We continue our series showcasing Portsmouth writers with the following excerpts from David E Gates’ Access Denied, winner of third prize in the AuthorsDB 2015 Cover Contest. When his girlfriend Meg gives birth, David is ecstatic about becoming a father. But, after seven years of bringing Kelly up with all his love and care, he discovers she is not his blood daughter.
Whilst our relationship was good, Meg’s jealousy was something I was to witness first-hand on the first New Year’s Eve that we spent together. We agreed to go to Shamus O’Donnell’s – an Irish themed pub which most of my friends gravitated to, to bring in the New Year. We all got on very well with the landlord and his wife and having a lock-in was the norm. That was one of the main attractions of going there as, before licensing hours were extended, most pubs chucked out at eleven o’clock at night.
When the chimes of Big Ben echoed throughout the pub via the television or radio, everyone moved around the pub hugging and kissing each other.
I can be something of a flirt at times and when it came to my moving around the pub, and finding myself kissing the rather attractive barmaid, Meg’s jealousy came to the fore. She blew up and made it clear that my enjoyment of celebrating with the barmaid was overstepping the mark. Feeling I’d done nothing wrong, I disagreed with Meg. We argued. I could have understood it if I’d had my tongue down the barmaid’s throat, but I hadn’t.
I ended up leaving the pub and then walking away from Meg as she continued to argue with me in the street. I hate arguing in public and felt it best just to go home.
I got home and waited for Meg to turn up. By the time I went to bed, she still hadn’t come home and I got a text message saying she was staying over at Adam’s house. I wasn’t altogether surprised. Adam and Meg got on very well together and it was clear he’d looked out for her when I’d gone home and left her there.
Meg turned up the next day, wearing one of Adam’s t-shirts which made me initially suspicious that something had gone on between them. I was assured nothing had and it wasn’t long before we made up.
Friends would later come to describe my relationship with Meg as “turbulent”, “up and down” and “on and off”.
We broke up several times in the first couple of years. I didn’t attribute this to any particular party’s fault. The age gap may have had an influence to some degree but I don’t remember being aware of this being an issue per se whilst we were together. I think that we just wanted different things from the relationship.
Even when we’d split up, during late 1998, we were still sleeping together and spending evenings together from time to time.
So, when Meg phoned me in early February of 1999 to tell me she was pregnant, I was a bit tactless to say the least. We hadn’t been together properly for a while though had continued to sleep together. I still remember the first thing I said to her when she told me she was pregnant:
“Is it mine?” I asked.
“Of course it’s yours, David.” Meg said.
The baby was due around the first or second week of November 1999. Everything was ready for the new arrival and there’d been no further scares or worries during the weeks leading up to the expected birth date. Everyone was excited.
Two weeks past the due date and our baby still hadn’t arrived by a natural course of events. Meg was instructed to go into the hospital to be induced. We attended the hospital on a Sunday evening and Meg was prepped and given inducement drugs. I stayed as long as I was allowed but had to leave once it was clear nothing was going to happen that evening.
After twenty-four hours, there were no signs of dilation and Meg was given further doses of the inducement medicine to try and expedite the birth but this had, seemingly, no effect in prompting the birth either.
Yet another day passed and there were still no movements or signs that the baby was going to come out on its own volition.
Meg was exhausted. The hospital ward she was in was noisy due to other mums either making noise through discomfort or from sounds of impending births. As a result, she’d barely slept over the last three days and was totally exhausted.
The next morning, Wednesday, Meg was taken for another scan. Everything was okay and the mid-wife said that no further inducement drugs could be administered as Meg had already had the maximum dosage over the last few days and she’d have to wait for at least another day before she could begin the course of drugs again.
We were told there were two options: Wait until the course of drugs could begin again and hope the baby makes an appearance in the meantime or have a caesarean birth.
We asked the mid-wife what her recommendation would be. She explained that as a nurse and mid-wife she was an advocate of natural births and recommended these whenever possible. Sensing her professional stance on the predicament we were in, I asked her what she would do if it was her that was due to give birth in exactly the same situation. She went on to explain that the placenta, the “food and nourishment” resource for the baby whilst it’s in the womb, was drying out. It had been more than two weeks since the baby was due after all and this was not unexpected but the further the placenta dried out then the bigger risk there was to the baby. I pushed her to speak “off-the-record”.
