Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Woman Told That She Was Too Stupid To Keep Her Baby Boy
The woman told that she was too stupid to keep her baby boy
By Alison Smith Squire
Last updated at 8:10 AM on 28th January 2010
The Moses basket sits beside the bed, its new blankets carefully arranged awaiting its owner's arrival.
Piles of newborn baby clothes - mostly in shades of blue - lie neatly folded on a chair.
Like any new mother, Kerry Robertson spent weeks excitedly preparing for her first child's arrival - and yet 13 days after his birth, all the carefully arranged baby paraphernalia remains unused.
And yet today Kerry and her partner, Mark McDougall, 25, will finally be able to lay their son Ben down to sleep in the basket they bought for him with such hope.
Loving mother: Kerry Robertson, 17, was told she would not be able to bring up her baby son Ben because she has mild learning difficulties
Kerry, who has mild learning difficulties, and Mark went on the run from their home in Fife, Scotland, last November after British social services said she was not clever enough to raise a child.
They hoped that by escaping to Ireland they would be left alone to be a family together. But when Ben was four days old, social workers caught up with them, marching into the maternity ward and forcing them to hand him over.
Only after a court hearing last Friday were the parents told they will get their child back - albeit under supervision.
Today, Kerry will move into a mother and baby unit where the 17-year-old will be under constant surveillance - but that is undoubtedly the lesser of two evils for the couple, given that they feared they might lose custody of the child they fought so hard to keep.
'To say it's been a roller coaster is an understatement,' says Mark. 'Witnessing them take Ben from Kerry made me cry. He was sleeping in her arms after his feed and looked so peaceful.
'I tried to argue with them, but they said no. It's only after they've read medical reports from the hospital, in which the midwives and medical staff said we are loving parents, that it appears they've decided we can have Ben back after all.
'Kerry will be able to care for Ben all day, every day and I'll be allowed to stay at the unit as often as I like.
'Needless to say, we can't wait to be reunited with our beloved son.'
This isn't the only battle the couple have fought to ensure Kerry leads a normal life.
She has been brought up by her grandmother since she was nine months old, with the care overseen by Fife social services.
But she says that, as an adult, there were no signs of the problems to come until social services heard she was pregnant and getting married.
Devoted: Kerry and partner Mark McDougall, 25, pose proudly with their baby son. The couple fled to Ireland after social services said Ben would be taken away
Last September, in an unprecedented step, the couple's white church wedding was halted just 48 hours beforehand, in a row over whether Kerry was intelligent enough to marry.
Shortly after, Fife social services told the couple they believed that, because of Kerry's learning difficulties, her unborn baby would be taken into care.
The claim that Kerry is too stupid to get married or have a baby is something she and Mark, an artist, vehemently refute.
'Social services are ruining my life,' she says. 'First, I was stopped from getting married and then they took my baby.'
Kerry and Mark say she has never even had a formal psychological assessment. And the couple point out that before Kerry became pregnant herself, she worked as a childcare worker with children at a local school - and in fact, with considerable irony, holds a certificate in child care.
Kerry says: 'It's true I didn't get many qualifications at school, but I never had very good teaching.
'I did study for my childcare qualification, I can read and write. I send texts, go on the internet and do everything for myself.
'I usually cook for us. I chose most of the clothes for our baby and sorted out all the piles of nappies, tubs of baby creams and toys. I wanted everything to be ready for him when we brought him home.'
Indeed, upon first meeting, Kerry strikes you as no different to many other young woman. Slim and quirkily dressed, it's clear that, like anyone of her age, she loves to experiment with make-up and clothes.
Nevertheless, she is painfully shy - it is Mark's belief that it is this which gives social workers the impression her learning difficulties are worse than they are.
'Social services are ruining my life. First, I was stopped from getting married and then they took my baby'
But gain her trust and she chats away happily like any other teenager. In fact, I don't believe anyone meeting her in a group of young people would even identify learning difficulties.
As for Mark, he has an impressive clutch of GCSEs under his belt, as well as two As in his Highers - the Scottish equivalent of A levels - in art and English.
He is an accomplished artist who makes a reasonable living selling his sketches and charcoal pictures worldwide - he showed me a picture he drew of newborn Ben, and it is a very accurate likeness.
Mark says: 'Neither Kerry nor me have ever had any conviction for cruelty or violence. I don't understand why the authorities have treated us like this.'
So what is the truth?
The Mail, it must be stressed, is not privy to all the information social services hold on this couple. Kerry admits she is no Einstein, but she seems like any other teenager.
Seeing her with Mark, hand-in-hand on the sofa at their rented house in Ireland, some would say they seem more mature than many young lovers.
Binge-drinking, casual relationships and parties couldn't be further from their minds. Both say they prefer an evening in with friends. If anything, they could be described as somewhat old-fashioned.
Mark says: 'When we discovered Kerry was pregnant we wanted to get married. It was important to us that our baby was born to married parents.'
That wedding was set to take place in a church, organised by Mark's father, who had arranged for the congregation to produce a homemade buffet for their reception.
Although Kerry was brought up in the care of her grandmother, she comes from a close-knit community with a large extended family of aunts and uncles. Her younger brother, who's nine, still lives with her grandmother.
The couple met last January through friends. 'I certainly didn't think Kerry had learning difficulties,' says Mark.
'At first she just seemed quiet, but I soon discovered a quirky sense of humour, and that's what attracted me to her.'
