Monthly Archives: September 2011

“She’s a real daddy’s girl”

It’s hot, an Indian summer. Shorts and T-shirts are back on. More than one Wythenshawe resident is mowing or strimming, maybe for the last time this year. Like many estates, this one gets noticed for all the wrong reasons but, having worked around here, I know the majority are stigmatised by the few.

Frances’ accommodation is, from the outside, unremarkable, which is probably intentional. A brick, two-storey block behind a row of shops. The razor wire and detritus of the shops are on one side and a large lawned area with children’s play equipment on the other.

There are spikes and grilles at the front and one of those half sphere security cameras above the door. On the street, at the entrance to the small car park, there’s another camera, less subtle, on a bare metal pole.

Frances comes to the door to meet me. She tells me she is tired, the baby is keeping her awake at night. I sign in and follow her upstairs, along the corridor to her flat. I’m impressed: a suite of rooms as big as any of those city centre apartments with their canalside views and latté cafés. There are two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a living room with kitchenette. It comes with two brand new sofas, tables and chairs, a double bed, a single bed, a wardrobe, chest of drawers. “It’s partly furnished,” says Frances, “the rest I’ve brought from home.”

There are another nine flats here, all for young mums, all supported by the staff in the downstairs office. “I haven’t started my weekly meetings with them yet,” explains Frances, “they are letting me settle in, calling me to see if everything is okay.” Her neighbours have been friendly but, “I’m not ready to make new friends just yet.”

Hassan has been staying but is out now, and baby Mia (that’s Me-a and not My-a) is asleep in the bedroom. I take a peek. I fear Frances was asleep too, before I pressed her buzzer.

“How’s it going?” I ask, as she gets me a glass of coke from the tidy kitchenette.

“I like it here. Yeah. It’s a bit far when I want to go back down there, that’s the annoying part. Backwards and forwards all the time.”

Frances’ mum has been in hospital, and is going in again soon. “She keeps getting blood clots,” explains Frances. “First she had her toe amputated and they thought they could stop it spreading and then she had half her foot cut off and now they need to cut her leg open. She needs a bit of help now and then, which is why I go down to make sure everything is going okay.”

I hear nothing, but Frances is tuned in, ready. “She’s waking up,” she says as she goes next door into the bedroom. The nineteen-day-old has her eyes open, grizzling gently.

“Tell me something about her personality,” I ask as Mia is brought into the living room.

“She’s funny,” says Frances. “She’s been giggling lately. It’s cute when she smiles. I always try to take a picture but she stops just as I go to take it.

“She’s dead good and a proper daddy’s girl. She likes to sleep next to him, it makes her feel safe.”

Frances tells me the midwife visited until Mia was 13 days old. She has a health visitor from the Family Nurse Partnership which, its website says, is a ‘preventive programme for vulnerable young first time mothers. It offers intensive and structured home visiting, delivered by specially trained nurses, from early pregnancy until age two.’

“My health visitor is dead nice. She’s called Jane and she does everything for me. She comes about once a week and weighs Mia. She helps me out with everything I need. If I need to ring somewhere I’ll just text her and she’ll ring up for me.”

The Family Nurse Partnership is an idea imported from the US where evidence has shown that early, targeted intervention can save ‘from $17,000 to $34,000 per child by the time they reach 15, with a $3-5 return for every $1 invested.’ Sounds interesting.

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I ask how they met

I had hoped to visit Frances at home whilst she was still pregnant. It didn’t happen and so today is the first time I have been to her family home in a Moss Side cul-de-sac. ‘Please don’t let it be the house with the two Rottweilers,’ I say to myself as I cycle up, counting down the house numbers.

Thankfully Hassan comes into the front garden and removes the dogs, still barking, into a back room. “Bring your bike inside,” he says. I see Frances’ mum is in the corridor briefly and then she’s gone. Hassan leads me into the sitting room where he has just finished changing Mia. Frances comes in with a warmed bottle of milk and says hello. In the corner the presenters on an antiques show are talking about a find of old postcards but no one is taking any notice.

I need to sit Frances down and talk to her, and Hassan, about my project idea. I first photographed and interviewed Frances for a book about a youth mentoring project she had attended. Then she talked about the difficulties surrounding her childhood and the reasons why she’d lost touch with the Reclaim Project. With problems at home and little sympathy at school, she wasn’t having a great time, although she remained optimistic and was always engaging.

