Today we are bringing you a positive post from adoptive mum Dorothy on direct contact between siblings and their adoptive families…
In June 2009 I was sat on our front lawn, watching our 3 year old daughter in her new paddling pool, relaxing in the sunshine and chatting to her social worker. P had been with us since January and we were just waiting for the final court date to make things official. Everything was right with the world. Then the Social worker dropped the oddest of bombshells. Hearing that P’s birth mother was pregnant was not something we had contemplated so soon after placement. To be honest I was stunned and didn’t know how to react…. it’s not a feeling that is easily described – in fact it’s a whole bunch of mixed emotions.
We were due to meet birth mum and her parents in a few weeks so the powers that be decided that we had better be told before seeing her so we could prepare ourselves. Meeting birth parents takes some preparation in itself so why not add a pregnancy into the mix!
The baby was due in November and SW’s were conducting assessments to see what would happen when the time came. We had all the reports stating that BM should never be allowed to parent another child….. but we all know that new baby means new assessments….. Our first concern was that yet another child would suffer as our daughter had….
Learning that your child is to have a new sibling is very confusing – She already had around 6 others, ranging from 15-3… in fact birth dad (now married to a new partner) had two other children born to different women, within 2 months of P. Somehow a new baby brought different feelings than those I felt for existing siblings – maybe because of the potential risk to the baby? Maybe because previous siblings were born before we even knew about P?
Fast forward to November….. our adoption had been finalised in the September, things were slowly starting to feel normal and we were getting into the pattern that our lives would form now we had a bubbly 4 year old. I had been trying to get in contact with the SW team for a few weeks to find out what was happening with the baby….. We were pretty sure that our circumstances meant that we wouldn’t be able to cope with another child – P was still in the process of being diagnosed with what would turn out to be a rare medical condition and our financial situation was the same as anyone with a new child – stumbling but pretty flat.
In the December the phone finally brought the news we had been waiting for…. Baby L had been born in the middle of November. He was a healthy weight (unlike P)…… I had to drag any more information from the SW who was very haughty and official…. speaking to me as if I was an unruly birth parent or a small badly behaved child – the baby had stayed in hospital with BM for 4 days and had been discharged into local authority care. We were very relieved…. and sad…. and confused and happy and emotional.
Within the blink of an eye a year had passed – every attempt we made to find out more was met with a brick wall. One day a SW rang and asked – ‘how are you fixed for another one if things don’t work out with BM? ‘ Blunter than I was expecting at a school day tea time with P stood in front of me….. I explained that we weren’t in the position to have another child but that we would like to be kept informed.
When we eventually told P about L she was overjoyed. Her first questions were – did BM feed him? Is he small like me, is he healthy, happy, alone? At 5 years old P had managed to sum up our feelings in one long scrambled sentence.
It became clear that L wasn’t going to be going back to BM – she had several mother and baby placements, never managing more than 4 days at a time…… but still the SW tried, still they allowed him to be ferried back and forth between foster carer, Children’s Centres, units and BM.
L was adopted just before his second birthday. His family are French, but live in London, they have two older boys aged 9 and 11. L is as loved and cherished as P. We found this out by raising a level 2 complaint against the placing authority. His SW eventually said that she would consider allowing us letterbox with his new family but would have to have a meeting about it. In October 2012 a month before L’s 3rd birthday we received an email stating that direct contact had been decided and that we should meet twice a year and arrange it ourselves (!) Decided! It was ordered that we should contact each other to arrange this and that they would not need to be involved….. I was furious that SW were still making decisions that affected our lives and pronouncing their judgements about children that were legally ours.
As it happens, L’s family had been fighting to be allowed to contact us too. They, like us, believed that contact with the siblings was very important for their future mental health. They were interested in their child’s sibling – adoption had cut us all off from the other siblings in their lives but adoption could also ensure that now our children could safely get to know each other. P and L share the same birth mother but L’s birth father is unknown. They share one other sibling, an older boy – 16 now, who still lives with BM (with SW involvement).
Emails flew thick and fast between L’s parents and us….. We share the same beliefs on contact – that given the right circumstances, it can only be a positive thing for our children. Dominique, L’s mum says that contact gives them back a sense of roots and history that adoption can take away.
We met in 2013 in P and L’s birth City. The meeting was probably more emotional for us parents than the children – all four children flowed into a natural and loving relationship within 30 seconds of meeting. P calls the boys her nearly brothers and from the start felt a connection with all the boys, not just L. The adults watched on in wonder as the children played together. Adoption meant nothing at that moment. Family meant everything…. and that’s what contact has brought us – a new French branch of our family tree. We have met at least twice a year since that first meeting and exchange endless emails and phone calls. It is not for SW to decide what is best for our children, it is for us, their parents.
P and L look very much alike- I understand how special it is that that they have can see this, that they grow knowing that there is someone in their family with whom they share a resemblance and can see as often as they can. Last month they were sat on P’s bed together, lounging around and L turned and stroked P’s face, touching her nose and her hair and said – ‘you look like me’. Dominique and I held each other’s gaze and silently wept.
There is an acknowledged sadness between Dominique and I. We are mothers who share our children. P slots as easily into L’s family as he slots into ours. We are overwhelmingly grateful for our children and for each other. I have found a friend who understands feelings that neither of us need to explain. It is a powerful bond we share.
L and his family have now moved back to France. Distance has made spontaneity a little more difficult but has widened our horizons. Plans are afoot for a Christmas meeting in France and a summer holiday here in England. Emails and photos whizz around the internet and Skype calls are being scheduled. Discussions about family at school are complicated – but more so for the teacher than P and L. Our children are happy. Our family is bigger.