Saturday, 11 September 2010

By Alice Wright 9/09/2010
When Cassie Gould and Wayne Halligan took their sick son to hospital they were falsely accused of harming him - then began 11 months of hell as they tried to get their baby back.
"Nobody can describe the pain of having your child taken away from you - it's like someone putting a knife in your heart and turning it again and again.
Nobody could comfort me, nothing could take away my grief. Last year, we took our baby Cavern to hospital when we found he wasn't feeding properly and had developed little spots in his ear. To our horror, doctors said he had been shaken. From that moment our lives changed forever.
Before that, I'd loved every moment of motherhood - even getting up in the nights to feed him. It had given my life a new joy and purpose. But without him there, I woke up every morning with a heavy heart.
My partner Wayne tried his best but I was so angry and frustrated I pushed him away.
I even started drinking at weekends to try and forget. Of course it didn't work - after two bottles of wine I'd sit there weeping, frustrated that I was powerless to get him back. Doubts crept in about my abilities as a mother - had I bounced him too hard in his bouncer? Had I done something without realising it? Worse, I began to suspect Wayne of harming him, even though I knew he was a devoted dad.
Then after 11 months separated from our child, doctors confirmed he had a medical condition called hydrocephalus (water on the brain) that had caused the symptoms.
Now we've got our little boy back but I'll never be the same - when social services took my baby away they broke me. I'm still suffering.
We'd taken him to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham last March after we found little spots in his ears and he refused to eat - and he was referred to Birmingham Children's Hospital. Doctors there did tests and found Cavern had suffered a bleed on the brain. They asked if he'd been dropped, or if someone had hurt him, we were shocked. Of course not! He was in for three days and we sat by his bedside, before social workers came in with the police. They told us Cavern had been diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome and we were under suspicion.
As we were led away I sensed the eyes of other parents on the ward following us accusingly and I broke down. Wayne was cautioned and questioned by police that same day but I was in too much of a state to talk to them until weeks later.
Outside the hospital I called my mum, sobbing while I told her what had happened.
She couldn't believe it, and stood by me over the next awful months.
For three months Cavern was in hospital, but we couldn't stay with him on our own - we had to be supervised.
At home his toys were everywhere but the flat was silent without him. I was a wreck and couldn't face family and friends. What would they think? I'd babysat for their children! People distanced themselves from me - that hurt even more because it seemed they'd decided I was guilty. Wayne didn't cry - he didn't break down once and, mistakenly, I suspected he didn't care. I knew he wasn't capable of harming our child but how could he be so unfeeling?
I lashed out over and over again - I never accused Wayne outright but he knew what I was thinking. Sometimes I looked at him and knew he was wondering the same about me. At one point the pressure got too much and we split for a few weeks.
After three months, Cavern was discharged and went to live with Roisin, Wayne's sister - I was pleased he was with family but I was missing the milestones.
I missed his first tooth, the moment he started crawling and his first words. While Roisin was looking after Cavern he was taken back to hospital where doctors found he'd suffered another bleed on the brain.
Our child protection officer called an emergency meeting where one doctor suggested Cavern might have hydrocephalus, which can cause bleeding. It was terrible to hear my son had a serious medical condition but I was overjoyed to have an explanation. And I was angry doctors hadn't said anything to us about the condition before. I thought the nightmare would end there, but one doctor wasn't convinced.
Police dropped the case but social services didn'tso we still couldn't take Cavern home. Then Roisin's daughter became ill so Cavern had to be moved again - this time he went to live with my mum. I still saw him every day but when he cried, he reached out his arms to my mum for comfort, not me. That hurt a lot. I was scared he'd begin to forget I was his mummy.
Despite everything Wayne stayed strong. I could see he was traumatised - he lost a stone in weight - but he never showed his hurt. It wasn't until December that all the doctors agreed he had hydrocephalus and in January this year a judge ordered social services to hand him back. It was only when we got on the bus to go home that it started to sink in. I was grinning and crying at the same time.
I hadn't lost my bond with Cavern but it was difficult getting back into the routine. He left a baby and came back a toddler.
I'm still trying to make that time up. Wayne and I are rebuilding our relationship. What we've been through will stay with us the rest of our lives - I thank him now for his strength in those terrible days. He kept this family together.
I want to get on with my life but it's easier said than done. If I have to take Cavern to hospital now, I'm wary and mistrustful of so-called experts. I cry at the smallest thing and feel I'm forever looking over my shoulder. I should have enjoyed every moment of my son's first year - instead it was a living hell."
"I couldn't believe we were accused of battering our baby.
That whole period is a terrible nightmare I kept hoping I would wake up from.
We were really enjoying being new parents - then it all came crashing down. While Cavern was in hospital I was getting up at 6.30am, doing a full day at work as a builder and then going to the ward. I was exhausted but at least at work I didn't have to face the accusing eyes of people who suspected I'd beaten my baby. I knew I hadn't injured Cavern, so I couldn't help wondering if Cassie had. It's horrible to think about now but when experts say your baby's been abused you can't help those feelings creeping in. Cassie and I were arguing so much I moved out for a while.
One minute we were a happy family, the next we'd been torn apart.
I felt so powerless - it was like I'd been paralysed.
It was the biggest shock of my life when, in January, the judge finally said we could have Cavern back.
For 11 months we'd been accused of beating our child, then, just like that, it was all over. I wanted to demand an apology for everything we'd been through.
Having Cavern back is fantastic but I'm not sure about having more kids. There's no way I could go through that again."

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