A Mother’s Love – Carol’s Story
I grew up in a working class suburb of western Sydney called Mt Druitt. Despite the social challenges of our area, high levels of poverty, unemployment and criminal activity, my home was a happy one. Unlike most of my friends, my parents were together and loved each other very much; more than 50 years later, they still do. My dreams for the future were not lofty. I wanted to get married, raise a family, serve in our local church and eventually move out of Mt Druitt.
I met Michael Ramsey at a combined churches youth event in 1984. I was 16 and he was 19. After an initial false start, we started going out. We were engaged a year later and got married in 1986, shortly after my 18th birthday. I left school before finishing the HSC so that I could start working and save some money to help pay for the wedding. Michael was working and studying at university part time. Our plan was simple. He would work and provide for our family and I would raise our family.
Our plan began to unravel, however, when I suffered repeated miscarriages. I had no problem getting pregnant but I seemed incapable of carrying a pregnancy to full term.
It was a heartbreaking and frustrating rollercoaster of hope, loss and disappointment. After five miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, I convinced Michael that we needed to consider an alternative plan for growing our family. I was not going to let the frailty of my own body stop me from being a parent. I had a lot of love to give, so we applied to adopt a child with special needs. Within months of beginning the approval process, I became pregnant again. Government policy at the time prevented us from adopting whilst I was pregnant. I was devastated. I held little hope that this pregnancy would remain and in the mean time we were wasting precious time towards the process of adoption. It felt like God was toying with me.
He wasn’t! In 1992, Michael and I welcomed our first child into the world. Our son Nathaniel was born strong and healthy, the answer to seven years of prayers. He was a beautiful and easy baby. A few months later I became pregnant again; sadly it ended in miscarriage. With little hope that we would ever have another biological child we restarted our adoption application. After six months of processing, we were able to bring home our daughter, Madeline.
She was nine months old, a delightful baby girl with Downs Syndrome. Our family was complete.
After adopting Madeline, we decided to relocate our family to the South Coast. Michael had been offered a position at the University of Wollongong and Madeline would have access to better disability support services and opportunities in Wollongong than Mt Druitt. Nathaniel and Maddie were only a year apart so life was busy, challenging and, at times, chaotic but I adored being a mother. It was during a visit to the doctor with a bad case of the flu that I discovered that I was pregnant again. I was in shock. Our son Sam was born in 1996. With three children under five, including one with special needs, life got even busier.
As the children got older it became more and more apparent that Nathaniel, our oldest, was different to other children his age. He had always been such an easy child, content to play on his own for hours, incredibly intelligent and a voracious reader. By the time he was eight years old there were an increasing number of signs that all was not well with him. He became agitated and frustrated very easily and found it hard to make friends at school. At times his frustration would explode to the point of aggressive and violent outbursts. At the age of nine he was diagnosed with high functioning Asperger’s. We now had a diagnosis but that meant little to Nathaniel. He was desperate to belong, to be accepted, but he seemed incapable of achieving that in a school environment. This regularly led to outbursts of defiant and negative behaviour that the school was not equipped to manage. We made the decision to home school him so we could provide a more stimulating and targeted learning experience but his behaviour continued to deteriorate.
It was incredibly distressing to watch him wrestle with the conflict going on inside his head. He wanted so much to be accepted by a group, to find his tribe. After being exposed to Latin American Hip Hop music he dyed his hair black, adopted the last name of Perez and taught himself Spanish.
It was very clear that Nathaniel wanted to be anyone other than himself. By the time he was 14, he was in the grip of a tormenting level of depression. He talked about taking his life regularly and would swing from violent outbursts of rage to sobbing on the floor like a small child. I felt helpless and heartbroken.
Nathaniel’s moods and behaviours dominated our home. Maddie and Sam learned from an early age to go to their room, close the door and wait for the storm to pass. Michael was working very long hours at his job and so most of the management of Nathaniel’s unfolding condition fell to me. I saw counsellors and specialists, took Nathaniel to prayer ministry and had prayer ministry myself. It seemed like nothing we did made any lasting difference. There would be brief periods of respite but then the war going on inside of Nathaniel would explode into our home life again, with even greater ferocity.
He started taking marijuana when he was 16. Initially, it was motivated by wanting to fit in with a group of kids at TAFE. They all smoked, drank and did drugs and so Nathaniel joined in. Unfortunately, they were also part of a gang involved in criminal activity and Nathaniel became caught up in that world as well. Smoking marijuana helped to numb the persistent pain and frustration that overshadowed his life but eventually it was not enough. He was already abusing alcohol but then we discovered that he was smoking crack as well. Even when he began stealing from us, damaging the house, punching windows and doors and hurling abuse at me, I could not turn him away. I kept telling myself ‘he’s sick, I can’t abandon him’ but it became increasingly difficult to have him in the home and I couldn’t bear to think of the toll that his behaviour was having on Maddie and Sam.
