A Baby’s Cry
A Baby’s Cry
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First published by HarperElement 2012
Cathy Glass asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library
A BABY’S CRY. © Cathy Glass 2012. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
Ebook Edition © DECEMBER 2011 ISBN: 9780007445707
To Dad with love
Alone in the World
The Mystery Deepens
Stranger at the Door
Shut in a Cupboard
A Demon Exorcized
The Woman in the Street
A Right to Cry
An Ideal World
A Baby’s Cry
Children can come into foster care at any age and it is always sad, but most heartbreaking of all is when a newborn baby, sometimes only a few hours old, is taken from their mother and brought into care.
Certain details in this story, including names, places, and dates, have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.
Chapter One Secretive
‘Could you look after a baby?’ Jill asked.
‘A baby!’ I said, astonished.
‘Yes, you know. You feed one end and change the other and they keep you up all night.’
‘Very funny, Jill,’ I said. Jill was my support social worker from Homefinders, the agency I fostered for. We enjoyed a good working relationship.
‘Actually, it’s not funny, Cathy,’ she said, her voice growing serious. ‘As we speak a baby is being born in the City Hospital. The social services have known for months that it would be coming into care but they haven’t anyone to look after it.’
‘But Jill,’ I exclaimed, ‘it’s years since I’ve looked after a baby, let alone a newborn. Not since Paula was a baby, and she’s five now. I think I might have my pram and cot in the loft but I haven’t any bottles, baby clothes or cot bedding.’
‘You could buy what you need and we’ll reimburse you. Cathy, I know you don’t normally look after babies – we save you for the more challenging children – and I wouldn’t have asked you, but all our baby carers are full. The social worker is desperate.’
I paused and thought. ‘How soon will the baby be leaving hospital?’ I asked, my heart aching at the thought of the mother and baby who were about to be separated.
‘Yes. Assuming it’s a normal birth, the social worker wants the baby collected as soon as the doctor has given it the OK.’
I paused and thought some more. I knew my children, Paula (five) and Adrian (nine), would love to foster a baby, but I felt a wave of panic. Babies are very tiny and fragile, and it seemed so long since I’d held a baby, let alone looked after one. Would I instinctively remember what to do: how to hold the baby, sterilize bottles, make up feeds, wind and bath it, etc.?
‘It’s not rocket science,’ Jill said, as though reading my thoughts. ‘Just read the label on the packet.’
‘Babies don’t come with labels, do they?’
Jill laughed. ‘No, I meant on the packet of formula.’
‘Why is the baby coming into care?’ I asked after a moment.
‘I don’t know. I’ll find out more from Cheryl, the social worker, when I call her back to say you can take the baby. Can I do that? Please, Cathy – pretty please if necessary.’
‘All right. But Jill, I’m going to need a lot of advice and …’
‘Thanks. Terrific. I’ll phone Cheryl now and then get back to you. Thanks, Cathy. Speak to you soon.’
And so I found myself standing in my sitting room with the phone in my hand expecting a baby in twenty-four hours.
Panic took hold. What should I do first? I had to go into the loft, find the cot and pram and whatever other baby equipment might be up there, and then make a list of what I needed to buy and go shopping. It was 10.30 a.m. Adrian and Paula were at school. There’s plenty of time to get organized and go shopping, I told myself, so calm down.
First, I went to the cupboard under the stairs and took out the pole to open the loft hatch; then I went upstairs and on to the landing. Extending the pole, I released the loft hatch and slowly lowered the loft ladders. I don’t like going into the loft because I hate spiders and I was sure the loft was a breeding ground for them. I gingerly climbed to the top of the ladders and then tentatively reached in and switched on the light. I scanned the loft for spiders before going in completely.
I spotted the cot and pram straightaway. They were both collapsed and covered with polythene sheeting to protect them from dust; I intended to sell them one day. I also spotted a bouncing cradle. All of these Adrian and Paula had used as babies. Carefully stepping around the other stored items in the loft and ducking to avoid the overhead beams, I kept a watchful eye out for any scurrying in the shadows and crossed to the baby equipment. Removing the polythene I saw they were in good condition and I carried them in their sections to the loft hatch opening and down the ladders; then I stacked them on the landing, to be assembled later. I returned up the ladders and switched off the loft light, and then closed the hatch and took the pole downstairs, where I returned it to the cupboard.
Perching on a breakfast stool in the kitchen I took a pen and paper and began making a list of the essential items I’d need to buy: cot mattress, cot and pram bedding, baby bath, changing mat, bottles and formula milk, first-size clothes, nappies, nappy wipes, baby bath cream, etc. As my list grew, so too did my anticipation and I began to feel a little surge of excitement at the thought of looking after a baby – although I was acutely aware that my gain would be another woman’s loss, as it meant that a mother would shortly be parted from her baby, which is always very very sad.
When the shopping list of baby equipment appeared to be complete and I couldn’t think of anything else, I tucked the list into my handbag, locked the back door and, slipping on my sandals, left the house to drive into town. It was a lovely summer’s day and as I drove my thoughts returned to the mother who was now in labour and whose baby I would shortly be looking after. I knew that taking her baby straight into care from hospital wasn’t a decision the social services would have taken lightly, as families are kept together wherever possible. The social services, therefore, must have had serious concerns for the baby’s safety. Possibly the mother had a history of abuse or neglect towards other children she’d had; maybe she was drink and or drug dependent; possibly she had mental health problems; or maybe she was a teenage mother who was unable to care for her infant. Whatever the reason, I hoped, as I always did with the children I fostered, that the mother would eventually recover and be able to look after her child, or if she was a teenage mother that the necessary support could be put in place to allow mother and child to be reunited.
When you think of the months of planning and the preparation that parents make when they find out they are expecting a baby, it was incredible that an hour after entering Mothercare I was pushing the trolley towards the checkout with all the essential items I would need, plus a few extras: I couldn’t resist the cuddly soft-toy elephant from the ‘baby’s first toys’ display, nor the bibs embroidered with Disney characters and the days of the week, nor the Froggy rattle set. I’d pay for these from my own money while the agency had said they would fund the essentials.
It was 1.15 as I paid at the till and then wheeled the trolley from the store and to the lift in the multistorey car park. I was expecting Jill to phone any time with more details and I had my mobile in my handbag with the volume on loud. Sure enough, as I closed the car boot and was about to get into the car my phone went off. Jill’s office number flashed up and when I answered she said, ‘It’s a boy. He’s called Harrison, and he’s healthy.’
‘Excellent,’ I said. ‘And his mother is well too?’
‘I believe so. Cheryl didn’t say much other than you should be ready to collect him tomorrow afternoon. She will telephone again tomorrow morning with the exact time to collect him.’
‘All right, Jill. I’ll be ready. I’ve just been shopping and I think I’ve got everything.’
‘Good. And Cathy, just to confirm the baby is healthy. There are no issues of him suffering withdrawal from drink or drugs. His mother is not an addict.’
‘Thank goodness,’ I said. ‘That’s a relief.’ For I was aware of the dreadful suffering endured by babies who are born addicted to their mother’s drugs. Once the umbilical cord is cut and the drug is no longer filtering into the baby’s blood they go ‘cold turkey’, just like adults withdrawing from a drug. Only it’s worse for babies because they don’t understand what’s happening to them. They scream in pain from agonizing cramps for hours and can’t be comforted by their carer. They shiver, shake, vomit and even fit, just as an adult addict does. It’s frightening and pitiful to watch, and it often takes many months before the baby is free from withdrawal. ‘Thank goodness,’ I said again.
‘And, Cathy,’ Jill said, her voice growing serious, ‘you need to prepare yourself for the possibility that you might meet Harrison’s mother at the hospital tomorrow. A nurse will be with you, but I thought I should warn you.’
‘Oh, yes, thank you. I hadn’t thought of that. That will be upsetting – poor woman. Do you know anything more about her?’
‘No. I asked Cheryl but she seemed a bit evasive. Secretive almost. I’ll be speaking to her again tomorrow to clarify arrangements for collecting the baby, so I hope I’ll find out more then.’
And that was the first indication of just how unusual this case would be. Jill was right when she said the social worker was being secretive, but it was not for any reason she or I could have possibly guessed.
Chapter Two Helping
When I arrived home I unloaded all the bags of baby equipment from the boot of the car and then took them upstairs, where I stacked them in the spare bedroom. This was the bedroom I used for fostering and it was rarely empty, for there was always a child to be looked after. However, I’d already decided that baby Harrison wouldn’t be using this bedroom for the first few months but would be sleeping in the cot in my room, as Adrian and Paula had done when they were babies. This was a precautionary measure so that I could check on him and answer his cries immediately. And again my thoughts went sadly to Harrison’s mother, who wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear her baby cry at night or see him chuckle with delight during the day.
Having unloaded the car, I left all my purchases in their bags and wrappers in the bedroom and had just enough time for a cold drink before I had to leave to collect Adrian and Paula from school. They attended a local primary school about a five-minute drive away. They didn’t know yet that we were going to foster a baby and as I drove I pictured the looks on their faces when I told them. They would be so excited. Some of their friends had baby brothers and sisters and Paula, in particular, loved playing babies with her dolls: feeding them with a toy bottle, changing their nappies and sitting them on the potty. Sometimes Adrian joined in and more than once I’d been very moved by overhearing them tenderly nursing their ‘little darling’ and discussing their baby’s progress. Now we were going to do it for real, and I should make sure Adrian and Paula fully appreciated that a baby could not be treated as a toy and mustn’t be picked up unless I was in the room, which I’m sure they knew.
‘A baby!’ Paula squealed in delight as I met her in the playground and told her. ‘What, a real one?’
I smiled. ‘Yes, a real baby. I’m bringing him home from the hospital tomorrow.’
‘I can’t wait to tell my teacher!’ Paula exclaimed.
A minute later Adrian bounded over from his classroom exit, which was further along the building.
‘A baby!’ he exclaimed in surprise when I told him.
‘Yes, he was born today in the City Hospital,’ I said. ‘I’m going to collect him tomorrow afternoon.’
‘How was he born?’ Paula asked innocently as we began across the school playground.
‘Same as those rabbits you saw last year,’ Adrian said quickly, glancing over his shoulder to make sure his friends hadn’t heard Paula’s question.
‘Yuck!’ Paula said, screwing up her face. ‘That’s horrid.’
The previous summer we’d gone with friends to a working farm which had open days, and by chance in a fenced-off area of a barn we’d seen a rabbit giving birth. All the children watching had been enthralled and a little repulsed at this sight of nature in the raw, but as the man standing behind me had remarked: ‘At least we won’t have to explain the birds and bees to the kids now!’
‘What’s the baby’s name?’ Adrian now asked, changing the subject.
‘Harrison,’ I said.
‘Harrison,’ Paula repeated. ‘That’s a long name. I think I’ll call him Harry.’
‘Yes, that’s fine,’ I agreed. ‘Baby Harry sounds good.’ And I briefly wondered why his mother had chosen the name Harrison, which was an unusual name in England and more popular in America.
When we arrived home Adrian and Paula ran upstairs to the spare bedroom to see all the baby things I’d told them I’d bought. ‘It’s like Christmas!’ Paula called, for rarely were there so many store bags and packages in the house.
After dinner the children didn’t want to play in the garden, as they had been doing recently in the nice weather, but wanted to help me prepare Harrison’s bedroom. I thought it was a good idea for them to be involved, so that they wouldn’t feel excluded when Harrison arrived and I was having to devote a lot of my time to him.
The three of us went upstairs and I gave Paula the job of starting to unwind the polythene from the new cot mattress, while Adrian helped me carry the sections of the cot into my bedroom. He also helped me assemble it and once the frame was bolted into place he and Paula carried in the new mattress. I lowered in the mattress and then fetched the new bedding from the spare room. Taking the blankets and sheets out of their wrappers, we made up the cot. I felt a pang of nostalgia as I remembered first Adrian and then Paula sleeping in the cot as tiny babies.
‘It’s not very big,’ Adrian remarked. ‘Did I fit in there?’
‘Yes. You were a lot, lot smaller then,’ I said, smiling. Adrian was going to be tall like his father, who unfortunately no longer lived with us.
‘Can I climb in?’ Adrian said, making a move to lift a leg over the lowered side.
‘No, you’ll break it,’ I said. ‘And don’t be tempted to try and get in when I’m not here, will you?’
Adrian shook his head.
‘What about me?’ Paula asked. ‘I’m smaller than Adrian. Can I get in?’
‘No. You’re too heavy too. It’s only made for a baby’s weight. And just a reminder: you both know you mustn’t ever pick up Harrison when I’m not in the room?’ Both children nodded. ‘I want you to help me, but we have to do it together, OK?’
‘OK,’ Adrian said quickly, clearly feeling this was obvious, while Paula said: ‘Ellen in my class has a baby sister and her mother told her babies don’t bounce. That seems a silly thing to say because of course babies don’t bounce. They’re not balls.’
‘It’s a saying,’ I said. ‘To try and explain that babies are fragile and need to be treated very gently.’
‘I’ll tell Ellen,’ Paula said. ‘She didn’t understand either.’
