Days after finding out her breast implant had ruptured, Jennifer, got another shock…
Her criminal son had fathered a child that was to be adopted and Jennifer vowed to bring the tot up herself even though that meant cutting ties with her own son.
Reaching for the phone, the searing pain in my chest throbbed.
‘Hello?’ I rasped.
‘Mum?’ said a voice I’d not heard in a long time.
‘Yes Alfie, it’s me. Mum,’ I replied.
Of my six kids, my son Alfie, now 26, was my fourth born and the one who’d always caused me and his dad the most bother.
Right from when he was a baby, I knew he was different to his brothers and sisters. He was a good boy but was so boisterous and couldn’t sit still for a moment.
By his teens he was always in and out of trouble and had soon I had police officers turning up at the door.
‘Why did you do it, son?’ I’d ask him after he’d held up a taxi driver for cash. ‘This isn’t the way we brought you up.’
Even worse, as he got older his crimes became more violent and usually against women. He was in and out of prison for assault.
Even though I’d split up from my husband, Kevin we were both there for Alfie as much as we could be.
I did not condone his sick behaviour but I’d try to get him help and visit him in jail, begging him to change his ways.
‘I don’t know why I do it,’ he’d say. ‘It’s like I get so angry I can’t stop myself.’
I didn’t understand it. But no matter what Alfie had done and how much I disagreed with his actions, he was still my son and I loved him. I couldn’t just turn that off.
And now, as he explained why he was phoning, I felt confused all over again.
‘Sorry, did you say your son?’ I repeated. He’d never mentioned having had a child.
‘Yep,’ I’m a daddy,’ he said. ‘Who’d have thought it eh, Mum?’
It was certainly a shock. Turns out Alfie had never even met his little boy. He explained that his ex had called to tell him that he had fathered her baby and that the child had been in care and was to be adopted. Alfie had agreed to a DNA test thinking it might help his ex to keep the baby but seemed it wasn’t to be.
‘Mum, I know I’ve done some bad things but you’ve got to help me,’ Alfie begged. ‘I don’t know what will happen to him.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I assured him. ‘Leave it with me.’
I phoned social services to find out more. They told me that a six-month-old baby boy had been taken into care four months earlier, in November 2011, when he was just eight weeks old due to his mum being unable to look after him.
By the time I’d hung up the phone, I’d already decided: no grandchild of mine was going to be taken away without a fight – not when there was a perfectly good family here that could love him.
‘Mum are you sure?’ My daughter asked when I called a family meeting to discuss the situation. ‘Are you really up to it?’
It was true that the timing could not have been worse. Just days before I’d found out that one of my breast implants, which I’d had put in eight years earlier, had ruptured. I was in a great deal of pain and I knew everyone was worried about me but it just wasn’t an option to allow my grandson to be brought up by a stranger when there were so many of us who were ready to love and care for him.
‘It’s the right thing – the only thing – to do,’ I said as everyone nodded in agreement. ‘I’d do it for any of you.’
So I pushed my fears about my own health away to focus on Lucas.
I guess I assumed it would all be pretty straightforward, but I soon found out that Special Guardianship is not automatic, even for family members and many background checks – including medical exams – have to be undertaken before a child is placed with any family.
Terrified my health would jeopardise Lucas’s placement with me I was deeply afraid to ask for painkillers or anything to help me with my anxiety. So I suffered in silence and relied on support from my family.
‘I’m doing fine,’ I’d reassure them. ‘I’m not the one we need to be worrying about.’
After two months of interviews and assessment by social services, I was delighted to find out that Lucas would be allowed to live with me under local authority care.
At first when I told Alfie he was pleased. ‘Great,’ he said. ‘I’ll be able to come and see him.’
I paused. ‘Alfie,’ I said. ‘That isn’t going to happen. You do realise that when Lucas comes to live with me you won’t be able to see him.’
‘You what?’ he snarled. ‘Are you having a laugh?’
‘No, son, it’s the only way I can guarantee that I can keep him safe,’ I admitted sadly.
As the news sunk in, Alfie went hysterical. Called me all the names under the sun.
‘Nobody wants him. Why do you want him? Are you’re trying to replace me with another boy?’ he accused. ‘If you do this, I’ll come and get you,’ he threatened.
It was heartbreaking. But sadly, I’d also heard it all before.
As he ranted and swore I knew reasoning with him was hopeless. ‘Goodbye Alfie,’ I said, gently putting the phone down.
With both Alfie and his former partner, Lucas’ mum, opposed me looking after their son, we had to attend a court hearing.
Because of my son’s violent past, for my own safety, I was escorted into the court room by social services. Facing them both was awful. Alfie looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes.
