I don't know if anyone was watching closely enough to notice, but there has been no 24 week update, and there is also no 24 week picture, and now I am just over 27 weeks pregnant.
This is largely because there's been just too much other stuff to deal with. All three of us are healthy (usual parameters), no emergencies, just... Stuff.
The first bit of the Stuff is Social Services.
This was very much a planned baby, and part of the planning was getting input from Social Services before trying to conceive. I'm pleased to say that we got a good, positive response. We were reassured that we had an absolute right to a family life, and that Social Services would support us to meet not just basic survival needs, but also to fulfil my role as a parent. The child is not automatically considered "at risk" and if I struggled to meet the child's needs then before Child Social Services would even consider getting involved, Adult Social Services would need to have done everything possible to enable me to look after the child myself. Specifically I was told that instead of my case remaining effectively "closed" (as it is while a person is stable and their needs are being met by their existing care package), once I informed them of a pregnancy I would be on the active caseload of a named Social Worker, they would review me every three months during pregnancy and the first year of the baby's life, or more frequently if necessary, and as such my care package could be altered according to the rapidly changing circumstances.
That filled us with confidence and we went ahead. Spool forward to Spring 2015. Eight weeks pregnant, I met "my" social worker, and we got on well. She was every bit as positive. We decided that she would line up all the various referrals to Occupational Therapy and Independent Living and so on, but given my history we would wait until my 12-week scan before forging ahead, to save on upsetting encounters if anything went wrong.
So, after my 12-week (actually 13 and a bit) scan, I phoned her office... was told she was off sick but would be in touch when she got back the next week. Nothing happened. Phoned again at 17 weeks... was told she was off sick but would be back the next week. Nothing happened. Phoned again at 19 weeks... was told she was off sick and they didn't know when she would be back. I pointed out that the baby was not going to wait indefinitely until "my" social worker was back and asked if I could be transferred to someone else's caseload. The answer was no, but that a Duty Social Worker would call me back.
(Duty Social Workers are to named social workers as duty GPs are to named GPs. They're fully qualified, and authorised to open and read confidential client files and take necessary action. But they're supposed to deal with that day's emergencies and situations requiring an immediate response, not ongoing or future care requiring familiarity with the case or time for research about a specialist situation - and they prioritise their time, so if you *can* wait until tomorrow, the chances are you will.)
Nothing happened. At 21 weeks, I phoned again and explained that pregnancy is only supposed to last 40 weeks, so the baby was more than half-way here, I was having increasing difficulty doing things and that while I appreciated I wasn't an absolute emergency, I really quite urgently needed to hear from a social worker if we were going to avoid me AND the baby becoming one.
Finally, two days after that, a Duty Social Worker called me. He'd opened my file; he'd seen that "my" social worker had been intending to start off a number of referrals as soon as I'd had my 12-week scan but that she'd gone off sick before this could happen; he agreed to authorise and send off those referrals, marked as Urgent in an effort to catch up to where we should be. However, "my" social worker was expected back within a couple of weeks, so they couldn't transfer me to anyone else's caseload or conduct a reassessment.
I was really pleased that things were moving at last, but of course that was when the challenges really started. Because I had no social worker to oversee things or fight my corner, I had to try and comprehend the whole system myself. First getting past gatekeepers, then being referred on to yet more people or organisations, and trying to keep track and make sense of who everyone is, when I see them, what their remits are... I'll go into more detail in another post.
At 22 weeks, someone from Independent Living saw me and agreed to formally refer me to be reassessed by a social worker. At 23 weeks, she phoned me back and told me that the referral had been postponed because they wouldn't transfer me to another caseload, because "my" social worker was off sick but would be back in two weeks. Does this sound familiar? Can you guess what happened? That's right, two weeks later (25 weeks) I was told that "my" social worker was still off sick! But, obviously, they couldn't transfer me to someone else's caseload, because she would likely be back in two weeks!
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
Thankfully by this point my list of "two weeks" was long enough that it was conceded I could be reassessed the following week by a Duty Social Worker for my third trimester needs. Her findings would be submitted to a panel who would decide what help I would get.
I honestly felt sorry for that Duty Social Worker. I think like many social workers she went into the profession wanting to make things better for people, but... she was visibly stressed and very disillusioned. I had prepared notes ahead of the meeting with an outline of the sort of bare-minimum support I felt I would need. The moment that has stayed with me is the moment when she sighed and said "I don't think you'll get this. Do you really want me to ask?"
Outwardly I replied that yes, I wanted her to ask, because if she didn't ask, then I definitely wouldn't get it!
Inwardly I curled up in a terrified ball. At 26 weeks, the baby was already wiggling so much that the movements could be felt from the outside, and if anything went wrong, there would be a chance of both of us surviving it. There is no turning back. I'd only started on this journey after getting reassurance that it would be okay - I thought I had been as responsible as possible in ensuring that if I ever did have a child I would be able to provide a decent level of parenting. And now here was a social worker who, in contrast to the positivity of those I saw pre-conception and at 8 weeks, was so doubtful about the likelihood of me getting support that she didn't even want to ask the panel for it.
She also let us know that it would be at least a week before she got the chance to type up the reassessment. In an effort to do something positive, I offered to send her my notes to save her some typing time. Then, before sending them, I spent a couple of days going through them, being rather more specific about the help I need, why I need it, what the risk factors are if I do not have that help, how I am currently struggling/failing to meet this or that criteria because of lack of help. But it is not a positive experience to spend days thinking intensively about the things you will struggle or outright fail to do for your child due to lack of resources that you reasonably believed you would have.
The only other positive I can draw from that meeting is that the Duty Social Worker didn't seem to disagree that I would need the help I said I would. She just feels that with austerity, social workers' requests get turned down more than they might have done a couple of years ago, and she doesn't like it when the panel say "no" to her.
At this stage, there's not much I can do about Social Services other than hope that the Duty Social Worker manages to persuade herself to present my case, and that the panel respond favourably to the information. It will be at least another couple of weeks of hoping before I hear back.
Meanwhile, there's still more than enough to keep me occupied with stairlifts and wheelchairs...