By Julia Connolly
I got pregnant the week we moved to London, crawling out of my jet lag stupor long enough to make a baby. At 41 I was pushing it, but my fiancé and I both had children from previous marriages and we wanted to have a child together.
The fact that we weren’t married seemed irrelevant. We were happy. We were making our own little family. And who cares what the rest of the world thinks, right?
The months flew by and everything was progressing as it should. I was working (illegally) at a publishing company based in Covent Garden; Niall was handling the UK startup of a US company; my 9-year-old son Benson loved his school where he was famous for being an American kid with a funny accent.
Six months into my pregnancy Benson flew to the US to spend a few weeks with his dad. Niall and I took the ferry to France where we stayed in a grand chateau and reveled in our last kid-free vacation time.
Re-entering the UK I was stopped at passport control and asked to explain my intentions—the six-month limit on my visa was due to expire soon, so I’d be traveling back to the US in a few days, right? When I said I’d be doing just that, the passport official eyed my pregnant belly and said, “Know this: If you overstay, you WILL be caught and have to leave immediately.”
Having no intention of getting caught, I busied myself with baby preparations. We found a perfect blue crib at Selfridges.
A week later I took the tube train to Gatwick Airport to pick up my son, who was arriving home after his visit to the States.
I waited at the arrivals door, anxious to see my boy. I put on my welcome home smile each time the door opened, but it seemed to be taking forever. Passenger after passenger came through the door. But not Benson.
Frantic, I was looking for someone who could help when I heard my name over the airport paging system directing me to pick up a blue phone. When I did, a voice told me my son was fine and directed me to wait there for an escort to the immigration office.
I was led to a beige waiting area which I shared with a wildly paranoid young man. “Do you know why we’re here?” He asked, not waiting for an answer. “I don’t care what they think, I didn’t do anything wrong. Do you know why we’re here? Do you?”
I looked at the floor. Damn. I’d been caught.
A man brought Benson to me. He was wearing a cowboy hat his dad had bought for him. “What’s going on, mom? Everybody keeps asking me a million questions.” I got one quick hug before the man brought us to a tiny, bare room with just a small table and three chairs. A light with a too-bright bulb hung over us.
Two hours and a hundred questions later the facts were these: Since Benson had attempted to enter the UK beyond the expiration date of his six-month visitors’ visa, he had to leave the country. We had 30 days to put things in order and send him back. Hearing the news, I vomited on the floor of the immigration office.
I was so distraught that instead of trying to negotiate the several tube train transfers between Gatwick and our home I hailed a cab for Benson and me that ended up costing 75 pounds.
The next day I called my ex-husband to see if Benson could stay with him in the States until we got things sorted out. Doing this was painful, as I had to admit to him I’d messed up, badly, in the rearing of our son. I’d gotten him KICKED OUT OF A COUNTRY, for heaven’s sake. Benson would surely be scarred for life.
The conversation was strained, but he said it would be fine for our son to stay with him.
While I made the arrangements to send my Benson away, I was wracked with self-doubt and anger. What kind of a mother was I? What business did I have giving birth to another child when I clearly couldn’t be responsible for the child I already had?
His farewell was tearful, to put it mildly. For weeks I wandered around our house, missing my boy and beating myself up for being a bad mom. Niall and I twice completed volumes of paperwork to petition the UK Home Office to allow me and Benson to remain in the country. Both times we were denied.
Then, a breakthrough: The headmaster at Benson’s former school suggested he might be able to return if we could get him a student visa. We scrambled to prepare the necessary paperwork and Benson’s father took care of getting his passport in order. My boy was headed home.
The baby was born a month later and we began making arrangements to move back to the States, where we all now live, legally, happily ever after.
In my head, I have returned many times to that era of bad parenting, imagining what I might have done differently. I recently asked Benson about it and he doesn’t even remember the series of incidents. So apparently he turned out okay. I guess I can stop beating myself up now and have a happy Mother’s Day, right?