‘Well, she’s daft,’ Adrian said, unable to resist a dig at his sister.
‘No she’s not,’ Paula retaliated. ‘She’s my friend. You’re daft.’ Whereupon Adrian stuck out his tongue at Paula.
‘Enough,’ I said. ‘Are you helping me or not?’ I’d found since Paula had started school that the gap between their ages seemed to have narrowed and sometimes Adrian delighted in winding up his sister – just as many siblings do.
‘Helping,’ they chorused.
With the cot made up and in place a little way from my bed we returned to the spare bedroom, where I left Adrian and Paula, now friends again, to finish unpacking the bags and packages while I took the three-in-one pram downstairs, a section at a time. It was a pram, pushchair and car seat all in one. I set up the pram in the hall and another wave of nostalgia washed over me as I remembered how proud I’d felt pushing Adrian and Paula in the pram to the local shops and park. The pram base unclipped to allow the pushchair, which was also the car seat, to be fitted, and I guessed I’d be using the car seat first when I collected Harrison from the hospital. I returned upstairs, where Adrian and Paula had finished unpacking all the items.
‘Well done,’ I said. ‘That’s a big help.’
They watched as I stood the baby bath to one side – I’d take it into the bathroom when needed – and then I set the changing mat on the bed and arranged disposable nappies, lotions, creams and nappy bags on the bedside cabinet. Now I was organized I was starting to feel more confident that I would remember what to do. As Jill had said: you simply feed one end and change the other – repeatedly, as I remembered.
Once we’d finished unpacking, the children played outside while I cleared up the discarded packaging and then, downstairs, distributed it between the various recycling boxes and the dustbin. I hadn’t heard from Jill since her phone call earlier and I wasn’t really expecting to until the following day, when she’d said she’d phone once she’d spoken to Cheryl, the social worker, with the arrangements for collecting Harrison and I hoped some more background information. Apart from knowing Harrison’s first name, that I was to collect him tomorrow afternoon and that his mother wasn’t drink or drug dependent, I knew nothing at all about Harrison. Although it wasn’t unusual for there to be a lack of information if a foster child arrived as an emergency, this placement wasn’t an emergency. Jill had said that the social services had known about the mother for months, so I really couldn’t understand why arrangements had been left until the last minute and no information was available. Usually when a placement is planned (as this one should have been) before the child arrives I receive essential information on the child, which includes relevant medical and social history; the background to the case; and the child’s routine – although, as Harrison was a newborn baby it would be largely up to me to establish his routine. I assumed Jill would bring the necessary forms with her when she visited the following day.
That night Paula was very excited at the prospect of Harrison’s arrival, and after I’d read her a bedtime story she told me all the things she was going to do for him: help feed him; change and wind him; play with him; push the pram when we took him to the park to feed the ducks and so on. Clearly Harrison was going to be very well looked after and also very busy; I knew I would be busy too – especially with contact. When a young baby is brought into foster care there is usually a high level of contact initially, when the parents see their baby with a supervisor present, usually for a couple of hours each day, six or even seven days a week. This is to allow the parents to bond with their baby and vice versa, and also so that a parenting assessment can be completed as part of the legal process that will be running in the background. But a high level of contact has its down side, for if the court decides not to return the baby to live with its parents and instead places the child for adoption, then clearly the bond that has been created between the parents and the baby has to be (painfully) broken. However, the alternative – if there is no contact – is that a baby could be returned to parents without an attachment, which can have a huge negative impact on their future together and particularly for the child. I was, therefore, anticipating taking Harrison to and from supervised contact at the family centre every day.
So that when Jill phoned the following morning and said there wouldn’t be any contact at all I was shocked and confused.
Chapter Three Alone in the World
‘What, none?’ I asked in amazement. ‘No contact at all?’
‘No,’ Jill confirmed, but she didn’t give a reason.
‘What about Harrison’s father? Grandparents? Aunts? Uncles? There must be someone who wants to see him, surely?’
‘Not as far as I know,’ Jill said; then, after a pause: ‘Look, Cathy, I’ve just spoken to Cheryl and she’s given me a little background information but it is highly confidential, and of a very delicate nature. I think it would be better if I saw you in person to tell you what I know.’
‘All right,’ I agreed reluctantly, for I was now intrigued and would have preferred to know straightaway.
‘But I’m afraid it won’t be today,’ Jill continued. ‘An emergency has arisen with a new carer – their child’s gone missing – and I need to talk to the police. Can I come tomorrow morning, say ten-thirty?’
‘Yes, I’ll be here.’
‘Good. Now to the arrangements for this afternoon. Cheryl has asked that you collect Harrison at one o’clock from the maternity ward at the City Hospital. The nurses will be expecting you, so go straight up to the ward. And don’t forget your ID; they’ll ask for it.’ Jill was referring to my fostering ID card, which carers are expected to carry with them when on fostering business.
‘I’ll remember,’ I confirmed.
‘If you need me, phone my mobile – I’ll leave it on silent – but I’m not expecting a problem.’
‘Will I be meeting Harrison’s mother at the hospital?’ I asked. This was now starting to worry me.
‘I think you might,’ Jill said. ‘She will be discharged at the same time as her baby. But Cheryl has assured me that Harrison’s mother is very pleasant and won’t give you any trouble. And it will be reassuring for her to meet you – to see who is looking after Harrison.’
‘Yes, I can see that,’ I said, confused, for this didn’t sound like an abusive or negligent mother. ‘And Harrison’s mother doesn’t want any contact with her baby after today?’ I queried again.
‘No. I’ll explain tomorrow. Oh, yes, and Cathy, Harrison has dual heritage. Mum is British Asian, I’m not sure about Dad, but there are no cultural or religious needs, so just look after Harrison as you would any baby.’
‘Yes, Jill. All right.’
It was now 10.30 a.m. and my nervous anticipation was starting to build. I would leave the house in two hours – at 12.30 p.m. – to arrive at the hospital for 1.00. I went upstairs to the spare bedroom and double-checked I had everything I needed. I decided to make up a bag of essential items to take with me to the hospital. Although the hospital was only a twenty-minute drive away I wouldn’t know when Harrison had last been fed or changed, so it made sense to be prepared. Taking a couple of nappies, nappy bags and a packet of baby wipes I went downstairs and found a small holdall in the cupboard under the stairs. Tucking these items into the holdall I went through to the kitchen and took a carton of ready-made formula from the cupboard – I’d bought a few cartons for emergency use, as they could be used at room temperature anywhere. The powder formula was in the cupboard and the bottles I’d sterilized that morning were in the sterilizing unit, ready. I remembered I’d fed Adrian and Paula more or less ‘on demand’ rather than following a strict feeding routine, and I anticipated doing the same with Harry, although of course it would be formula not breast milk.
I placed the carton of milk and a sterilized bottle into a clean plastic bag and put them in the holdall. I then went into the hall and placed the holdall on top of the carry car seat, which I’d previously detached from the pram. I’d no idea what Harry had in the way of clothes; I assumed not much. Children coming into care usually come from impoverished backgrounds, so when I’d been shopping the day before I’d bought some first-size sleepsuits and also a pram blanket. Although it was summer and Harry would be nestled in the ‘cosy’ in the car seat, he would be leaving a very warm hospital ward, so I put the blanket in the holdall.
Having checked that I had everything I needed for Harry’s journey home, I busied myself with housework, while keeping a watchful eye on the time. My thoughts repeatedly flashed to Harrison and his mother, and I wondered what she was doing now. Feeding or changing Harrison? Sitting by his crib gazing at her baby as he slept, as I had done with Adrian and Paula? Or perhaps she was holding Harrison and making the most of their time together before she had to say goodbye? What she could be thinking as she prepared to part from her baby I couldn’t begin to imagine.
Shortly after twelve noon I brought in the washing from the line, put out our cat, Toscha, for a run and locked the back door. With my pulse quickening from anticipation and anxiety I went down the hall, picked up my handbag, the holdall and the baby seat, and went out the front door. Having placed the bags and car seat in the rear of the car, I climbed into the car and started the engine. I pulled off the drive, steeling myself for what I was about to do.
In the ten years I’d been fostering I’d met many parents of children in care but never a mother whose baby I was about to take away. Usually an optimist and able to find something positive in any situation I was now struggling as I visualized going on to the hospital ward. What was I going to say to the mother, whose name I didn’t even know? The congratulations we normally give to new parents – What a beautiful baby, you must be very proud – certainly wouldn’t be appropriate. Nor could I rely on the reassurance I usually offer the distraught parents of children who’ve just been taken into care – that they will see their children again soon at contact – for there was no contact and Harrison’s mother wouldn’t be seeing her son again soon. And supposing Harrison’s father was there? Jill hadn’t mentioned that possibility and I hadn’t thought to ask her. Supposing Harrison’s father was there and was upset and angry? I hoped there wouldn’t be an ugly scene. There were so many unknowns in this case it was very worrying, and without doubt taking baby Harrison from his parents was the most upsetting thing I’d ever been asked to do.
It was 12.50 as I parked in the hospital car park, and then fed the meter. I placed the ticket on my dashboard and leaving the holdall on the back seat I took out my handbag and the carry car seat and crossed the car park. It was a lovely summer’s day in early July, a day that would normally lighten my spirits whatever mood I was in, but not now. As I entered the main doors of the hospital I felt my stomach churn. I just wanted to get this awful deed over and done with and go home and look after Harrison.
Inside the hospital I followed the signs to the maternity ward – up a flight of stairs and along a corridor, where I turned right. I now stood outside the security-locked doors to the ward. Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves I delved in my handbag for my ID card and then pressed the security buzzer. My heart was beating fast and I felt hot as my fingers clenched around the handle of the baby seat I was carrying.
Presently a voice came through the intercom grid: ‘Maternity.’
‘Hello,’ I said, speaking into the grid. ‘It’s Cathy Glass. I’m a foster carer. I’ve come to collect Harrison.’
It went quiet for a moment and I thought she’d gone away. Then as I was about to press the button again her voice said: ‘Come through,’ and the door clicked open.
I went in and then down a short corridor, which opened on to the ward. It was a long traditional-style ward with a row of beds either side, each one separated by a curtain and bedside cabinet. Beside each bed was a hospital crib with a baby. I glanced anxiously around and then a nurse came over.
‘Yes.’ I showed her my ID card.
She nodded. ‘You’ve come for Harrison.’
My mouth went dry as I followed the nurse down the centre of the ward. Other mothers were resting on their beds or standing by the cribs tending to their babies; some glanced up as we passed. The ward was very warm and surprisingly quiet, with only one baby crying. There was a joyous atmosphere, with baby congratulation cards strung over bed heads, although I imagined this was in contrast to how Harrison’s mother must be feeling.
‘He’s over here, so we can keep an eye on him,’ the nurse said, leading me to the last bed on the right, which was closest to the nurses’ station.
The curtain was pulled back and my eyes went first to the crib containing Harrison and then to the empty bed beside it. ‘Is Harrison’s mother here?’ I asked.
‘No. She left half an hour ago, as soon as she was discharged.’
A mixture of relief and disappointment flooded through me. Relief that what could have been a very awkward and upsetting meeting had been avoided, but disappointment that I hadn’t had the opportunity to reassure her I would take good care of her baby. And I guess I’d been curious too, for I knew so little about Harrison’s mother or background.
‘He’s a lovely little chap,’ the nurse said, standing by the crib and gazing down at him. ‘Feeding and sleeping just as a baby should.’
My heart melted as I joined the nurse beside the crib and looked down at Harrison. He was swaddled in a white blanket with just his little face visible from beneath a small white hat. His tiny features were perfect and his light brown skin was flawless. His eyes were closed but one little fist was pressed to his chin as though he was deep in thought.
‘He’s a beautiful baby,’ I said. ‘Absolutely beautiful. He looks very healthy. How much does he weigh?’
‘He was seven pounds two ounces at birth,’ the nurse said. ‘That’s three thousand two hundred and thirty-one grams. The social worker phoned and said to tell you she will bring the paperwork when she visits you later in the week.’ I nodded and gazed down again at Harrison as the nurse continued: ‘And the health visitor will see you in the next few days and bring Harrison’s red book.’ (The red book is a record of the baby’s health and development and is known as the red book simply because the book is bound in red.)
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘Oh yes, and Mum has left some things for Harrison,’ the nurse said, pointing to a grey trolley case standing on the floor by the bed. ‘Rihanna wasn’t sure what you would need.’
‘Rihanna is Harrison’s mother’s name?’ I asked.
‘Yes, she’s a lovely lady. Why isn’t she keeping her baby?’ The nurse looked at me as though she thought I would know, while I was surprised she didn’t know.
‘I’ve no idea,’ I said. ‘I haven’t any details. I don’t even know Harrison’s surname.’
‘It’s Smith,’ the nurse said. ‘Which I understand is his father’s surname.’
‘Was the father here?’
‘Oh no,’ the nurse said, again surprised I didn’t know. ‘Rihanna wouldn’t allow any visitors.’
