The knock at the door that turned my parents into brainwashed fanatics - and nearly cost my life

The Daily Mail, UK/February 11, 2010

Lying in my hospital bed, in the throes of an exhausting labour, I was in agony and feeling very frightened. I'd gone into labour ten weeks early and my twins were in the breech position, so it was likely I would need a Caesarean.

As a first-time mother, it was a terrifying moment - but worse was yet to come. As the consultant obstetrician looked through my notes, he suddenly lifted his head and said: 'I see you're a Jehovah's Witness.'

I nodded mutely, overcome with fear, as I knew what would happen next. The doctor left the room and called the Jehovah's Witness Hospital Liaison Committee, a group of the religion's senior members - or 'elders' - who are on call to negotiate with doctors about blood transfusions.

ehovah's Witnesses believe that blood is sacred and that accepting a transfusion - which is likely during many operations - is a sin. Frightened and in pain, I was told by the doctors that I was in grave danger if I refused a transfusion.

The anaesthetist, clearly agitated and upset, even said to me: 'Do you realise you are going to die and leave your babies without a mother?'

Before I could protest, Dennis, an elder I had known for a few years, was at my bedside. He was in his 70s and from a Brighton congregation - all Jehovah's Witness elders are males. I genuinely thought: 'Dennis is coming to help', yet here he was clutching a form stating I would refuse a transfusion and telling me to sign.

I glanced over at my parents and my husband Bob, hoping they would say something, but they stood by obediently, saying nothing while the elders took over.

It still hurts to think we were all so brainwashed that they could have stood by and watched me and my babies die.

I was in absolute turmoil. I knew that if I didn't sign the forms I would be banished from the movement and from everyone I loved and would be left without the support of my family.

I didn't want to die, but Dennis simply stood there, pen reaching out to me and I knew what I had to do. I signed.

Wheeled into theatre moments later thankfully, the operation was a success. My twins, two healthy girls we named Chloe and Lucy were beautiful. But I'd lost a dangerous amount of blood and was very tired.

I didn't haemorrhage like poor Emma Gough, the Jehovah's Witness who died in 2007 after giving birth, but I needed huge doses of iron injections to build my strength.

Meanwhile, the elders' useless advice in order for me to get better was to 'eat lots of beetroot'.

I stayed in hospital for a week, the babies for six. Both were born with holes in their hearts and Lucy has cerebral palsy as a result of being premature.

It was after my operation that the consultant told me firmly that if either of my children needed a blood transfusion at any time, the hospital would go to court and seek an injunction if I refused.

I simply said: 'Please do what you have to do', secretly pleased that they could intervene if necessary.

I could so easily have lost my life thanks to this warped religion. Now I faced going home with my new babies and raising them under the faith that forbids friendships outside the religion.

Millions of us have had Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on the door, but when it happened to my parents one morning in 1974, just before I was born, it was to change the course of their lives, and mine, for ever.

Neither my mother, a housewife, nor my father, a builder, knew anything about the religion before this fateful day, but my mother - who lost her own mum as a child - was intrigued by the notion that she could meet her again one day, in paradise.

Jehovah's Witness is a Christian movement founded in the U.S. in l93l. They believe they are the only true Christians and say that when Armageddon comes, they alone will be saved and will live in paradise on earth. Everyone else is damned.

We lived in Whitstable, Kent, and every day I was terrified on the way to school in case the world ended and I wouldn't find my parents when I came home.

It's a very strict religion that denies its members any freedom or the right to make lifestyle choices of their own. It is incredibly controlling and, as a family, we felt we couldn't breathe without telling the elders first.

I grew up in this indoctrinated household. We weren't allowed to make friends with anyone outside the religion, which they called 'outside of the truth', and further education or careers were frowned upon, because our spiritual development came above everything.

The group would have been happy for us to have lived on benefits with more time to devote to them. I grew up never celebrating Christmas or birthdays. Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe Christ was born on December 25, and they don't celebrate birthdays because when King Herod had a birthday party, he asked for - and was given - the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

The only celebrations were marriages and births, because these are the means by which the movement keeps itself going.

It was an utterly miserable childhood, very lonely and tough. Following fashion is forbidden - modesty is everything - and sex outside marriage is a huge sin.

The other children at school would laugh at me, dressed in floral frilly dresses or sailor dresses with hems down to the ground with not even a bare arm exposed. I looked like something out of the Thirties.

I never wore designer trainers or anything fashionable, so I was very isolated. I tried not to let it show, but I did care.

There was one group of girls who befriended me when they realised how hellish my home life was, what little freedom I had and how devoid of joy my life was. They are all still my friends.

But even questioning the groups' elders is very much discouraged. My mum and dad were slightly more liberal than some other Jehovah's Witness parents, perhaps because they weren't 'born in' which meant they had formulated some of their own ideas outside, so I was allowed to take my GCSEs.

We had bible and prayer meetings on two week nights for two hours and lots more at the weekend, so my life was very full, but with none of the pleasures and fun most young girls enjoy.

I have a younger brother, Tom, and a rebellious sister called Jo who is three years older than me, and who got pregnant at 16 by an outsider. Jo had to leave the group and the shame and blame my parents were made to suffer was shocking.

The news was announced at a big meeting at the Jehovah's Witness meeting place, Kingdom Hall.

My parents were too ashamed to attend so I went alone aged 13, and I questioned the elders publicly. This was frowned upon, but I was so angry about the way my sister and my father were being treated that I couldn't help but argue.

