with me then for a few weeks. She said she was off the heroin and certainly I saw no sign of her withdrawal symptoms, no sickness, diarrhea, or obvious rattling. She took a couple of anti-depressants while she was with me, and I later learned they were to stop any rattling she had. But overall things went smoothly.

She got her own flat to live in far away from the dealers. She moved what she could out of the old flat into the new one. She really pulled herself together but by this time, but sadly it was too late now to get Autumn back.

Social services were looking for a permanent home for Autumn now. The couple that had fostered her, wanted her. I thought it would be okay for Autumn to stay with them since they had been looking after her well. This would mean though, we could only see her if they allowed it. Would they?

Then a bolt out of the blue came.

My ex-husband wanted to take on Autumn, even though he had only been up to see her once. Horrific. Social services didn’t take much of what I said into consideration about my ex taking Autumn. I offered to take her, even though things were not great in my marriage, and I have two boys on the autistic spectrum.

Julie didn’t want me to have Autumn. She fought for me not to have her and of course, her partner had seen to it that I didn’t have a proper relationship with Autumn. I felt so powerless.

Lots of meetings later, social services decided Autumn would live with my ex-husband and his wife. She had to move from the couple that had looked after her for the first two years of her life, and given to my ex-husband and his wife.

Seeing her crying and saying she wanted to go into her foster families car, not home with my ex-husband is a scar I will bear for the rest of my life. It was, without doubt, one of the most harrowing moments of my life. Everyone was crying, Julie, the foster parents, me and of course, Autumn. It was like having every emotion in my body suddenly turned inside out, naked and vulnerable. Raw. One of those moments you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

The strange thing is, despite me not believing it could happen, was that things went well from there on in.

Autumn settled quickly with my ex-husband Sid and his wife Annie. My ex-husband still made stupid jokes and was still irritating. His wife was a real diamond though.

They made a decision that favours me. I didn’t believe it when he first said it — it seems hard to believe even now. They want Autumn to get to know every member of her family. They let me go to see Autumn. I get to see my wee sweet girl, buy her gifts and watch her play with them. My heart soars when I see her or hear her voice on the phone, she is just the best girl ever. She is as bright as a button and together we form a mutual adoration team. 

They live one hundred and sixty miles away from me, but it means I get to see her. Sid and Annie are great with Autumn. Although she goes to nursery or daycare often, they love her and they provide for her.

She will be four soon, and she is a wonderful little girl. She loves Granda and Gramma, she has her own room and she is safe. She loves her dogs and her rabbit. She has a cousin, Lilly, who lives close by and she sees on weekends. She goes on holiday with Sid and Annie, she has learned to swim, she is a clever, bright little girl.

As she gets older, she will have abandonment issues. Abandoned by her own mum when she was 7 weeks old, then abandoned by her foster family, it will have an effect on her.

But she does see her mum every couple of weeks, and she sees me every six weeks or so. We speak on the phone.

It was a long gruesome haul but today she is safe, happy and part of a loving family. Which is what we would want for any little girl, isn’t it?

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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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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