I looked at her, even more puzzled and intrigued, as a woman in a bed behind us called ‘Nurse!’ The nurse turned and said, ‘I’ll be with you in a minute, Mrs Wilson.’ Then to me: ‘Well, good luck. Do you need any help getting to the car?’
‘No. I’ll be fine.’
The nurse watched me as I set the carry car seat and my handbag on the floor and turned to the crib. ‘When was he last fed?’ I asked as I leant forward, ready to pick up Harrison.
‘Rihanna fed and changed him before she left, so he’ll be fine for a couple of hours.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. I gently tucked my hands under Harrison’s tiny form and picked him up. ‘Is this blanket his?’ I asked, for it was similar to those the other babies had on their cots.
‘Yes. Mum brought it in, and the clothes he’s wearing.’ I saw Harrison was dressed in a light blue sleepsuit similar to the ones I’d bought from Mothercare.
I lowered Harrison carefully into the carry car seat as the nurse left to attend to the other mother. His little face puckered at being moved but he didn’t wake or cry. He was so cute, my heart melted. I gently fastened the safety harness and then tucked the blanket loosely over him. His little fist came up to his chin but he obligingly stayed asleep.
Straightening, I looped my handbag over my shoulder, took the handle of the trolley case in one hand and the carry car seat in the other, and began slowly down the ward towards the exit. A few mothers looked up as I passed; it must have seemed strange for them to see me arrive alone and then leave with a baby. I wondered if Rihanna had spoken to any of the other mothers on the ward; I’d made lasting friendships when I’d been in hospital having Adrian and Paula, but somehow I didn’t think that would be so for Rihanna. The nurse had said Rihanna had refused to allow visitors, and the secrecy surrounding her and Harrison led me to believe that for whatever reason Rihanna was very alone in the world, as indeed was her son.
I left the building and carefully made my way across the hospital car park, all the while glancing at Harrison, whose little eyes were screwed shut against the light.
‘We’ll be home soon,’ I whispered as we arrived at the car.
I unlocked the car, and then leaning into the back carefully placed the carry car seat into position. I strapped it securely into place with the seatbelt. Harrison’s bottom lip gave a little sucking motion as babies often do but he stayed asleep. I checked that all the straps were secure and then stood for a moment looking at Harrison, completely overawed. The responsibility hit me. Here I was solely in charge of this tiny newborn baby, who would be relying on me – a stranger – for everything he needed: for life itself. The responsibility of any parent is enormous but as a foster carer it seemed even greater – being responsible for someone else’s child – and I hoped I was capable of the task.
Quietly closing the car door so I wouldn’t wake him, I stowed the trolley case and my handbag in the boot, then went round and climbed into the driver’s seat. That was the worst part over with, I told myself, the bit I’d been dreading. I was pleased I’d collected Harrison and there’d been no upsetting scene; and shortly I would be home and looking after him. What I didn’t know then was that in collecting Harrison I had begun a very upsetting and traumatic journey that would often reduce me to tears. For now I was simply one very proud foster mother of a darling little baby boy.
Chapter Four Bonding
Harrison slept peacefully during the car ride home and didn’t wake until I pulled on to the drive and cut the engine. When the soporific motion of the car stopped he gave one little whimper and then his brow furrowed as though he was trying to make sense of what was going on around him.
‘It’s OK, love,’ I soothed gently, as I got out and then opened the rear door. ‘We’re home now.’
Releasing the belt that held his car seat in place I carefully lifted out the seat and closed the door. I held the handle of the seat with one hand while I opened the boot with the other. I took out the bags and trolley case and then pressed the fob to lock the car. In the porch I stood the trolley case to one side while I opened the front door, now remembering that two hands are not enough when you have a baby. Harrison gave another little cry, louder this time, so I guessed he was starting to feel hungry. Leaving the bags in the hall I carried him in the seat through to the kitchen and stood it safely on the floor to one side. I knew it wasn’t recommended to leave a baby asleep for long periods in one of these seats – they’re bad for the baby’s spine, as they are curled slightly forward and not flat – so once I’d fed Harrison I would tuck him into his pram, where he could lie flat.
I took one of the sterilized bottles from the sterilizing unit and, using water I’d previously boiled and following the instructions on the packet of formula (which I’d also read earlier), I carefully made up the milk. Although I’d breastfed both my children I’d also used formula milk for Adrian, as he’d been a big baby who’d been constantly hungry. It occurred to me how different this homecoming was from when I’d arrived home with Adrian and Paula: John, my husband, had collected me from hospital and my parents had been waiting at home to welcome me and help with their new grandchild. Now there was just Harrison and me, and that seemed to highlight how alone Harrison was in the world.
Feeling rather clever that I’d made up the bottle of formula without any mishaps I carefully lifted Harrison from the car seat and carried him through to the sitting room to feed him. I sat on the sofa and gently laid him in the crook of my left arm and then put the teat of the bottle to his lips. Obligingly, he immediately opened his mouth, latched on to the teat and began sucking hungrily. I relaxed back a little on the sofa and looked at him in my arms as he fed. I’d forgotten how all-consuming feeding is for a newborn baby – it occupies and takes over their whole body. Harrison’s eyes were closed in concentration, and as he gulped down the warm milk little muscles in his face twitched with delight, while his fists and feet flexed open and closed in contentment. For a baby feeding is what matters most in the whole wide world and their life revolves around it.
As Harrison fed I could feel the warmth of his little body pressed against mine; likewise he would be able to feel the comfort of my body. The close bodily contact between a mother and baby, especially during feeding, is vital to the bonding process. I wondered how Harrison’s mother had felt when she’d fed Harrison for the last time before she’d left the hospital; when she’d gazed down at her son knowing that once she’d fed and changed him and returned him to the crib she would never touch or feel him again. It was so very, very sad and I found it impossible to imagine.
Harrison gulped down half the milk in the bottle and then suddenly stopped, pulled a face and spat out the teat. I wondered if he might need winding before he took the rest of the bottle, so I gently raised him into a sitting position and, supporting his chin with my right hand, I began gently rubbing his back with the palm of my left hand. His little white hat had slipped to one side and I took it off; it was warm in the house. Harrison had beautiful hair – a fine dark down covered most of his head, which made him look older than a newborn. After a moment of being winded he burped and a small rivulet of milk trickled from the corner of his mouth and on to his sleepsuit. I now realized I’d forgotten to bring in a bib with me. I carefully stood and carried Harrison into the kitchen, where I took one of the bibs I’d bought from the drawer, and then tore off a strip of kitchen towel and wiped the milk from his mouth and the sleepsuit. Returning to the sofa I lay Harrison in my left arm again and, tucking the bib under his chin, gave him the rest of the bottle.
Toscha, our cat, sauntered in, clearly curious, having let herself in through the cat flap. She miaowed, as she always did when she first saw either the children or me, and then rubbed herself around my legs. ‘Good girl,’ I said. ‘This is Harrison.’ But I would make sure Toscha was kept well away from Harrison, for much as we loved her I knew it was dangerous and unhygienic to allow animals near young babies. Toscha gave another little miaow and wandered off, her curiosity satisfied.
Now the bottle of milk was finished I wondered if Harrison might need a change of nappy, so I stood to go upstairs, where the changing mat, nappies and creams were – in the spare bedroom. But before I got to the sitting-room door the phone rang. I returned to the sofa and picked up the handset from the corner unit.
‘How’s the little man doing?’ Jill asked. She was phoning from her mobile; I could hear traffic in the background.
‘Great,’ I said. ‘He’s in my arms now. I’ve fed him; he’s taken all the bottle, and now I’m going to change him.’
‘There! I told you you’d remember what do to,’ she said. ‘It’s like riding a bicycle: you don’t forget once you’ve done it. Have you got everything you need?’
‘Yes, I think so. The hospital said the health visitor would visit in the next few days, so I’ll be able to ask her, if there’s anything I don’t know.’
‘Good. I’ll see you tomorrow then at ten-thirty and Cheryl would like to visit you and Harrison on Friday morning. She said it would be between eleven and twelve o’clock. Is that OK with you?’
‘She’ll bring the paperwork. Do you want me to come then as well?’
‘Not unless you want to. I know what to do.’
‘Great. See you both tomorrow.’
As I put the phone down Harrison went very still and frowned. A smell rose from his nappy.
‘I think it’s time for a nappy change, little fellow,’ I said, kissing the tip of his nose. He looked into my eyes and seemed to smile at me. I felt an overwhelming surge of love and protectiveness towards him, just as any mother would.
Upstairs, I went into the spare bedroom, which contained all the baby equipment apart from the cot, which was in my bedroom. I lay Harrison on the changing mat on the bed and began unbuttoning his sleepsuit. He watched me as I worked and then he waved his little fists in the air. I took off the nappy, cleaned him with the baby wipes, and then put him in a clean nappy. He was so good throughout the whole process, as if he sensed I was new to this and was helping me. I placed the soiled nappy and wipes in a nappy bag, which I knotted, ready to throw in the bin. It was only then I remembered that as a foster carer I was supposed to use disposable gloves when changing a baby’s nappy, just as I was supposed to use them when clearing up bodily fluids from any foster child. This was part of our ‘safer caring policy’, designed to keep the whole family safe from the transmission of infectious diseases. HIV, Hepatitis B and C (for example) can be spread through bodily fluids – blood, saliva, faeces, etc. – and whereas a birth mother usually knows she hasn’t any of these diseases and therefore hasn’t transmitted them to her baby through the umbilical cord, I as the foster carer usually did not know (unless I was told), so we practised safer caring. And while Jill had said Harrison’s mother wasn’t a drug addict – so the chances of Harrison carrying a virus were slim – I obviously couldn’t be certain. Having placed Harrison safely in the bouncing cradle, I went through to the bathroom and thoroughly washed my hands in hot soapy water. I then returned to the bedroom and took the packet of disposable gloves I’d bought the day before from the drawer and placed them beside the changing mat so that I would remember to use a pair next time.
It was now 2.30 and at three o’clock I would need to leave the house to collect Adrian and Paula from school. I carried Harrison and the bouncing cradle downstairs and sat him in the cradle in the sitting room while I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. I hadn’t had time for lunch; I’d make up for it at dinner, but I was thirsty. I drank the water and then returned to the sitting room. I wanted to quickly telephone my parents. I hadn’t told them Harrison was coming; it had all happened so quickly, and also I’d wanted to save them from worrying. Harrison, now fed and changed, was clearly feeling very comfortable and starting to doze so, perching on the sofa, I quietly picked up the phone and dialled my parents’ number. Mum’s voice answered with their number.
‘Hi, Mum, it’s Cathy,’ I whispered so that I didn’t disturb Harrison. ‘I have a baby boy.’
‘Pardon?’ she said. ‘I can’t hear you properly. It’s a bad line. I thought you said you’d had a baby?’
‘I have,’ I said slightly louder, smiling to myself. ‘We’re fostering a baby. He’s only two days old.’
‘A baby. Two days old!’ Mum repeated, surprised, and confirming she’d heard right.
‘Yes. I collected him from the hospital a couple of hours ago. He’s called Harrison and he’s lovely.’
‘Good gracious me!’ Mum exclaimed. ‘How are you managing with a baby?’
‘All right so far. I’ve fed and changed him and he didn’t complain. Soon I’ll take him in the car to meet Adrian and Paula from school. Come and visit as soon as you like.’
‘We will,’ Mum said excitedly. ‘I’ll speak to your father as soon as he arrives home from work and we’ll arrange to come over. How long do you think you’ll have him for?’
‘I don’t know yet. I’m seeing Jill tomorrow, so I should know more then.’
‘You’ll get very attached to him,’ Mum warned. ‘I know you do with all the children you look after, but a baby … Well, how will you ever be able to give him up?’
‘I’ll worry about that when the time comes,’ I said, lightly dismissive. ‘He’s only just arrived.’ Yet as I finished talking to Mum and we said goodbye I knew she was right. It was going to be heartbreaking when we eventually had to say goodbye to Harrison, and not only for Adrian, Paula and me but also for Harrison.
At 2.50, allowing plenty of time to collect Adrian and Paula from school, I carefully lifted Harrison, still asleep, from the bouncing cradle and tucked him into the carry car seat. The trolley bag from Harrison’s mother was still in the hall and I now took it upstairs and put it in Harrison’s room, where it would be out of the way. I’d unpack it later when I had the time. Downstairs again, I picked up the pram chassis (which the baby seat fitted into) and, opening the front door, took it out to the car, where I stowed it in the boot. I returned to the hall and carried Harrison in the seat to the car and strapped him under the rear belt, carefully checking all the straps. While all this took time and conscious thought I knew that very soon it would become an easy routine which I would follow automatically on leaving the house, just as I had with Adrian and Paula.
I felt self-conscious and also excited as I entered the playground pushing the pram that afternoon. Although Adrian and Paula knew I would be collecting Harrison from the hospital, it had all happened so quickly that none of my friends and mothers to whom I chatted in the playground knew I would be arriving with a baby. I was right in thinking it would cause some interest and comments, for within a minute of entering the playground Harrison was the centre of attention. ‘Oh, what a darling baby!’ … ‘Isn’t he cute!’ … ‘That was quick work, Cathy!’ … ‘He’s not very old’ … ‘You’re a sly one – who’s the lucky guy?’ … ‘I’m broody’ … and so on.