Family: Ben was born on January 15 weighing 7lb 3oz
By March, they were a couple and the following month Kerry moved into Mark's one-bedroom flat. It was shortly after this that Kerry became pregnant.
Kerry says: 'When I told my grandmother I was pregnant, she got a care worker to take me to the GP.
'It was then that the care worker said to me: "You know you won't be able to keep this baby don't you?"'
Mark adds: 'It was only at this stage I realised how seriously social services viewed Kerry's so-called condition.
'It was a very upsetting time, as the care worker suggested to Kerry it might be better if she had a termination.
'But neither of us wanted an abortion. Kerry said she could never do that.'
So the couple pressed on with the pregnancy and, as they heard nothing more from social services, put their worries to the back of their minds.
Mark says: 'When Kerry was three months pregnant, we decided to marry.
'I bought Kerry an engagement ring - a little pink one with a diamond-type stone - and we held a party.'
The pair set the date for the wedding in September. Mark recalls: 'Kerry had bought her dress, the church was booked, a cake made and the reception organised.
'But two days before, there was a frantic knocking at our front door and we were confronted by two social workers who told us our wedding was illegal.
'Kerry and I were devastated, but we had no option but to cancel our big day.'
It later transpired Fife social services had made the extraordinary step of writing a letter of objection to the registrar, claiming Kerry was too dim to understand her vows.
The couple have since attempted to marry again, but have been told that, as an order is still in place, a wedding is forbidden.
But if that weren't enough, in October, when Kerry was five months pregnant, the couple were called into a meeting with social services and told their baby would be taken into care at birth.
Kerry says: 'I couldn't stop crying. By then, I'd already found out I was having a little boy and we had decided to name him Ben. I'd felt him kick inside me.'
Mark adds: 'There was no mention of trying to help Kerry or give her the chance to be a mum.
'At that time, they said Kerry would be allowed only a few hours with him. It seemed then he would go to foster parents, and there was the fear he would be adopted and we would lose him for ever.
'The care worker suggested to Kerry it might be better if she had a termination'
'It didn't seem to matter to social services that we loved one another and wanted to get married.'
The worry was so great that Mark began researching on the internet other cases in which parents had faced losing their babies in this way.
He says: 'I discovered that many couples had been forced to flee the UK and go to other countries where the authorities take a different view and are keen to keep families together.
'It seemed a huge step to take. Neither Kerry nor myself wanted to leave home, where we had family and support. But in the end we felt we had no choice.'
The couple decided to go to Ireland, where they believed their case would be looked on more sympathetically.
So in November, having held a tearful farewell gathering - and with just £200 in their pockets, a suitcase and a bag of sandwiches made by Kerry - the pair stole out of their house in the dead of night.
The couple made it to Belfast, where they stayed for eight weeks.
'Not having social workers knocking on our doors, wanting meetings all the time, was fantastic,' says Mark. 'For the first time in Kerry's pregnancy, we could enjoy it.'
The pair were financed by friends and family - although Mark continued to sell his artwork.
'I missed my grandma, my little brother and my family terribly,' says Kerry. 'It was hard to be away from them at Christmas. But I consoled myself that it would be worth it. I could hold Ben in my arms and not worry he would be taken.'
Kerry and Mark made the final leg of their journey to Waterford in the Republic of Ireland - which is not governed by UK laws - two weeks after Christmas, with the birth of the baby looming.
Accomplished artist: Mark drew a sketch of his son while in hospital
There, with the help of a donation from a secret benefactor, they were able to find a safe house.
Mark recalls: 'We rented a beautiful little house. Waterford is a seaside resort and we decided to make a new life there.'
On Friday, January 15 at 8.41pm, their hopes were realised when, after a natural labour, Ben was finally born.
The happy couple took photos of their 7lb 3oz bundle. And for three days all appeared to be well.
Mark visited the hospital daily, and close friends who knew where they were sent congratulations cards. Meanwhile, Kerry took to breastfeeding and caring for Ben without any problems.
Behind the scenes, however, social workers were gearing up to strike.
Through medical records, the Irish authorities had discovered that social workers in Fife had an interest in Kerry.
'It seems they contacted Fife, who told them they feared because of Kerry's "disability" our baby could suffer physical or emotional neglect,' explains Mark.
The following Monday, the couple were told a social worker would visit them the next day, and at that point they were not unduly concerned.
'We are honest, so we were happy to co-operate fully,' says Mark. 'We would have been pleased to be monitored.
'Even putting Kerry into a home for new mums with babies so she could prove she can be a good mother would have been fine.
'We understood that the Irish social workers needed to make their own inquiries, and were perfectly happy to do whatever it took to keep Ben.'
So they were totally unprepared when, at the 9.15am meeting on the Tuesday, they were forced to hand over their baby. Since then he has been looked after by foster carers.
They have been allowed two-hourly visits with Ben. But even now, as they're about to be reunited with their baby, there is no denying that the episode has been highly distressing.
Kerry says: 'I was so upset when I saw him the first time with the social workers because he had a dummy in his mouth.
'I told them I didn't want him having a dummy. And he is being bottle fed, but I wanted to breastfeed him.
'I'm just so happy that I'll be with my baby. I don't know how long I'll be at the unit. I'll miss Mark if he's not allowed to stay over - but Ben comes first.'
There's no denying that she and Mark sincerely hope today heralds the start of life as a normal, happy family.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1246590/The-woman-told-stupid-baby-boy.html#ixzz0dwRMMoJP