Why am I telling this story?
I am sure there are many people out there who are just beginning or already travelling their own difficult journey and I want them to know that they too will be ok.
Some people know me as Mother Murphy. Others know me as Ben and Chloe’s mum or Mr M’s wife. There are probably some people in Halifax who will still remember me as that quiet school girl who always used to look miserable. Others will not know me at all.
It doesn’t matter how anybody knows me because this talk today is my journey to find Debra.
It’s taken me a lifetime to be able to tell this story and it is only with the help and support of some very special people in my life that I am now ready, wanting, needing and glad to be given the opportunity to tell this.
There is so much of my difficult journey that I have not included in this talk. Decisions I made, things I did. There are so many different people who hurt me – some intentionally and some unintentionally. There are people who I probably hurt, but never intentionally.
There are lots of people who themselves have been affected by my story, especially my two children. I have no doubt whatsoever that how I lived my life caused upset, heartache and pain for them too. I wish I had been able to give them the perfect life, but I couldn’t and I didn’t. I just hope that they love me for the person I am now and know that I truly love them for the people they are. Only Ben and Chloe can tell their own stories of growing up with mum.
There are probably some people who would be saddened and horrified to hear me tell this story, but this is my story and my story to tell. I now know that I am not responsible for other people’s thoughts and actions. We are all responsible only for our own thoughts and actions.
So here goes.
Let’s get the shocking information over first. I am one of the hundreds, probably thousands of people who suffered abuse at the hands of a relative. Mine was at the hands of my step-father. Sexual abuse, emotional abuse and verbal abuse in one form or another from my early years as a 6 year old right up to the day I walked out of the house as a very broken 16 year old.
I could talk to you about the day to day happenings in the abusive situations and how it made me feel because when I close my eyes I can relive every single event, every word, every inappropriate look or inappropriate touch but that’s not what this is about. I want to talk to you about how I can now live my life even with the memories. The memories are now becoming my past and you can’t change the past.
Growing up I did what most abused people do. I kept it to myself. Why? Because I didn’t understand what was happening at first. I just knew that I was miserable inside. As the days, months and years went by; the feelings of confusion grew, along with sadness, fear, shame and hate.
Who did I hate?
I hated me because I had caused this. I was the pretty sister and that’s why HE chose me.
I must have asked for it.
If only I had not been pretty.
Everyone kept telling me how pretty I was.
HE kept telling me how pretty I was.
But life just carried on.
Nobody asked if I was ok.
Nobody asked why I looked sad.
As I moved my way through infant, then junior school, life just always seemed to be a struggle. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn’t have all the friends that everyone else did.
I didn’t deserve to have friends.
Oh but I found I was good at sport. I was the best runner, the best swimmer, the best rounders player. This made me popular in sports lessons and I was always the first to be picked for teams. Sometimes they even made me the captain.
If only they knew what I had done!
I have always enjoyed the countryside and having time to myself. Sometimes when the world seemed heavy around me and I didn’t know where or who to turn to, I found that walking alone helped, especially if I could walk surrounded by lovely scenery. It didn’t really matter where you lived in Halifax as countryside was always only a stone’s throw away.
Even now, I find solitude, peace and a chance to breathe on the snow-covered mountains in Scotland.
In my early teens I lived in a place called Northowram. The views as you walk around Northowram and Shibden Valley are just stunning and this area became my haven. How ironic it is that years later I was to visit a psychologist in the grounds of Northowram hospital and start my long journey home.
People who know me will know that one my true loves is cycling. I started cycling when I was 9 or 10 years old. I quickly moved from cycling round the back roads of Shibden Valley to joining a cycling club, then a racing club and found that I was quite good at this cycling stuff. The freedom, the space, the views, the air, the peace. Unless you are a cyclist it’s difficult to explain the feeling that cycling gives you.
There was only one thing lingered in my troubled mind that made me question myself. It was HIM who introduced me to cycling. HE made sure I had a bike and all the cycling gear they could afford at the time.
But slowly a different person started fighting to be seen. I knew HE was the one who introduced me to cycling so really I shouldn’t even want to go anywhere near a bike. But love cycling I did. I was good at cycling. I could take the pain. This took away my other pain.
Then I realised.
I was better than HIM at cycling.
