As a young child protection worker, I was often told by my clients that I knew nothing because I had no children myself. When I became pregnant, they began to look at me differently, and I was surprised by the impact it had on my work. There were two parts to this: first, we now had something in common, but second, my pregnancy meant I would be leaving.
My pregnancy introduced more equality into some of my relationships with clients. I was a newcomer to an experience they had all gone through. Julia, a mother with learning difficulties, was able to give me advice, and to tell me what to expect by sharing her memories about her pregnancy and her son’s birth. He was going to be adopted, and her memories form an important part of his life story book now. It also helped her desire to do the best by her son, even if this meant letting him go.
However, having one thing in common with my clients revealed how many other things were different. This was most painfully illustrated when Kate, 15 and living in a children’s home, told me that she was also pregnant. While my announcement was met with smiles and congratulations, hers initiated emergency meetings, talk of involving the police or ending her placement. She was clear she didn’t want the baby. I felt like the most inappropriate person to help, but she found a way to discuss it: for me the timing was right, and one day it would be for her too but not now.
My pregnancy also made me more vulnerable than ever before. One mother, drunk and furious, screamed at me: “I hope your baby dies!” It was very easy for her to identify my weakest point to show me how hurt she was feeling. I had to hang up the phone, but later she apologised and even asked me to name the baby after her! We had had a very difficult relationship, but I realised part of her anger was because I was leaving. We managed to say goodbye and wish each other well with our children, recognising what we had in common as well as everything that was different about our lives.
I had to tell clients I would be leaving much earlier than I would have liked but my growing stomach was a constant reminder that I would be going. For all the looked-after children I worked with, my pregnancy meant another change, another uncertainty, another loss. Like so many other people in their lives, I was leaving. They would have a new social worker, but they had months to wonder about who it would be. In the meantime, was there any point in trusting me?
Now my baby is nine-months-old, and I am returning to work. Will becoming a parent change my practice, as my clients predicted? I am about to find out.