During a routine family holiday to her husband’s homeland of Turkey, Lisa Kennedy was suddenly told their marriage was over. Her husband took their six-month-old baby from her care and instructed her to go home to Australia, alone, beginning four years of hell in Istanbul as she fought the case through both Turkish and International courts all the while battling people she once called family.
Finally, Lisa realised she had only a mother’s choice: she had to save her child and get back home by whatever means available. That meant calling on outside help and, to raise awareness about the frailties of international marriage and children, 60 Minutes agreed to film the plight, long before the controversy surrounding Sally Faulkner’s children in Lebanon exploded. This is the heart-stopping story that is now unlikely ever be aired.
This is part of her story…
Soothing seven-month-old Daniel as he cries in his baby seat, I give him his dummy for the third time, and he spits it out again. I stroke his hair and forehead gently and his cries subside for a few moments. I’ve climbed into the backseat with him, as we sit in gridlock.
Stefan has come to pick us up from the dock on his way back from his sister Didem’s office, since we took a ferry to
Istanbul’s Asian side today, just to fill in the time really. It was a lovely day, a bit chilly but entertaining overall. I caress his forehead thoughtfully, proud of him for making it through such a long day.
‘Come on, sweetheart, it won’t be much longer, go off to sleep,’ I whisper to Daniel, but it has taken much longer than expected to go the ten kilometres and he’s just over it. There’s tension in the car and we sit silently while Daniel screams, both just praying he’ll nod off.
Reaching the house at last, with Daniel now fast asleep, we tiptoe him upstairs and carefully place him into his cot. Listening to your baby cry is the most dreadful feeling in the world and so emotionally exhausting. Both of us weary from the ordeal, we just snack for dinner; it’s too late to cook a meal anyway. Stefan sits in the lounge room drinking wine and I head to the bedroom to read.
All three of us are up early the next morning, and Stefan is ready to leave before 8 a.m. ‘Why are you leaving so early?’ I ask. ‘The business is really busy, I’ve got to make calls to Australia before the day ends there,’ he answers. ‘I’m going to take Daniel to my family’s home around 5 p.m. tonight. You could go food shopping if you don’t want to come?’ ‘Sure, good idea,’ I respond. ‘Just have him back by 7 p.m. for me to put him to bed . . . seriously,’ I warn him, knowing he doesn’t respect the routine I have for Daniel on occasion, which really upsets me.
Later that morning, I call Stefan to let him know that we left the pram in his car last night and I need it. He is very short with me on the phone, but says he’ll drop it at the kapaci, building manager, who will bring it up to me. I find it so frustrating needing him for everything when I’m here; I hate not having a car or my usual independence. Whilst I enjoy being here on holiday, with a baby it has been far more trying than I expected. I remind myself that we’ve
only got one month until we return home to Australia and then I’ll be wishing to be back here; I do love not working and just spending the days watching Daniel learn about the world around him.
Almost two hours later, the pram arrives via the kapaci, and I can finally get out of the house. Luckily, neither Stefan nor Didem have come up to the apartment and I hope I don’t bump into them while I’m out; my feelings are lukewarm towards them right now. Daniel and I have a wonderful time at the playground. I go down the slide with him sitting on my lap and he is elated, his mouth wide open as his squeals of delight pierce the air. Other mums
watch us intently, and I feel their stares. I am so interactive with Danny, in stark contrast to them, sitting on benches, covered from head to toe with babies safely in their prams.
Older kids are hovered over by their parents, barely allowed to breathe without permission. I struggle with these types of cultural differences and I’m glad Stefan encourages active play with Danny. I don’t indulge their opinionated side-glances. I turn the other cheek and continue whizzing down the slide with Danny.
Stefan arrives at exactly 5 p.m. to collect Daniel. He offers to drop me at the supermarket but I’m content to walk and have some breathing space. I go to kiss them goodbye. Stefan hands Daniel to me, instead of our usual group hug. I’m getting a weird vibe but I dismiss it, as I’ve read so much about men handling the new pressures of fatherhood in strange ways. While I’ve taken to motherhood like a duck to water, it seems to have hit Stefan hard, and I simply don’t have the time with him alone to fully understand his worries. I see him leaning on his family and that’s fine with me. We have so many big changes coming up and I don’t want to rock the boat or question him excessively. I’m sure his family is doing more than enough of that.
‘See you later, guys,’ I say, watching them leave. ‘Bye, Lisa; say bye to Mummy, Daniel,’ Stefan says, waving Daniel’s hand at me. I decide to walk to the shops, but some kind of mother’s intuition is bothering me. I don’t go shopping and end up circling around the block several times before wandering aimlessly back to the apartment, awaiting their return. As a new mum, you’re caught between wanting a rest from the constant demands of having a small baby and the longing for them the moment that break comes.
Knowing Stefan will probably disrespect my sleeping schedule, as he has so many times recently, I watch the clock, ready to call him at 7 p.m. I pick up the phone, thinking the feeling in my stomach is alerting me to an impending argument. I don’t want to fight, but both Stefan and his family’s resistance to my parenting decisions have been gnawing at me; I feel like it’s me against them and I want to address that. I call him. He answers.
‘Hi, Stefan, when are you coming back? I have to put Danny to sleep,’ I ask with anticipation. ‘We are not coming back,’ he says coldly.