For once, I had the upper hand.
It’s difficult to explain how hard it is to lead a normal life when your heart and mind are constantly fighting tourmoil.
Would it happen today?
Why did it happen yesterday?
Will it happen tomorrow?
As I became a teenager I became very good at reducing the episodes. I would make sure that I was not alone in the house with HIM. It only ever happened at home.
It affected me in other ways. I would not wear a skirt or a dress (and still don’t). I was a tomboy. I’d play football at school, climb trees and garages with the boys. I’d keep my hair short. I’d do everything I could to make sure that I didn’t encourage anyone else to like me.
Let’s not forget of course that it was all my fault that this was happening.
I was asking for it.
I never said no.
I finally left home but that’s when my problems really started to grow.
I had boyfriends. I got married. I had a son. Yet I couldn’t stop my mind spinning. My heart was always racing. I thought about things constantly.
How did I even deserve to be in a happy marriage?
How was I ever going to be a good mum?
I was a bad person.
I needed to get away.
By the time I was 26 I had been married three times and had two children. Two wonderful children I might add. But I was on a path of self-destruction.
I couldn’t talk to my mum because she wouldn’t believe me.
I couldn’t talk to my older sister because she hated me.
I couldn’t talk to my younger sister because HE was her Dad and it would upset her to hear me say such things about her lovely Dad. She was 10 years younger than me and really loved her Dad. HIM!
How could I spoil that for her?
It wouldn’t be fair on her would it?
One of the many very low points in my life was when my older sister got married. From the back of the reception room I watched as my own father sat alongside him. She said they were both her Dad so they both had to be there.
The top table – My Dad, his wife, HIM, my sister, her new husband, my little sister, my brother, the chief bridesmaid and her husband.
Where was I?
I was at the back of the room with my 2 year old son. The person sitting next to me asked how I knew the bride!
“Oh I’m her sister,” was my reply.
I don’t know who was most embarrassed, me or the rest of the guests at the table I was sitting at.
I watched as my Dad laughed, joked and drank with HIM and toasted their amazing daughter.
The following day my Dad’s wife phoned me and told me my Dad was furious with me for being miserable at my sister’s wedding.
I told her I was miserable because the man who had abused me was sitting on the top table with my Dad.
Well it really hit the fan then I can tell you!
My Dad came round to see me.
“Is it true”, he roared at me.
“Yes” I replied.
Did he hug me?
Did he tell me it was ok?
Did he ask how I was?
He said, “Right, we will get the police involved and take him to court”.
“No”, I said, “I don’t want to do that”.
“Well it can’t be true then”, said my Dad.
Imagine a giant well filled with mud.
I was in that well and sinking.
I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t stand. I was physically sick.
The fear. The shame. The guilt.
They were overwhelming.
Look what I had done!
Look how sad and cross people were becoming because I had said something.
I knew I should never have said anything.
I was always the black sheep of the family.
Now I was the lying black sheep of the family.
What right did I have to upset people so much?
My Mum found out.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have left him you know”, she said.
Did she hold me?
Did she tell me it was ok?
Did she ask how I was?
“I can’t believe it of him. I just can’t believe it”, she told me.
If anyone ever wonders why abused people never speak about it to their family, here is your answer!
Then HE died.
I was so disappointed.
I had nothing to do with HIS death!
God I am evil!
My older sister was grieving. She loved HIM as much as her Dad. Our Dad supported her. My Dad told me it was terrible what had happened to HIM because “he was a good Dad to you and your sister when I left your Mum”.
A good Dad! In my mind I was screaming.
I supported my little sister as she was only 16 and HE was her Dad. She loved HIM. HE was a great Dad to her.
“Don’t you dare turn up at the funeral”, shouted my older sister at me. “You are just evil”.
I didn’t go.
My older sister went.
My little sister went.
My Mum went to say goodbye to HIM.
I think even my Dad went.
Shortly after funeral my older sister contacted me.
“He didn’t leave you anything in his will. He left it all to us. It’s only what you deserve”.
It was a lot of money – because she told me!
Did anyone question it?
Did anyone ask why?
Did my sisters say how wrong it was?
Heck, HE could even get to me when HE was dead!
Did I want HIS money?
Not at all.
Did I want my sisters to say how wrong HE had been?
