Photographic Memories

My husband and I are not yet adoptive parents, but we are parents and step-parents.

We are in the early stages of our journey to add to our family once again, this time through the slightly less conventional method which we know as adoption. We are doing this by choice, and we are excited.

Anyone who is familiar with my family life stories blog will know that I have two passions – photography and nostalgia. These two things are inextricably linked, for it is our photographic images which capture our memories, and thereby become sources of nostalgia in their own right. And there’s the rub.



We live in the age of social media. Our lives are shared online with friends and family, and the pride and love we feel for our birth children is displayed with regularity and gusto in the form of photographic images across our profile pages. The birthday parties, the sandcastles, the football matches and the first day of school. Brown eyes peeping through ruffled hair in the early morning, maternal kisses and the joy on their faces as they win the egg and spoon race.

And yet the parents of adopted children are unable to indulge in such liberal exhibitions of their joy. The need to protect the identities of their babies must trump the desire to show them off.

And so my instinctive yearning as a photographer and professional maker of life stories must be suppressed.

I wonder how it must feel for an adoptive parent to resist the temptation to share the faces which inspire them, when every other blogger on the web is brandishing their angelic offspring without a care? Will I simply learn to accept their faces must remain hidden, or will this separate them from the children whose faces are freely visible? I suspect I will struggle with this, but time will tell.

My family have many challenges ahead. We need to integrate a third incoming branch into the already-integrated family unit; we must learn to parent our adopted children in new ways, without creating inequality, and we must become accustomed to using caution in our photography and how it is shared. Let us hope that the pixelated faces will understand.

Helen Spencer is the 46 year old mother and step-mother to four children between the ages of 25 and 6 years old. She is also the Founder of family life stories website,, and blogs about her adoption journey at


15 thoughts on “Photographic Memories

  1. Sally

    I love your website and your mission to preserve family stories through photographs. We have loads of photos which we can’t share, but I make books and give them to family members. Our son is now making little films too which helps him to record his own story.
    I wish you well with your adoption journey.

  2. Three Pink Diamonds

    Enjoyed reading your post as this is certainly something we as a family have to consider. My hubby and I take loads of photos of our girls and it is hard when you see other people sharing their photos as you want to do the same. Instead we have put pictures around the house, I plan to complete scrap books to hold all the memories we have and will create and I may send the odd photo to family and friends, lol!

    1. Helen

      Scrapbooks are a great idea. Check out the website too – it might provide you with a digital solution and a way to capture (and keep private) your child’s journey in chronological order. Best of luck though!

  3. Adoption Journey Blog


    It was fascinating to see your post here today. I first discovered your site when you posted on one of my postings recently and, not having come across your blog before, was keen to check it out. Our privacy and the privacy of our little one is something which is really important and precious to us but we are also gregarious people who love to share our lives with our friends and family so it was a really present and pressing issue for us.

    It is something which we have struggled with but we have had to come to the conclusion that we have to be more circumspect than our natural inclination would normally be. On our Facebook pages we have, aknowledged the adoption process and the fact that we have been belssed with the most wonderful little fella. But… and it’s a huge “but” we took the decision that we would not post ANY images of him online and would not even mention his Christian name in any posts (and have deleted friends postings from our pages where they have done so). And that’s irrespective of how tightly screwed down the privacy settings are.

    I must confess that my initial gut reaction when I was looking at your blogs (after “What great blogs!”) was “Blimey, they will really need to consider their future web-presence and visibility online…” It’s not just, “Do you post your child’s pictures and name online?” but how do the other elements of your web presence allow connections to be drawn to you and by extension your child (particularly in an era of websites like, and the like)? Just where does the trail of cookie crumbs lead?

    This was underlined for us a few years ago by something which was unrelated to the adoption process. For the last few years we have sponsored a child in the far east through a development agency. About three or four months after we had signed up and sent off our first letter and some photos of us we each recieved a friend request on Facebook from our sponsored child’s mother. We considered this as a sweet development rather than threat. However, it did point up very clearly that we live in a very small digital global village – and that village is getting smaller all the time. As we entered the adoption process and started thinking about this issue more deeply it was something which repeatedly came back to us.

    Your adoptive child’s birth parents will know your christian names if they are given letterbox contact and it is possible that you may even meet them at some point as part of the process of adopting your child. As part of the process we were asked to provide a “pen picture” of ourselves for them too. There is a question as to how those pieces of information add up and whether they create a trail which could lead to you? Doubly so if you also have a recognisable web presence.

    Is that all a bit paranoid? Maybe, but there is a risk/value balance to consider too. It is a personal decision and a difficult one. Every person will need to consider how they approach it and for each the answer may be slightly (or fundamentally) different. Interestingly, adoption blogging is a world where pseudonyms and avatars abound!

    For us, we decided that we had to set aside our personal freedoms and preferences in this area as one of the costs of adopting our child. It’s frustrating sometimes as I’d love to be proudly showing off photos on Facebook and Flikr every single day. Shouting to the rooftops how wonderful our child is and how much we love the little fella. However, above and beyond that, our child’s and our family’s anonymity is paramount for us.