“If it was me lying there, I’d go for the caesarean.” She said.
We spoke with the doctor and explained we wanted a little time to discuss the options and, most of all, Meg wanted to spend a night in her own bed so she could rest properly ahead of the birth seeing as she’d barely had any sleep in the last few days.
The doctor agreed this was okay but told us we had to make a decision before the next morning.
We returned to Meg’s parents and determined, for the sake of both mother and baby, that the caesarean was probably the best course of action if nothing happened before our return to the hospital the next day.
Meg enjoyed a long relaxing bath and a good night’s sleep in her own bed.
* * *
On Thursday, 25th November, we returned to the hospital shortly after lunchtime. Nothing had happened overnight and we decided to progress with a caesarean birth. It wasn’t our preferred option but in the absence of the baby making any movement to come out of its comfort zone, it seemed to be our only choice.
We had to wait for some time before the theatre was available and then we were “smocked-up” in operations theatre clothing. I was dressed in a blue “robe” and hat whilst Meg wore a white all-in-one loose-fitting gown.
Just after 3.00 PM, we were led into the theatre. Meg was anxious and I held her hand trying to keep her calm.
Two doctors and two nurses were present. Meg was to be given an epidural to counter the pain she’d experience during the operation and the doctor opened Meg’s gown at her back and started using his fingers to count down the vertebrae in her spine to determine where to insert the long, thick needle to administer the anaesthetic. He was having some difficulty locating exactly the right spot and urged Meg to remain still and calm. Feeling it was my cue to try and relax Meg, I tried to take her mind off the situation.
“Just think, you’ll be able to have some cheesecake when this is all over.” I said. Cheesecake was Meg’s favourite dessert and during the pregnancy she’d not been permitted to have any.
Meg laughed and the doctor frowned and again reminded her to keep as still as possible. My eyes widened with guilt at the faux pas I’d made.
The needle finally went in and Meg, clearly in some pain, gripped my hands so hard the end of my fingers whitened as the fluid from the syringe was pumped into her spine.
After a few moments, Meg was laid on her back and one of the nurses put up a small “screen” over Meg’s belly, hiding the area where the doctor would operate from our view.
I continued to hold Meg’s left hand as I was positioned on a stool beside the gurney.
The doctors raised Meg’s gown over her belly and began the operation. Despite my curiosity and macabre interest in all things of blood and gore, I felt unable to bring myself to look over the screen to see the intricacies of the operation that was happening right before us.
Meg had relaxed and within what seemed to be no time at all, the doctors had performed the caesarean and the baby was brought out of the womb. Held for a moment just high enough for us to see, the bloodied form was cradled by a nurse and taken to the far side of the operating theatre. We were told it was a baby girl and I told Meg that I hadn’t known what to expect but that the sight of our little girl was “the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.” I wept, as I am now recalling this here, and kissed Meg as we waited for the baby to be cleaned and passed to us.
Within a few moments the baby, having been cleaned and weighed – a whopping ten pounds five ounces! – was passed to me. Meg’s prone state made her unable to sit up as the doctors continued to complete the operation by sewing her belly back together.
I held the little form in my arms and showed her to Meg. We both cried.
The nurse took a photo with the camera I’d brought in, and told me that if I put my little finger in the baby’s mouth, she’d suckle on it. Normally, the baby would be passed straight to the mother to bring it to the breast quickly but due to the operation this wasn’t possible. I did as the nurse instructed and instantly bonded with the baby that was our new daughter.
The operation was eventually finished and Meg was able to hold our new-born. We were placed in a room just off the ward where Meg had spent several sleepless nights.
A different mid-wife gave Meg instruction on breast-feeding which she attempted and continued with despite great discomfort. The baby fed well and, despite the pain Meg was feeling, she persevered to breast-feed (and would do so over the next two weeks) to ensure the baby received all the nutrients and anti-bodies that are so important for good health and immunity during the formative years.