So who could I talk to?
Cider. Sometimes Caffreys. That’s who I spoke to. Lots of it sometimes.
Then came a turning point. I found myself in a job in a training company. I was also single again. I started to grow as a person. The owner of the training company was an amazing lady, Sue. She obviously saw something in me. She encouraged me to undertake a teaching qualification at night school. Me, training to be a teacher!
Of course, nobody knew my history.
Nobody knew how wicked I had been in my childhood.
Nobody knew what a terrible wife I had been.
Nobody knew how bad I really was.
But Sue probably saved my life. I opened up to her. I talked. I cried and told her everything.
I remember that afternoon Sue would not let me leave her office until I had phoned my GP to arrange an appointment.
Soon after that I found myself with an appointment with a psychologist at Northowram Hospital.
Every week I went to see him.
Every week Sue let me take time off work.
She even encouraged me to take my time coming back to work after each appointment to recover.
The psychologist talked but didn’t pressure me to talk.
He continued to talk gently to me.
Gradually I started to talk.
One appointment he didn’t talk.
I didn’t talk.
The whole appointment.
No words, just sobs.
The following appointment I talked. Then I couldn’t stop talking.
The psychologist told me it wasn’t my fault. That I was not to blame.
I wanted to believe him. Could that really be true?
Then the appointments came to an end.
The talking came to an end.
Life continued but so did the self-destruction and self-loathing continued.
Everyone who saw me in the street knew me.
They knew who I was.
They knew what I had done.
They knew my sordid history.
I needed to get away.
I found myself with a new job in Scotland. I thought that would make everything better.
Still the self-destruction and self-hate continued.
I bought myself a motorbike.
I made friends with another biker. She made me feel like a person. She spoke to me about my qualities and my faults. We discussed each other’s pasts. We laughed, we cried, but most of all she encouraged me to remember and talk about the psychologist meetings. She helped me start to like myself.
Slowly, I started to realise that it was true. It was not my fault. I didn’t cause the abuse. I didn’t ask for it.
I started to think about my life and all the choices I had made. Each failed relationship was doomed from the start – either because of my self-destruction or because they abused me in some form. I realised I had spent my life seeking out people who would take advantage of me and then control me.
By now I was the training manager of a care company and travelled throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was good at my job. People thought I was good at my job. They enjoyed the training courses I had written.
Do you know what was the most successful training course I wrote? Preventing Abuse!
It was working for this company that I got to know a lady called Michelle. One of the loveliest people I have had the pleasure to call my friend. Sometimes people come into your life and your life just all the better because of it. She started to make me believe in myself.
I was lonely though. Lonely because I had nobody to come home to at night to discuss the day. Nobody to share my adult thoughts with.
So, a friend organised a blind date for me with her brother-in-law, Jim.
Instant attraction. This man was something totally different. He liked me. The real me. He didn’t want to change me. He didn’t want to control me. He certainly didn’t want to abuse me.
I didn’t need him but I wanted to be with him.
Love. For the first time in my life I had a sense of what it was like to be in love with somebody.
My journey continued though.
In 2013 I had major surgery to remove two football sized growths on my ovaries.
I thought I was going to die.
For the first time in my life I really didn’t want to die. I had too much to live for.
Fast forward a few months. The mass (or masses to be precise) turned out to be ovarian cysts and very fortunately for me, non-malignant. However, as the surgeon at the time was not too sure what he was looking at, he decided the best course of action whilst I was under the knife was to remove both my ovaries. Instant menopause for me then!
There was a period of time when I was really quite unwell and unsure of the prognosis. During this time I decided that if I was going to die that I wanted to make sure I did not say on my death bed, “I wish I had done...” I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but anyone who has been in that position will understand my mentality at that point.
My all-time dream was to run my own tearoom so I put plans in action to make sure that happened.
At first, I did not think the tearoom itself would be a possibility but I did think that I could start my plans for a home baking business and sell my cakes and bakes at farmers’ markets, highland games and fetes. By the 2014, our kitchen extension at home was complete, the food standards agency had given us a certificate of food safety and we could now start selling our cakes and bakes.
What would we call this new venture? As we were debating about an appropriate name, my son, Benjamin, sent a Mother’s Day card to me and put “Mother Murphy” on the envelope. This, I decided, was the name of our new business.
