Tag Archives: adopted person

Anna Writes: Who and how and what to be

Anna WritesSo that’s National Adoption Week over for another year and I for one feel strangely flat about it all.

 

 

November 1st sees the start of National Adoption Month in the States and as with groups like The Open Nest over here, there are some trying to prioritise the voice of adoptees (lostdaughters.com and #flipthescript are good ones to follow if you’re interested) but somehow… I still feel strangely flat about it all.

I have been trying to work out why this is- perhaps falling into that minority means that lots of things feel like an uphill struggle?
Perhaps being exposed constantly to media which reinforces old stereotypes about adoption feels negating?
Or maybe its because I live in a society that tells me I’m ‘normal’ in one breath- having assimilated into a family not of my origins- but yet ‘demanding’ and ‘traumatised’ and ‘difficult’ in another.

Sometimes it’s really hard to know who and how and what to be.

A lot of people have an opinion in how adopted people ‘should’ be- I’ve written about it before in the context of gratitude and other peoples expectations.
I have experienced it since making myself visible on social media, with suggestions that I am too old to have a ‘relevant’ view on adoption, or that I am somehow ‘opening old wounds’.

I don’t have an opinion on how other people should share their experiences, and I am a strong believer in people owning the things that have happened to them, sometimes that is the only way that their power can be redressed.

I have never considered myself defined by my adopted status- although if I did I don’t see that there would be a problem in that- what I do recognise- as lots of adopted people do- is that I am indelibly changed by the experience of having been adopted, the ‘sliding doors’ effect if you will.

I could have remained in my birth family, I could have been adopted by any number of other families, I could have been brought up in the care system. The possibilities are many. For non- adopted people (because is there a word for them? birth children? families of known origin? the norm?…) I suppose there aren’t all of those possibilities because they were born and kept.

Imagine being told you were a mistake, or an accident or that your mother had tried to abort you.
For me, being adopted is kind of like knowing all of those things, all at once. And that’s ok, because the flip side of that is that if I hadn’t been adopted I wouldn’t be where I am now – which is a pretty good place. I am fortunate and grateful for the family that I now have.

Being adopted has shaped me.

It has impacted my sense of self (including esteem and worth) ,my identity, my relationships, my personality, my interactions, my emotional resilience,my interests, my career, my parenting, my politics and my ability to watch films or programmes containing maternal separation (I think Bambi would destroy me!)

I wrote very early on about adoption running through me like the letters in seaside rock and that’s the only way I can define it. But it still doesn’t define all of me.

Adoptee reflections

We have a second guest post today, this one an anonymous reflection on contact…

‘I’ve got three dads and two mums’ I hear my self saying this at work quite a lot. I use it to try and help children understand variety in family life and help feel more secure about their situation. I work in a supervised contact centre supporting children to rebuild safe relationships with parents and I have a growing number of cases where the courts have ordered direct contact to take place for children (typically ages 4-11) with a parent they have either never met or have no memory of.

Despite the legal context being different, (parents have not legally lost their parental rights) I see many similarities with the dilemmas facing contact and reunions for both adopted children and adoptive parents. For the children, it’s about having the freedom to make choices free of guilt and worry. Rebuilding relationships is a dynamic process and children experience a wide range of emotions they often don’t understand. Parents on both sides are expected to be able to manage this in the best interest of the child, yet so often their past experiences, own inability to trust, lack of support, plus fear of the future, cloud this process. We are only human after all. Emotional beings. We process everything sensory and emotionally first, before processing it rationally. It is a fine skill to be emotionally intelligent, something most people have to work at, not a given.  In my eyes we now expect people to have superhuman emotional resilience and manage these complex interactions as if second nature. What a wonderful world that would be.