When the bell rang, signalling the end of school, I pushed the pram towards the door Paula would come out of. Those mothers with children in the same class came with me, still chatting and asking questions about Harrison, while others went off to collect children from different exits. While I was able to answer questions about Harrison’s name, weight and when he was born, to most of the other questions I replied a polite ‘Sorry I don’t know.’ And even if I had known details of Harrison’s background, confidentiality forbade me from sharing these with anyone apart from the other professionals involved in his case.
As soon as Paula came out she grinned and rushed over. ‘Can I see him?’ she said, edging her way in between two mothers who were still leaning over the pram.
‘Hi, Harry,’ Paula said, and gave a little wave.
Harry replied by opening his mouth wide and giving a big yawn.
An affectionate chorus of ‘Aaahhh’ went up from the two mothers before they went off to collect their own children.
‘Can I push the pram?’ Paula asked, passing me her reading folder to carry and taking hold of the handlebar.
Adrian appeared with Josh, a boy from his class. ‘That’s him,’ Adrian said to Josh, pointing at the pram.
‘I’ve got one at home,’ Josh said, pulling a face. ‘They’re very smelly. Poo!’ he said, holding his nose for emphasis. Both boys dissolved into laughter.
‘Sshh, you’ll wake him,’ Paula cautioned, assuming a maternal role.
‘Mine cries and poos all day and night,’ Josh said happily, pulling another face, before running over to his mother, who was also pushing a pram.
‘Have you had a good day at school?’ I finally got to ask.
‘Yes. I got ten out of ten in the spelling test,’ Adrian said. ‘And Andrew’s asked me to his football party. Can I go?’
‘I’m sure you can. When is it?’
‘He’s giving out the invitations tomorrow. An ex-Liverpool player’s going to coach us.’
‘Sounds good,’ I said.
We began across the playground, with Adrian still chatting excitedly about the forthcoming football party, and Paula proudly pushing the pram and shushing Adrian not to disturb Harrison, while Harrison was trying to open his eyes and see what all the fuss was about. I wondered if Harrison’s mother had fully appreciated the joy of being with children when she’d made the decision not to see her son; or perhaps she had and, unable to keep Harrison, had decided that no contact would be less painful than seeing him and having to say goodbye.
I was nearer the truth than I realized.
Chapter Five The Case
Normally when we arrive home from school we fall into an easy routine. The children play while I make dinner; then after dinner Adrian does his homework while I hear Paula read. After that the children play or watch television until it’s time for a bath and bed. But today with a baby now part of our family the old routine vanished and organized chaos reigned. It began on the driveway before we’d even entered the house.
I’d parked the car, got out and opened the rear doors of the car, which had child locks on so couldn’t be opened from inside. Paula said she wanted to carry Harrison in his car seat into the house but I said it would be too heavy for her, so she sulked. Then Adrian opened the boot and began lifting out the chassis of the pram, which was helpful, except he accidentally caught Paula’s shoulder with his elbow and she, not having recovered from her pique, hollered – out of all proportion to the small bump she’d received. Adrian apologized but added that Paula shouldn’t have been standing in his way, so Paula retaliated by saying she hadn’t been in his way and he should be more careful. Harrison, whom I was holding in the carry car seat and who until now had been asleep, clearly felt it was time he joined in the fray and, opening his mouth wide, began to cry.
The situation didn’t improve indoors. I lay Harrison in the pram in the hall and began gently rocking him but without effect.
‘Perhaps he’s hungry,’ Paula suggested, still rubbing her shoulder.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘I fed him just before I came to school.’
‘Perhaps he’s done a poo,’ Adrian said. ‘Josh says his brother poos all the time and it’s runny and smells horrid.’
‘It’s possible,’ I said. I undid a couple of buttons on Harrison’s sleepsuit and checked his nappy but it was clean.
I continued rocking the pram but Harrison’s cries grew and he became quite angry and red in the face. Adrian and Paula offered more suggestions, trying to outdo each other: Harrison was too hot, too cold, not tired or ‘He wants his proper mummy,’ which didn’t help. Then they looked at me as though I should have known what was making Harrison cry and I started to feel inadequate that I didn’t. Instinctively I picked him up and as I did he let out a large burp and his body relaxed.
‘It’s wind,’ I said, as relieved as Harrison, and able to reclaim some of my parenting kudos. ‘I should have thought of that sooner.’
‘Yes,’ Adrian and Paula agreed, as I massaged Harrison’s back.
Once he was completely comfortable I returned him to the pram. ‘We’ll leave him to sleep,’ I said.
Adrian and Paula went off to play – separately – while I began to make dinner, but fifteen minutes later the phone rang, which startled Harrison and he began to cry again. ‘I’ll answer it,’ Adrian offered, seizing the opportunity. I didn’t normally allow the children to answer the phone in case it was a nuisance call or a stranger but on this occasion I gratefully agreed.
‘It’s Nana,’ Adrian called from the sitting room as I rocked the pram in the hall. ‘She wants to know if you’re coping all right.’
I thought she could probably hear the answer in Harrison’s cries. ‘Tell Nana I’ll phone her back later,’ I called, and Adrian relayed this to my mother.
A few minutes later Harrison went back to sleep. I returned to the kitchen to make dinner, and Adrian and Paula followed me, complaining they were hungry. I gave them an apple each and told them to play in the garden, as it was a nice day. Then twenty minutes later Harrison woke again and screamed with a vengeance. This time I thought he was probably hungry, as it had been nearly three hours since he’d last been fed. Hearing his cries Adrian and Paula dashed in from the garden and I asked them to gently rock the pram while I made up a bottle, emphasizing the ‘gently’, which they did. Once I’d made up the bottle, remembering the bib, I carried Harrison into the sitting room, where I sat on the sofa, with Adrian and Paula either side of me, and gave him his bottle. I think the children were a little bit impressed that I knew how to make up a bottle and feed a baby, as they’d never seen me do it before: how to tilt the bottle at the right angle so that Harrison didn’t take in air, and stopping every so often to sit him forward and wind him when he obligingly burped.
Then suddenly Adrian exclaimed: ‘Mum, you are silly! It’s not Monday!’
I looked at him. ‘I know, love. It’s Wednesday.’
‘So why have you put Harrison in that bib with Monday on it?’ Adrian said, laughing; Paula laughed too. The bibs I’d bought were embroidered with days of the week and I’d taken the wrong one from the packet.
‘I’ve been busy,’ I said. And I think they began to realize I wasn’t as organized as I usually was and needed their help and cooperation.
‘I’ll get the right bib,’ Adrian said, and went into the kitchen.
‘Shall I get Harry’s froggy rattle from upstairs?’ Paula asked, also wanting to help.
Once Harrison had finished his bottle, Adrian and Paula came with me upstairs while I changed Harrison’s nappy, and I remembered to use the disposable gloves this time. Then they followed me downstairs, where I lay Harrison in the pram to sleep while I finished making dinner. We ate eventually – over an hour later than usual – and I knew I needed to establish a new routine that incorporated Harrison’s needs as well as Adrian’s and Paula’s. I also knew it was important that Adrian and Paula felt included by helping, which would reinforce that we were working together as a team.
That night I managed to get Paula into bed and off to sleep before Harrison woke for his eight o’clock feed. I’d noticed that he seemed to want feeding every three hours, as Adrian and Paula had done as babies, rather than four-hourly as suggested by some parenting guides. Fortunately his cries didn’t wake Paula, and Adrian, who was still up, rocked the pram while I made up the bottle; then he sat beside me on the sofa, gently stroking Harrison’s tiny hand while I fed him. Adrian, like many boys his age, put on a bit of male bravado in front of Paula (and other girls), but underneath he was a very kind and sensitive lad who tended to internalize his worries.
‘Why isn’t Harry with his mother?’ Adrian asked quietly, as Harrison’s little hand curled around Adrian’s forefinger.
‘She can’t look after him?’ I said. ‘I don’t know why.’
‘That’s very sad,’ Adrian said. ‘Can’t someone help her to look after him?’
‘I hope the social services will be able to suggest something, so she’ll be able to,’ I said.
Adrian went quiet and then suddenly kissed my cheek. ‘I’m glad you can look after us,’ he said. ‘I love you so much. You’re the best mother ever.’
My eyes immediately filled. ‘Thank you, love,’ I said, returning his kiss. ‘You’re the best son ever. You and Paula mean the world to me, which I hope you both know.’
Adrian nodded and, slipping his arm around my waist, rested his head on my shoulder, while Harrison took the rest of his bottle holding Adrian’s finger.
Once Harrison had finished feeding I winded him and then I told Adrian he should get ready for bed while I settled Harrison in his cot for the night. I’d have to decide when would be the best time to incorporate a bath in Harrison’s routine, but for tonight I wiped his face and hands with a flannel and cleaned his bottom thoroughly when I changed his nappy. The stump of the umbilical cord was still attached and, using a cotton bud, I also cleaned around Harrison’s bellybutton. It was nearly nine o’clock by the time Harrison was in his cot and asleep, and Adrian was washed, changed into his pyjamas and in bed waiting for me to say goodnight.
As I entered Adrian’s room he reminded me that I needed to phone Nana and Grandpa, to return their call.
‘Thanks,’ I said, giving him a hug. ‘And thanks for all your help. I’ll phone them now. You get off to sleep now, love. School tomorrow.’
‘Only three weeks to the end of term!’ Adrian said, snuggling down and grinning. He was looking forward to the end of the school year and the long summer holidays, and although we wouldn’t be going away he knew I was planning days out, including some to the coast.
I kissed Adrian goodnight, went downstairs and then phoned my parents from the sitting room.
Mum answered. ‘How’s it going?’ she asked a little anxiously as soon as she heard it was me.
‘Good. Harrison’s feeding well and is asleep now – in the cot in my room.’ We chatted for a while and then we arranged for her and Dad to come to dinner on Sunday.
I knew Harrison would wake for feeding at least once in the night, if not more, and I wanted to be prepared. Going into the kitchen I checked I had enough sterilized bottles to see me through the night and then I took the tin of formula from the cupboard and placed it ready on the work surface. Wanting to make sure I also had everything ready for changing him at night, I went upstairs and into the spare bedroom. I would take Harrison in there to change him. The changing mat was on the bed and I put the baby wipes and nappy bags within reach. I also took a clean sleepsuit from the packet.
I went to the window to draw the curtains. The sun was just setting and the sky was clear. One lone star twinkled in the distance and I immediately thought of Michael, the little boy I’d fostered the year before (whose story I tell in The Night the Angels Came). He’d taken great comfort in looking at the night sky when his father had been very ill. Many nights we’d stood together at the window, gazing at the stars, which Michael had said made him think of heaven.
Slowly closing the curtains, I turned from the window. The trolley case, which I’d brought up earlier, stood in the corner of the room. Although I wouldn’t need the clothes Harrison’s mother had packed – I had plenty of first-size sleepsuits – I thought I should at least look in the case, if not unpack it tonight. I laid it flat on the floor. It was a good-quality case and appeared to be brand-new. Kneeling, I unzipped the top of the case and lifted the flap. I stared in amazement.
It was packed full of neatly arranged brand-new baby clothes, all taken from their packets and folded so that they wouldn’t crease. As I moved some of those at the top I saw that in addition to the first-size clothes, 0–3 months, there were clothes to fit an older baby – in fact every size up to twelve months. Vests, socks, romper suits, little trousers with matching tops, sleepsuits, first-size shoes, slippers, boots, a coat and a woolly hat with matching mittens for winter. I noticed that all the clothes were for boys, so it appeared that Rihanna had known she was expecting a boy, presumably from the scan. There was also a small cuddly teddy bear and a panda.
I stayed where I was, kneeling on the floor, and stared at the open case, puzzled. A new case, possibly bought for the purpose of carrying Harrison’s clothes, full of carefully selected and lovingly packed first-year clothes and two cuddly toys: it didn’t make sense. Surely this wasn’t the work of an abusive or negligent mother who was deemed to be unfit to parent her child? It couldn’t be. Jill had said Harrison’s mother wasn’t drink or drug dependent, which really only left two alternatives for a newborn baby coming into foster care. Either Rihanna had mental health problems that stopped her from parenting, or she was a young teenage mother, pregnant by accident, who’d decided to give up her baby and continue her education (and life). Yet the expensive and stylish trolley case with its carefully and lovingly planned first-year clothes simply didn’t fit either of these images. And why clothes for twelve months? Perhaps Harrison’s mother had put her baby into foster care temporarily – for a year – and planned to return and parent him, although this was highly unlikely, as I knew the social services wouldn’t tolerate a mother using the care service for extended babysitting. Usually I’m told why a child is brought into foster care, but all I had now was a healthy baby and a case of brand-new baby clothes.
Then I spotted a white envelope tucked into the pocket at the back of the case. I reached in and took it out. There was nothing written on the outside of the envelope but as I opened the handwritten letter I saw it began: Dear Foster Carer.
