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The children were weary: a thirteen year old, a ten year old, a seven year old, and the two year old with his thumb stuffed deep in his mouth. She was barely thirty herself. Before she said anything else, she apologized for not having anyone else to watch the kids.

“It’s been hard,” she said, and got her children comfortable in the waiting room chairs with toys and books before she even introduced herself to the service coordinator behind the desk.

Jodie* had been sixteen when she had married her husband, pregnant with her first child. When she had moved into his house, she had felt hopeful for the first time in her life: his house was away from Jodie’s domineering and abusive father. But not long after the baby was born, her husband decided they needed to move across country and away from the small Northern Ontario town that she had grown up in. They moved to Leduc, where her husband struggled to hold down a job and Jodie struggled to make connections with anyone.

He never told her when he got fired, but she soon figured out that his seemingly random outbursts weren’t so random. He never told her much of anything, and so she never had any say, whether it was where they lived, what they ate, or whether or not she could use birth control.

It was a nurse in the maternity ward who noticed the bruising on her throat when she delivered her youngest. The nurse gave her the number for a shelter, and when the baby was a few months old she made the decision to leave and filed for an Emergency Protective Order against her husband.

While the five of them shared one room, she began the court battle to divorce her husband. At the end of it, the judge ruled that the EPO she had against him only covered her, and that he had a right to see his children.

“He took the baby,” she cried to her counsellor in a weekly session, almost a year after it happened. “He had the kids for the weekend and my oldest called me, crying, because he put the baby in the car and left. They arrested him in Regina.”

Despite his lawyer arguing that he had to kidnap the baby because of parental alienation, she finally won custody. The Client Advocate who supported her through the entire process had recommended that she call the YWCA for counselling to help her finally begin to heal.

It’s been three years since she started counselling. Her eldest daughter joined GirlSpace and began to attend the Girls Counselling Group. Her boys have gone to Camp Yowochas every summer, and the baby is five now: she can’t stop talking about how she can’t wait to go to camp next year, too. All of the kids have counsellors of their own too.

“Sometimes I still worry,” she tells her counsellor in her now monthly sessions. “Sometimes, when Bradley is a little late walking home from school I wonder, but I finally feel safe in my own home.”

She finishes the session by telling her counsellor that she’s finished her upgrading and she’s been accepted to the nursing program at the university.

“So this will be my last session,” she tells the service coordinator. “For now. We’ll see. I know I can always come back.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.