Adoption in 2015, is a different animal to when I was adopted, and the question of open adoption is a curious one and something I reflect on regularly. Especially when working with thecontact letters cases described above. I was once asked by my social worker, if I had the option of letterbox contact as I was growing up do I think this would I have engaged with it? My instant reaction was ‘No, no way’ I would have found it confusing as a child, I wanted to know I had the security of my family and not have to worry the feelings of my birth parents. What happened if when I grew up, I could just run off to them when times were hard at home? (of which there were many). Now given my understanding of the effects of my adoption, I ponder if I would have. Maybe it would have helped the whole of my very large complex family let go of so many of the harmful feelings that hurt us all.

After all there were no safeguarding issues, I wasn’t taken away under a care order, I was relinquished (although my birth mother would dispute the use of this word) at birth. I later found out upon meeting her that she never even held me, her sister did before I was put in an incubator until being adopted at 6 days old. My dad said when they came to collect me I was in the middle of a big room all on my own, because all the other babies were out on the maternity ward with their families. An image that has clearly stuck with him and sticks with me.

I am only now fully realising the rippling effects of my adoption.

Despite having gone on to be a fiercely independent adult completing a BA hons & MA, travelling extensively and forming some incredible relationships, I struggle inside. I don’t see myself the way others do. I don’t have a strong sense of self, that got lost as I hit my teenage years. My adoptive parents divorced when I was 12. The conflict, tension and silence was not conducive to a healthy mind. I averaged my way through school, below 70% attendance to avoid my bullying friends, who picked up on the fact that I was indeed different.

My self-esteem can at times be crippling low, my fundamental belief being ‘I am not good enough’. It is exhausting at times, especially now I have a responsible, professional job. I see failure at every corner and blame myself so much, that if it were true I would be a god.

As for my birth parents, I made contact at age 22, they had married a year or so after having me, when they were pregnant with their second child. I have four full siblings. The consequence of my adoption for my birth family I cannot fairly describe. Our reunion has been, to date, protracted. 8 years of indirect and direct contact. Two of my siblings still do not know about me, two do, but I still have not had any form of contact with them. My understanding, openness and forgiveness (only I loth to use that term as I do not feel my birth parents need forgiving. In my eyes they were a victim of circumstance as my maternal grandfather was responsible for the adoption) cannot overcome the damage that shame, guilt and helplessness has created. Our relationship is currently on hold.

Would letterbox or possible contact as I grew up have made a difference to this, would it have opened up a dialog to share what had happened to all of us? Would my birth parents been able to forgive themselves? Would it have helped me understand my identity, given me stronger foundations and would we all be more resilient?

As for how my adoptive parents would have managed this I don’t know. My mother said she supported me to find my birth parents, up until I found them. When I sent her a photograph of them, she ripped it up. When I met them, she asked me to stop. I don’t agree with the way she has acted, but I also don’t blame her. The reaction she had is the same I see in so many of the parents I work with in the contact centre.  Having children fulfils an emotional need, to detach the child’s needs from your own is not an easy feat for everyone. Not when their past or culture pollutes this. All I could offer my mother was the reassurance that my need to contact my birth parents wasn’t about a rejection of her. It wasn’t enough.

When I was adopted I don’t think there was any pre adoption training, certainly no post adoption support. Information on attachment theory, let alone adult attachment theory would have been scarce. I doubt it came into assessment. Life story work was not around, nothing to help my parents or me think about how the past effects the future.

I simply don’t talk about it with my mother anymore, it’s too painful. I can’t bear to hear the anger. Another closed door.

My dad is different, he’s supported me throughout, but again, it’s a rarely spoken about topic these days. I think he’s frustrated and upset with how the reunion has turned out. He and many others say their loss. I don’t feel that way, I think OUR loss, all of us. Nobody is a winner in this.

My social worker now wants to research the topic of letterbox and opening adoption and I said I’d contribute. I think 8 years on, considering all of my experiences so far, I have to conclude that something would have been better than nothing. None of us have dealt with it. We all hold it as best we can, unhealthy in the majority of our cases. Despite my pressing for openness, it appears that it’s too late 30 years on.

I now work hard at trying to support parents so they can help their children have the opportunity to learn about their histories, to develop relationships, to learn openness and to learn how to talk about and manage emotions. I have learnt that those are the things that are important, it’s challenging and very messy, but the alternative I think is even messier. The effects hit you years later and it’s far harder to work backwards.