After that, elders crossed over the street when they saw Jo and, eventually, she was disassociated, or cast out, the worst thing that can happen to a Jehovah's Witness, because you never get to speak to any of the friends you've formed over the years.

I was an introverted child, but I worked hard and gained ten GCSEs. I wanted to be a nurse, but the elders forbid it, as they said on the paradise earth there would be no illness, so nurses wouldn't be needed.

I left school at 16 and was allowed to go to college to study business and marketing until I was 18.

Then I found a job with a form of solicitors in Canterbury. From the age of 13 I'd had boyfriends my parents never knew about. It was all innocent, but I wasn't supposed to be with boys without a chaperone.

I continued this double life for a long time. Although I'd wanted to leave the group for many years, I had nothing and nobody outside it apart from a few schoolfriends. So, eventually, I bowed to all the pressure the elders were putting on me and I decided to knuckle down and get baptised.

I didn't want to, but I couldn't see a way out. Baptism means you are devoting your entire life to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Most young people are baptised between 16-18, but I held out until I was 19. I met Bob, my husband-to-be, two weeks later at a Jehovah's Witness project in Brighton. I was only 19 and he was 35 and, although I didn't even love him, within about three weeks everyone was pressurising us to marry.

I felt sorry for Bob as he lived on his own and seemed to have no one. And, if I'm honest, I wanted a great big wedding because I'd never been at the centre of attention or celebrated anything much.

We married in Whitstable in 1995, and had a six-tier cake, 250 guests, and a horse and carriage. I really was queen for a day. But I was never alone with Bob for any of our ten month courtship and, so, when we went on our honeymoon it was like being with a total stranger.

Bob had lived as a bachelor for too long. He spent hours alone on the computer and worked shifts as a security guard, so we were rarely together.

I wanted children badly but I knew I'd have fertility problems as I have polycystic ovaries.

I had secret fertility treatment for two-and-a-half years, which would have been frowned on by the elders, because it's going against nature. Eventually, I became pregnant.

I was thrilled, especially to learn I was having twins. I know now that early labour, complications and consequent blood loss are a risk with twins, but no one ever warned me about it.

I slowly recovered from the birth of my children and, over time, the fatigue went away and I felt I was getting back to normal. But my dreams of motherhood were shattered by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have unrealistic expectations of young children.

They believe babies and children should be quiet and sit still for hours on end throughout prayer meetings or events, and put a lot of pressure on me to keep them silent.

At one meeting, the elders even made me stand outside in the cold with no coat while one of my newborn babies cried - it was incredibly stressful.

I knew I had to leave. I'd developed something close to contempt for Bob. I told my dad how I felt and he just said 'let the elders deal with it' which would have been useless. That was the last kind of 'help' I needed. I felt so alone.

I was OK financially, because I had always worked full time, but I still had no confidence in myself.

The elders make it impossible for anyone to 'just leave' and they know how vulnerable people will be once they have been shunned, with no friends or family to help or support them.

They make sure that those who leave feel as ashamed as possible and the whole thing is made very public. There's no dignified way of doing this. You can be seen to smoke, or drink, or do drugs, and refuse to stop and get disfellow-shipped that way, but I didn't want to do any of those things.

Instead, I hung around town with a non-Jehovah's Witness male friend from work, making sure I was seen by other Jehovah's Witnesses and, soon, everyone was discussing my 'affair'.

I refused to apologise for my behaviour and that's when things became untenable.

The Jehovah's Witnesses were making my life a misery, as they kept trying to make me feel ashamed over my 'affair' and I knew I had to volunteer to get out.

In January 2004, I told my parents I was leaving the group knowing we would no longer be in contact, which was really hard. My husband wasn't upset at all. The elders hammered on my door day and night for six weeks trying to dissuade me, and I screamed and swore at them to make them go away.

I got ill with the flu, and then my parents cut all ties me with me. We had a brief reconciliation a couple of years ago, but as soon as I launched my website in 2006 to help other ex-members, they disowned me again out of loyalty to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The only way towards another reconciliation is if I took my website down and I'm not prepared to do that, so I don't anticipate being in contact with my family, ever again.

For that first year out of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the only people who were there for me were my old schoolfriends. I cried more or less non-stop for a year, but I'm strong and I knew I'd get through it.

The twins are ten now. They have a brilliant time at Christmas, go to school assembly and celebrate their birthdays, all things they would have been deprived of if I hadn't left.

I was thrilled when I was able to sign a form at the hospital in 2007 saying that if my child ever needed a blood transfusion, that would be fine. I was so proud of myself that day for having had the strength to reclaim our lives. I've got no doubts whatever that I did the right thing.

I didn't set out to criticise the religion when I launched my website. My aim is just to try to ensure that no one who leaves the Jehovah's Witness has to endure total isolation with no support, as I had.

I have two trained counsellors who help people cope with leaving, and I get between three-to five thousand hits a day on my site. I have so much to live for now.

I married again last year to Gerry, a company director, the children are thriving and my business, a windscreen replacement service franchise, is doing very well. I could so easily have lost my life thanks to this warped religion and I'm so glad I found the courage to walk away.

    • A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses said: Jehovah's Witnesses are reasonable, tolerant people who want people to make their own choices. I've never found them to be oppressive. 'We offer freedom of choice and if anyone decides to leave the group, it's up to them'.

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