from Steven Bennett:
Synnøve Johansen is a Norwegian mother of three children. She ended up under the spotlight of Norway’s CPS (barnevernet). This is her story:
“I was forced to ‘voluntarily’ enroll at Vilde Mothers Home in Horten when my daughter was barely two days old. Norway’s CPS, barnevernet, came unannounced into the delivery room
with a contract I had to sign there and then, otherwise, they would have taken my newborn baby straight away. So, I signed it. If one could call this voluntary – in this case CPS and I have strongly different views on what the term voluntary means.
We arrived in the evening of the second day after the birth. We were placed in a dirty room with very little furniture. It was cold and I felt quite alone in the world. No one had told me what I had to deal with, so it was just a coincidence that I brought with me my own bedding and towels. Nobody had prepared me either for a stay of 13 weeks – I had to be there – no choice.
The first week you are there, you are lucky enough to be in maternity. That is to say that you are then left to yourself with fear inside the dirty apartment with your newborn child. There is no one serving warm soup or asking you if you need a rest after three nights in row of crying, but you avoid at least to follow the compulsory scheme which consists of a singing group, kitchen service where you cook for residents and personnel, washing common areas, baking and being ‘investigated’ by an expert.
The only thing you need to do or stand up for, is when someone from the staff will see that you care, breast feed and bathe your child. One gets the message that they should only observe you and your baby in the first month, so it means that you will not be given any feedback about what they think they observe. So during a whole month you dread if you will be labeled as preliminary good mum or not. Those days are very long. I cried a lot, like women who have just given birth often do, and I struggled a lot with fear and had troubles sleeping because of how fearful I felt.
Since, I had recently given birth and being a woman, on one of the first evenings we were there, I asked the night watch if she could cradle my little child who was upset while I was taking a quick shower. The harsh and cold answer I received was a question back to why I had not showered earlier in the day. Certainly, most new mothers will understand, that women who have just given birth, bleed the first few weeks. It is actually quite desirable to wash both morning and evening. I learned very quickly that one should not bother in the evening in a Mothers Home with such things.
In fact, I learned quite fast, that a Mothers Home you were not meant to be yourself. Here, you need to ‘sell a package’ that fits into a narrow Mothers Home view of what a ‘good enough mum’ is. There are not many mothers who are ‘good enough mums’. Around eight out of ten mothers lose their baby at Vilde. The statistics were given to us by the employees themselves.
Then comes ‘the working week’ – so you are finished now with your postnatal period and now it’s your duty to attend the singing group, the baking, the cooking, the washing, the conversations and the ‘investigation’ of the so-called and self-proclaimed experts on your child.
For it is they who know what your child needs and who supposedly know what’s best for your child – not you, who has carried around your baby for nine months inside of you. You have to fill in each day, how much time the child is asleep, when he wakes up, when he eats, gets a new nappy, cries, is quiet, is upset and the like. This was done three days in a row, twice during our stay.
The ‘Assessment’ consists of being examined every week about how well you know your child, and about what answer you give in every conceivable (and inconceivable) situation that could arise from the birth until the baby matures. Moreover, both you and your child have their IQ tested. It is important to have high IQ if you are to be approved as a ‘good enough mother’. It is certainly very important to have already thought out how your child will be when he will be at least 25 years old, while the child is still four weeks old – everything is noted by the ‘expert’, and filmed, so it can be used (against you) later.
Having kitchen duties means that you should learn to cook and bake like any good housewife should, for it is understood that you are not capable of this. Moreover, one should learn to put into a dishwasher and empty it, learn to wash benches, kitchen cabinets and the floor.
The washing must be done at night, after supper, and this around the most difficult time of day for a mum with an infant. So, while you’re washing – because private foundations save namely what they can in terms of money to give more profit to private investors and therefore no cleaning personnel is employed – one of the staff monitors your activity and makes a note in your journal if you wash ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
It was also noted how well enough you could safeguard your child while you washed. The room you stay in will also be inspected every Wednesday, so they can monitor whether you wash good enough in there too. They write down how often you wash your clothes, if you look well kept or not to their standard, if you have enough eye contact with your child and staff, and about how you feel inside you.
Everything you do and say will be questioned
They already know this without having to ask you anything. Everything you do and say will be questioned, and they could even make an experienced mum like me very insecure and afraid. Nothing is good enough, and the criticism I received was partly because I was carrying my child too much. Also, I didn’t shield her enough against the noise, I kept her in a health blanket at all times and I washed her bottom too much when she needed it.