It was from Harrison’s mother. I read on:
This is a very sad time for me, as I’m sure you know. I have cried every day since I first found out I was expecting and I am crying now as I write this letter. I have prayed for a solution that would allow me to keep my son, but there is none. In my heart I always knew that would be true and I have had to be very brave and plan for my son’s future, as much as I’m allowed to. Would you dress him in the clothes I have bought and put the soft toys in his cot, please? I would be very grateful if you would. Knowing Harrison is wearing the outfits I chose for him and has the cuddly toys close by when he sleeps will be a comfort to me. The social worker offered to send me some photographs of my baby but I have refused. It would be too painful for me to see them. I know I couldn’t cope. I hope I’ve bought enough clothes for Harrison’s first year; after that his adopted parents will decide what he is going to wear. You must be a very good kind woman.
God bless you.
I stopped reading and looked up, the letter in one hand and the open case in front of me; tears stung the back of my eyes. I could feel the love and concern that poor woman had for her child reaching out to me from the words of her letter and the lovingly packed clothes. I could also feel her sadness. But her letter raised more questions than it answered. Although I now understood why Rihanna had bought the clothes, and for the first year – Harrison would be adopted by the end of the year – I still had no understanding of why she couldn’t keep her son. She obviously wanted to, and she sounded kind and loving. She appeared articulate and educated, and something in the style of her words suggested a mature woman, not a teenager. Yet for whatever reason she had accepted that adoption was the only answer, and her finality was chilling, for she would know that once Harrison was adopted there would be no going back and Harrison would become someone else’s son for ever.
Slowly refolding the letter I returned it to the envelope and tucked it into my pocket. I then took the cuddly panda and teddy bear from the case and closed the lid. Standing, I carried the soft toys round the landing to my bedroom, where I placed them at the foot of Harrison’s cot. Harrison was sleeping peacefully, lightly swaddled and on his side as I’d left him. Tomorrow I would follow his mother’s wishes and dress him in the clothes she’d bought, and I would continue to do so every day until he left me to be adopted. When the social worker visited I would ask her to tell Harrison’s mother I was carrying out her wishes. It was the least I could do, and I hoped it would give Rihanna some comfort.
Chapter Six The Mystery Deepens
I fed and changed Harrison before I went to bed, and he woke at 2.00 a.m. for a feed. I heard his little whimper first, which allowed me enough time to go downstairs, make up his bottle and return before his cry really took hold. I sat on my bed, leaning against the pillows, as I fed him, as I used to when I’d fed Adrian and Paula. Once Harrison had finished his bottle I winded him and carried him round the landing to what would eventually be his bedroom, where I changed him before returning him to his cot in my room.
I lay in bed with the faint glow of the street lamp coming through the curtains and listened to Harrison’s little snuffles of contentment as he slowly drifted back to sleep, just as I had lain there listening to Adrian and Paula when they’d been babies. I felt a warm glow from knowing Harrison was safe, fed and comfortable – the same nurturing instinct that bonds a mother with her baby. There’s a lot of research that shows this bond (known as attachment) is not so much biological or genetic as a result of nurturing, after the baby is born. As I would be forming an attachment to Harrison so he would form an attachment to me, and he would transfer this attachment to his adopted parents when the time came. Babies who are not nurtured never form that first attachment and can develop emotional and physical difficulties in childhood and in adult life.
Harrison didn’t wake again until six o’clock, which was considerate, as I was already surfacing from sleep by then. I heard his little cry and I was out of bed, downstairs and returning with his bottle before he was crying with hunger. As I had done during the night, I fed him in my bed and then carried him round to his bedroom, where I changed his nappy. I dressed him in one of the sleepsuits from the case Rihanna had sent. ‘It’s from your mum,’ I said, picking him up and kissing his cheek. He wrinkled his little nose endearingly, so I kissed him again. He was a truly gorgeous baby, and also, so far, a very good baby. I returned him to his cot in my bedroom and he obligingly went straight back to sleep.
I showered and dressed so that when I woke Adrian and Paula at seven o’clock for school it was to a calm and well-ordered house. Paula wanted to see Harrison straightaway and tiptoed round to my bedroom in her nightdress. Adrian said he wanted his breakfast first but then couldn’t resist a quick peep at Harrison en route to the bathroom.
I guessed that as Harrison had been fed at six o’clock he was likely to need feeding again at about nine o’clock, when I would be driving home from taking Adrian and Paula to school, so to be safe I took a carton of ready-made milk and a sterilized bottle with us in a bag. However, despite being moved in and out of the car, Harrison didn’t wake until after I’d taken Adrian and Paula to school and had returned home. Once Harrison had finished his bottle and I’d changed his nappy he didn’t want to go back to sleep immediately, so I sat him in the bouncing cradle in the sitting room and took the opportunity to take some photographs of him. While I knew from his mother’s letter she didn’t want photographs of Harrison, the pictures I took would be an important record of Harrison’s first months both for him when he was older and for the adoptive parents, who obviously weren’t here to see him as a baby. These photographs, together with his Life Story book, which I would put together – detailing his development and significant events – would go with him when he left and would be a record of his past. Children who are brought up by their own parents have a living record of shared memories in their family, but once a foster child leaves the foster home he or she leaves behind the family’s collective history, which is why the photographs and Life Story book are so important.
As well as making a Life Story book all foster carers have to keep a daily record of the foster child’s development and general well-being, which is filed at the social services when the child leaves the foster carer. Jill, as my support social worker, always checked this record when she visited; it was a fostering procedural requirement. I had already started a folder on Harrison the evening before and with him now sitting contentedly in his bouncing cradle I updated the record, making a note of his feeds during the night and that he had settled easily after feeding. I had put the letter from his mother in the folder and once I’d finished writing I placed the folder on the coffee table, ready for Jill’s arrival at 10.30 – in half an hour. I was looking forward to Jill coming so that I could show her Harrison, of whom I was very proud, and also to hear what she had to tell me about Harrison’s background and his mother. Never before had I fostered a child who had so much mystery surrounding him.
‘Where is the little fellow?’ Jill said, bustling past me as soon as I opened the front door, clearly more eager to see Harrison than me.
‘In the sitting room,’ I said, closing the door. ‘Coffee?’
‘Yes please.’ She disappeared into the sitting room. There was a short pause before I heard her exclaim: ‘Oh! What a lovely baby! What a darling! He’s awake. Isn’t he alert?’
‘Yes,’ I called back, going into the kitchen to make coffee.
‘He looks older than a newborn, doesn’t he?’ Jill called.
‘Yes. I think it’s all that hair,’ I returned. ‘Are you having milk and sugar in your coffee today?’ I was aware Jill’s answer would depend on whether she was on a diet or not.
‘Just milk, please.’ So I thought she was.
‘Oh, go on then.’
I arranged the two mugs of coffee and a plate of biscuits on the tray and carried them through to the sitting room. Jill was kneeling in front of Harrison in his bouncing cradle, making all sorts of silly noises that adults manage to produce for babies. Harrison didn’t seem to mind and was keeping Jill amused by appearing to smile at her and cutely wrinkling his little nose as he did for us.
‘I’ll put your coffee on the table,’ I said to Jill.
‘Who’s a beautiful boy, then?’ Jill replied, massaging Harrison’s little foot through the sleepsuit. ‘Are you being a good boy for Cathy? Are you eating and sleeping well?’
‘Yes, he is,’ I answered, taking my coffee to the armchair. ‘He woke at two and six but went straight off to sleep again.’
‘What a good boy! Coochicoo. Who’s a sweetie-pie? Would you like a cuddle?’
‘I’m sure he would,’ I said.
Jill carefully lifted Harrison out of the bouncing cradle and then sat on the sofa with him cradled in her arms, grinning and talking to him. Clearly I was superfluous to needs and could have just easily got on with the housework. However, I appreciated the fascination a newborn baby held for Jill who, like most adults with the chance to see and hold one, found a tiny baby irresistible and was mesmerized by the incredible miracle of new life – so small but perfect in every way.
‘I’ll put your coffee within reach,’ I said after a while, standing and moving the coffee table closer to the sofa.
‘Thanks,’ Jill said, and then she cooed and cuddled Harrison again, pausing briefly to sip her coffee.
‘I didn’t see Harrison’s mother at the hospital yesterday,’ I said after a moment. ‘She’d left before I arrived.’
‘Yes, Cheryl told me,’ Jill said, glancing up. ‘Pity you didn’t get the chance to meet her. Apparently she’s a lovely lady. Sad, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. She sent a case of new clothes for Harrison and there was a letter for me in the case.’ I took the letter from the folder and passed it to Jill. With Harrison cradled in her left arm Jill held the letter out to the right and read it. Then she handed it back to me with a small sigh.
‘I’m doing as she asked,’ I said, returning the letter to the folder. ‘It’s the least I can do. The soft toys are in Harrison’s cot and he’s wearing one of the sleepsuits she bought.’
‘Good,’ Jill said, briefly glancing at me before returning her attention to Harrison.
‘I’m guessing Harrison isn’t in care because of concerns that Mum could abuse or neglect him?’ I persisted.
‘That’s right,’ Jill said, looking at Harrison.
‘And I’m guessing Harrison’s mother isn’t a teenager either?’
‘No.’ Jill paused, and finally gave me her full attention. ‘Cathy, Harrison is in care under a Section 20 – a Voluntary Care Order. It was his mother’s decision to place him in care and she’s been working with the social services. She has Harrison’s best interests at heart and has requested that he be adopted. Cathy, what I’m going to tell you is highly confidential and I know you will respect that. Cheryl knows the full story and may share some more information with you tomorrow, but for now I need to tell you that Harrison’s existence is a complete secret and has to remain so.’
I frowned, puzzled. ‘What do you mean a complete secret? Surely that’s impossible?’
‘His birth will be registered by his mother in the normal way; it has to be by law. He will be known as Harrison Smith until he is adopted, when he will have the surname of his adoptive parents. Apart from his mother no one knows his true identity. His mother checked in and out of the hospital using the surname Smith. Rihanna agreed to cooperate with the social services only under the strictest confidentiality. If his birth were to be known it could have dire consequences.’
Jill stopped and I looked at her while I tried to make sense of what she was saying. I understood Section 20 of the Children’s Act: it makes provision for parents voluntarily to place their child (or children) in foster care if there is a good reason. Harrison’s mother wanting her son to be adopted would be a good enough reason. There are no court proceedings with a Section 20 and the parent(s) retains legal responsibility for the child, although the child lives with a foster carer. I understood this much; it was the rest I didn’t understand.
‘Why?’ I asked at length. ‘Why all the secrecy?’
‘Harrison’s parents are not married and cannot marry. Their relationship should never have happened.’
‘But Jill!’ I exclaimed. ‘We live in the twenty-first century. I still don’t understand. Lots of couples have babies without being married; some single women do too. And even if Harrison was a result of an affair I still don’t see why all this secrecy and fuss.’ I stopped and looked at Jill.
‘Think about it. What reason can you think of for keeping it a secret?’
I continued to look at Jill, and the answer slowly dawned. ‘One or both of the parents is a well-known public figure?’
Jill nodded. ‘That was the conclusion my manager and I came to. And we guess it’s Harrison’s father who is famous – otherwise his mother would probably have booked into a private clinic to have her baby rather than an NHS hospital. If Cheryl does know the true identity of the father she won’t be sharing it with us, and we don’t need to know – it doesn’t affect your care of Harrison. Both parents are healthy, as is Harrison: that’s all we need to know.’
I nodded but my imagination was working overtime. A famous father – who could it be? A footballer? A film star or pop idol? A Member of Parliament? The Prime Minister? An archbishop? Royalty? There was no limit to my imagination and scenes from the historical novels I’d read flashed through my mind. I could be looking after a baby whose existence could alter the course of history!
‘So I’m fostering a little superstar?’ I said with a smile.
‘Pretend you don’t know that,’ Jill said. ‘If the press got wind of it they’d investigate until they found out.’
‘I’ll be careful,’ I said. ‘As far as everyone is concerned he’s just Harrison Smith, the baby I’m fostering.’ I paused thoughtfully, remembering Rihanna’s letter. I looked at Jill. I was worried. ‘I think Harrison’s mother could have been put under pressure to give up her baby,’ I said. ‘She clearly wanted to keep him. She says in her letter she cried continuously and prayed for a solution that would allow her to keep him.’
‘Yes,’ Jill said. ‘It sounds that way, but that’s for Cheryl and the social services to look into. Show Cheryl that letter when she visits tomorrow, although I’m sure she’s aware of how Mum feels.’
I nodded. ‘I wonder if there is any way Rihanna could keep Harrison, with support?’
‘No,’ Jill said emphatically. ‘Cheryl is very clear about that. It’s out of the question. She’s not allowed to.’
‘Not allowed to?’
‘They are Cheryl’s words, not mine. You know as much as I do now. As I say, it’s possible Cheryl may tell you more tomorrow, but I doubt it. If she does, tell me.’
I nodded. Harrison had fallen asleep in Jill’s arms and she seemed content to leave him there while we talked. One of his little fists was resting on his chin as it did sometimes, giving him the appearance of being deep in thought, and I thought if he knew the mystery surrounding his birth he’d have a lot to think about.
