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I sang them home

In January 2017, two FACs caseworkers and three police officers attended the refuge I was living at with my three children and removed them from my care. This day changed my life and that of my children’s irrevocably.

A safety assessment had occurred earlier that morning post an incident that had occurred over the weekend as all four of us were exhausted and overwhelmed since I had left my abusive husband and I was tapering off high doses of oxycontin and endone. I had developed an addiction to these medications post hysterectomy and following a flair up of lupus (auto immune disease). To ‘get numb’ was a way of coping with the deep sense of entrapment and hopelessness that I was feeling.

I had a feeling deep in my core when the two FACs caseworkers entered my messy room with the children that ‘something’ was coming… when I say messy, if you or anyone you know who has three teenagers, messy is just something that happens, not out of neglect or lack of care. These two case workers made their assessments and left the room to talk to their superiors.

We all waited for nearly three hours to hear their outcome. The children and I ran around frantically clearing the space, high on the adrenaline that the fear had triggered in me. It felt like the longest time and then they returned with three police officers and a piece of paper telling me my children would be taken from me. I don’t know any mother whose heart would not crack wide open at the thought of authorities deciding to take your beloved children from your care. It was and still is, the worst experience I have been unfortunate to feel, same for my children.

We are a proud Aboriginal family with my roots firmly embedded in my culture. My immediate thought as an Aboriginal woman is “how is this still happening today?

Thank goodness I had taken my four-year-old to day care that morning so they did not observe the trauma of watching her siblings’ confusion and fear and my complete and utter resignation to shame and failure as a mother. I can’t remember everything, only that it was the most overwhelming trauma of my life, and not just that I was in such a broken place that the statutory body deemed me unfit to care for my children, but because of the pain I saw in my children’s faces. It was soul shattering. “Where were the people to help and support, where were the caring others?

The last police officer left the room that I was in by myself, looked at me and said: “Ma’am, you handled that well”… then shut the door.

I was standing in a room at the refuge alone, my children had just been removed from my care and my one consolation was I handled it well. A childhood of complex trauma conditions taught you to be good in a crisis.

I was at the lowest moment of my life so far. A crossroad appeared in that very moment. I could stay in that room and make a destructive decision which would impact the chances of my children being returned to me, I could make the choice to act out in my excruciating pain and hurt myself or I could walk out and get better.

At that moment I felt a love around me bigger than I have ever known. My ancestors? My own spirit? The Divine? I didn’t quite know at that moment but I walked out of the room into the courtyard of the refuge, fell to my knees and cried from the deepest place in my heart. Shame, fear, confusion, hurt, rage, anger, ancestral mother’s cries and everything else that my soul remembered. It all just flowed forth.

– Author

Then I got up and made the decision to do everything in my power to get my children home to where they belonged. With their mother. With their well mother!

Nothing was bigger than my maternal yearning to assume the role I was destined for. You see I had been able to hold it all together pretty well. We had built a beautiful four bedroom home overlooking the hills, drove a great car, it all looked normal on the outside, but inside our home was a bomb waiting for the right detonator to blow. It came in the form on my ill health, isolation and hopelessness. I gave up on myself and in turn wasn’t the mother I wanted to be.

When I look back at this cataclysmic day now from a healthier perspective after getting clear of the prescribed medication addiction and receiving much therapy, I realise at the time I was in such shock. It felt like the removal of my children came suddenly but what I know now it was the conclusion of a process that was triggered months earlier.

The wheels had been falling off for quite some months. School was aware, neighbours were aware and called for help for my children. At the time I couldn’t see but now I am glad they were identified as needing help.

I do wish however I had been given more support before my children were removed, but I do recognise that the fact things got to such a fever pitch it triggered a complete crack in my ego and allowed me access to my true self and escalate the healing process.

What led to the removal was my own unhealed childhood trauma and transgenerational trauma that I have carried through my life. I made a lot of choices based on easing my pain due to my own attachment and rejection issues. As a child I was given pain medication to numb what was going on around me, so I wasn’t impacted in a negative way, this was my own mother’s way of keeping me safe from harm. Bless my mother’s intention in this regard. How little we know at the time what our actions of care and protection can lead to.

After I rose from the ground of the courtyard a life-long friend arrived at the refuge. Apparently I had text them but still to this day I do not remember this action.

They came, scooped me up and took me to their place, called my family and arranged for FACs caseworkers to talk to my family about kinship placement.

I think I was catatonic that evening. I recall very little. I went to bed and woke the next morning with the strongest of resolves to get my children home.

Initially it was just about getting the children home, but as the weeks went by and I was less clouded from the opioids and was leaning more concertedly into therapy, the process became less about the outcome and more about the journey of healing. My realisation was that my genuine healing would draw my children home. MY SPIRIT WOULD SING THEM HOME TO ME.

I was given my list of minimum outcomes, get clean of opioids, don’t go back to the abusive partner, father of our children and financial provider, engage in therapy, get a house, become independent…

Initially I got myself very busy ticking of the list, at one point however I just decided to flow with my Spirit and leave ego behind at which point things really started to change. I met a group of amazing and strong women that were my cheerleaders who inspired me to keep growing. I read lots and meditated with my ancestors under the stars. I then got a job, then a house to raise my children and in July 2017 the Magistrate ruled that my children could come back to me.

In this healing journey I have faced the most painful part of myself and survived.

– Author

My children came home to me on the 18 December 2017.

I thought the severing of our attachment was the most painful and hardest part, but NO, the reconnections of our bonds and the individual and collective healing process for us all has been massive. Witnessing my children’s trauma and healing processes, all different, and being present to bear witness has been a very painful privilege and honour.

Life as a working single mother is huge but holding the space for healing of big trauma is overwhelming. I would go to work as an Aboriginal health worker and support my community and then come home and do all the stuff that mothers do to keep the house running whilst holding the space for the healing for my children. The healing I have found doesn’t always happen at convenient times or in a neat organised fashion. It is turbulent, messy and disruptive.

I was finding it hard but not impossible to keep the ship afloat when FACs came back into our story. This time to provide support and we were referred to Mackillop Family Services, Functional Family Therapy.

We engaged as a family with the program for six months. It was remarkable. A focused opportunity for each of my children to share their stories, feelings and hopes for our family to heal.

I was able to release shame and guilt and develop a more assertive parenting style.

We are now in the midst of a global pandemic but I still sit at the helm of my ship, reaching deep into my internal wisdom so I can lovingly raise my children.

Crisis is an opportunity for change and every person given the right support, empathy and compassion has the capacity to grow. I did 😊

MacKillop’s Functional Family Therapy-Child Welfare (FFT-CW) aims to keep families together and where possible, prevent children from entering out of home care.

The program is available by referral only through NSW’s Department of Family and Community Services. You can view more information on the program here.

MacKillop Family Services thanks the author of this story for her courage and commends her resilience and strength.