We spent the next few hours together as a new family and started to think of and discuss various names for our new offspring. Had it been a boy, it would have been easy we each agreed, but a baby girl was something that we’d given scant attention to of in terms of providing a name.
The end of visiting time came quicker than expected and I was forced to leave Meg and our baby together in the hospital. Far from being upset to do so, I saw it as a chance for them to bond and for me to tell everyone.
Once I was immediately out of the hospital building, I phoned my parents, Meg’s parents, and several of my friends. I truly couldn’t believe I was a dad and the action of telling each and every one that I phoned brought tears to my eyes every time.
I arranged to have a quick drink with Chris [Butch], a friend from work. I spent the time excitedly telling him everything that had happened over the last few days. It had culminated in being the best experience of my life to date. After a couple of drinks, I returned to Meg’s parents and, exhausted, fell asleep a very happy and elated “Dad”.
Once Meg became redundant, everything changed. And it didn’t change for the better for either of us.
As Meg wasn’t working and was now claiming benefits, I disputed the maintenance in respect of the child-minding costs. Surely, as Meg wasn’t working, the requirement for the child-minder wasn’t there? Meg argued against this saying she still had to have Kelly at the child-minders as she had “things to do” during the day.
We were unable to come to an agreement and the maintenance ended up staying at £340 per month, an increase which had been agreed earlier in the year on the original sum of £300.
I then received contact from the Child Support Agency. The dreaded CSA.
The CSA was created in the late nineteen-eighties, under the government led by Margaret Thatcher. The CSA’s main remit was to make non-resident parents responsible for the financial well-being of their children.
With the Child Support Act being passed in 1991, the CSA was empowered. They developed extremely complex systems and formulas to enable them to make non-resident parents pay to support their children via child maintenance payments.
The CSA and their unfairness, bias towards the parent-with-care (in most cases, the mother) and extreme incompetence are well documented in the press and online.
It’s well known that several men named as the Non-Resident Parent (NRP) have committed suicide as a result of the CSA’s involvement in their lives and whilst the agency stringently deny that their actions were a contributing factor to those taking their own lives, the evidence – in particular suicide letters that directly blame the CSA and the pressure they bring to bear on the poor souls they affect and their unrelenting pursuit of people with little ability to pay, not to mention two or more systems in operation in parallel which make the entire thing even more unfair, is clear.
* * *
On July 5th, 2001, I became 35 years old. Life was pretty good for me. Despite my commitments to Kelly, I had a lot of free time and invariably spent it with my friends in Portsmouth.
On my birthday, I went for a drink with Dean and another school friend, John. John was a laugh and enjoyed having a drink. During the course of our drinking and celebrating my advancing years we discussed the idea of getting away for a holiday.
We wanted somewhere that was lively, cheap and where we could almost definitely get laid.
“Ibiza.” John suggested.
“Superb”. I replied.
Within a day or two, the week-long trip was booked for a couple of weeks later. We flew to Ibiza and enjoyed the sun, sea, clubs and copious amounts of alcohol. Neither of us got laid.
During the holiday, I received a phone call. It was from the CSA.
* * *
I had previously received notification from the CSA that I was being pursued for child maintenance. After speaking with them on the phone prior to my holiday, it was explained to me that they had become involved initially because Meg had been made redundant and it was usual when a someone made a claim for child support that the CSA would get involved. It further transpired that Meg had, within a couple of months of being made redundant, obtained a new job and had requested that a private claim for maintenance be continued via the CSA despite there being no formal requirement for this.
I was aghast. Whilst things weren’t brilliant between us, we had a reasonable relationship and seemed to be working together for the benefit of Kelly. I was at a loss as to why she wouldn’t want to return to our previous agreement and would want to involve any agency with such notoriety as the CSA. Why would she want to destroy the amenable relationship we had?
Involving the CSA would only cause me to stop being as flexible as I was with payments and help when Meg, or Kelly, needed it.