Mother Murphy’s was here.
We did farmers’ markets, fayres, galas and the good food show. We developed our range of cakes, bakes, jellies and jams and started producing gluten and dairy free goods.
Most of all though, I knew that my true dream was to run my own tearoom. Selling cakes and bakes was great, but I wanted to give people that experience of enjoying tea and cakes in a relaxed, cosy, friendly environment - an experience that was actually very sadly lacking from the Good Food Show itself.
I already had in my mind how my tearoom would look and feel and I found no places out there to compare to this idea, except perhaps the fabulous, but every expensive Betty’s in York.
I wanted my tearoom to be a place where my Grandma would have liked to visit. We would use only china tea cups. We would use leaf tea and tea strainers. All our cakes would be made by us. All ingredients would be sourced as locally as possible and the best quality we could afford. As for the décor, it would be simple but would, of course, have to be shades of purple and white.
Most of all, I wanted it to be a place where people would come and feel relaxed. I wanted to talk to people when they came into my tearoom. I wanted to get to know them.
1st April 2015 came and the tearoom opened. My perfect tearoom was gleaming. Purple and white, serving real leaf tea, proper coffee, china crockery and, most importantly, all the cakes baked by us. I was bursting with pride. Bursting with pride for what I had achieved but bursting with pride and joy that I had not done it alone but with my soul mate alongside me, the magnificent Mr M.
I needed the tearoom.
The tearoom needed me.
The customers needed the tearoom.
The customers wanted to talk.
The tearoom became a place of comfort, security and safety for many people.
Sometimes I think we have a sign up outside saying come to us, we will listen.
We do listen. We don’t judge. We laugh, we chat, we cry, we hold a hand or offer a shoulder to cry on when needed.
This is where I belong.
I can’t tell you how many people have come into the tearoom and on their first visit they have cried and told us their life history. We have listened, wiped their tears, filled them up with tea and cake but most of all, given them hope that there is a place for them.
If only I had found a place like the tearoom when I was growing up.
If only somebody had listened to me, wiped my tears and given me hope.
Yes my dream has always been to open a tearoom, serving tea and home-made cakes. But I now know that my path in life is more than this. The tearoom is there as a doorway to help others. My path is to help others.
The tearoom has also helped me. The customers have helped me. Customers have become friends.
In the tearoom people share their joy, chat and laughter, but also their troubles, problems, grief and their fears. As they talk and share these with each other, they help each other. It’s not just me. It’s not just Jim. It’s everything. The tearoom is the healing.
I now know that I also needed the tearoom to help me find myself, to strengthen me, to give me the power to be a support to my daughter on her journey.
I know that I am not the first person to become a Grandma, but what follows is why I feel the need to tell the whole world about my new baby Granddaughter. Sadly, I know that I am not the only person to have such a tale to tell.
I have already found though that by telling Chloe’s story it has helped so many different people. People have shared with me their deepest sadness, their grief, their own fears and their hopes.
It is just another example of how hope, determination and love will conquer.
Let’s take a little trip back to 2007. A short conversation from my 16 year old daughter, Chloe, was to change my whole outlook on life. “I’m pregnant”. Ok, so this was not the news I was looking forward to hearing from my young daughter, but pregnant she was. So, I was going to be a Grandma. I think it probably took about 30 minutes for me to change from being concerned at how young Chloe was to being excited about being Grandma.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be as smooth a journey as I would have hoped for my daughter. This pregnancy sadly ended in an early miscarriage and was then followed by another miscarriage.
In 2009, Chloe became pregnant again and this time she passed all the usual milestones and, flying by the usual 12 week worrying period, we thought this was her time. Two days after my birthday, 20 October, 2009, Chloe went into premature labour and suffered the unbearable pain of her first angel baby Michael. Too early to survive but too early for a funeral!
I can’t explain the pain of seeing your daughter going through such terrible heartache whilst being unable to do anything to help. No words, no actions, no money, nothing. Nothing I could do would make this easier for Chloe. Behind this heartache of Chloe’s my own heart was breaking for the grandchildren that were not to be. How could it be fair that one person could have to endure such pain? How could one person deal with such pain?
