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Losing a child after domestic violence

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It is said that a woman feels like and becomes a mother the moment she discovers she’s pregnant while a man feels like and becomes a father the moment the child is born. I don’t know how many men would agree with this statement because I haven’t asked nor have I asked any women if this statement rings true for them, but I imagine it would.

Before I gave birth to my daughter, I did A LOT of therapy work with A LOT of families and my counseling textbooks would refer to the mother-child bond every so often – mostly regarding the newborn to toddler years – but pre-school to adult years would also come up.

Pre-pregnancy, my concept of the mother-child bond was relationship-based - something achieved over the course of time, like any other attachment relationship. From the psychological study movies I saw in class, it appeared to me that this bond was initiated through the exchange of gazing between mother and baby during infancy - a phenomena so important to healthy child development and to the success of our species that our society universally and historically has sought to protect, support and sanctify this crucially important bonding process.

Back then (when I was in school) the father-child bond was being recognized as something important but its purpose was different because the key function of this bond was about getting the father's instinct to protect and provide for the new child to kick in; a mother would instinctually go to her death for her child but without an established bond between the father and child, a father would not do the same so it was said that a mother's love is UNconditional whereas a father's love is conditional.

From what I could gather, this mother-child bond was a permanent attachment that once made even had the power to transcend death! I remember thinking “Wow, that’s a whole lot of love” which is something I was supposed to help regain for the families I served so I thought I “got” the concept – that is until my daughter was born…

I remember lying in the hospital bed with her sleeping in a bundle on my stomach and thinking about my textbooks. (Yea, I know I’m weird.) All I could think of is that none of them accurately described or even remotely captured the true essence of the mother-child bond because what I was feeling was something so huge, powerful and overwhelming, it was beyond the necessity of air. My bond to her wasn't relationship-based, it was soul-based, and then I realized two things:

  • my pre-pregnancy understanding of the mother-child bond was a flimsy one and
  • uh oh, my life will never, ever be the same again

This feeling for my daughter made love seem pale by comparison and my world was instantly transformed by it. I could not look at life the same way – I couldn’t stomach the evening news because any story that involved the loss of a child or a separation between mother and child physically nauseated me; I worried about never being able to work in the field of violence and abuse again because all of a sudden, child abuse was just incomprehensible and surprisingly, church even changed. Before my daughter’s birth the passion of Christ was something reviewed once a year during Mass but after her birth, the thought of what Mary endured during the crucifixion became unbearable - and still to this day - chokes me to tears.

Much is made about the parent-child bond during family court custody proceedings where no distinction is made between the mother-child bond and the father-child bond; I guess for political correctness or in the spirit of “fairness and equity” both of these unique bonds are lumped together and held as equal in nature but how can that possibly be? While it’s true that men and women “have a baby” at the same time, the process that brings them there is completely different in each and every way! In the same way that it would be improper to minimize the father-child bond, it's as improper to say that the mother-child bond is as equal to the father-child bond.

Although a fictional birth, the attached You Tube video from the movie "The Color Purple" clearly illustrates the extreme difference in which men and women become parents. No honorable God-fearing soul would ever think to tell a mother that her pregnancy and childbirth have no meaning, value, significance or importance yet this is the message standardly given to DV survivor moms around the country every day in family court when their role, relationship and meaning to their child is reduced and put on equal standing to the abusive father's.

Once upon a time it was honorable and expected that women and children be protected from those who might seek to harm them but look what we have today! Ask yourself: what kind of person would take a child away from his/her mother and how much worse is it when the person doing the removing is the child's father as portrayed in the movie clip? The situation only becomes more non-sensical and against nature if the father has a history of violence and abuse, and becomes deplorably inhumane if the abuser has other agents enacting and supporting the child's removal from his/her mother.

Who would help an abuser do something so cruel? Sadly it’s the professionals the victim-survivor has turned to for safety, justice and support. The majority of DV survivors who lose their children lose them NOT through parental abduction but through family court proceedings and/or family court interventions. How could something like this possibly happen? Easy – in a nutshell:

The victim flees her abusive situation with her child and turns to outside assistance. The abuser either files for divorce or reports the child has been kidnapped. Upon advisement, the victim obtains a TRO or files for divorce where – as mentioned in the previous article – the DV is either "dealt with" and deemed “over” or litigated away to get to a “fair and equitable” standard – THEN the child custody proceedings can begin where domestic violence becomes as meaningful as pregnancy and childbirth: of no value and irrelevant.

If you’re not familiar with staggering around in the DV Twilight Zone, all of this sounds impossible, improbable and insane = unbelievable, which is why (as sick as this is going to sound) it’s probably easier to cope with a child’s death then to cope with losing a child after domestic violence.

Why? Because at least death can be explained, understood on some level, mourned and given closure; there is compassion, empathy, support and care for those left behind. When a DV survivor mom loses her child it cannot be logically explained - let alone understood - and there is absolutely NO support, recourses or resources to turn to. Not only is there no sympathy or comfort for such a loss, people will typically treat the survivor mom as a pariah – with contempt and scorn. The mourning and grieving go on without end and there’s no way to come to closure because the survivor mom is always worrying, wondering, looking, hoping and praying.

The “fix” to this appears simple enough: if a mistake’s been made then just give the child back to the survivor mom BUT if you follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to where the mistake originated from, you’d find that it doesn’t lead back to the abuser…

Many court-related professionals don’t have the humility, humanity or sense of duty to admit making a mistake and many more don’t have the moral courage to right their wrongs. Admitting a mistake or making a correction might be too shameful for the professional and he/she’s more likely afraid of looking bad in front of his/her peers or concerned with suffering a hit to his/her reputation (or bank account) then in doing the morally right thing. Because these professionals are often covered by immunity they can confidently make any decision/mistake they want and not have to concern themselves with the outcome or consequences, consoling themselves from tragedies by telling themselves that “there was something wrong/broken” with that mom/child/family to begin with and “I did my best”.

Despite the availability of best practice research, such as the Saunders Report http://new.vawnet.org/Assoc_Files_VAWnet/AR_CustodyRevised.pdf , and laws to prevent abusers from getting sole or joint custody (ie: HRS 571-46(9)) too many DV survivors are losing custody of the children they fled with to protect. If that doesn’t sound concerning enough, consider this: those same children who witnessed their father victimizing their mother are being raised by these abusive men. Still not overly concerned? As one DV survivor mom who lost custody of her children put it:

My kids are being raised by a violent and sexually abusive man and just think – someday my kids are going to marry your kids.

When a DV survivor loses her children, we all lose as well.

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