Being the Story Live is our immersive storytelling event providing a platform for people who don’t normally have one, to inspire new ideas, challenge perceptions, and stimulate conversation on issues. Think social sector meets TedTalks. sounddelivery hosted our very first online edition of Being the Story live on the theme of ‘Life in Lockdown’. In 2004 Angela was forced to say goodbye to her two eldest children as they were being adopted. Social Services had decided she was not capable of keeping them safe from her abusive partner. At Being the Story Angela shared her story and how during lockdown families are being made to say goodbye remotely, or in some cases not getting to say goodbye at all. Angela Frazer-Wicks is a founding member of the Family Rights Group parents panel, one of their expert panels of family members with direct lived experience of the Child Welfare and Family Justice System. Read her script and watch her talk below.
I am Angela Frazer-Wicks. I am what is known as a Birth Mum. This basically means that the children I gave birth to were removed by Social Services and adopted. I am also mum to a little girl who has had no social services involvement at all. I would like to tell you a small part of my story. I would like to warn you that a lot of what I talk about is upsetting and some may find it triggering as it refers to suicide and loss. I do however hope that you will find my story is also filled with hope, positivity and optimism.
At 6pm on 28th February 2004 I was given less than six hours to live. I had end stage liver failure and the doctors had run out of ways to save me.I had taken an overdose, aided by my abusive partner. I would be forever free of the bullies and the abuse.
All that remained was for me to say a final goodbye to my children. The decision to have them adopted had already been made by Social Services and it was this decision that had finally tipped me over the edge.
Social workers collected my children and headed to the hospital. I prepared for my goodbye, planned what I would say, how I would explain to them how much I loved them and give them my blessing to move on and be happy with their new family. I lay and waited. Then the snow began to fall. I lay watching it get heavier and heavier until all I could see out the window was white. The phone outside my room rang and I already knew what they were going to say. The roads were blocked. I would not get to say goodbye. I would not get to see my boys one last time. I would not get to hold them and tell them I loved them. Life had dealt me one last cruel blow. A nurse came to sit with me so my final hours would not be spent alone. As we sat and talked I began to get angry, I felt cheated. I wanted to say goodbye. I decided to fight. And I did just that. No one knows how or why but I made it out of intensive care, then out of hospital and into a refuge. There wasn’t much of a person left, just a shell, but that shell was still living and breathing and fighting. Everyone told me how lucky I was but I knew it wasn’t luck that had saved me. It was the love I had for my children.
Over the next few weeks I prepared for the goodbye I had fought for my life for. I bought gifts and cards, I planned what I would say to them. I made albums of photos so that they would know who they were and where they had come from. I chose two teddy bears that had been mine as a child so they had a small piece of me to take with them into their new lives.
And then, on the afternoon of the 2nd of July 2004, under a clear blue sky, I carried my children to a car. I fastened them into their car seats, gave them a big kiss and I said my goodbye. I stood back, plastered a smile on my face and watched them drive away. Forever. I have not seen them since. That day was the last time I heard my children’s laughter. It was the last time I watched them play. It was the last time we cuddled one other. My boys were aged 5 and 18months. The system I had turned to for support, and the people within it, had decided that I was no longer fit to be their parent and they were being given to someone who was. They were being adopted and legally I was no longer their mum. I know what you’re all thinking – what did I do? I mean I must have done something terrible, something so horrific that I was not allowed to be their mum anymore.
The reality is I was deemed to be what is known as a potential risk of future emotional harm to my children, meaning I may do something to harm them in the future. There was no evidence for this, the reasons given were my circumstances at the time. Granted they were pretty awful circumstances- I was a drug addict, I was in an abusive relationship and I had very complex mental health problems.
Again I guess you’re thinking that Social Services must have tried to help me before taking away my children. I must have been offered support, they must have taken the time to get to know me and understand me before they handed down what is in effect a life sentence.
In a word – No. If they had they would have found that the majority of the problems I had were as a result of childhood trauma, of teenage sexual exploitation, of abuse and neglect. They would have discovered my potential for change, my determination to be a good parent and my desire to change the way I was living. I was well aware things weren’t right I just didn’t know how to fix them on my own. Sadly there simply wasn’t the time, resources or facilities to help me so off my sons went to their magical fix it all home whilst I was left, quite literally to rot.
And every year on 2nd July I’ve looked back at that awful day. And all I could ever see was pain. The room was dirty and cramped. Full of tables and chairs and a pile of tatty toys. I had to find a space to squeeze in with my children, trying to fit the rest of our lives into 45mins. The worst day of my life and I’m imagining the worst day of their lives too. Sharing gifts and photos, singing songs, laughing, crying, praying that time would stop and they would be with me forever. Never once did I think I would look back and think “wasn’t I lucky”.