Lunch and dinner is eaten together with the staff. That’s when we are all a big happy family, where there are no obstacles, like for example confidentiality; the staff can do ‘counselling’ to some mums while the other mums are present. The ‘Problems’ of the mother are pointed out, and then the poor mother, as a compromise, has to put up with being corrected and criticised in front of all the other mothers.
It is mandatory at 5pm ‘observation time’, where we mums need to lie on the floor with our kids and chat, while staff sit around us and watch. This is to see if the child responds to us well enough, and if we interact well with the child. Any suggestion to the fact that the child doesn’t see enough of the mother is interpreted as the child ‘consistently rejects the mother’.
Each family admitted has its own room. We’re not allowed to be with others inside the room. This must be carried out in a living room where the wall is a glass wall, so the staff can see at any time what we do, or overhear what you talk about. For there is a lot at Vilde which one is not allowed to talk about.
What were we really doing there?
What were we really doing there? The experience is one of a negative kind with the child care services – it’s about how scared one can be. Outwardly, one should be grateful for being so lucky to be allowed in there – that’s what we are told in the intake meeting. It was outrageous how much money was being spent on just you and your child. The price per day at Vilde was for me and my baby girl, about 4.500kr. Multiply that by one hundred days.
The children are taken almost the entire day. From 8am in the morning until 10pm in the evening. There is no warning, but one learns eventually that when the place is suddenly flooded with child welfare people whom one has not seen before, and then you are told to go into your room, you then know a child is being taken away from his/her mother.
Then you sit there in horror and wonder who it will be next, while your heart beats so fast and hard that it’s almost impossible to breathe. The only thing you hear is a mum who cries, screams or shouts out her despair and pain. And, so the child is taken away by the CPS and the mother has to stay and wash the room that she stayed in with her child. It is expected of her to do this – She must stay and clean up.
Nobody talks to you about what just happened afterwards. No one asks you if you are OK, or afraid, or if you need to talk to someone about what happened. It’s just like it happens in everyday life for mothers in Vilde, so it is assumed and expected of you to endure this.
Eventually you learn to ignore feelings. You become colder, more cynical and numb. You need it to survive. The only thing you need to focus on is to survive and pray to the Almighty that your child might not be too traumatized by being there. For it is not in the child’s best interest that the mum is terrified and stressed every day, every hour, every minute, around the clock for up to one hundred days.
Most mothers there are so stressed that they lose their breast milk. But the employees at Vilde do not care about that, they would rather provide you with free replacement milk and this way it’s easier to take the babies away from the mothers who do not breastfeed. Do our authorities really think that this is in ‘the best interest of the child’? Is this really a child’s best start in life, to have a terrified mum who fights for her life and struggles with fear every day, every minute for 13 weeks?
Or could they actually imagine that the best start was at home – in their own homes, along with safe and older people where there is mutual trust, lots of empathy and understanding, and where the primary focus was that the mother could manage and this child could grow up where he belongs from the beginning?
But, by all means there was something good with Vilde also. Mostly we got another dinner, a soup, leftovers from the day before or a pizza. Sometimes, Tone or Kirsti the extra guards were at work. Then you could relax a bit, experience to be talked to like an ordinary human being with human rights, intrinsic value and as a mum who supposedly had knowledge and intelligence enough to talk about everyday topics that were interesting.
And, I met many wonderful, resourceful mums and dads who for one reason or another had been disgraced by what we in Norway call CPS – and I’m very happy that I got the opportunity to meet them. We comforted, listened and encouraged each other. Some are my friends to this day, even one year after.
Three mums and a dad were deprived of their children while I and my child was admitted to Vilde. A mum and a single father got to travel home with their sons. The rest of us were glad for their child’s sake, and wept for the unhappy mums and the dads who lost their children. We cried for those children who became a part of the sad statistics under CPS ‘care’.”
Finally, and thank God this mother could take her lovely baby daughter home again. And she even won her case against Norway’s CPS at the County Board. She was in the fortunate ca.10% of mothers who leave the Mothers Home with their child. This in spite of the ‘expert’ from Vilde saying this about the mum’s daughter, “It is very important that (daughter’s name) has a good relationship to CPS, for her children will be again in childcare one day.” Her daughter was at this time seven months old.