‘What?’ I ask, shocked, wondering what’s happened. ‘We are never coming back,’ he continues, his voice sounding
unfamiliar. ‘I’ve filed for divorce, you will get the papers next week. Daniel is staying with me; you should make plans to go back to Australia.’
With the life energy draining out of me, I walk to the window looking for air, propping myself up against the window sill. ‘What are you talking about?’ I demand, my head spinning, my hands shaking. ‘I will talk to you once you’ve calmed down,’ he says, with no emotion. ‘Don’t come here, don’t call me. This is serious, Lisa, don’t call me. I’ll call you when you’ve calmed down.’
He hangs up.
The room around me expands. Or I shrink. I feel like I’m dying. I want Daniel. I can’t even comprehend what Stefan just said. I don’t care – I want Daniel. Right now.
‘I want Daniel,’ I say out loud. ‘I want Daniel.’
‘I want Daniel, I want Daniel,’ I repeat, crying now. I’m walking, I sit down, I stand up, I go to the bedroom. I want Daniel, I keep repeating in my head. I instinctively rush to the top shelf, looking for the red pouch where we keep our passports. I grab it down. I sit on the bed, too afraid to look. I want Daniel, I keep thinking. I open it, already knowing. There is my passport. Nothing else. Stefan’s passport is gone. Daniel’s passport is gone.
I curl up into a ball on the bed, screaming in physical pain for my baby. This is my worst nightmare. Kicking and screaming, crying, struggling to breathe, fighting ghosts. All I can think is that I want Daniel. I can’t stay here without him. Even for one minute longer. I just need him – no, he needs me. He can’t be without me. I need my baby back! I sit up abruptly. I want Daniel. Okay, how do I diffuse this situation? Stefan is clearly losing his mind. No, I don’t have any thoughts for him. I want Daniel. I know where he is. I know how to get through security. I sit upright and start breathing again.
‘Get Daniel,’ I tell myself. Go and get Daniel. I walk to the bathroom and splash my face. I get a tailored jacket from the wardrobe. I need to slip by the security at Stefan’s parent’s compound, and I’ve seen how the residents do it. ‘I’ll walk confidently through the resident’s revolving door,’ I tell myself. I put my hair in a bun, so I’m less recognisable.
I grab the keys and my sunglasses. The sun is still out. I walk decisively. My breathing is heavy. I’m scared but I need Daniel. They will back down when they see me. How could they do this? Why would they do this? No, don’t think about it. Just get Daniel, Lisa. Then you can figure the rest out.
Reaching the street across from Stefan’s family’s gated residence, I stand at the lights looking across at my target. ‘Stroll confidently through the resident’s door,’ I say to myself, trying to stay calm. ‘No one will stop you. You can do this.’
The green man flashes and I start walking. I make it to the footpath and see the revolving door. I stride confidently towards it. I go inside and make it through. Relief hits me. Now I’m angry. I walk towards the family’s apartment. Someone taps my shoulder. I turn around to see a guard. My body tingles. I break down crying on the spot. He says something in Turkish and gently grabs my arm to turn me around towards the exit. Sadness hits me like a tidal wave. My baby is just over there. I need my baby. I reach out for him, feeling he is so close.
The guard leads me out. I’m on the street with absolutely nowhere to go. I feel limp. Who is going to help me?
It’s dusk but not dark yet. The sky is a swirl of colours, pinks intertwined with bright blue and streaks of grey. I’ve got it, I think to myself, my eyes lighting up. I’ll go to Didem’s house. She’ll help me, she will see reason, she will explain what’s going on. I soothe myself with the idea of this lifeline to a husband I no longer know.
I walk purposefully and with hope in a situation I am quickly adjusting to. All I need is to get Daniel back to my safety. In my arms. I don’t trust Stefan with him, and most certainly not in this situation. Don’t think about it, I warn myself. Let’s just focus on asking for Daniel, and Stefan can do as he pleases, once I have him safe. There is now a team conversation going on in my head, as an overarching ‘parental’ voice is guiding me not to think about myself but just to protect my baby. I sense danger.
For the first time, I am glad that both Stefan’s parents’ house and Didem’s are within a short walk of where I am staying. I march the familiar path, through the park, past the mosque, across the road, along the walkway behind the many apartments to either side, through a clearing, past the little strip of shops and here I am. Two identical blue apartments, Didem’s being the first one from the way I am approaching.
I see her husband’s name on the button and I press it. It rings out. I press it again. The blood drains from my face. I am so terrified. I press it again, and again, and again. Bullshit. Heartless. Cowards.
Where are you? I call her. No answer. I call again. I start yelling out, ‘Didem, I know you’re up there!’
I call her house phone. No answer. I call again. Ramazan, her husband, answers and speaks Turkish down the phone to me. Not understanding his words but understanding the situation, I now realise none of them are going to help me. Is this a conspiracy? They are on his side, of whatever his issue is, whatever his demand will be. Not only have I been deserted by my husband in his country, but also by his family, the only family I have here.
Dejected, I stand out the front for a while. I have nowhere to go. No one to go home to. No one to care for. Nothing.
This is an edited extract from No Going Back: A Desperate Mother’s Last-Ditch Plan to Escape From Turkey With Her Son by Lisa Kennedy (Echo Publishing), available now.