When I spoke with Frances on the phone last week she was keen on the idea of a documentary project but, until now, I haven’t been able to fully explain how it might develop. I’m still not sure myself but I talk about writing a blog; about it being a personal project and why I’m interested. It could last a few months, it could carry on for the first year… we’d have to see.

The tape recorder is on now, (“…so I don’t have to write anything down…”), and I ask how they met.

“We’ve known each other since I was about 13. We met… round the corner,” Frances laughs. “I used to hang with some friends and he was with a bunch of older ones… when I got older we got to know each other a bit better… and it grew from that.”

“When she turned 16,” says Hassan. “I said to her, ‘Let’s start a new life. Now you are 16, you are allowed to go anywhere with me’. And first, God gave us this… a lovely daughter.”

On Monday, Frances is moving to a supported housing scheme for single mothers, seven miles away in Wythenshawe, an overspill estate on the edge of the city boundary. She has an option to stay for up to two years but there’s no obligation.

“So, Frances, why don’t you stay here?” This house has been her home for the last 14 years. As far as I’m aware, only one of her six siblings still lives here. There would be room.

“Because Social Services won’t let me.”

“Because of the dogs,” says Hassan.

“Because social services would prefer me to move out,” continues Frances. “They think what happened between me and my mum is going to happen again. But they know I’ll be okay on my own.”

I know some of the family history from the previous interview, but decide not to ask for a clarification. How far do I go with this?

“I’ve made her happy,” Hassan is saying, “She asked for one baby and she’s got it.”

“I’ve always wanted one,” says Frances. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to have kids as I got older. Sometimes you can randomly not be able to have kids and I was scared that might happen to me. I’d always wanted one.”

“I was 13 when I first started thinking about having my own kids,” says Hassan.

“How old are you now,” I ask.

“I’m 27.”

And after the supported housing? She and Hassan have their names on the housing list. “We’re taking it slowly because everything has gone so fast until now. I got pregnant not long after my 16th birthday.” Turns out Frances is two weeks older than my own daughter.

“You’ve got a daughter!”

“Yes, she’s 16 as well.”

“Really? Wow, check that one out.”

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The breast-feeding nurse

This afternoon the hospital is now populated, like a film set. Someone has shouted ‘Action!’ and the cast members have come from every social class, every community of the city.

Up on the maternity ward dark blue uniforms sit behind desks and glide between cubicles. Hassan is here again and so is Frances’ sister with another of her four children, the others back at school.

As I photograph the sleeping baby a nurse steps around the curtain.

“You’ve asked to go home today?” she says to Frances.

“Yeah.”

“We’ve just got to get you to see the breast-feeding nurse to make sure baby’s feeding properly. Does baby need a feed just now?”

Everyone – apart from me – leaves to see the breast-feeding nurse.

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She is called Mia

Had a baby girl
06:23 6lb 13oz

Sender:
Frances
+447772569466

Received:
03:32pm
11-09-2011

She is called mia

Sender:
Frances
+447772569466

Received:
03:39pm
11-09-2011

It’s Sunday evening and the new maternity hospital is deserted. Empty desks under a canvas canopy; unoccupied co-joined plastic seats; a locked-down refreshment stand; more nine-eleven coverage on a silent TV no one is watching. “I wouldn’t leave your bike there,” says the only member of staff in the expansive atrium. “We’ve had loads stolen… even with locks.” I tell him I’ll take my chances. It’s an old bike. There is nowhere else.

I’m apprehensive. How appropriate is this, to be visiting a 16-year-old I hardly know only 12 hours after she’s given birth? But Frances’ texts have been encouraging, inviting me to come along whenever it’s convenient.

Bed 29 is surrounded… and by people I don’t know. Someone is saying their goodbyes as I appear around the curtain. Frances is sitting up in the middle of it all and greets me cheerfully.

“How was it?” I ask after I have been introduced to Hassan, Mia’s father, and her new aunties and cousins.

“Painful,” says Frances with a grimace. Seems Hassan came in for some light-hearted verbal abuse: it was all his fault. The proud dad laughs it off, he is on a high, loving it. I take some photographs: some of the baby; some of Frances and the baby; some of Hassan and the baby, and some of Frances, Hassan and the baby. Before I leave to see if my bike is still on the bike rack, Hassan shows me his photographs from earlier today: Mia in her mother’s arms for the first time.

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