That said, the CSA directed me to their assessments calculation page. I completed the online assessment and it came out at a little under £300. Less than I was paying now anyway! I tried to explain this to Meg and told her that I thought her involvement of the CSA would only have a detrimental effect on our situation and relationship in respect of Kelly but she was as bloody minded and reticent as ever that the CSA should pursue me. I tried to convince her that she might receive less money than she was already getting if the CSA assessed me according to their website assessment.
“My friends said I would get more money from you if I went through the CSA” Meg told me. It was clear it wasn’t about what was in Kelly’s interests. It was about the money.
It looked like a holiday would be just the tonic after this.
* * *
The woman on the phone to me whilst I was in Ibiza explained that they’d completed the assessment based on the paperwork I had returned. The magical figure they’d come up with, based on my salary and income at the time, was more than £480! I was stunned! £480!! How the fuck had they come up with a figure more than fifty percent higher than their estimate from the assessment made via their website? I could understand it if it was a bit over, but more than fifty percent? Surely it was a joke?
I said that there was surely some mistake but the woman was unhelpful to say the least and refused to assist further. She simply kept stating “It’s what the system has come up with.”
I was truly staggered. £480 per month to support just one child! That was nearly a third of my take-home salary. It was unbelievable.
The woman explained that I would receive a breakdown of how the sum was determined by post. I thanked her for ruining my holiday and hung up.
* * *
When I returned from my holiday, I saw the assessment from the CSA. It was confusing to say the least. It seemed to ignore half of the information I had provided to them. In particular, it refused to take into account travel costs to and from work.
I contacted them and they simply said I wasn’t allowed to have travel costs, despite my office location being more than sixty miles away from my home. They refused to accept my claim for doing a round trip of more than one-hundred and twenty miles, every week-day, costing me more than £250 per month in petrol.
Their reasoning for refusing my claim was because I had a company car. Despite the fact I had to pay for my own fuel, they refused to re-assess me to include my travel costs stating that I had to appeal. The person at the CSA said they would send me the appropriate paperwork.
After several days the forms arrived and I began the appeal process. The paperwork was ridiculous. Pages and pages to fill in. Just to make a simple appeal against one aspect of their decision.
Forms were completed, sent off and, eventually, a date scheduled for the appeal hearing. It would take more than three months just to get the appeal heard. In the meantime, I was to pay the full amount of maintenance. I was barely keeping my head above water paying the £340 per month privately so I didn’t know how I was going to manage £480 per month. I supplemented my income with credit card spending.
I attended the offices in Southampton where the appeal was to take place. Meg was also present though I didn’t know why she had to be. I refused to speak to her there, still angry at her pursuing a private claim through the CSA when we could have come to an arrangement that suited everyone without involving an outside party. Whatever relationship we had before was already in a downward spiral.
After about half-an-hour of waiting, we were invited into the hearing. Three people, two women and a man, sat behind a long desk. The woman in the middle was reading through my appeal claim and advised me that I had completed the wrong paperwork.
“That was the paperwork I was sent from your office.” I explained.
“Well, it’s the wrong paperwork.” She replied abruptly.
“Why is it only now, when I’ve come all the way to Southampton some three months since I returned the paperwork for my appeal, that this has come to light?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” The woman replied.
I was extremely angry. “I suppose if I get the correct paperwork, it’ll be another three months until my appeal is heard?” I questioned. “I mean, how do I know if any new paperwork comes as to whether or not it’s the correct one?”
The people behind the table shifted uncomfortably in their seats as I began raging.
“I can’t believe this!” I said, my voice raised but controlled. “What a waste of time. And just because some incompetent didn’t send me the correct forms! I can’t believe I was made to come here and that no-one noticed the forms were wrong before this!”
The woman in the middle spoke again.
“I will ensure you are sent the right forms.” She said. “We’ll get them sent to you right away.”
I was livid. Not only had I wasted time and petrol getting to the hearing, I was also going to have to go through the whole process again! This, as I was to learn, was simply the first experience of several I was to have in relation to the incompetence of the CSA.
© Copyright – David E. Gates – 2013
The full version of the book is available in Kindle and Paperback formats from Amazon and in other formats from all good online book stores.