Anna Writes: Authority

This week is National Adoption Week, but rather than joining the other adoption organisations out there by promoting adoption, or encouraging more people to adopt, this year we’re promoting the voice of the adopted person. We’re doing this by sharing guest posts from adoptees only this week, and we begin with Anna…

Anna WritesFirstly- I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy National Adoption week, it’s an exciting time for many people with awards nominations (good luck to all those nominated!), conferences and lots of focus on all things adoption. I am very happy that the Adoption Social are supporting the view of The Open Nest that this year the focus should be on the voice of adopted people.. maybe one year that will be the national focus too…!

So recently I’ve been re-reading some books concerned with adoption and in doing so, some themes began to emerge- the usual ones about loss, abandonment and identity, but also issues concerned with compliance and authority and I thought I might explore this a little bit more.

I often find myself challenging accepted truths- partly because I think knowledge is always situated in a context, a historical and a political landscape that always benefits someone (clue: usually someone white, male and middle class). Partly because I like to ask questions of the world- I’m curious about why things are the way they are and partly- I think- because I’m adopted.

I suspect that being given up shortly after birth has done strange, but understandable things to my sense of trust in people and the world. Ronnie Janoff Bulman writes about ‘shattered assumptions’ in relation to trauma and how we all have a fairly stable view of how the world is, what is fair/unfair, ‘normal’ and not- and that when these assumptions are ‘shattered’ by a trauma, the whole world tilts on its axis. It’s probably fairly safe to assume that as babies- though we can’t know the words ‘mother’ and ‘biology’ and ‘attachment’ that we innately sense when all is not as it ‘should’ be, that the symbiotic experience of pregnancy has not continued in a linear, predictable way into post-partum life.

So when that connection is severed, trust can be severed too. Maybe it’s hard to rely on the goodness of adults when the first act of the play feels like a betrayal?

I didn’t consciously think any of this until much later when I worked my way into worlds that I could understand and where I could make sense of my own experiencing – but reflecting on it now- it makes a lot of sense to me that I would struggle with authority.

It’s not that I think I know best- I really don’t and am happy to be wrong and I’m keen to learn, but what I have a problem with is people 1) telling me how I feel 2) being rigid 3) taking a position of ‘expert’ over things they often know nothing about- to illustrate- I find that often, on reading panel paperwork the language used is fairly judgemental- towards birth parents, towards prospective adopters and even sometimes about the children too. I’m not talking unprofessional or whistleblowing statements but phrases like ‘sadly’, ‘would probably want’, ‘beautiful wide smile’. ‘very attractive woman’ and ‘morbidly obese’ – some of these are value judgements based on the adoption professionals’ own frame of understanding and preferences. I know that it can be hard to be objective, especially when working in such an emotive field but I wonder how big that leap is between deciding a child is ‘beautiful’ and deducing that they are ‘attachment resistant’…

I digress.

I was told that I had no respect for authority from as young as I can remember, certainly most of the way through primary school. I was told– not asked about why that might be the perception or invited to think about it. Interesting how the way things are handled can reinforce the ‘problem’!

Because if someone would have asked me why I was ‘resistant’ or ‘inquisitive’ or ‘difficult’ the answer might have been upsetting to hear and certainly challenging to the assumption that I should be a grateful recipient of parenting.

Without listing a litany of ways in which my trust in the adult world was gradually diminished- it might be fair enough to say that the adults in my life weren’t always perfect. Parents, the GP and teachers all played their part- and I mine- but everyone knows there is no such thing as perfect so each experience just crystallised in my mind that I should learn to cope by myself, be self sufficient because then I would only have myself to blame and feel let down by. I wonder if this is a common phenomena- not just to adopted people but for people who felt let down/betrayed/mistrustful of the grown ups in their worlds?