Michael and I attempted to get Nathaniel into a drug rehabilitation program but because he clearly didn’t want to be there they refused to take him. I was at my wits end. I was studying theology at university part time, working and doing my best to be a mother to all of my children, and a wife to my husband. I prayed and fasted for breakthrough but, after more than 10 years of this nightmare, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. The challenges of our life were too much for many of our friends to cope with. Some did their best to support us with prayer and the occasional text message but sadly, many more judged us and distanced themselves from us.
It was an isolating and heartbreaking journey. Very few people took the time to come alongside and just listen to me, or tell me that I was a good mother. I already felt like a failure most of the time so the last thing I needed was other people pointing out to me what they thought I was doing wrong or what they thought I should do differently. Sadly, my Christian friends were often the worst. They would try and encourage me by saying that God was teaching me something through this trial. This made me so mad. In effect, they were saying that God wanted my son to be a crack addict so I could learn to trust God more and develop more patience. I believe that God can teach us many wonderful lessons through pain but he never, ever causes the pain.
The church still has a long way to go in learning how bringing meaningful support to people in situations like mine. I craved empathy not judgement, kindness without an agenda, to be included not isolated, and to be with people who would listen without pretending to have all the answers.
By 2013, I had completed my theology degree and was working as a school chaplain. I loved my job, although I was torn by the reality that, at the same time I was seeing great breakthrough and growth in my students, my own son was still struggling. One day when I was at work, Nathaniel called me, adamant that I needed to come home immediately. He was so insistent and I didn’t know what to expect, but I drove home to see what was going on. As soon as I saw him I knew something had changed. His face looked different; he was settled instead of his usual state of agitation and his voice was calm and steady. Nathaniel told me that as he sat in the living room looking at his crack pipe he noticed a book sitting on the coffee table next to it. It had ‘Remix’ written on the front. He thought it was about music but it was actually a copy of the Message Bible. As he picked it up he had this very clear thought, ‘If I smoke this pipe now I will smoke it for the rest of my life. If God is real and He shows himself to me right now I will put it down and never do drugs again’.
God showed up. Nathaniel felt the Holy Spirit in a real and tangible way. He made a promise to God that if he felt the same peace and presence of God on Sunday he would go to church and give his life to God. He woke up on the Sunday, went to church and gave his life to Jesus.
It was Mother’s Day!
He put down the pipe and never picked it up again. Over the next six months, we saw incredible healing and change in him; he gave up alcohol, marijuana, and gang life. His whole demeanour changed. He was no longer an angry teenager but a calm, loving and wise young man. He couldn’t get enough of God and was very affirming to Mike and I, as parents. Unfortunately, you cannot abuse drugs and alcohol like he did and walk away unscathed. He has been left with mental health issues that now control his life.
Five years ago, Nathaniel was diagnosed with a mental health disorder. He is unable to be around crowds of people and is afraid to leave the house. Initially, he was very angry about his situation and our family bore the brunt of that anger and frustration, but he is much more settled now. He spends a lot of time praying and talking to God. He has one of the most genuine and authentic relationships with Jesus that I have ever witnessed. He talks to Him about everything.
But Nathaniel is not yet healed. He, and we, live in the tension between the healing that we are praying for and the reality of his illness.
Nathaniel still has many difficult days where his mind is tormented. Sometimes I hear him crying and praying that God would take him to heaven where he can live in peace instead of being imprisoned with his damaged mind, in our tiny house, with no friends and only a few family visitors. I wonder why God is taking so long to heal him. Nathaniel totally believes God is, and will continue to heal him, but we all need God to hurry up. It is heart breaking to watch your child waste away while everyone else seems to be living a full life. It can take a toll on your faith, but I will never give up on Nathaniel or God.
My motherhood journey has been heartbreaking, exhilarating and exhausting. If there is one thing that I would like other mothers to know it’s this – you are not your children and their behaviour is not what determines your worth or value as a mother. I struggled with this for many years but recently God encouraged me from the life of the prophet Samuel. I was reading in 1 Samuel 8 about the challenges that Samuel faced with his own sons. The Bible says that they ‘did not follow in their father’s footsteps’. Even though Samuel had set a good and Godly example, his sons chose a different path. There are so many variables that shape the choices that our children make. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions, they choose a path that we have warned them against.
At times I have felt like a failure as a mum but I have come to realise that I am a good mother, regardless of how my children are behaving. I not a good mum because my children are achieving well at school or behaving perfectly. I am a good mum because I love them fiercely and will continue to pray and believe the best of them, and for them.