But Covid and lockdown have shown me exactly that. Due to Covid I have been hearing of families who aren’t getting to say goodbye face to face, they aren’t getting to share gifts or kiss one another goodbye. They have to say goodbye to a screen. And the true numbers of these cases aren’t even known yet. I have even heard of a case where a group of older siblings didn’t get to say goodbye to their little sister at all. Their foster carer received an email to say the adoption was finalized and the little girl was gone. Forever. No goodbye. No memories, no keepsakes, just gone. And even I cannot imagine the hell they must feel. At least I got to wave my boys goodbye. I got to smell them and hold them one last time. I honestly don’t think I could have continued had I not. I don’t think I could have picked myself up off that car park floor and found the strength to carry on living. That goodbye had been the only thing keeping me alive.
But carry on I did. Because they underestimated me. My potential for recovery and my sheer tenacity and stubborn mindedness. They underestimated my strength and courage. You see they promised me I could write to my children. A promise I then made to my 5 year old son. A promise they didn’t keep and a promise that I was determined I would keep. So I fought. With help and support I fought for what is known as letterbox contact, a way to send letters through a third party to communicate with my sons. And it was a fight I ultimately won. Once a year my boys came back into my life and I came back into theirs. We shared achievements and experiences and I found renewed motivation to make changes.
I left my abusive partner, I got clean and sober, I started helping those who had helped me reunite with my boys. I began to speak at events, write about my experiences, share with others the ways I had coped and survived. I went on to wonderful things, to love and happiness and marriage and eventually to have another child. My daughter is now 9 and has had no social services involvement whatsoever. I found the Family Rights Group, a charity that fights for the rights of children to be raised safely within their family, and together we began to fight for the voices of families to be heard. In the beginning I fought to make my sons proud, then I fought for validation, now I simply fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. I have made peace with what happened to me all those years ago. I have learned to live with the pain. The anger no longer consumes me. I now use it to fuel change. Change in policy, change in practice, change in perception. Change for all families. Covid won’t stop me – the new normal has to be better than the old!
I would like to finish my talk this evening by reading a short poem I have written. One of the many ways that Family Rights Group has helped me, and helps others like me, is by encouraging and supporting us to find ways to tell our stories. To use our voices to raise awareness. One of the ways I have found helpful is poetry.
Arms full of presents, cards and wrapped toys
Beautiful gifts for my beautiful boys
Trying to squeeze the rest of our lives
Into 45 minutes and oh how it flies
Hugs and kisses enough to last years
Singing songs and fighting back tears
Saying I love you over and over
Holding my babies closer and closer
Breathing their smell and hearing their laughter
As they head off to their happily ever after
Carrying them to the car of a stranger
Smiling all the while feeling the traitor
This is not what I want but I have to pretend
I have to smile like this isn’t the end
I have to give them one last happy memory
I want this to be the way they remember me
I want them to leave without having to worry
About what’s left behind and what happened to mummy
Pretend there’s not a huge hole in my heart
Hide the fact that I’m falling apart
Hoping I will find the strength to carry on
As I watch them drive away until they’re gone
Then I fall to the floor and my heart breaks in two
How do I move on from this I don’t have a clue?
But move on I must because I made them a promise
I have to find a way through this darkness
With tentative steps I make changes and find
That my past does not make my future defined
I find strength bit by bit I find others who care
I begin to see that what happened wasn’t fair
I find ears that want to hear me and hearts to help me mend
They show me love compassion and kindness, they become a friend
They show me that whatever happened I still have a choice
That I can use what has happened that I can still use my voice
That I don’t have to hide, to worry or feel ashamed
I can help other people I can bring about change
And that’s what I’ve done with the grief and the pain
Ive used my experiences to teach and to train
Ive used my voice to speak for others to fight for those that suffer
I may not see my boys but I can still be their mother
I can love with my fighting and teach with my actions
Our roots are the same we’re just different branches
They’re not out of mind they’re just out of sight
I wont ever forget and I wont stop the fight
If there is one thing I would like to take with you after hearing my story, it is the power of sharing your story. I never believed all those years ago that i would be standing here now talking to you all now, that I would be proud of what I have overcome and not ashamed of what I went through. Telling our stories breaks the stigma surrounding the issues so many of us are facing every day. We must speak out, show that we are not ashamed, that we are survivors.Our stories are our super power, so please help us to find our voices and fly!