In certain books this view of trust and authority might be described as part of the ‘perpetual child’ syndrome- I don’t perceive that as an insult, I think everyone carries some hurt from their childhood and it seems to me that when that hurt is not healed- (which with adoption I’m not sure it ever really can be, separation from birth parent (s) can never be undone.) Certain traits will continue into adulthood. This isn’t to say- of course- that people can’t be happy, grow up loved and wanted and develop into well rounded and authentic individuals.

I ask questions of authority because authority assumes power and power permeates through everything. People are threatened when authority is questioned. But in my view anyone with responsibility or power needs to be accountable for it. This covers the spectrum from the domestic (parents) to society (government)…  so I like that questions are being asked about the status quo of adoption- that the script is being flipped and people are starting to ask individuals who have been adopted to talk and write and speak about their adoptions.

Happy National Adoption Week!

Anna Writes: Conflict

Anna WritesStruggling with conflict is by no means unique to an adopted status, but something’s happened recently to give me pause to think about this more than I have done previously.

As I’ve described before, as a youth I was very much a ‘put up and shut up’ kind of person- the fear of being a) rejected again and b) found out kept me pretty quiet. For example- if someone were to upset me, that hurt would just get tossed on the pile with the others and I would move on.
(Until such point that I became a teenager and found ways to process some of those feelings self destructively.)

Sadly, that also meant that when I hurt other people, I also couldn’t deal with the guilt and shame that this provoked and it would be handled in the same way.

So: people hurting me= I deserve it and me hurting other people = I shouldn’t have done that, I’m a bad person. The end result always the same, low self worth, shame, self punishment. I didn’t have any mechanisms whereby an adult could take any responsibility and I took far too much.

Conflict was terrifying to me- it meant that I was going to end up shouldering all the horrible feelings and having no way to understand what my needs were- like fight or flight, any hint of raised voices or someone feeling annoyed or cross with me (or even just in general) meant I panicked (this didn’t mean that I was such a good girl- I was pretty naughty at times, but I just found creative ways to not get caught out…)  and although I have developed resilience and a bit more capacity for emotional regulation (I hope!) it transpires that conflict still has a primal effect on me.
My mum has an issue with hoarding- it’s been there for years, as long as I can remember- and it’s getting worse as she gets older. I can understand hoarding behaviour from a psychological perspective, I get that its often about attachment and loss- feelings get tied up in ‘things’ and the ‘things’ take on an unacknowledged value, which then makes it near impossible to part with the objects- whatever they may be.
For my mum it’s mainly newspapers, magazines and containers.

To paint a picture- she isn’t displaying ‘Channel 4 documentary’ hoarding behaviours, crawling through tunnels to get to the living room, but it does have a significant impact- it’s a huge fire risk, the dust is so thick that it has its own character and it’s not safe to take my family to her home as the towers of stuff threaten to fall and she feels uncomfortable if the kids touch things. The knock on effect of this is that my children have limited contact with their grandad. It’s very sad.

Now, if anyone knows someone with hoarding issues or obsessive compulsive type traits, they will know how difficult it is to help. For me, any attempt to explore/ question/understand is met with dismissal and denial or my least favourite response, it gets laughed off as a joke.

The conflict came as I tried to help my mum start to clear my Nana’s house- an upsetting time you might think, but my mum doesn’t really do overt emotions so, business-like we set about the task- when I offered to remove some of the magazines from 1983 and take them for recycling it was met with a brusque refusal- I felt frustrated, I wanted a way in to try and understand why I couldn’t get rid of some things which (to me) were completely redundant. The more I asked, the more she dug her heels in, until I snapped- I got angry, I dropped an F bomb on my mum- something which for over 30 years I have never dared do (fearing that this is the taboo, unsayable -the thing that will get me sent to live with other people) and we fell out.

Even writing this feels so lame, we fell out, so what? people fall out all the time, but this…this felt monumental- I can’t remember really any times where I have ‘stood up’ to my mum, where I have directly challenged her about herself- which is a risky thing to do with anyone. And here she was in front of me getting visibly upset and clearly not able to cope with the conflict either.