We both finished our coffee and the biscuits and Jill asked to see my log notes. I lifted Harrison out of her arms and laid him, still asleep, in his pram in the hall. Returning to the sitting room, I gave Jill my folder and she read and signed the daily log. She asked if I had everything I needed to look after Harrison and I said I did; then, once we’d finished, she stood to leave. We went down the hall, past the pram where Harrison was still sleeping peacefully, and we both looked in.
‘You know, Jill,’ I said, ‘despite all the precautions that are being taken to protect Harrison’s true identity, it could still slip out. These things do have a habit of becoming known.’
Jill turned from the pram and looked at me, her expression deathly serious. ‘It can’t,’ she said bluntly. ‘Cheryl said that if it ever became known that Rihanna had had this baby and who the father was, she’d have to go into hiding. Her life would be in danger. I know it sounds incredible but we don’t know all the details. Cheryl is adamant that Rihanna’s worries are real and have to be acted on.’
Chapter Seven Abandoned
After Jill’s visit and her parting comments that Rihanna’s life could be in danger if Harrison’s existence became known, I had the unsettling feeling that I was becoming involved in something I would rather not have been. It seemed incredible to me that a mother could be in danger from simply having a baby. If it was all true, and Rihanna hadn’t fabricated the story surrounding Harrison’s paternity (for whatever reason), then I felt the sooner Harrison was adopted and settled into his new life the better for all concerned. I knew, however, that it was likely to take the best part of a year for the social services to find and vet a suitable adoptive family and for the legal process to be completed.
Fortunately I was busy for most of that day, so I didn’t have too much time for speculation or worrying. Just after Jill left the health visitor telephoned and, introducing herself as Grace, asked if it would be possible for her to visit us that afternoon, so we arranged for her to come at 1.30. Harrison had a bottle at twelve noon and I had some lunch; then while he slept I went upstairs and unpacked the clothes his mother had sent. As I folded the items neatly into the wardrobe and drawers in his room my thoughts went again to Rihanna who, according to her letter, would find some comfort in knowing her baby was wearing these clothes. It touched me again, and I hoped Cheryl would make sure Rihanna knew I was carrying out her wishes when I told her the following day.
Once I’d finished unpacking the case I stowed it out of the way on top of the wardrobe and went downstairs, where Harrison was just waking.
‘Hi, little man,’ I said, gently lifting him out of the pram. ‘Aren’t you a good boy?’ He wrinkled his nose and I kissed his cheek. ‘What a little treasure you are!’ I told him as I carried him into the sitting room. He didn’t need feeding again, so I sat on the sofa and cuddled him.
When Grace, the health visitor, arrived at exactly 1.30 the house was tidy and Harrison was wide awake and sitting contently in the bouncing cradle in the sitting room. I hoped Grace was impressed.
‘He’s very alert for a newborn baby,’ Grace said, going over and making a fuss of him. She then joined me on the sofa and asked me about Harrison’s feeding and sleeping routine, before she took the red book from her bag and began talking me through it.
‘I’ve filled in as much as I can,’ she said, turning to the first page. ‘But I’ve got quite a few blanks and some of it – about the mother – won’t be relevant as he’s in care.’
As I looked at the first page I saw that Harrison’s name, date of birth, weight and length at birth had been filled in, together with the results of the standard tests that are performed on all newborn babies at the hospital just after they’re born. But the next page – about the mother’s contact details – was blank.
‘I assume I put your contact details in here?’ she asked me.
‘I should think so,’ I said. I gave Grace my full name, date of birth and GP’s name and address. ‘You’d better add “foster mother” at the top of the page,’ I suggested, which she did.
The red book is quite an important document and includes health and development checks and immunizations. It is usually kept updated until the child is five years of age, sometimes for longer. Harrison’s red book would go with him when he was adopted. There were now some questions about the mother’s health during pregnancy, which I couldn’t answer, and if the baby’s birth was normal, which Cheryl had told Jill it was.
‘As far as I know it was a normal birth,’ I said, ‘and I understand both parents were healthy and weren’t addicts.’ It was important that, as the health visitor, Grace knew this. ‘But I’m afraid I don’t know any more.’
‘I’m concerned,’ Grace said, suddenly frowning and looking from the red book to me. ‘Health visitors are supposed to visit the mother when she is expecting to make sure she has the right health care, but I was never informed this mother was expecting. I’m going to look into it when I get back to the office. Clearly something has gone wrong here and I’m wondering how many other expectant mothers have been missed off the computer system. As soon as a mother goes to her GP or clinic,’ Grace explained, ‘and has a positive pregnancy test, her details are entered on the computer so that we can look after her and the baby. Also Harrison’s mother will need a postpartum check-up – between four to six weeks after the birth – and very likely emotional support. It’s not good enough. I’ll ask my manager to look into it.’
I doubted it was a computer error that had led to Harrison’s mother not appearing on the health-care system. But if I told Grace what I knew – that Smith probably wasn’t Rihanna’s real name, and her pregnancy and indeed Harrison’s existence were a closely guarded secret and had to remain so – it would have sparked Grace’s curiosity and led to more questions. I didn’t want to be the one to send Grace on a hunt that might find Rihanna, even though she had the best of intentions.
‘I suppose it’s just one of those computer errors,’ I said vaguely.
Grace shook her head, clearly worried. ‘I’ll look into it,’ she said.
Setting the red book to one side, Grace took a set of portable scales from her large nurse’s bag and assembled them. I remembered Adrian and Paula being weighed on similar scales and I gently lifted Harrison into the scales. Grace made a note of his weight on a form and also in the red book. ‘He’s the same as his birth weight,’ Grace said. ‘Which is good. That means he’s already made up the weight he lost after the birth.’ I also knew from having Adrian and Paula that babies often lose weight immediately after birth and can take a week or longer to regain it. Grace then measured Harrison from head to toe, and tested his reflexes and responses to light and sound. Reassuring me he was perfectly normal, she made a note of the results on her form and also in the red book.
‘We carry out further developmental checks at eight weeks, six months, and then eighteen months,’ Grace said. ‘But obviously if you have any concerns about Harrison’s development contact us or your GP straightaway.’
‘I will,’ I said.
‘I’ll send a copy of all my notes to the social services for their files,’ Grace said. ‘What’s the care plan for Harrison? Rehab home?’ Grace was referring to the care plan the social services would have drawn up for Harrison’s long-term future; ‘rehab home’ was the term used for preparing a child to return home.
‘I believe he’s going to be adopted,’ I said.
A look of pain and concern flickered across Grace’s face. ‘Oh dear. Is he really? And he’s such a lovely baby. Oh well, I suppose it’s for the best. At least he’s young enough to have a fresh start.’ I nodded. As a health visitor Grace would go into homes where babies and young children didn’t have a very good start in life and one of her roles would be to monitor those children and alert the social services about her concerns. ‘Why can’t his mother look after him?’ she asked after a moment.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, which was the truth.
Grace then asked if I would like her to visit Harrison and me at home again or if I could take him to the clinic or GP to be weighed in future. I said I would go to the clinic and she made a note of this in her file. She then handed me the red book, which I knew I had to keep safe and take with me each time I went to the clinic, when the nurse would enter Harrison’s weight, dates of vaccinations and also the results of the developmental checks.
‘Well, if you haven’t any questions I’ll be off now,’ Grace said, dismantling the scales and putting them in her nurse’s bag together with her record sheets.
‘I can’t think of anything,’ I said. ‘I’ll phone the clinic if I need advice.’
‘You’re doing a good job,’ she said, smiling. ‘I’ll see you next week at the clinic, when you bring Harrison to be weighed.’
‘Yes.’ I thanked Grace and, leaving Harrison in his bouncing cradle for a minute, I saw her out.
Returning to the sitting room I lifted Harrison out of the bouncing cradle and carried him upstairs, where I changed his nappy. It was now 2.30 and time to be thinking about collecting Adrian and Paula from school.
Downstairs again I took a ready-made carton of milk and a sterilized bottle from the kitchen and at 2.45 began getting Harrison and the pram chassis into the car. I arrived in the playground with five minutes to spare and I joined a couple of friends. As we talked I gently rocked Harrison in the pram; I didn’t feel quite so conspicuous now I was more confident in fostering a baby. Adrian and Paula came out of school with their news, including what each of them had liked and disliked of their school dinner, and I drove home.
The evening ran more smoothly than the previous evening, as I began to establish a routine. Dinner was only a little late, and after dinner I gave Harrison his bath while Adrian and Paula played, so I had time to read Adrian and Paula a bedtime story once I’d settled Harrison in his cot. I gave Harrison a feed before I went to bed and he fell asleep immediately.
Later, as I lay in bed with Harrison asleep in his cot, I wondered again about Harrison’s parents and if Grace would succeed in finding his mother. I doubted she would, without Rihanna’s correct surname, date of birth or last known address. I’d no idea where Rihanna lived or what she looked like. The English in her letter was perfect and she’d made no cultural requests in respect of Harrison’s care, so I assumed her family were very Westernized and that she’d probably been born in England. I’d already surmised she was well educated and mature, not a teenage mother. I knew nothing of Harrison’s father other than that he was very likely a public figure, which didn’t narrow it down much. I wondered if, in years to come, when Harrison was older, he would want to trace his natural parents, as some adopted children do, and what success he’d have. Would it be possible for him to find his parents when they’d gone to so much trouble to hide their identities? I didn’t know.
I was used to children coming into foster care with information about their background arriving piecemeal, so their sad stories slowly came together like pieces in a jigsaw. But that wouldn’t happen with Harrison. He was like a baby abandoned at a railway station with a note from his mother asking for him to be looked after, and I wondered what effect not knowing his origins would have on him as he grew older. Unless, of course, his adoptive parents didn’t tell him he was adopted, in which case if he ever found out by accident he would be devastated.
Chapter Eight Stranger at the Door
‘Oh, isn’t he gorgeous?’ Cheryl, the social worker, enthused as I opened the front door with Harrison in my arms the following day. I’d just fed and changed him, so he was wide awake and contented. ‘The nurses at the hospital said he was a lovely baby but this is my first chance to see him.’
Cheryl and I shook hands and I led the way down the hall and into the sitting room. I hadn’t met Cheryl before; she was of medium height and build and I guessed in her mid-thirties. She was dressed smartly in black trousers and a white blouse. I’d no idea how long she’d been qualified as a social worker, nor how much experience she had, but she seemed very pleasant.
‘Can I get you a tea or coffee?’ I asked as we entered the sitting room. ‘Or a cold drink?’
‘A coffee would be lovely – thank you. I’ve come straight from a meeting and I’m gasping.’
‘Would you like something to eat as well? I offered. ‘I can soon make you a sandwich.’ I’d had social workers arrive before having not had time to eat or even drink.
‘That’s kind of you, but a coffee will be lovely. I’ll pick up something to eat on the way back to the office. I’ve another meeting at two o’clock. Can I hold him?’ Cheryl asked, sitting on the sofa and looking longingly at Harrison in my arms.
‘Of course.’ I laid Harrison in her arms and went into the kitchen to make coffee. I could hear Cheryl talking to Harrison as Jill had done, only without all the funny noises: ‘Aren’t you a cute baby? Are you being a good boy? You certainly look very healthy’ and so on.
‘He’s doing very well,’ I said as I returned with Cheryl’s coffee and a plate of biscuits, which I placed on the coffee table within her reach. ‘The health visitor came yesterday,’ I continued, updating her. ‘She weighed and measured him and checked his hearing and sight; everything is fine. She’s given me his red book and I’ll be taking him to the clinic next week for weighing. She said she’d send you a copy of all her notes.’
‘Thank you,’ Cheryl said. ‘Shall I put Harrison in his bouncing cradle while we talk and I have my coffee?’
‘I usually put him in his pram for a sleep about now,’ I said. ‘Is that all right?’
‘Yes, of course. Go ahead. Don’t let me disrupt your routine.’
I carefully lifted Harrison from Cheryl’s arms and carried him down the hall, where I settled him into his pram, before returning to the sitting room. Cheryl had taken a wad of forms – the paperwork I needed – from her briefcase and now handed them to me.
‘I think everything is there,’ she said. ‘Although I’m afraid the information form doesn’t tell you any more than you already know.’
I nodded and, sitting in the armchair, I looked through the paperwork as Cheryl sipped her coffee and ate a biscuit. The forms I needed were all here, although as Cheryl had already said there was nothing new to be learned from them. The essential information forms and placement forms, which usually contain background information and contact details of the child’s natural family, were largely unfilled in. However, the last sheet – the medical consent form – contained a nearly illegible signature beginning with R, which I assumed to be Rihanna’s signature. I needed this signed form in case I had to seek medical treatment for Harrison, including vaccinations. But it seemed strange to see Rihanna’s signature on the form, given that she had severed all contact with Harrison.
‘So you’re still in contact with Harrison’s mother?’ I asked.
‘Only through her solicitor now,’ Cheryl clarified. ‘She gives Rihanna any forms that need signing.” I nodded. ‘You understand why there is so little information in this case and why strict confidentiality has to be respected?’ Cheryl now asked.
