Letterbox contact from a birth family perspective

Today’s The Blog post is from an anonymous contributor, and looks at Letterbox from a perspective that we’ve not had on The Adoption Social before. We’d love to see more posts from a wide range of people who have been affected by or are involved with adoption, do contact us if you’d like to contribute.

When I was nineteen, I met a girl my age called Emily.
Emily was warm, bubbly and hilarious. She was the single parent to her six week old daughter, Ella. Emily and I became the best of friends. I love children, and spending time with Ella was the highlight of every day. I was going through a pretty tough time myself, and spending time with Emily and Ella was precious.
I was aware that Emily had a history of mental health problems, but saw little evidence of this in my interactions with her. Emily was an attentive mother to her daughter – Ella was always well dressed and had all the latest toys and baby gear. 

first birthdayThings started to change just after Ella’s first birthday.

Emily became withdrawn and sulky, and professionals commented that they were concerned about the about of stimulation that baby Ella was receiving. It’s a long and tragic story, but suffice to say, Emily’s mental health continued to deteriorate.
At the age of two, Ella went into foster care, and at the age of four she was adopted. Emily has been in inpatient psychiatric care since the week that Ella was taken away. 

I think to bystanders, normal members of the public, adoption is often seen as a good guy, bad guy, clear-cut scenario. The well-educated, financially stable, middle class adopter takes in the child of the person who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do the right thing by their children.

As a direct result of my relationship with Emily and Ella, I decided to return to education, and I am currently a trainee Social Worker.  I find myself in a strange situation, having letterbox contact with Ella, while also training to support mums like Emily.
When writing to the adoptive family, I feel inferior and inadequate. As if somehow I should have stopped Ella from being hurt, as if I could have done something more to help. I feel like I have hurt Ella, or at least not done enough to help her. Logically I know that’s not true.
Part of the reason for these feelings, I suppose, is the (completely necessary) secrecy that surrounds the adoption and contact process. All I know is the adopters’ first names. I don’t know which town Ella is living in, I don’t know her surname or where she goes to school. I completely understand why this needs to be the case, but it has the effect of making me feel the bad guy. As if, if I knew where she was, I might go and try and see her. As if I’m untrustworthy. As if I would ever do anything to harm that family, who have looked after Ella when Emily, and I, couldn’t. 

letterboxLetterbox contact involves writing to the adopter, it is down to their discretion whether they show the child any letters or pictures that are sent, and at what age. For me, I’m not fussed about whether Ella is seeing the letters I send- I have no doubt that she will have no idea who I am now, she wouldn’t recognise me if she passed me in street. But I do hope that they are being kept. When Ella grows up, she will have a lot of questions, and I never want her to think that it was a clear-cut situation- that she was not wanted or loved.  Its funny because I work with families every day who are in very similar situations to Emily and Ella and don’t bat an eyelid. Yet when the time comes to write the annual letter I cry like a baby myself.

There has been nothing clear-cut about this process. It was necessary for baby Ella to be cared for by someone who could meet all of her needs, I have no doubt about that. But Ella missed every day. Letterbox contact is a lifeline, but it isn’t any easier for the birth family than the adoptive one. 

6 thoughts on “Letterbox contact from a birth family perspective

  1. Suddenly Mummy

    I am about to write my first letterbox letter and really appreciate this perspective. I wonder if the poster could give some tips on the sorts of things they like to read about in the letters they receive. Of course there are restrictions on what we can write, but I want to try to make the letter as meaningful as possible.

    Reply
  2. Helen

    What a refreshing change to hear this in-between perspective. The one thing that has become clearer and clearer to me is how often the situations in which innocent children find themselves are not at all clear-cut. There are sometimes black and white situations, I am sure – danger is present and the child simply must be removed; but it is incredibly helpful for adopters to try and put themselves into the shoes of someone who WANTED to, but COULD not care for their birth child, resulting in eventual adoption. Empathy is what makes us human beings, after all.

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  3. Alison Bates

    As an adoptee myself, I know that the need to know the truth, to see the content of past communications later on in life, is absolutely vital. I have friends who give ‘good advice’ but have the humility to say that they have no idea what it feels like to be in the adoptee’s situation. Nevertheless, to know that they think and care and want to support, as you are doing, is such a valuable and needed part of the process. Speaking as someone who was adopted many years ago, in ‘Call The Midwife’ era, and having only recently discovered the past, I now know just how important it is to fit together the missing puzzle pieces of that time, and I can totally understand why you would like to think that your letters can be read in the future. Thank you so much for sharing and giving a fresh perspective on the adoption process.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Hi Suddenly Mummy,

    I think for me I would love to hear about the little details about the child and his/her personality, and what they get up to day to day- whats their favorite color, what do they like to have for their tea, whats their favorite toy at the moment, how are they doing at school etc. Keeping a lighthearted and chatty tone will hopefully help to build up a bit of a rapport, and maybe make a reply more likely.
    I can imagine it would be hard to share those little personal bits of information, but those are the really interesting things that give a sense of who the child is now, and reassures the birth family that the child is happy.
    I think it would be really nice if a picture that the child has drawn could be included, or even just a little scribble from them at the bottom of the page. Obviously this is dependent on the age of the child and whether or not they are aware of the contact etc, but having something that the child has actually done would be so valuable to me.
    Hope that helps, its all pretty basic but some of the letters I have received are so generic, they could be about any child in the country, “Ella goes to school, she has made some friends there, Ella likes playing at the park on Saturdays”- still really nice to get the letters and to know that about her, but it doesn’t say much about who she is personally.

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  5. suzanne

    I am not sure I will ever have any faith in letterbox. our first ‘letter’ due in August. the lies we have been told over the past 2 and a half years have made trust impossible. The draconian arrangement of letterbox cut to the bone- no paintings or scribbles for us it seems. Our plans to prove we sent things. kept in a box prepared for replies. Arrangements for a more accurate ‘later life letter’ fully evidenced against her medical notes, police statements and serious case review remarks to be delivered with her ‘share’ of our estate, or before she is 25 so if she chooses she can sue the hell out of the Hospital staff for what they did to her
    I wonder how I will feel in 15 years time. I wonder if the lies will influence an excuse to stop replying to letters sent. How much if anything will be shared for ‘good’ things. The photographs supplied in good faith abused.
    I am in a very dark place as a result of knowing what actually happened and the way the system took our GD away from her parents. the only thing that will remove that living spectre is Death. The only thing that i can see as a positive from what happened is that our GD can no longer be used to manipulate the father

    Reply
  6. Chantelle000

    Hi my daughter recently got adopted I was wondering if someone could help, its coming up to her 2nd birthday in September and I really want to send her some birthday presents but I’m worried she won’t get it. Can someone please advise on there experiences.

    Thanks

    Reply

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