I felt I had to leave, I could feel adrenaline surging through me and my heart was pounding, I felt distraught- I had upset her, I had challenged an aspect of her that although as a family we worry and grumble about, never gets directly aired. I had voiced my concerns about her hoarding, about her health ( she is constantly ill with chest related issues- dust maybe?) and broken the seal on something that is kept so well defended that any exploration threatens annihilation.

go. drive. leave.

panic, I set off after a curt goodbye and sobbed for the entire 50 mile journey home. I couldn’t understand why my responses felt so powerful, like they came from a place within me untouched by time and fossilised by separation.

I got home and powered my way through several hours of cleaning and housework (an antidote to the head mess?) and burnt off some of the inexplicable hormones coursing through me, it took hours to come down- days even, such was the impact of the conflict.

Fast forward- we are fine now, a few days passed and we both avoided the truth and I apologised.

Returning to a safely avoidant stance, we continue to rub along, trying to keep the peace.

Anna Writes: Adoptee or adopted person

Anna WritesLanguage is a powerful tool, the words that we wrap around each other providing meaning in any given context. So we are careful with the words we use- language requires a sensitivity to others as well as harbouring signifying powers for the user.

 

I’ve always struggled with the term ‘adoptee’- something about it, for me, denotes a kind of powerlessness, an element of ‘not quite having a choice-ness’ which of course I didn’t, such is the nature of adoption. I prefer ‘adopted person’, particularly as an adult, the term gives me some semblance of control I suppose..

Adopt means ‘to choose’ so adoptee, technically would mean ‘chosen one’ or someone who was chosen…and I don’t think that this reflects how I felt about my adoption. I felt a bit of a burden to be honest, I felt like an interloper in a family scene that didn’t really require one of, well, me.

I was told early on, as early as I could understand. Great.

I was given pretty much all the information that my folks had. Great.

I was told that my parents had to go through a lot of hard work, and forms, and intrusive questions and meetings to get me. Not so great.

I was told (when misbehaving) that I was just like my ‘real’ mum. Again, not so great.

I didn’t and I don’t feel chosen. I feel like someone, who as a baby was in the right location at the right time with the right set of circumstances, who got adopted. Because that was the plan.

That was the plan in utero, that was what a handful of other people- grandmother, mother, health visitor, GP, had decided.

Not chosen.

We choose what to have for breakfast, what clothes to put on for the day based on the seasons and the forecast and whether our eyes tell us it’s raining. We choose how to travel to work or wherever based on our circumstances, time constraints and the traffic information available to us.

I wasn’t chosen, hand picked for my potential or my cuteness. I was just there when it mattered to some other people.
And yes, I know it IS different now, adoption activity days and APR’s and photos and assessments among other things provide some more context and information about the child ‘waiting to be permanently placed’ (that language again…) but still, chosen?

I’m only one voice among many, and I’m always really interested to hear other perspectives particularly from other adopted people about how they like to be referred to (because in practice, most people don’t ask- they just use ‘adoptee’) to some people it might be irrelevant and to others an important part of their identity that helps them to feel part of something bigger.

Shifts in language often happen, sometimes imperceptibly, one day we use one word to describe something and the next day something new- that’s called progress.

Prior to the 1970’s it was common to hear the phrase ‘real mother’ or ‘natural mother’ before people in the field began to understand that this terminology was not always helpful. I’ve also seen some really interesting discussions around the term ‘LAC’ (Looked After Children) certainly in more recent months. Hopefully as the many myriad ways that we configure family develop and progress, so too will our language.

Anna Writes: Fathers

PhontoMy dads 80th birthday is fast approaching and for the first time he seems old to me. My dad was a really strong presence in my childhood- although I didn’t see him much- he used to work from 5.30am to whenever he finished (such is the nature of being a farmer)- but he felt like a steady, safe person. Always predictable, approachable and kind.

I remember from being really young getting up at 5am just to spend some time with him before he went out to work, I used to eat the same breakfast as him and try and talk to him about what he was doing. My dad, bless him, is a man of few words but it didn’t matter because something about him and the way that he was with me let me know that he would always look out for me.