I hesitated. ‘I only know what Jill has told me: that Harrison’s birth has to be kept a secret. I don’t know the reason. Were you aware that Rihanna sent a case of clothes for Harrison, together with a letter addressed to the foster carer?’
Reaching over I took my fostering folder from the bookshelf and slid out Rihanna’s letter, which I passed to Cheryl. While she read the letter I went down the hall and checked on Harrison in his pram; he was fast asleep. I returned to the sitting room and Cheryl handed me back the letter, with a small sigh.
‘This is one of the saddest cases I’ve ever come across,’ she said. ‘As you realize from this letter, Rihanna wanted to keep her baby but couldn’t – for reasons I am not allowed to go into.’
‘Is she being forced into giving up her child?’ I asked, worried. ‘Her letter seems to suggest she could be. Jill thought so too.’
‘Only by circumstances,’ Cheryl said. She paused, as though collecting her thoughts, and I knew she was about to tell me what she could of Harrison’s background. ‘Rihanna first came to the attention of the social services four months ago,’ Cheryl began. ‘The duty social worker took a call from her on a private number late one evening. Rihanna was in a bad way, sobbing hysterically on the phone and saying she had done something terrible. She sounded desperate and the duty social was very concerned. He spent a long time talking to her and tried to persuade her to tell him where she was or come into the offices the following day, when she could be helped. But just as he thought he was getting through to her she severed the call. Then two days later Rihanna phoned the social services again during the day and I took the call. She was still very distressed but seemed to be more open to what I was saying – perhaps because I was a woman. After much persuading she finally agreed to meet me. She said she couldn’t come to the offices in case she was seen but agreed to meet me in a coffee shop out of town.’
Cheryl paused to take a sip of her coffee and I sat, very quiet and still, waiting for her to continue.
‘Rihanna was not what I expected,’ Cheryl said. ‘She is a mature woman with a successful career and a very responsible job. She is normally level-headed but because of the circumstances she found herself in she was very distressed and couldn’t think straight. She was five months pregnant at the time, so it was too late for a termination and I doubt she could have gone through with that anyway. She said she wanted her baby adopted and agreed to cooperate with the social services as long as I was the only social worker she had to deal with. I had to explain there was certain information I would have to share with my manager – in the strictest confidence – and Rihanna accepted this. When she told me her situation I completely understood why she was so distressed and the strict rules she had put in place to protect her identity. Her fears for her safety are very real.’
‘But are they really?’ I asked, seizing the opportunity as Cheryl paused to finish her coffee. ‘I appreciate you can’t divulge the details but I find it incredible that a woman’s life can be in danger because she has a baby, in this country in this day and age.’
Cheryl put down her coffee cup and met my gaze, her expression very serious. ‘So did I to begin with, but once Rihanna had told me her full story I believed her. Her fears are real.’ She paused, her gaze flickering around the room before returning to me. ‘Cathy, I’m sure no one knows where Harrison is, and I’ve gone to great lengths to protect Rihanna’s identity, but if you do see anyone acting suspiciously in the street outside your house you must call me immediately. And if anyone you don’t know comes to the door and asks about Harrison or his mother, you need to phone the police.’
I looked at her, shocked. ‘But you said no one knew he was here,’ I said, a cold shiver running up my spine.
‘That’s right, and it should stay that way. I just want you to be aware.’
My unease grew. ‘I have two young children,’ I said. ‘I’m not putting them in danger by looking after Harrison, am I?’
‘No. If Harrison’s whereabouts were to become known, which is highly unlikely, we’d move him straightaway. But I’m sure it won’t come to that.’
I wasn’t so sure. I knew of cases where the foster carer’s address had been accidentally divulged to abusive and violent parents and the child had been moved immediately – to protect the child and also the foster family. Although in this case I didn’t know where the threat would come from because Rihanna certainly wasn’t an abusive parent; and Cheryl wasn’t going to tell me, as she’d changed the subject.
‘I met Rihanna a number of times during her pregnancy,’ Cheryl said. ‘I made sure she had her health-care check-ups and I’ll make sure she has her postpartum check-up too.’
‘Good,’ I said, trying to get my thoughts back on track. ‘The health visitor was worried about that. She was also concerned that Rihanna had been missed off the computer system and wasn’t receiving the support she needs.’
‘I’ll phone the health visitor and tell her I’m taking care of it,’ Cheryl said. I nodded. ‘As you know, Harrison will be adopted,’ Cheryl continued, ‘and we’re already pursuing that. We have plenty of approved prospective adoptive parents who have applied. He’ll be an easy baby to place.’
‘I see,’ I said, surprised that the adoption process was moving so quickly. ‘I’m taking plenty of photographs of Harrison, and I’m also beginning a Life Story book for the adoptive parents. Wouldn’t Rihanna like a few photos too? She might feel differently now.’
Cheryl shook her head. ‘I’ve spoken to her solicitor and she says Rihanna is still of the same mind and feels she couldn’t cope with reminders.’
‘Is she living alone?’ I asked, worried for her.
‘I believe so. As I said, Cathy, this is one of the saddest cases I’ve ever had to deal with. Rihanna is a lovely lady who would make a wonderful mother. It’s such a pity she won’t have that chance. I …’ Her voice trailed off and she stared thoughtfully across the room as though she had been about to say more but had stopped herself. ‘Anyway,’ she said after a moment, checking her watch. ‘If that’s everything, I’d better be going. I’ve another meeting soon. Thanks for the coffee and biscuits, and thanks for looking after Harrison. I’ll phone Rihanna’s solicitor when I get back to the office and tell her that he is doing well.’
‘Will you also tell her solicitor I am carrying out Rihanna’s wishes and dressing Harrison in the clothes she bought for him?’ I said. ‘They fit perfectly and he looks very smart. The soft toys Rihanna bought are at the foot of his cot, and his cot is close to my bed so that I can hear him as soon as he wakes at night. Please ask the solicitor to tell Rihanna, Harrison is a very good baby and rarely cries. He’s a delight to look after.’ I stopped as a lump rose in my throat.
‘I will, Cathy,’ Cheryl said. ‘I’ll tell her solicitor and she’ll pass it on to Rihanna. I know Rihanna would want me to thank you for looking after Harrison.’
‘There’s no need to thank me. I just wish things could be different for her.’
‘So do I, Cathy; so do I.’
After I’d seen Cheryl out I pushed Harrison in the pram to the local shops for some groceries I needed. It was a beautiful summer’s afternoon and a joy to walk in the warm air with the birds singing and gardens awash with colourful flowers. My thoughts went to Rihanna, as they often did when there was just Harrison and me, and I was sorry she would never be able to experience the simple pleasure of pushing her baby in his pram on a beautiful summer’s day; or later, when he was a toddler, of taking him to the park, or seeing him open his presents on his birthday and at Christmas. All these occasions create the precious memories we, as parents, have of our children and carry in our hearts forever. Well, at least the adoptive parents, whoever they may be, will be able to enjoy Harrison, I told myself. But whether Rihanna would ever be able to truly forget her son as she’d told Cheryl she was trying to do I doubted. Learn to live without him as the bereaved have to do, maybe, but not forget him. I was sure that would be impossible, just as I never forgot any of the children I’d fostered, even those who’d only stayed for a few days.
When I returned home I put away the groceries and it was time to collect Adrian and Paula from school. I was pleased it was Friday, which meant a break from the school routine, and my parents were visiting on Sunday, when they would see Harrison for the first time. Although Harrison wasn’t my baby my maternal instinct had resurfaced and I felt very proud and protective of him, which was just as well as he kept me up all Friday night for no obvious reason, so that by Saturday morning, far from feeling relaxed at the start of the weekend, I was exhausted from lack of sleep. Adrian and Paula had been woken by Harrison’s cries in the night too, when I’d paced my bedroom with Harrison in my arms trying to settle him, so they were tired and irritable, and bickered at the breakfast table. Then to make matters worse I got the shock of my life when I answered the front door to find a man I didn’t know asking me if I had a baby in the house!
Chapter Nine Section 20
‘A baby? Here?’ I said. ‘No, you’ve made a mistake.’ Then Harrison let out a cry from his pram behind me in the hall. ‘Well maybe – sort of. Why?’ I asked, my heart starting to pound.
The man in his thirties looked at me oddly, which was hardly surprising considering I didn’t appear to know if I owned a baby or not. ‘It’s just that I found this on the pavement outside your house,’ he said. ‘I thought it might be yours.’ He held up a yellow toy duck, which I recognized as Paula’s. She’d put it in Harrison’s pram the day before and it must have fallen out.
‘Oh yes, thank you,’ I said, smiling. I felt utterly relieved and a complete idiot. ‘That’s kind of you. I’m looking after a baby temporarily,’ I added, not sure if this made it look better or worse. ‘Thank you so much,’ I flustered.
‘You’re welcome,’ he said. He handed me the soft toy, which was only a little dusty from a night on the pavement. ‘I’ve got kids of my own, so I know how precious these toys can be.’
‘Thanks again,’ I said gratefully, closing the front door. But I knew that I needed to remember that, although I would be following Cheryl’s advice to be vigilant, not every stranger who came to my house or I passed in the street posed a threat; otherwise I would soon become paranoid.
Harrison was restless for the whole of Saturday morning for no obvious reason, as babies can be unsettled sometimes. I fed and changed him, winded him, and tried sitting him in the bouncing cradle, laying him in his pram and walking the house with him in my arms, but he refused to settle. Then I remembered that, following my mother’s advice, when Adrian and Paula had been unsettled as babies I’d put their pram in the garden – not so that I couldn’t hear them cry but because fresh air seemed to settle a fractious baby. I returned Harrison to his pram and then pushed it through the sitting room and out through the open French windows, and parked it on the patio. Almost immediately he stopped crying, placated by the new stimuli from being outside: the sights, sounds and smells of the garden and the feel of the fresh air on his face. I raised the pram hood so that the sun wasn’t directly on him and, while Adrian and Paula played further down the garden, I went indoors and cleared away the breakfast things, which were still on the table at 11.00 a.m. With the windows and French doors open I could hear Harrison if he woke and cried, and Adrian and Paula would also tell me if he woke. But when Harrison did eventually wake he didn’t cry but was content to lie in his pram and be entertained by all the different sensations from being outside. It was a good piece of advice from my mother and I know many mothers today do similar.
After lunch we went to our local park. It was a pleasant afternoon and I was looking forward to visiting the park more often when Adrian and Paula broke up from school for the summer holidays in two weeks’ time.
That night Harrison woke at 2.00 a.m. and then again at 5.30. He settled straightaway after each feed so that I had two three-hour slots of sleep, which was fine for me. I went back to bed at 6.00 and dozed off. When I woke it was nearly nine o’clock and it was to the harmonious sounds of Harrison gurgling contentedly in his cot and Paula and Adrian playing in their bedrooms. All three children kept themselves amused while I showered and dressed. Sundays in our house, as in many households, are more leisurely than weekdays, so we didn’t have breakfast until nearly ten o’clock, with Adrian and Paula still in their nightwear. After breakfast the children washed and dressed while I fed and changed Harrison, and by 12.30 p.m. we were all ready for my parents, who were coming for dinner.
Harrison was in the bouncing cradle at one end of the kitchen, watching me prepare the vegetables for later, while Adrian and Paula were in the front room, looking out of the window for their nana and grandpa, who were due any time. Whenever my parents visited Adrian and Paula would go into the front room and look out for them and then call me as soon as they saw their car pull up. They had been in the front room for about ten minutes when Adrian called, ‘Mum!’ But I instinctively knew his call wasn’t because Nana and Grandpa had arrived: I heard excitement in his voice but also anxiety.
‘Yes?’ I called back from the kitchen, pausing from preparing the vegetables. ‘What is it?’
‘Someone’s watching the house.’
I immediately put down what I was doing and went round to the front room. Although Adrian was a nine-year-old boy with a good imagination his worries needed to be taken seriously. I entered the front room and crossed to the bay window. ‘Where?’ I asked, joining him and Paula behind the net curtains.
‘There!’ Adrian pointed.
I looked across the road to the woman standing on the opposite side of the street a few houses up. She was of medium height and build and was dressed in beige summer trousers and a short-sleeved blouse. She wasn’t looking at our house now, but up the street as if she might be waiting for someone. Her face was turned slightly away, so I could only see her profile, but it suggested someone in her late twenties or early thirties with chin-length dark hair.
‘She’s been standing there for ages,’ Adrian said.
‘She’s probably waiting for someone,’ I said. ‘What makes you think she’s watching our house?’
‘She keeps staring over here,’ Adrian said, with the same mixture of excitement and anxiety. ‘She’s stopped now. But she’s been there all the time we’ve been watching for Nana and Grandpa.’
As I looked the woman did indeed look over and possibly at our house or the house next door, but it was no more than a cursory glance before she continued looking up and then down the street.
‘There! Told you,’ Adrian said.
‘She just glanced over,’ I said. ‘I’m sure she’s waiting for someone. There’s nothing to worry about.’
‘It’s all those silly spy comics he reads,’ Paula put in.
