lifestyle

Sorry, but Peaches Geldof lost me at "80 syringes".

Peaches-Geldof-with her oldest son

When the news first broke a few months ago that Peaches Geldof had been found dead at home while looking after her baby son, I felt devastated. I’m old enough to vividly recall how her mother Paula Yates died in the same way and it seemed like history had struck the cruellest of double blows.

Two tiny boys had been left without a mother. A young husband was grieving. Her sisters and father were faced with yet more heartache. What a tragedy. I felt deep sympathy.

It didn’t seem to matter how she died. There were reports of an eating disorder. Juice fasting. Possible heart failure. An unforeseen medical condition. Even when it emerged that drugs were probably the cause of death, I still felt nothing but sympathy.

When others were claiming Peaches Geldoff was a bad mother for taking drugs, Mamamia published a beautiful, powerful post by one of my favourite writers, Rebecca Sparrow and I read it and I shared it because I loved what she said.

…where exactly do we draw the line in the ‘blame the mother’ game, anyway?

We can roll our eyes and belittle the memory of Peaches Geldof for being a heroin addict and for putting her drug addiction before her kids – but every mother I know lives in a glass house. Myself included. Lets put down the stones, people. If you have EVER looked at your mobile phone while driving your kids in the car – you’ve played Russian roulette. If you’d had an accident and died – how would that make you or I different from Peaches Geldof?

What of the parent who has two wines and then suddenly leaves to pick up their kids from a party and who has an accident because he or she is over the limit? Or the parent who suspects their baby car seat isn’t installed properly, that the straps are worn or not tight enough?  Is that a more understandable mistake? Is it really any better?

We screw up. We’re all flawed. We make disastrous judgement calls.

I nodded along with Rebecca and my sympathy remained. Who am I to judge, I thought. No mother is perfect!

But today, after reading the findings of the coroner who described the way Peaches died, something shifted. I feel very differently now.

Perhaps you will too after reading this:

The inquest revealed that Geldof’s body was found surrounded by spoons, a cap from syringe, and resin from heroin. A capped syringe was found in a drawer, covered up by lollies.

Peaches Geldof died of a drugs overdose ten times bigger than the one that killed her mother Paula Yates.

Stashes of heroin, burned spoons and almost 80 syringes were scattered around the 25-year-old’s country home, an inquest heard yesterday.

Her husband returned from a weekend away to find her slumped dead on a bed, covered in needle puncture marks. She had been looking after their baby son Phaedra, who was left alone for up to 17 hours.

A used syringe was in a sweet box next to her body and a pair of knotted tights had apparently been used as a tourniquet, the hearing in Gravesend, Kent, heard.

Peaches and her youngest son, Phaedra.

This is the part where you get ready to berate me for judging a dead woman. But I simply don’t believe what Peaches Geldof did can be in any way compared to everyday transgressions like glancing at your phone while you drive. There is nothing I have done or will ever do that is in the realms of what Peaches Geldoff did. I had an interesting discussion with a friend about this yesterday. She doesn’t have kids and she still feels very sympathetic towards Peaches. “Addiction is a disease,” she insists. “Nobody is perfect”

I’m sorry but I think that’s a cop-out. When you decide to proceed with a pregnancy and become a mother, you sign up for a bunch of things including self-sacrifice, impulse control and putting the needs of your helpless children ahead of your own. To be a good parent, that’s the baseline. That’s how they stay safe.

As for addiction being a disease? Cancer is a disease. Nobody gets a choice with cancer. Addiction, however – and the behaviour around it –  still comes with choices. There’s the choice to seek treatment. There’s the choice to stop using. There’s the choice to not use drugs in front of your children. There’s the choice not to get wasted when you’re alone with your baby. There’s the choice to tell your partner that you are unable to care for your kids right now, that they’re not safe with you. There’s the choice to ask for help. There’s the choice to put one or 80 needles in your arm while your baby cries or plays happily at your feet, unaware that he is about to lose his mother forever.

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Peaches with her husband and two kids.

Peaches’ baby son Phaedra had no choices. Not one. He was left alone with his drugged and then dead mother for 17 hours. Alone with her body. He could not choose to feed himself or comfort himself. He could not choose to call for help. He could not choose to bring her back.

Media reports depicting Peaches Geldoff as a ‘fallen angel’ or tragic celebrity only seek to glamorise her seedy, senseless death. There is nothing noble about dying half sprawled on your blood-stained sheets surrounded by needles, and a distressed 11 month old who doesn’t understand why Mummy won’t wake up and cuddle him.

If anyone was in a position to understand that, it was Peaches Geldof whose own mother died in identical circumstances.

So what’s my point? Some will say there is none. “The poor woman is dead,” they’ll say. “Leave her alone. You should be ashamed.” Some will say it’s futile or insensitive to talk about the issue of bad parenting or addiction. Some will accuse me of pointing fingers at dead mothers.

All of those claims can be a very effective ways of shutting down an incredibly important conversation that as a society we need to have. A conversation about how not all parents are able to safely take care of their own children. And by censoring that conversation with the words “don’t judge”, we simply enable more people to justify this type of behaviour which leads to more children being neglected and abused. More children being traumatised and left motherless.

Because some mothers – for a myriad of reasons – are just not able to look after their children and they should not be left alone to try.

Peaches with her mother, Paula Yates.

Peaches Geldof gained much of her identity from being a mum. She was an outspoken advocate of attachment parenting – which advocates extended breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping.  She insisted it was the best way to parent and she became a public face for this type of parenting prosletysing it in numerous media interviews and giving parenting advice to others. Meanwhile, according to her husband, it turns out she was using heroin and methadone while both her babies were tiny. The contradiction is breathtaking.

Yes, mothers who are addicted to drugs or alcohol need help. They need support. We must do our utmost to give them that support. But they also need a wake-up call. If you are an addict you cannot properly look after your children and you should not be left alone with them when you are using or drinking or engaging in any type of behaviour that could put them in danger.

Today, I still think Peaches Geldof’s death is a tragedy but my sympathy is reserved for her family and the two boys she left motherless, not the late celebrity herself. I just hope her death is a wake-up call for those who need to hear it.

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