|WINNIPEG — She has been the subject of debate in Canada’s highest court of law, the topic of endless discussions in the media. Women’s rights groups lauded the Supreme Court of Canada’s Oct. 31 ruling on her case, that a pregnant woman abusing substances should not be forced into treatment.
But all Ms G wants now is to get on with her life and to mother her year-old baby and the one that is to come in January.
“Ms G” — whose name cannot be made public because her older children are in foster care — has gotten off glue sniffing and was married Nov. 1, the day after the Supreme Court decision.
Looking to faith
And she and her new husband, George Timmerman, are looking to their faith in God for their strength.
At 23, Ms G has already lived through years of rejection and abuse. Her first three children were apprehended at birth because Winnipeg Child and Family Services felt she would not be a responsible mother. Two of her children suffer physical and mental effects from her addiction.
Raised in an aboriginal community in northern Manitoba, Ms G lost her own mother when she was 11. “Right away after she got buried I was in a foster home,” she says. That’s when her feelings of rejection set in. “I felt like my family didn’t want me.”
She came to the city when she was 13, and for the next several years went back and forth. As a young teenager, she used to look after her sister’s four children when their mom went out drinking. One time, there was no food left in the house. Someone had called CFS and a social worker showed up to take the children away.
“I felt like a mother to those kids,” Ms G says. She remembers being angry with her sister for abandoning the children, and with CFS for taking them away. “I wanted to run off with the kids.”
Her older sister used to take her on drinking sprees, leaving her in the lobby of a hotel. Bored, she began making friends with the glue sniffers who walked into the hotel. “And so they offered me that rag and so I took it.”
She was 16, and kept inhaling for the next six years, through three pregnancies and a five-year abusive relationship. Back then, she thought the lifestyle was good. She enjoyed hallucinating. “Now I don’t like it at all.”
Ms G remembers going to court for the custody of her second child. She was so depressed about the thought of losing her baby permanently that she decided she would kill herself if the court ruled against her. “I’m going to walk out of here and jump in front of a vehicle,” she remembers thinking.
The court adjourned until another date, and the second time Ms G went armed with a full jar of sniff, ditching it under a planter outside the courthouse to fetch later if she needed it. When CFS was granted permanent custody of her child, “I went for my jar.” The sniff kept her from committing suicide.
It made her not care. “I had told myself I want to die sniffing. That’s how much I thought I loved it.”
Ms G and Timmerman met in the spring of 1995 at a friend’s house. Both were lonely and struggling with rejection. But an earlier commitment to Christ prompted each of them to ask God for a Christian partner. “When I came back from Berens River (her home up north), I asked for the Lord to send me a Christian man,” says Ms G. “I was tired of abuse. I wanted somebody that was honest, that wouldn’t lie and wouldn’t drink.”
The beginning of a new relationship did not mean the end of solvent abuse. In August 1996, Ms G’s life became the focus of national attention when CFS tried to force her into treatment. She was five-and-a-half months pregnant with her fourth child, perpetually high on solvent, and in danger of losing yet another baby.
At the time she fought back. “Nobody has a right to force anyone to do something they don’t want to do,” she says. “But me, I’m kind of glad they did. It gave me time to think about things.”
Time for healing
She voluntarily stayed in the hospital, going through withdrawal. She was eating well and started gaining weight. She worried whether her baby would be healthy after she spent five months of her pregnancy sniffing constantly. “But I knew the Lord can heal.”
She was beginning to consider life beyond the jar of solvent. Finally, through will power, support from Timmerman, strength from God and time spent in a hospital ward, she quit using sniff. “I made up my mind because I wanted to mother a baby,” she says. “I loved babies so much.”
Ms G is looking forward to having her fifth child, due in early January. She has no contact with her oldest, who has been adopted, but sees her other two, aged four and five, every couple of months and talks to them on the phone. They attended her wedding. She hopes eventually to get them back, but knows that could take some time. “We’re not going to rush into things.”
The couple’s church attendance is sporadic. They were married by the pastor of a small independent church that meets in a private home, and look to each other and their own study of the Bible rather than a solid fellowship.
Still, Ms G has come a long way. In the future, she hopes to finish high school — a top student, she dropped out of Grade 10 when she was pregnant.
Life on the street is like a death sentence, she now realizes. “I was only hanging on by a thin string. Death was so close to me.”
And she has a message for others who are destroying themselves with sniff: “I’ve got to tell those people to get out of there.”
(Reprinted with permission of Christian Week magazine. Debra Fieguth is an assistant editor with Christian Week).