Expecting mum left bad life behind for her child

Kelly Clemston. Picture: Comp
Kelly Clemston. Picture: Comp
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KELLY Clemiston was on the floor, the knife at her throat in the hands of her partner.

An hour later she was in a police station, the new bruises appearing on her face and body mingling with the old ones, and an officer telling her next time they were called it would be to collect her in a bodybag.

“That was the moment I knew things had to change,” says the 24-year-old. “I was 12 weeks pregnant, it made no difference to the way he was treating me. I had to get out and clean up my life.

“I had managed to get him off me and escape to the bathroom where I called the police. I realised it was my last chance. That I needed a fresh start and I needed to stop drinking.”

That was just over seven months ago. As she sits on her living room sofa, in a council house in the west of the city, Kelly cradles seven-week-old Leah in her lap and counts her blessings. She is “speaking up and speaking out” as the name of the joint council, police and health initiative goes, which offers help to people whose lives are blighted by addiction to alcohol or drugs; its latest strand launched earlier this week focusing on parental misuse of drink and drugs.

We meet appropriately enough on International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day, and Kelly admits that she is wracked with guilt about her heavy drinking while pregnant with Leah.

“It could have been much worse. Leah might have been premature, she could have had all sorts of problems, but she’s hitting her milestones at the moment, though who knows if there will be difficulties ahead. It breaks my heart to think she might have developmental issues because of me.”

Kelly began drinking when she was 18, though says she had mental health problems before then. “When my family emigrated here from South Africa when I was 14 I became bulimic. I was getting help, even went to the Cullen Centre [a psychotherapy centre for eating disorders at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital] but it was only when I turned 18 and started drinking that I was able to cope with it.

“But my drinking got bad really quickly. I was working as a bank cashier but I gave that up before I was sacked. I was drinking around a litre of vodka a day at that time. It wasn’t to get drunk or as a pleasure, it was to feel normal.

“My parents were very worried for me, as were my family and friends, but I just carried on. I was offered all sorts of help, but didn’t take it.”

However, by the time she was 21 she knew she had to stop. “I heard about LEAP from a therapist and it sounded like the right thing for me, so I went on the waiting list.”

LEAP is NHS Lothian’s abstinence programme, where people are taken on the day programme for three months of intensive treatment once they have proved they can stop taking drink or drugs. There they receive clinical medical and therapeutic help, are supported in their accommodation, given education, training and employment opportunities, and aftercare to make sure they are keeping body and soul together.

It has had remarkable 
success rates, but not in Kelly’s case. “It was the toughest time of my life,” says Kelly. “It really was very hard and I would recommend it to anyone. But it’s also where I met him. We were warned not to get together, two alcoholics battling to stay sober was never going to work, but we didn’t listen.

“We got a flat, and of course we just started drinking again. We were together just over a year. The first six months were fine, but then he started getting violent.”

That was the start of six months of beatings, of police visits, of Kelly leaving then going back. “He was in prison when I found out I was 
pregnant. I was in a B&B and I was scared and lost and didn’t know what to do. When he got out we were together again, both still drinking. I was on about three litres of cider a day. I’d get to the shops at 10am and drink all day until I went to bed.

“It was like the pregnancy wasn’t real. I was 12 weeks when he attacked me with a knife. I realised that it was serious. I managed to get him off me and lock myself in the bathroom and call the police.”

With her drinking as bad as it had ever been, and given the information she’d received while at LEAP, Kelly knew that just stopping wasn’t an option. “I knew withdrawal could spark seizures and I couldn’t go through that. With help from my GP and midwife I started to cut down, but I knew I’d need more to stop. That’s when PrePare came in.”

PrePare is the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Team made up of community midwives, psychiatric nurses, health visitors and nursery officers. It focuses on pregnant women with substance misuse problems and infants considered ‘high risk’ because of injecting drug use, chaotic lifestyles and child protection issues.

“I was honest about it and I knew that because of my drinking I wasn’t showing any kind of bump and that wasn’t right, and so PrePare then sent me for a ten-day detox to the Ritson Clinic at the Royal Edinburgh.”

Leah arrived on July 22, a week early due to pre-eclampsia, weighing in at a healthy 6lb 5oz. She’s already 10lb 1oz and is hitting her milestones.

“She could have been born with physical abnormalities or developmental issues – which could still happen,” says Kelly. “But they’re going to keep a close eye on her. She’s a normal seven-week-old and I am so lucky to be able to say that.

“I think young people really need to understand what drinking can do to a baby and that they need to ask for help.”

HELP IS CLOSE AT HAND

THE Speak Up Speak Out campaign is a joint initiative between Edinburgh City Council, NHS Lothian and Police Scotland to offer help and support to people whose lives are affected by addiction – targeting children and young people is just the latest strand.

Recent figures from the Scottish Government revealed that 22 per cent of all concerns recorded at child protection case conferences were for parental alcohol misuse or drug misuse, 53 per cent of all concerns recorded for children on the Child Protection Register were for parental alcohol or drug misuse, and that 51 per cent of children on the register had either one or both concerns recorded.

As well as offering support to children who have problems at home, Speak Up Speak Out is aimed at pregnant women, advising them to avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Parents and carers can also get advice about talking to children, while teenagers who are either worried about being pressured to take drugs, or are worried about friends, can also seek help.

Councillor Paul Godzik, children and families convener, said: “The aim of this campaign is to reduce the impact of alcohol and drug use on youngsters, see fewer young people using drugs, and also choosing to start drinking alcohol later in life. We also want to make sure that those in need, whether they are the adult or the child, get appropriate support for their problems. We will continue to work closely with NHS Lothian and Police Scotland on Speak Up Speak Out to ensure that children have the best start in life and are protected from harm.”