I remember the morning Sam and the boys were found as if it was yesterday. Not the month and the year, had to look them up, but the feeling. I’d just made a cup of tea and logged onto facebook and a DM from a campaigning friend said they’d found them. I sat on my sofa and cried like I was her sister or best friend or the mother of a child the same age who would die of a broken heart if the state stole my son.
Four years. Now. Since Sam’s boys were ripped, literally, from her arms.
Four years passes in a heartbeat if you’re raising a kid. One minute, they are pulling at your apron strings, the next, they are yelling at you to leave their room and knock the next time. Occasionally, in maudlin moments, you yearn for the younger less judgey stage but mostly you’re making lunches and checking schoolbags and filling in endless forms to make sure they don’t miss any opportunity that might make their lives easier. Mothering truly is the most mundane of vocations and yet, there isn’t one of us who would give it up for a bigger house or car or pay check. Sam’s missed all that banality and all the beautiful moments that come between the drudgery.
In an instant, her role as full time mother was shelved by one signature on one court form by one judge behind one closed door.
If she hadn’t taken her boys and fled, then Sam’s story would have slipped completely under the radar of a system that does not allow public access to, or scrutiny of, its decisions. Instead, she’s become a poster child for a movement that is desperate to highlight the injustices inflicted on children, and by inference, their parents, in Family Court. To all those mothers who have been silenced, Sam’s story serves as a beacon of light. She speaks their truth because they are not allowed to.
Because I have a boy the same age as one of Sam’s, and because I spent a decade in family law courts, I often wonder what might have been. More than once my own lawyers accused me of ‘sailing too close to the wind’. By that they meant speaking about my cra cra ex in a way that wasn’t kind and conciliatory and ‘child focused’. ‘It’s all child focused,’ I’d yell at a succession of placid, non boat rocking types. ‘When they realise how fucking nuts he is then they will focus on protecting my child from him.’ And they did, in the end, by which time I was representing myself and had learned how to walk, talk and think like them. But that’s not why I held onto my kid. It was mostly good luck.
I had a judge who was willing to believe me when I told him my ex posed a clear and present danger to my child. Not until he’d believed everybody else in the room, twice, and not until everybody involved had made their school fees on the back of my son’s vulnerability, but in the end, he believed me and his decision to believe me enabled me to protect my boy.
I can’t say why Sam’s original judge didn’t believe her. I can say no subsequent judgement was going to go in her favour because nobody was going to call out one of their own in a closed system. And nobody has. Even though Sam has continued to provide fresh evidence in support of her version of events and despite never having been charged with any crime, Sam has been completely removed from her boys’ lives.
In those intervening years Sam has built a very credible campaign around her family’s story and the greater issue of child sex abuse. She runs a website and a youtube channel, has written a novel and become a public speaker. Her name is synonymous with injustice in Family Law. If she was selling cupcakes, instead of exposing paedophile rings, she’d be getting start up grants and her bio in the local paper. Instead, she gets cyber stalked by her ex, harassed on social media and slandered by an establishment that must render her a liar or face the truth of their own deep dysfunction.
Yet, somehow, every day, she gets up and gets on with her life’s purpose, raising awareness of her children’s situation in the hope that somebody, somewhere, is brave enough to come forward and corroborate what her children have told her and the G.P. and social work and the police. And someday, someone will.
In the meantime, I salute the one woman army that is Samantha Baldwin as the sun sets on her fourth year without her boys. Faith moves mountains and Sam will not lose faith in her sons returning until they have returned. And I look forward to a time in a future not to distant when Sam has all but retired from public life to be the hands on mother she’s never stopped being.