Aneeka speaks openly and honestly about how DCJ can work differently and supported her to care safely for her newborn baby.
Aneeka, mother, proud Wiradjuri woman
I call Azahlee my little miracle. If it wasn’t for her I would be locked up or dead. I was in pretty deep trouble and I didn’t care because I had nothing to live for. I’d been arrested, charged and was facing jail time. That’s when I found out I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it and did eight or nine pregnancy tests.
The pregnancy changed everything for me. Suddenly there was a reason to live.
I got help for my mental health, stopped drinking and taking drugs, started counselling. I did everything I could to take care of myself, so I could take care of my baby. It was tough, but I wanted a healthy baby even more than I wanted drugs.
I’ve smoked heaps of cannabis for way too long. I didn’t know any other way to be. My parents died when I was young and I still miss them every day. Azahlee’s middle name is my mum’s, so her nanna will always be with her, keeping her safe.
I felt like the drugs helped me cope, but they also made me careless. My mental health really suffered. I love my two older children more than anything, but things were hard there for a while and they were taken from me six years ago. I wanted it to be different this time.
I didn’t have a good relationship with DCJ so I wasn’t expecting much from my caseworker Caitlin. Then when we started talking she apologised that I’d not had as much help as I needed when things had been hard in the past. She said sorry a few times actually. This was the first time I’d ever heard that word come out of the mouth of someone from the department. I was surprised.
At first, I was like, ‘you’re all the same’, but Caitlin proved herself to be different. She is one of a kind.
Throughout the whole pregnancy my biggest fear and stress was that I wasn’t going to take Azahlee home with me. Caitlin reassured me over and over that that would be the last option. She told me she would do everything to give my baby a chance to be with me but she was firm that we needed to be safe. That kept me on track and really motivated me to keep going.
I like that Caitlin is open and clear with me about everything. But what I will remember most is that she is kind. It wasn’t only Caitlin – I felt like I had a cheer squad around me. It makes me emotional to think about it now. I had the most beautiful Aboriginal midwife Cheryl who I clicked with from day one. I saw her for all my appointments. I never missed a single one. We’d laugh looking at the ultrasounds because Azahlee had all this hair and we imagined her being born with a ‘fro. Azahlee’s dad and I are not together and I don’t have family I can rely on, so it made me feel less alone that people were invested in our future.
Caitlin, Cheryl, my social worker, my drug and alcohol counsellor and my mental health worker all came together for a Pregnancy Family Conference. I felt like everyone was willing me to stay strong for my baby. The hardest part was having to draw up a Plan B if it wasn’t safe for Azahlee to stay with me – who she could live with, what would happen at the hospital. I know it helps parents have a say and not get a shock when it happens, but it still felt awful.
Everyone kept telling me we won’t need the backup plan because I was doing all the right things. I tried to believe them and believe in myself too.
Even with all these amazing women around me, it was up to me to make the right choices every day I got up.
Caitlin kept her word and didn’t rock up to the hospital after the birth. I will always be grateful she gave me space with Azahlee and waited until I was home to visit. Cheryl knitted me a baby blanket and tiny Aboriginal socks in black, yellow and red and came to see us at home. She is crazy for Azahlee!
Azahlee has the most outrageous smile. She likes to try and get in on the chats when her dad or my friends come around by making these cute little noises.
I love cuddling up and reading her stories. My favourite books are by Aboriginal authors because I want Azahlee to grow up proud of her people and her culture. I’m now working with my older children’s caseworker to connect them with their new baby sis. I would love to see the three of them together. That will be a miracle too.