‘And how do you intend to manage Lucas’ relationship with his parents?’ the judge asked.
I took a deep breath. ‘I don’t want to have contact with either of them and hope that they take this time to make improvements to their lives,’ I said quietly, not looking Alfie in the eye.
The judge agreed to give me full parental rights and at the same time, gave a court order banning Alfie from going near either of us.
In order to have Lucas in my care I’d forfeited my relationship with my own son which was the most difficult choice I have ever had to make.
‘You’ve done the right thing.’ My other kids assured me.
Lucas was finally placed in my care in May 2012, finally achieving security by way of Special Guardianship that July. I hadn’t even met him until then.
Lucas was a lovely little boy, bright and bubbly, and the spit of his dad. And although I was in great pain, suffering awful whole-body skin rashes and weight loss because of my implant he still brought a smile to my face.
Because I had been assured by my clinic that I was not a PIP patient I was seen as a non-urgent case by the NHS and had to wait a whole year until my ruptured implant was removed.
When they told me I wondered how I would ever get through the next 12 months. But with Lucas to think about I didn’t have a choice.
Alfie was still distraught over losing me and his family and constantly rang with heated threats.
I always told him the same thing: ‘I’ll always be there for you but I can’t see you at the moment.’
But the threats continued. For mine and Lucas’ safety we had to leave my home and flee to a women’s refuge. I now lived with desperate women fleeing fear and violence inflicted by their partners… men like my own son. Shame stung.
It was while we were at the refuge that I heard my operation to remove my implants had been set for March 2013.
As the refuge staff would not be able to help care for Lucas and wouldn’t allow anyone to come and stay with us at the refuge – understandably to keep other women safe and anonymous – I was faced with the awful prospect of returning Lucas to foster care for a few weeks while I ‘recovered’.
‘I can’t do it to him,’ I said to my daughter Sarah, 22 (false name). ‘It’ll unsettle him so much.
‘But Mum you have to have this op,’ she reasoned. ‘Look at you.’
In the end, thanks to the championing of the other ladies at the refuge, Sarah was allowed to come and help on site for two weeks.
I’d hoped the pain would end when the implants were removed, but it didn’t.
Not that Lucas would have noticed – I held him, carried him and played with him throughout, just as I always had. I was still absolutely terrified to ask for any help despite feeling very low.
In January 2014, almost a year after my implant and lymph node removal, I returned to the NHS with a view to discussing my on-going pain and the disfigurement of my left breast.
‘I just don’t understand why it’s such a mess compared to my right,’ I said.
‘Well, the surgeon removed a textured cohesive gel implant from your right-hand breast and a completely ruptured implant on the left that was in such a state of degradation that it could not be identified by serial number but was highly suspected to be PIP,’ the consultant explained.
‘So one was on my implants was a PIP but the other one wasn’t? I said, confused. It was the first I’d heard of it.
‘I believe so,’ my consultant said.
‘Is that normal?’ I asked, horrified.
He agreed that the use of two different implants wasn’t normal and wasn’t something he’d come across before in the many years he’d been working with breast augmentation cases.
‘So why me then?’ I asked.
He didn’t know.
Back home, though delighted to see Lucas, I couldn’t let it rest. I contacted the compnay who wrote back to say that as all their surgeons were self-employed, any issues I had with their work needed to be directed to them personally.
‘How do you propose I do that?’ I raged. It was years since I’d had my implants put in. God only knows how I was supposed to track him down 11 years on…
Still, as Lucas slept next to me I spent my evenings trawling Google in an effort to locate him. And eventually….bingo!
I was disgusted when I discovered that he was banned from working in the UK for a period of time before he began ‘working’ for the UK clinic I went to.
‘Can you believe it?’ I said to Sarah. ‘What were they thinking? I’m going to make sure someone pays for this.’
But disappointingly, no one was interested in taking on my case.
‘Mum, if anyone can get justice in this, it’s you,’ Sarah said. ‘Look at what you’ve already done for Lucas. Don’t give up.’
So I haven’t. Two years on, I’m still campaigning for greater regulation of the industry, safer practices and above all clear and concise advertising from surgery providers making it clear that they will not be held responsible as a company if anything goes wrong.
Lucas is now three and while my scars have healed and my physical pain all but gone, I still suffer terrible skin rashes, weight loss and have recently developed severe asthma. I worry every day that having a ruptured PIP implant in situ for so long could mean that I won’t get to see Lucas grow up and that he would lose his ‘Mummy’ as he now calls me.
I already feel like I’ve said goodbye to my son, who’s currently back in prison again – I don’t want to lose my grandson too.