The next few years past and more miscarriages followed. Tests were carried out, therapy given, but still the miscarriages happened.
2012 seemed to start well though. Chloe was pregnant again. As usual, Chloe shared this information with me almost from day one. Every day I spoke to Chloe and every day we spoke about the pregnancy and how well it was going. 6 weeks passed. 12 weeks approached and the first scan. Everything was perfect. We took the pregnancy day by day and eventually the date for the 20 week scan arrived. The scan showed that this little baby was going to be girl. Oh my! This was going to be Chloe’s time. Every day we talked about things to look forward to. We talked about the things Chloe would be doing with her daughter. A name was chosen, Nieve Debra Olive. I can’t tell you how my heart was bursting with pride at this.
1st November 2012 found me at home making smiley face biscuits for our bonfire night supper up here in Scotland. That day I got the phone call that has probably changed my life for ever. It was Chloe. Just as though she was saying hello, Chloe simply said, “The baby has died”. I heard a noise and realised that I was wailing. Jim standing next to me picked me up from the kitchen floor. “Will you come down please”, asked Chloe.
What followed is still a bit of a blur. I remember having a long, dark, cold, icy journey down from Kirkintilloch to Halifax. I recall stopping at Tebay services on the M6 and trying to eat something but feeling sick at the very thought. I needed to be in Halifax. I needed to be with Chloe.
On Saturday 3 November 2012, two days after learning that her baby had died, my incredibly brave and amazing daughter endured, with no complaining, no tears, no words, the unbearable labour of her angel baby Nieve. My Granddaughter! It is no exaggeration to say that every day since then I have seen my daughter’s face as she held her still-born baby. The shock, the pain, the heartache but somehow I could see the acceptance. I held my Granddaughter, my perfect little Granddaughter who had somehow just fallen asleep for ever.
What followed was just a nightmare. A funeral. A small white coffin. Holding my daughter up whilst we buried her daughter.
How on earth was Chloe going to get through this. How could I help her through this. It was my job, no my aim in life, to make everything ok for my children. How could I have let this happen? How could I have stopped this from happening? How could anyone have stopped this happening? How can anyone help Chloe now?
Over the coming months I shed tears by the bucket full. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my daughter’s haunted face; I saw my perfect but sleeping Granddaughter and my heart was breaking. How on earth was Chloe going to get through this pain and heartache?
However, get through this Chloe did. She got through it day by day. What I could see though was a girl who was sad from the core. There was no happiness in her. My beautiful daughter was completely broken. I was broken.
Meanwhile, Mother Murphy’s Tearoom opened. Chloe found the strength to come and be with us for the open day. She came to celebrate our 1st birthday at the tearoom. But still she was broken. Still her heart ached for her lost babies and how she ached to be a mum.
Over the next few years there followed more miscarriages. More pain, more heartache, more tears.
Then in 2018 Chloe told me she thought she was pregnant. Only a few days. Pregnancy tests followed. Yes, it was true, Chloe was pregnant. My only thought was that I could not bear any more heartache for my daughter.
With the past history, Chloe was going to be monitored and monitored during this pregnancy. There was nothing extra that could be done because there were no known medical reasons for the previous losses. So, day by day, we held our breaths as the pregnancy developed. 6 weeks, 12 weeks. First scan, second scan. Everything looked perfect. Chloe had the most awful morning sickness, which everyone told her was a good sign. Regular scans followed, along with heartbeat monitoring. 20 weeks and the scan showed that the baby was another girl. A small baby on the scan, but the pregnancy was going perfectly otherwise.
I think I probably stopped breathing at this point. I could not concentrate. I ate chocolate. I ate cake. I ate more chocolate. I ate more cake. I could not sleep. I could not craft. But the tearoom still had to be run.
I was under strict instructions from Chloe that I could not tell anyone that she was pregnant. I did wonder how she was going to hide the growing bump but I understood her concerns. Of course, there were a few people I told in the tearoom. Ok, so I told lots of people. Chloe had a bit of a laugh at the idea that I had not told anyone, but I didn’t, of course, tell anyone on the wide, wide world of facebook, so really I’d not told anyone.
