Linda and Colin with Xanthe and Phoebe (official Service Assistance Dogs) taken recently, at local Garden Centre
Linda and Colin are a very special couple. Giving, kind, wise, with a good level of emotional intelligence.
I first came across Linda at the start of writing my blog, when she contacted me via the site. To be honest, in those early days, if anyone contacted me to say they'd enjoyed reading it I thought it was a joke. But turns out it wasn't.
And so, over time, I got to know the couple very well. We've met up. We've zoomed. We've become friends.
When Linda spoke to our Ageing Without Children local group about parts of her life, i began to think it ought to be a told story. If she didn't mind. Turned out neither of them minded.
Shall we zoom? We did…
And so it was that during our zoom session, Linda's (and Colin's) story was told. I do hope I've done it justice.
Let us start at the beginning
When thoughts of a local AWOC group was still an imagined possibility, Linda and Colin were going about their daily business. Happy to be walking their two delightful Service Assistance dogs around the avenues of their coastal hometown in Lincolnshire. In blissful ignorance of what was yet to come - the shape of myself and, indeed, AWOC.
Cutting too long a story short, both the twain did meet and here we all are. Many months later with a solid and growing local AgeingWithoutChildren group and friendships made.
For me, one particular friendship resonated at an emotional level.
I remember, at our AWOC group meeting online, we'd got brave and decided we would darn well risk it and meet up in person. The safe place chosen was a large, airy Garden Centre that allowed dogs - most important. For me this was both scary and exciting. Justmeandlilley had experienced bravery walking round the block every afternoon. With a mask on (not Lilley, obviously). This was SAS stuff. Meeting people in garden centres…
Lilley and I arrived at said Garden Centre, flustered (we'd got lost), noisy (she likes to announce her arrival by loudly yapping).
The group were sat, spread around a couple of tables in the corner. I espied several dogs in tow which sent Lilley into a dizzy tailspin. You must remember, at this point, none of us had met. For almost twelve months we'd communicated via zoom. Lilley had almost forgotten what another dog looked like.
Quite a bit of time was spent introducing ourselves, laughing, shushing dogs. Those who wanted to, began to tell their stories. Dear, darling Audrey (aged 93) tucked into a full dinner. 'Saves me cooking later' she announced, in between small bites of salad. You know how it works.
I remember Linda and Colin sitting quietly at their table with two of the prettiest dogs I'd seen. It was established Xanthe (pronounced Zanthy) and Phoebe, two Shelties, are fully registered Service Assistance Dogs. They both wore official, mini jackets to prove their superiority over common little scraps like Lilley. Anna, another of our members, owned an exquisitely behaved Collie who sat under the table and barely moved. (I'd decided a very long time ago that Lilley suffers with the canine version of ADHD).
Linda's foster sister had accompanied the couple. So, as I was sitting next to her, I gleaned interesting information about this rather inscrutable twosome. After establishing acceptance with both, I gently questioned them.
As we sat in the Garden Centre it was at some point during the afternoon, Linda began to open up about her/their lives.
For myself, I found the story both deep and sad. An interesting story that would do well to be told.
As our afternoon drew to an end we promised to organise another as soon as possible. Then along came Omnicron.
But, I was determined to speak to Linda to ask if she would be willing to talk of her life. Linda seemed very keen to do so. I explained how we would proceed and that she would have final say over what was published.
So - this is Linda's story.
As already mentioned, the couple live in a popular seaside resort on the Lincolnshire coast.
Linda's life began in Hertfordshire, however. She was born in 1971.
Her father was a jack of all trades.
Mum had serious mental health problems and had suffered a miscarriage before Linda was born.
Linda continued the story:
Linda with her birth mother.
"I was known as a Rainbow Baby. This is a term for a baby that's born after the parents have had a pregnancy loss. I guess the symbol of the rainbow, represents beauty after a dark time.
"Yet, she resented me because of her loss, even whilst I was still in the womb.
"My grandparents had had a son who is still alive. He has never had children.
"My mother, felt unloved by her parents and clearly couldn't take rejection. She felt second best to her brother and I think she was taking out on me the fact that her own mother 'blamed' her because she wasn't him. I also had two sisters born 1977 and 1979, both of whom were eventually adopted.
"I cried a lot as a baby. My mother, used to force feed me and she did hit me. She would stuff a cotton bud up my nose, causing sinus problems in later life. She just didn't know what to do with this bawling baby. She used to pretend to throttle me and tried to throttle me, too."
Linda has found out since then, that social services described her -Linda - as having suffered from battered baby syndrome.
Yet Linda is forgiving of the abuse by her own mother who died in 2017.
She says, "My mum had had a troubled childhood. It had escalated her mental health. I forgive her because she felt frustrated and simply took it out on the nearest thing which was me. I don't find it rewarding to hang on to blame, anyway, so I forgive her. Also, I am still in occasional contact with my birth father."
The two babies, her siblings, who were taken for adoption, Linda has been able to contact and they do still communicate.
Linda with her foster mother.
Linda's foster parents were/are like true family for her. Her foster sister in particular. They remain close, geographically and emotionally, to this day.
