For the first time in over two years I put on my smart business clothes and headed for the train station. I dropped my child off at my neighbours to wait for the school bus. As I got in the car to drive to the station I felt a huge adrenaline rush. I was off to London for a meeting. In the 30-minute drive to the station I felt like I had been transported back to my old life, a life when I had a successful career, a life before I became the parent to a wonderful, but deeply traumatized child with complex needs and learning disabilities. Don’t get me wrong I love my child with all my heart – but in those 30-minutes I felt pangs of loss for the career I have had to let go of in order to parent my child. I parked the car, let out an internal sheik at the price of parking for a day and headed onto a bustling train station platform. I got myself a coffee, a newspaper and boarded the busy commuter train. I felt like I was in the film Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. The train door closed, and I had been transported back in my old life.
Over the previous 25 years before motherhood I had worked hard putting myself through numerous university courses, eventually finding myself on a career path with potential, and what I thought was longevity. Various fulfilling positions had included course leadership and university lecturing as well as designer and developer for high profile media and communication companies. That career came to an abrupt end when I was made redundant whilst on adoption leave five years ago. Since then I have struggled and continue to struggle to find a job, even an unfulfilling job that can fit around my child’s complex needs.
As a single adopter with no partner or any other financial means to pay my mortgage, eventually for financial reasons, I was forced to move 200 miles away from the support network I had built up over 20 years. Before we moved I had I contacted the LA that had placed my child and asked if there was any financial support available. They told me there was nothing available. The relocation went ahead. I found us a lovely home with plenty of outdoor space for my child to run around and play. Our new home was within a short drive of a bustling city with two universities and four colleges that delivered similar courses to those I had led and taught on. I convinced myself that I would find a job.
Still on a very tight budget I relied upon the Healthy Start vouchers to supplement our food bill. After another year of living hand to mouth I contacted the LA we were now living in. They told me that I was still under the previous LA and refused to help. I contacted my child’s placing LA but once more they refused to help. No job, no money, no support. I continued to present myself in public as a happy go lucky mother but inside I felt like I was dying. I had lost over two stone in weight but at least my child was thriving, loved and well fed. At one point I even considered going to a local food bank for help. One day when I was feeling particularly hungry and disheartened I searched the Internet for a definition of living in poverty. I fulfilled the criteria. I remember thinking how far I had fallen.
I had worked so hard all my life. I even took in a lodger for the year leading up to the adoption. I had squirrelled away enough money to maintain a decent life style until I returned to work. My child would never want for anything, or so I believed. Prior to being placed in foster care my child had lived in poverty, was not always fed and had been neglected in numerous other ways. The biological mother had left school with no qualifications, had been living in poverty and had never been able to secure a job. And here I was, just like my child’s biological mother living in poverty and unable to secure a job. I wept every night for weeks once my child was tucked up in bed.
Eventually I found a zero hour contract covering maternity leave at a local college. I placed my child in nursery and went back to work. I felt a huge sense of pride. I was back on my career path. I loved the job, imparting my wisdom on the students and talking to like-minded academics. After ten months the job unfortunately came to an end. I had continued to look for other job opportunities whilst working at the college but had not found anything. I was back claiming benefits.
It took another six months before I found another job. It was an unskilled job but at least I was working. Shortly after I started the job my child was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, hypermobility, speech and language difficulty as well as attachment disorder. This is a child that the placing LA had said had exhibited no disabilities or behaviours that would be of concern in the future. I struggled to maintain my job due to frequent appointments with the many professionals now involved with my child and the school exclusions due to behaviour. Eventually stress and anxiety, due to the complexity of my child’s needs, and major issues with my employer, culminated in me going on to long term sick then dismissal from my job.
I arrived in London for the meeting and headed for the underground. As I boarded the tube I breathed in the smell of the other tubes passing through the station, the smell of spicy food, deodorant, perfume, body odour and the bad breath of the man stood next to me. I was home. I tried not to stare at the multicultural and vibrant occupants of the tube and savored the smells and the different accents. I had forgotten how culturally starved I had become since relocating. I arrived at my meeting.
I found the meet up by chance on Twitter. An opportunity to share my experiences of motherhood and technology with academics and professionals. Had the travel costs not been covered I would not have been able to attend. For those few hours I was the old me. Not a single mother claiming benefits – I felt like a working professional mother. My opinions mattered. My knowledge had the potential to transform the lives of others. I felt good. I felt alive. As the meeting drew to a close I said my goodbyes and hurried to catch the train – to be home to meet my child’s school bus.
As the train pulled out of London, I stared out of the window trying to think about anything and everything except the career that was no more. The train pulled into my departing station. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors I was not met by John Hannah and about to embark on a new and exciting adventure. Instead I got in my car and drove home to meet my child’s school bus. My heart filled with love and joy with the thought of seeing my child. “How was your day”? I asked. “I hit three children and kicked my teacher” my child replied. I was home. The following day I phoned my LA and asked politely but firmly for help. They have finally agreed to assess us. The paperwork is thankfully on its way.