Sedated, forced into a cesarean section, and her child seized by social services. Alessandra Pacchieri,35, has been named as the Italian mother whose child was cut from her womb and taken from her, provoking international outrage. She has now had her chance to tell her side of the story. In an interview in today’s Daily Mail she speaks about the horrors she has endured.
The details are shocking and may cause distress to some readers.
Alessandra, who lives near Siena in Tuscany, had applied to become an air hostess with Ryanair and successfully passed all the tests. Last summer she flew to England to complete her training. She was four months pregnant. By the eighth day of her course she began to worry about running short of cash. She was booked in at the Hilton hotel at Stansted airport. The anxiety brought on a panic attack. Although Alessandra had been diagnosed with bipolar condition she had stopped taking her medication for fear it could harm her unborn baby. In her panic, she called the police and gave them her mother’s phone number in Italy.
Alessandra described how she was asleep when she heard a banging at the door. It was the police. They said they would take her to hospital to “check that the baby was ok.”
Taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex she was then left for ten hours without seeing a doctor or being given anything to eat. Finally, at 10.20pm she was seen by two psychiatrists who informed her they would section her under the Mental Health Act. A police officer held her hands to prevent her from trying to escape, the pressure was so strong it broke her watch.
She was put in the Derwent wing, the psychiatric ward, which she said was “nasty and smelly” and had to stay in the clothes she was wearing for four days until her luggage was eventually brought to her from the hotel. She slept on a couch.
On June 13th she was coerced into taking her bipolar meds and the local health trust put through an application at the family court to keep her detained as a mental patient. On hearing this, Alessandra says she was “freaking out” and that she begged to be allowed to go home.
It was July when she was moved to the Broomfield Hospital’s maternity unit. Social workers told her that her child would be taken into care after its birth. On August 24th, she woke as usual, showered and went to make herself some breakfast. She found the kitchen area locked. It was then she heard that she was “nil by mouth” as she was due to go under general anaesthetic.
At this stage Alessandra did not know that the authorities had overturned a ruling that means a child cannot be taken into care until after it is born, by enforcing a cesarean section, nor that the care order was already in place.
She was crying and upset. She could feel her baby kicking inside her. Her due date was only four days off and she wanted to have a natural birth.
Despite her tears and pleas they held her down and injected her thigh with sedative before taking her in an ambulance to the wing of the hospital where the operating theatres were. The last thing she remembers is being pushed down, a mask applied to her face and the feeling that she was suffocating.
When she came around she saw the t-shirt she had been wearing on a chair. It was cut open with scissors. The room was full of social workers and hospital staff. She was handed her little girl and began to feed her at the breast but after 20 minutes someone removed the baby and took her away.She was told she should not feed her.
Alessandra was sent to another psychiatric unit on the Broomfield site. For three days she begged to see the baby but to no avail. She was then told the child was in foster care. “They had stolen my baby.”
For the next few months she was kept in detention but allowed a half hour visit from the child once a week. She went twice to the family court in Chelmsford to ask for permission to be allowed to leave for Italy. Relatives in America and in Senegal made offers to care for the baby, but the court refused them.
By late October of 2012 Alessandra took advice to go back to Italy, alone, and fight for her child from there. Hospital managers accompanied her on the flight where once again she was transferred to a hospital, but discharged before Christmas, with a clean bill of health.
She was therefore fully recovered when she returned to England in February 2013 to appear before Chelmsford court again to fight to get her daughter back. In an extraordinary message, even as he again declined her, the Judge, calling the baby by the initial “P” said “If in later life P reads this, as she may well do, I hope she will appreciate that her mother in particular loved her and wished for her to return to her and to bring her up.” He still ruled that “P” be placed for adoption.
This was predicated on the chance that at some future point Alessandra may forget to take her medication. Alessandra has two older daughters and says she is a good and loving mother. “I have never done anything to hurt my other two daughters” she states “and I never would.”
The legalities of this case continue to cause great concern. In the transcript of the hearing, it is clear that Mr Justice Mostyn ordered that Alessandra not know about the order for the forced cesarean before she was taken to the maternity hospital. The order was made under the secrecy of the Court of Protection. It was made in her “best interests” and the use of “reasonable and proportionate force” was also authorised.
The judge said it would be “heavy-handed” for police to take the baby at birth but that social workers should apply to have her taken into care. This application went through in the ensuing 24 hours by which time Alessandra had suffered the enforced cesarean operation.
Although Alessandra has now been named, the media are still banned from naming the child, who is now 15 months old and with prospective adopters. The last time Alessandra saw her third child was in May when she had to watch as the then nine month old was carried away by social workers. She sobbed as she recalled this painful farewell.
Alongside her anguish, Alessandra is very angry:
“Your family courts and your social workers invaded my body and stole my baby. I believe that that British authorities planned to adopt my baby from the very beginning.”
A judge in Milan has said that the entire case resembles a “horror film” and was “an act of extreme violence.” The Italian government are instructing lawyers and may well intervene. Sir James Munby, a senior family judge in England is also aghast. He has promised to oversee the case from hereon in. Alessandra also has the full support of John Hemming MP who campaigns against court secrecy. She is now represented by an Italian lawyer, Stefano Oliva, who says there is “absolutely no reason not to allow this woman to have a second chance.”
As Senor Oliva points out, Allesandra has a minor mental illness, easily treatable, she has a job, a house, and a normal life. With the adoption still not agreed there is still time to get her child back.
Forced against her will into a cesarean, her little girl removed from her, at least she has now had a chance to tell the world of her suffering in this interview.
By Kate Henderson