‘No, it isn’t,’ Adrian returned.
At that moment my parents’ car drew up and Adrian immediately forgot the woman as he and Paula rushed into the hall, where they waited for me to open the front door. Before my parents were out of the car we were on the pavement welcoming them, and the woman was walking up the street, presumably to meet the friend she’d been waiting for.
We had a lovely afternoon with my parents. Mum chatted to me in the kitchen as we put the finishing touches to dinner. Then after we’d eaten we all went in the garden, as the weather was warm and dry. Mum and Dad were soon as besotted with Harrison as we were, and Harrison spent most of the afternoon on one of their laps being cuddled and fussed over. Mum naturally asked me why Harrison’s mother couldn’t look after him and I replied honestly that I didn’t know. Mum helped me bath Harrison while Dad played badminton in the garden with Adrian and Paula. It was seven o’clock before my parents left, and once they’d gone the children began their bath and bedtime routine, ready for school the following day.
The following week was very busy and flew by. I drove Adrian and Paula to and from school each day. On Tuesday I took Harrison to the clinic to be weighed – he’d put on four ounces, which the health visitor entered in his red book. On Wednesday I had foster carer training run by Homefinders fostering agency, who also provided a crèche so that Harrison was looked after in the room next door while I attended the course. On Thursday I went to Adrian and Paula’s school sports day with Harrison in his pram. He slept for a while and then when the cheering and applauding woke him I held him in my arms so that he could see what was going on. So many outdoor activities in the UK rely on the weather for their success and the weather stayed fine that afternoon, so the annual sports day was a great success.
By the end of the week I felt I had established a good working routine with Harrison and although I was tired – from having two three-hour sleeps instead of one of seven hours – I knew from the experience of having Adrian and Paula that in a few months Harrison should, I hoped, no longer need his 2.00 a.m. feed and sleep through. And to be honest I didn’t mind the early-hours feed, as I hadn’t minded it with Adrian and Paula. I found something quite serene and magical in sitting in bed by the light of the lamp with Harrison in my arms – the two of us quietly alone while the rest of the world slept. It was an oasis of calm and peace in an otherwise busy schedule and Harrison’s little smile when he was full, and his gurgles of contentment as he lay in his cot before falling asleep, more than compensated for any tiredness I felt.
I thought nothing more of the woman we’d seen in our street on Sunday and the week drew to a close with much excitement from Adrian and Paula, as there was only one week left until school ended for summer, or as Adrian put it: ‘Freedom! For six whole weeks.’ He was also in the end-of-year play, which the school staged in the final week. This year they were putting on The Jungle Book and Adrian was one of the vultures. He’d been practising his lines with a Liverpudlian accent at every opportunity: What do you want to do? Don’t know. What do you want to do? Don’t know, etc.
I was, therefore, starting to feel that life was running smoothly again and I needn’t have worried so much about looking after a baby, as I’d successfully accommodated Harrison into our family with minimum disruption to Adrian and Paula. Indeed, they were enjoying helping me look after him and easily forgave him if he was fractious or woke them at night. However, on Saturday morning my complacency and feelings of well-being were shaken.
I opened the front door, ready to leave with the children to go shopping, and became vaguely aware that there was someone on the opposite side of the street. I didn’t think anything of it to begin with, as I was concentrating on Harrison and checking I’d remembered to bring my shopping list, keys and purse, while Adrian and Paula stood behind me in the hall, ready to follow me out. Then I looked up and my heart missed a beat. Although she was dressed in different clothes, I was sure it was the same woman Adrian had spotted the previous Sunday. She was standing in the same place and seemed to be looking over at our house. As soon as she saw me she turned and headed up the street, walking quickly away just as she had done on Sunday.
Closing the front door and with my heart racing I put Harrison, who was in his car seat, on the floor. Could she be connected with Harrison? Had my contact details accidentally been released? It had happened before. Could she possibly be Harrison’s mother? Then something else occurred to me that made my heart thump loudly and my mouth go dry. If a child is in care under an Emergency Protection Order or Full Care Order where there are concerns for the child’s safety then the foster carer’s contact details are not given to the parents. However, Harrison was in care under a Section 20 and I knew that usually with a Section 20 the parent(s) are given the foster carer’s contact details. While Cheryl had stressed that no one knew where Harrison was, it now occurred to me that that might not have included Harrison’s mother or father.
Adrian and Paula, who hadn’t seen the woman this time but had seen me open and close the door, were now looking at me questioningly. ‘Will you keep an eye on Harrison for a minute, please?’ I said. ‘I need to make a quick phone call.’
I left the children entertaining Harrison in his car seat, while I went down the hall to use the telephone in the sitting room. I closed the door to the sitting room so that the children couldn’t hear, as I didn’t want to worry them. Perching on the sofa and wondering if I was over-reacting I dialled Homefinders’ office number. As it was Saturday I knew the call would be re-routed through to the agency’s social worker who was on duty that weekend. A moment later a male voice answered and I recognized it as Michael’s.
‘Hello, Michael, it’s Cathy Glass,’ I said, trying to keep the anxiety from my voice.
‘Hi, Cathy. What can I do for you?’
‘Michael, am I right in thinking that with a Section 20 the parents are usually given the foster carer’s address?’
‘Yes. Usually. Why? Is there something wrong?’
‘I’m not sure. How much do you know of Harrison’s case?’ I asked carefully.
‘Not a lot, I’m afraid. If you explain the problem I can advise you, or I could phone Jill. She’s not on duty this weekend but she won’t mind if it’s an emergency and I can’t help.’
I hesitated. It wasn’t exactly an emergency and while I didn’t want to disturb Jill unnecessarily on her day off, I wasn’t sure it was wise to explain Harrison’s case to Michael. Given the level of confidentiality surrounding Harrison it was possible that only Jill and the manager at Homefinders were aware of his background.
‘Michael, would you mind phoning Jill, please?’ I said. ‘It’s not an emergency but I would appreciate her advice.’
‘OK, if you’re sure I can’t help?’
‘It’s very complicated,’ I said. ‘It would be easier if I talked to Jill.’
‘Of course. I’ll phone her right away. Shall I tell her to phone your landline or mobile?’
I paused. ‘Mobile, please. I’m just going out.’
‘OK. Will do.’
I thanked him and, after replacing the handset, returned down the hall, where Adrian and Paula were still keeping Harrison amused. As I didn’t know how long it would be before Jill returned my call I decided we’d continue with our shopping trip rather than wait in. I’d take Jill’s call when it came through on my mobile.
I opened the front door and checked the street. The woman was nowhere to be seen. Adrian and Paula followed me out of the house and I closed and locked the front door. I checked the street again as the children got into the car and I strapped Harrison in his car seat under the seatbelt. With another glance around I climbed into the driver’s seat and was about to start the engine when my mobile rang. I took the phone from my bag and saw it was Jill’s number. I pressed to answer. At the same time I got out of the car and closed the driver’s door so that Adrian and Paula couldn’t hear what I was saying.
‘What’s the problem?’ Jill asked straightaway.
‘Jill, I’m sorry to disturb you at the weekend, and it may be nothing, but Cheryl said I should report any strangers hanging around in the street. Last Sunday and then again this morning I saw a woman standing across the road, just over from our house. The first time I thought she was waiting for someone but now I’m not so sure. Each time she walked off quickly when I came out of the house. Jill, Cheryl said no one knew where Harrison was but is it possible social services have given my details to Harrison’s parents, as he’s in care under a Section 20?’
‘I shouldn’t think so, given the level of confidentiality,’ Jill said. ‘What did the woman look like?’
‘I didn’t get a very good look at her because each time she rushed off. But I’d say late twenties or early thirties, smartly dressed, average height and build with dark hair and light brown skin.’
Jill went quiet for a moment as I looked in the car window to check on the children.
‘I’ll phone Cheryl first thing on Monday,’ she said. ‘It’s no good me phoning now: their duty social worker won’t know the case. Obviously if the woman or anyone else approaches you or comes to the house, don’t take any chances: phone us or the police. We don’t know who she is or why she’s there.’
‘All right, Jill.’
We said goodbye and I got into the car, slightly spooked by Jill’s warning and her instruction to call the police if necessary.
We continued with our shopping trip but I was vigilant for the rest of the day and indeed that weekend. I checked the street every time we entered or left the house, but I saw no one acting suspiciously.
By Monday morning I was starting to think the woman’s appearance was pure coincidence and was not connected with Harrison. That was until Jill phoned.
Chapter Ten Shut in a Cupboard
It was just after midday on Monday and I was sitting on the sofa with Harrison in my arms, feeding him. It was raining outside and I was thinking I would need to take Adrian’s and Paula’s macs when I collected them from school if it hadn’t stopped raining by home time. Harrison jumped when the phone rang and paused from sucking. I quickly reached over and picked up the handset.
‘Hello,’ I said, lodging the handset between my chin and shoulder so that I could continue holding Harrison’s bottle.
‘Cathy, it’s Jill. Are you free to talk?’
I heard the seriousness in her voice. ‘Yes, I’m feeding Harrison. What’s the matter?’
‘I hope you’re sitting down,’ Jill said. I felt my heart set up a strange little rhythm. ‘I’ve just spoken to Cheryl on the phone and I’m afraid your address—’
‘Has been released,’ I interrupted, realizing the reason for her call and seriousness.
‘Yes, you were right. Your address was included on the paperwork that was sent out. I’ve told Cheryl I’m very unhappy that we weren’t informed and she sends her apologies. She said that as Harrison’s mother was cooperating with the social services she saw no reason to withhold your address, and had assumed that as it is a Section 20 you and Homefinders would have realized Rihanna would know where Harrison was, which clearly we didn’t.’
‘No. Cheryl went to such lengths to emphasize that no one must know where Harrison was, I assumed “no one” meant no one. It never crossed my mind anyone would have my contact details until Saturday, when I saw that woman in the street for the second time. Who else knows my address?’
‘Only Rihanna’s solicitor,’ Jill said. ‘There are no other parties involved in the case.’
‘What about Harrison’s father?’
‘He’s not involved.’
‘That’s what Cheryl said. She also assured me Harrison’s mother won’t cause you any problems. Rihanna’s still cooperating fully with the social services and wishes only that Harrison can be found a good adoptive family. She doesn’t want any contact with him.’
‘So why was she outside my house?’
‘Cheryl doesn’t think it was her,’ Jill said. ‘Rihanna has told Cheryl she is trying to rebuild her life and has returned to work. But to put your mind at rest Cheryl said she’d write to Rihanna’s solicitor and mention your concerns. Cathy, it could have been anyone in your road, although as Cheryl pointed out even if it was Harrison’s mother she hasn’t done anything wrong.’
‘No,’ I agreed thoughtfully. ‘She hasn’t.’
‘Look, Cathy, if you are very worried I could try and find another carer to look after Harrison.’
‘No,’ I said quickly. ‘There’s no need for that.’
‘Good. So let’s assume for the time being that it wasn’t Harrison’s mother and see what her solicitor has to say – although it will probably be a few weeks before the social services receive a reply. In the meantime let me know if you have any more concerns, and please be assured that only his mother and solicitor have your contact details. All right?’
Jill apologized again for the oversight Cheryl had made in not telling me Harrison’s mother would be aware of my address, and we wound up the conversation and said goodbye. I replaced the handset and remained where I was on the sofa, staring into space and deep in thought, as Harrison took the last of his bottle. Clearly Jill and Cheryl had decided that the woman outside my house wasn’t Harrison’s mother, but I wondered how they could be so sure. Cheryl had told Jill that Rihanna was trying to rebuild her life and had returned to work, but both sightings of the woman has been at the weekend when she wouldn’t be at work. Or maybe, if it wasn’t Harrison’s mother, then it was someone his mother knew and had confided in: a sister or close friend. Clearly I didn’t know, but I was annoyed that, not for the first time since I’d begun fostering, a social worker had forgotten to pass on a piece of vital information.
Harrison finished his bottle and I sat him upright on my lap and began massaging his back to release his wind, at the same time reassuring him (and myself) that he wouldn’t be taken away: ‘Naughty Jill,’ I said, ‘suggesting she could move you. Of course you’re not leaving, not for a long, long time. You’ll stay with us until the social services have found you a nice adoptive family, which will take most of the year.’
Harrison responded with a loud burp and I wiped the residue of milk from his lips with a bib. I then lifted him up and turned him round to face me so that I could kiss his nose, which he loved. He was such a cute little baby you couldn’t help but pet and kiss him at every opportunity, and my thoughts went again to his mother and the fact that she would never know the joy of kissing her son or seeing him giggle.
I sat Harrison in his bouncing cradle while I washed the bottle and put it in the sterilizer; then I wrote up my log notes, briefly including Jill’s phone call and what Cheryl had said. Jill would have made more detailed notes in her records of the conversations she’d had with Cheryl and with me. When I’d finished updating my log notes I took some photographs of Harrison in his bouncing cradle, and was about to switch on the television for the one o’clock news when the phone rang again. Harrison frowned and looked in the direction of the ringing as I picked up the handset. I was surprised to hear Jill’s voice again and immediately assumed it must be more bad news.
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