After a recent attack in London by three young men on innocent passers-by, today of all days seems to me to be the day to at last write my story. This is the story of how I became the mother I am today.
It has been more than 10 years now since my 25-year-old daughter left her flat, she kissed her flatmate goodbye and headed off out into London. She loved life and loved the city. Having grown up in a village she treated London like a village, she always expected to meet friends and because this was the way she thought then this is what she found. She didn't know that very soon many people who she didnt even know would have her best interests at heart.
Within half an hour my daughter was lying unconscious and bleeding at the side of the road. She had been attacked and robbed of her bag. A dentist stopped to do CPR and a taxi driver gave chase to the three men who sped off on their mopeds carrying my daughter's bag and with it, her identity.
An ambulance arrived and resuscitated my daughter, the police took charge at the scene. On arrival at A&E they resuscitated her again, she was transferred to the neurological hospital where a long operation helped to lessen the effects of the bleeds on her brain. She had the best of care. She was transferred to intensive care and in all this time no-one at all who knew her knew she was there.
I was among those phoned that evening by one of the men wanting to know her address as they had ‘found her phone at the bus stop'. None of us gave away her address but tried to contact her. That evening I and several of her friends rang and rang her flat. None of us saw the 10 pm news describing the young woman found unconscious, or that three men were wanted for attempted murder.
The next morning I started ringing the hospitals asking if anyone had been admitted either with her name or not knowing her name. Her friend rang the police. More than 24 hours after she had been attacked her boyfriend and a best friend identified the jewellery that she had been wearing and the police were able to tell us that she was in a critical state having had a bleed on the brain.
I went into a kind of autopilot. It was as if the umbilical cord that had joined us so firmly together all those years before was now relentlessly pulling me the 100 miles towards my daughter's bedside. My focus was totally on getting to see her and hoping I would not be too late. As I walked up the hospital stairs I knew that either I would get to know these stairs well or this might be the one and only time I traveled them. Either way, all our lives had changed forever. Family and friends were already gathered, fear on all our faces.
I recognised my daughter by the curve of her nose, her fingers, and toes. She was bruised and swollen. Her eye was blackened, she had skull fractures, eye socket fractures, and a fractured clavicle. She also had a suspected fractured spine, but her head injury was so serious that they couldn't investigate her spine for fear of causing more trauma to her brain.
The Police were kind. The Doctors and Nurses were kind. Family and friends were kind. News spread. Newspapers took the story, Crimewatch showed the story and people who knew us and people who didn't were praying and hoping and sending support and good wishes to us all. It was as if we were all just waiting as my daughter rode the scariest roller-coaster of her life - for 4 (very long) weeks. There were many times when we watched squeezed into a corner while the medical staff checked and tweaked and monitored the machines as my daughter, my first born child clung tenuously to life. More than once we were told to call the whole family to be by her bedside.
As those closest to her kept vigil by her bedside, friends brought food and love. It felt as if we had set up a camp where love and connection and laughter held us close, and still, we waited. We survived on laughter and hope and gave no time or space to fear anger and hate.
Initially, we had little information and we were scared that whoever had attacked my daughter would try to come into the hospital. Many people were interviewed by police, many people rang the police with information. My daughter had not been singled out by anyone who knew her, she had been attacked for the contents of her handbag.
We waited, we hoped, we prayed. There was nothing definite, in those weeks, she could die, she could be paralysed by stroke or spinal fracture, she might never regain consciousness she might lose her speech, her personality, control over her bodily functions. All that I knew as I stood and sat and watched and waited and talked to doctors, nurses and police was that although I was a guardian of her body, she was not ‘there'. I hoped and hoped for a full recovery but had no idea if she would ever ‘come back' I told her stories and sang the songs of her childhood. I planned a house move to a wheelchair safe environment to have her home, I planned her funeral.
And then 4 weeks on she started to wake up, and no it was not like the films, no flutter of eyelids, no smile of recognition. I remember meeting her grandfather at the top of the stairs - (the ones that I now knew well) saying - "she is breathing on her own". As a Mum I had NEVER felt prouder, I was rocketed back to the moment she had been born, the first time she breathed on her own, the way that she had stretched out like a kitten before growing into the beautiful sleek tigress she was to become.
The waking up took many days while her eyes rolled and she smiled a vacant smile, we watched as she waved her arms and legs just as she had when she was a baby trying to make sense of how to control them, She ripped out the tubes that had been taking stuff in and out of her body for the last few weeks. We were told we had to make plans for longer-term care, but Jane had other plans. Within a week her friend met her walking down the street ‘looking just like Bambi' and walked back into the hospital with her.
Five weeks after she had been admitted to hospital I took Jane downstairs to the intensive care unit for her to see where she had ‘slept away' the month of February. The slow dawning of recognition on the faces of the staff to see this beautiful upright young woman who had been so ill, so dependent on them brought tears to my eyes and theirs.
A week later Jane went home, she returned to her flat and returned to University. Life was not and still is not easy, ask anyone who lives with or loves someone with an acquired brain injury or epilepsy they will know. Memory loss, fatigue, and headaches are relentless reminders. My brave and astonishing daughter still treats London as a village, she has had her phone and her purse snatched several times more, but many more times than that she has been picked up and comforted by strangers, helped by police, medical staff, paramedics, shopkeepers, firemen and taxi drivers she wears a bracelet to say who to contact if she is lost or unconscious. As she says "There are far more people who have helped me than have ever caused me harm". *
Our family was changed by the events that occurred one day in February 2007. Each of us carries emotional or even physical ‘scars' from that time, however, we are all grateful for each and every day that we are all ‘here'.
As a mother, I feel that I had two baby daughters. The first one I planned, carried for 9 months and helped to grow over many years. The second one I found in a hospital bed - as helpless as she had been before birth, I thought for her as I did for my newborn daughter, vigilant for her safety and fearful that she would not survive the night. But this time instead of taking ten months to learn to walk she took ten days, she let go of my guiding hand and ran towards her future whatever that may be. As a mother, I have given my heart and a part of me to my children yet I keep on my body the signs that they were once inside me, my brain is still affected by the hormones of pregnancy and motherhood I forged new neural circuits and integrated the DNA of my babies. Meanwhile, my mind as a mother is out there travelling, wondering, hoping and dreaming that all will be well for those that I love. I am a mother, I will always be a mother, I cannot not be a mother. I am proud of this. My experiences have ensured that I put aside any guilt shame and blame for being a mother. My task in this life is to use all that I have learned to continue to grow. I did and do my best, it is by no means perfect, but I no longer judge myself harshly and neither do I judge others. As a mother, I am accountable to myself in this - not anyone else - not even my children.
Two nights ago in London, three young men in a van set out to take from others that which was not theirs to take. There are many families now who are keeping vigil. I wish them the strength, the courage and the sense of humour to get through, whatever that is and however long the rollercoaster ride may be. Nothing is ever the same for anyone affected by acts of violence.
*I no longer tell this story often, but when I do the first question that is nearly always asked is "Did they get them?" The answer is that the police did an amazing job, but through all their great endeavours only one 17-year-old was brought to trial. He served 2 years of a 4 year prison sentence. His twin daughters will be eleven this year. I wish them well.
Many thanks go to the emergency services and the Metropolitan police. To the NHS in hospitals and the community. To the taxi drivers, jurors, shopkeepers, to friends, family, and passers-by who did and will offer kindness and support in difficult times. We are held together as individuals and communities by everyone who cares. Thank you.
There are times in life that mothers need another mother to walk beside them to support them through the tough times and to hold their motherhood vision with them. If you need this kind of support now then this is the time to call a friend or call me to see how I can help.