    1. Helen

      What a wonderfully helpful reply, thank you so much. I think you are right – we’ll have to consider our web presence very seriously. It’s doubly complicated, being the nature of my day job, as well as a place to capture family stories. I will seriously take on board your experiences, and thank you so much for sharing them here. Helen

  4. Suddenly Mummy

    I’m another person with whom your post resonated. I’m no great photographer, but I do take lots of photos and create scrapbooks both digitally and by hand. As a foster carer, I can’t post any identifiable pics online, or names, or identifiable details like ages, birthdays, etc. I have to be really careful what I write, and so do the other people who comment on my blogs and social media posts. I, too, have had to delete comments in the past. Even with my foster kids, I long to shout their praises from the rooftops too, but sometimes it just isn’t possible!

    With my adopted son, the situation is perhaps a little different from some other adopters. As I adopted him after fostering him for a year, I know his BM very well and she knows my full name and has been to my old house (we were asked to move by social services because of this when I adopted him). There is little hope of keeping my personal fb profile hidden from her if she chose to search for me as it’s full of photos of me – thankfully I have an extremely common name, so a search on fb for that returns many thousands of hits. In some ways, I’m not so concerned about his BM finding us – she lives fairly local, and she’d definitely recognise me if she saw me, so I feel as though it’s almost inevitable really, if she decided she really wanted to. No, I’m more concerned about tittle-tattle – friends of friends realising that I’m fostering their neighbours kids, or something like that. So, I have two online presences – this anonymous one, and my real name one. The anonymous one is where I get to say a bit more about our lives.

    I have posted photos of my son on Facebook. Before I adopted him, I started work on closing down the privacy on the account, hiding myself in Google searches, etc. (Facecrooks can help with this) and creating several friend lists. One of the friend lists I have is of trusted people, many of whom live far away and have never met my son. I have posted an album of pics of my son, visible only to these people. I have also posted several disguised pics. I don’t really go in for pixellating so I’ve had to get creative, finding ways to convey the moment while only showing the back of his head, or his hands, feet, etc. You could look at this as a challenge to find new and innovative ways to capture those family moments without showing faces, perhaps?

    1. Helen

      It’s amazing to read how people are approaching the same subject in different ways. I think I’m getting even more confused! A chat with our SW would probably be a good next step. I suppose some of it is circumstantial, but with our birth children to throw in to the mix, it may be an all-or-nothing solution is required. Could I realistically expect to NOT leave a trail of breadcrumbs if I still splash their photos around the place? *confused face*

  5. Suddenly Mummy

    Just to say, I don’t know how far through the adoption process you are (will get along to your blog and see!) but this is the sort of thing that can come up during your home visits – how will your way of doing things with your existing children change when you bring adopted children into your lives? It will be an important and interesting area to explore with your family.

  6. Lindsay

    I take A LOT of pictures and I hate not being able to show Jonathan’s sweet face. This will change once the adoption is granted, hopefully within the next couple months) and then we can choose to post his photos if we want. I will at that point stop covering his face as we live in a large city and for other reasons knowing what I know about his birth parents I feel safe doing so.

    But it’s interesting when he sees me blogging and posting pictures with hearts over his face. He asks why and I tell him simply ‘because mum and dad adopted you, I need to wait for a piece of paper from a very important person that says I can show your face to everyone’. And even though I know he doesn’t know what it all means he just says ‘ok!’ It’s actually quite hilarious.

    It’s funny how such a little thing can provoke such emotion and reaction. It does feel unfair sometimes because everyone else gets to do it with their kids so why cant we? But it’s just another aspect of adoption that sets it apart from other parenting. Sigh! Thanks for bringing up this topic:)

    1. Helen

      Sigh indeed! I’m so glad I raised the issue. There doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits-all answer to this one. Circumstances differ, and levels of comfort and unease differ, depending on those circumstances. I am having an internal battle with this one. I’m less concerned about being unable to identify the children, and more concerned about the impact of our online presence (because of the nature of my day job) on adopting, to be honest. Should I be fearful of being ‘out there’, or am I being overly paranoid? This adoption lark is stressful in so many ways I had never imagined! Thanks so much for your comment here today, I truly appreciate it.

      1. Adoption Journey Blog

        It is a tricky one, Helen, isn’t it. It was something which we thought hard about and came to a position we were happy with – although there was even more very long, hard thinking about doing the blog. In particular my other half wanted to be very, very sure that there was no way that blogging our adoption experiences would leave a trail of breadcrumbs leading to us. As it is, we don’t think that our child’s birth parents are a high risk even if they did find us – at the moment. However, we have no way of knowing how their attitudes/influences might change or what their extended families/connections might think/do now or in the future. Other adopters aren’t so lucky and there are birth parents out there who could pose a real risk to the families who adopted their children.

        For some context, when I decided to do the adoption blog, I decided to draw a very distinct line between that and any other web presence. I actually have a rather healthy profile on the web through my work, some of my hobbies and another, completely unrelated, blog which I write on a separate platform. For us creating a clear separation between our adoption presence and any other web presence was the solution which worked for us.

        So I have a separate, anonymous web presence for the adoption stuff. I set up a separate adoptionjourneyblog email address as a gmail account (on the basis that I decided to use Blogger as the platform for the blog – otherwise it might have been any of a dozen other webmail service providers). I must admit that seeing your personal e-mail on your adoption blog really made me gulp. For us that would be as far over the line as you could go… As it is I haven’t even referred to the blog on my personal FB account etc (unlike my other sad and geeky blog). Some personal friends know about the adoption blog and that I write it, others don’t. However, either way, I hope, that someone landing on it couldn’t identify us from it.


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