Over the next few months, I have to say that the tearoom was probably my haven. I had to bake, I had to organise crafts, I had to talk to people, I had to listen to people’s concerns, I had to be a shoulder to cry on when they needed it, I had to laugh with people. Inside I was a mess. There were times when I cried, many, many times. I cried because I was scared. I was scared that something would happen and my daughter would have to go through terrible heartache again.
Eventually, a date was set for induction at 38 weeks. Everything was perfect except for baby being a bit small. Scans were carried out every two weeks. As the time progressed and baby stayed small, the induction date was brought forward to 13th December, just about 36 weeks.
Wednesday 12 December 2018 I travelled down to Halifax. The train journey was a bit of a blur. So many memories! Oh my mind was running in overdrive. Jim had long since stopped expecting any common sense from me and he was just amazing dealing with my anxiety. He held me and ignored my tantrums. He wiped my tears and did everything he could to reassure me. Only one thing was going to reassure me though.
So 13 December 2018 came. We took Chloe into the Calderdale Royal Hospital. Induction medication was given in the manner it is given! I started to crochet a blanket as I waited with Chloe. I was going nowhere until this labour was over. Not one for praying usually, I can tell you that I prayed hard that night. I am sure that everyone in the tearoom was praying and waiting. Jim was holding the fort and I was giving regular updates. The blanket was growing but that was the only thing progressing. 24 hours later, Chloe’s waters were broken. The labour room was full of every piece of equipment you could imagine. The consultant was not expecting anything to go wrong but as she put it, “we are prepared for everything”.
As things suddenly progressed, standing next to me the nurse pressed the emergency button and the room was suddenly filled with about 100 people (or so it seemed). “One more push and she will be here”.
Then she was here. No suction, no help, no respirator. This perfect, perfect, pink, tiny breathing baby was in her Mother’s arms. Yes I cried. But this time the tears were of joy, relief and love.
I have the most amazing photo of Chloe holding her baby and the love in her eyes is amazing. Minnie Violet is just perfect. Chloe is just perfect.
That night, I slept like a baby.
Chloe’s story is a tale of sadness, heartache, tears and love. Most of all though, this is a tale of one girl’s determination, strength and endurance to become a Mother. I have no doubt that Chloe will be the most amazing Mother and, if little Minnie Violet loves me half as much as I loved my Grandma, than all will be great.
It is also a tale of the support, warmth, thoughts and concern that a whole group of people who have never even met Chloe gave us. I keep saying that we created our tearoom to be a place in the community where everyone could come along, feel safe, feel loved and feel needed. I did not fully realise until this last few months that the tearoom and our wonderful customers are also providing that love and support to me. Thank you.
Behind this story of course there is a tale of hope. Chloe never once gave up hope that she would become a Mother.
Now we have our miracle baby Minnie, we are starting to build new memories. The grief for the lost babies will never go. With tiny steps, one day at a time, Minnie will help Chloe to smile again and, one day in the near future, I hope that I will see my daughter laugh like she used to laugh, something I have not seen for a long, long time.
And Me? Is the real Debra here?
So don’t feel sorry for me.
Don’t pity me.
I’m doing ok. Yes, it’s been hell along the way.
If by telling my story I can reach and help just one person then it has been worth telling.
I believe that by telling my story I will be making myself available and those needing to talk to me will find me. People hearing my story will also be able to guide those lost people to me and the magical tearoom.
Through the power of Facebook, after not seeing or hearing from the lovely Michelle for over 10 years, she popped back into my life. Where was she? Just around the corner from the tearoom!
Michelle sent me a link to join a new group, Soul Sistas – group for women supporting women. Soul Sistas has been a new guide and support along my path. I am looking at things in a different light. I am looking at me in a different light.
My memories are still there.
I was still abused.
Am I a victim?
Not at all.
I have survived. I survived because I chose to. I took the long way round but now I am ready to continue my journey. I believe it is time for me to blossom and that my role now is to help others.
I want everyone who goes through the same things as I did to know that there is somebody out there for them.
What if I am that person who can guide somebody along their journey to find themselves?
What if I can help somebody to believe that it was not their fault?
They did not cause it.
They did not ask for it.
They are not evil.
They are not bad.
They will survive.
They will smile again.
It’s ok to talk about it.
You will be believed.
I am here. I will listen.
And of course, whilst I do all this, I will feed you tea and cakes. Gluten and dairy free of course!