"I was 18 months old when I first saw my foster sister. I remember seeing the blond hair on this young girl (who was 15 at that point). Apparently, I held my little arms out to her and she took me. We've been very close ever since."
Linda with her foster sister.
It became clear that Linda's foster family soon became real family for her and have remained so.
We moved on, at this point, to how she and Colin met.
Colin tells the story, "We were both living in Lincolnshire, by now. Linda was working at a local estate agents, Everyday I used to watch Linda and admire her from afar. I was too nervous to approach her."
He retired early and moved to the Lincolnshire coast with his parents in 1986. He'd saved his money so that he could see Linda regularly. Since 1988 Linda had been living in Lincolnshire, with her foster parents.
Finally, Colin plucked up courage to ask her out. But, by then, Linda had embarked on another relationship so she turned him down. However, she decided, at some point, that she really liked Colin more than anyone, so she sent him a Christmas card signing it from herself.
Linda and Colin during the early times, after they'd first met
Colin continued with the story, "I just asked her out to go see the first Harry Potter movie with me. She said yes and we've been together for 20 years."
During those years, they've lived together in Lincolnshire. They'd been living together but wanted to start a family and felt they should be married before having children.
Thus, they began trying for a child soon after marriage but it didn't happen. After being referred to a specialist at Grimsby Hospital, Linda took up the tale.
"I sat in a waiting room at the hospital with a load of pregnant women. I was there waiting to find out why I wasn't having a baby, possibly couldn't conceive, amongst all these pregnant women. It was horrible.
At some point, and further tests, I was given hormone tablets. Dye was pumped into my fallopian tubes to see if there was any problem with ovulation. It was incredibly painful. But still no pregnancy. Finally, IVF was muted but I would need to attend Leeds Hospital for that treatment. To be honest, at that point and after discussion, Colin and I decided we couldn't take any more rejection. What if we were turned down for IVF, having travelled with high hopes, to Leeds? Because of my mental health issues. Because of my background. We couldn't take the let down."
Linda, having been let down so many times in her life, couldn't face any more.
"Suddenly I became terrified at the thought of the pain of childbirth. I'd met a woman who'd given birth to a stillborn baby. What if that happened to our baby? I didn't think I would be able to tolerate more disappointment in my life."
So they considered attempting the adoption route but, as Linda said, they were up against it as they were both disabled. Colin has cerebral palsy and uses a mobility scooter when out and about.
With Linda's fostered past plus mental health issues, and her records showing she was a battered baby, they knew they faced an uphill struggle. So it seemed a good decision, at the time, for them to apply to foster a disabled child. After all, they both had experience of the difficulties that disability can present.
But they were turned down. Not given a chance and Linda' past, early life was used against her.
"We were willing to foster older children, particularly children with mental health issues or disabilities. Because we had experience of those issues. So, you could say, some poor kids get to 16 or 18 then kicked out without having known family life. We were offering to give that life to those kids."
She explained to me that fostering a child is financially supported until the child reaches the age of 18. At that point financial support ceases.
It seems that fostering can be a lucrative option for some people, one can only hope, fewer rather than many. Although Linda implied when the foster money stops, the child sometimes gets kicked out of its foster home. Ignored by the system. Linda said she was lucky because her foster family wanted her to stay and remain part of the family. Which she did. Some foster children don't get that option.
So Colin and Linda remained childless. Like so many others, had tried various options but turned down for adoption, turned down because of their own disabilities or past life. Understandably, they gave up. Too many crashing disappointments.
(Am I alone in thinking how absolutely and utterly ridiculous Social Service Adoption appears to be? Some of those kids end up on the streets homeless. When they could have been living in a loving home with people who understood their special needs, having gone through a lot of it themselves. How is this right?)
Anyway, to edge round the corner of darkness and lighten up the story, here comes cheek and cheerful in bucketloads.
Because we couldn't leave this tale without talking about Xanthe and Phoebe, the two, tiny official Service Assistance Dogs. When out on duty, they both wear their little Service Jackets. However, off duty, they are as naughty as most other canines.
When Colin fell on the floor, Phoebe (who is Colin's Assistance Dog) barked until help arrived. She sat with him. This little pair of angels pick up things dropped on the floor. Xanthe (who seems to be the ringleader, naughty one) frantically licks Linda's face if her owner's voice suddenly starts to rise in tone. Xanthe has been taught that Linda might be having a panic attack so has been trained to calm her owner down.
Both dogs were trained by Recovery Assistance Dogs, Leicester. Potential owners are helped in how to train their dog and needs assessed before putting their dogs through the required training. A marvellous place and well worth supporting. Maybe I'll go for a visit when next in my old hometown.
Linda finished her and Colin's story with this:
"I would have loved to volunteer to help young mothers who are suffering mental health issues. Or having difficulties coping with a young baby or child. But I was turned down because I have no experience of being a mother."
Says it all. Nonsense bureaucracy should be ashamed of itself. Social Services loss.
The couple renewing their wedding vows in 2013
In the meantime, thank you Colin and Linda.
You really are a very special couple and incredibly kind.
It's and honour to have met you and remain friends with you.
Thank you for your story x