My mum talks about how it was always my dad who got up with me in the night when I was a baby, it was him who changed my nappies and sat bottle feeding me, bleary eyed only an hour or two before he needed to go to work and it was him who picked me up and dusted me down when I fell.
I sometimes wonder now why it wasn’t my mum who ever did these things but I think I understand enough about her and her own attachment processes to understand that this could never have been the case.

My dad is a gentle soul, a quiet man who enjoys simple things and who has dedicated his life to fulfilling his own fathers legacy. I feel a strong loyalty to him and I believe this is in part why I have never fully committed to searching for my biological father.

I have wondered- who wouldn’t- but there is more than one reason not too. Until I met my birth mum I didn’t know anything at all about my birth father- his name didn’t have to be on the birth certificate back in the 70’s. My birth mum told me that he was the brother of her friend who lived across the road from her and her family.

He often visited his mum and sister from a nearby city where he lived, and during one of these trips home he met my birth mum. They flirted for a few weeks and then slept together- after that he wanted nothing to do with her. It was her first time.

She was pregnant. She didn’t know at first, but by 5 months her family did and the decision had been made to proceed with adoption.

He never knew any of this. So somewhere out there is a man, in his mid-to-late 50’s who gave me 50% of my genetic inheritance.

It seems a strange concept really, that someone can co create a life and never know. Oddly I ended up living in the city that he came from (before I knew any of the above) and many, many times I have had people approaching me and asking how my brother is or my sister- lots of people think I am someone else and I can’t help but wonder-these doppelgängers- could they be my actual sisters or brothers? It wouldn’t be impossible.

A couple of times, I have embarked on something like a cursory search for my biological dad and it has felt very different to the search for my birth mum- searching for her didn’t feel like a choice but a necessity, without which I think I would have always wondered, always longed to find part of my bio identity- but starting to search for my birth father has proved far more complicated, practically and psychologically.

At least when I was searching for my birth mum, I knew that she knew I existed- she could still reject me, be dead or any other outcome on the spectrum, but she couldn’t ever deny my existence.
As for my birth dad- he doesn’t even know I was conceived- is he still alive? did he have any more children? grandchildren? Would he want to know that he did have a daughter all those years ago?
What does it mean to live your whole life without something only for it to appear on your doorstep…like I said, complicated.

And I have a great dad. I have a dad who did lots of things with me; taught me to ride a bike, took me out to work with him, stood up for me when other kids weren’t so kind, showed me parts of his world and taught me to value and respect nature. Ok, I didn’t see so much of him, but I feel fortunate for the times we had.

As for my birth father, it would be nice to know if I have any more siblings, it would be nice to know about him and his life, it would be helpful to know what might be lurking medically, genetically- but if my experience of finding my birth mum has taught me anything, it’s that the grass is never greener and the unknown is still unknown even when you find it.

Anna Writes: Birthdays

PhontoAnother year. Another birthday….hard as I try, somehow I always seem to end up feeling the same: a curious kind of ambivalence.

I feel happy to still be here, another year alive is something to celebrate I’m sure, but I also feel this yearning, a pull towards something that is absent and intangible. I struggle to put my finger on it.

So, I said this year would be different, I would come off Facebook and not spend the day checking in to see if she has remembered or deigned to wish me a happy birthday, because I would be spending it with family…well, I didn’t think that one through very well as my birthday has fallen on a weekday, people are at work and the Bank Holiday is stretching out like a promise on the other side.

It’s me and the kids. Which is lovely. We are hanging out, going swimming and out for a meal later but still, something inside me feels unfulfilled, needy.

Am I just ungrateful? My husband made me a lovely breakfast and my kids showered me with kind, thoughtful gifts, I have met up with friends throughout the week and done something nice with each, I have done something I never do and planned a meal out next week with the people who make my life really special. What more could I want? What is it?

I oscillate between wanting to celebrate life, to wanting to crawl into a dark space where no one can find me. to be or not to be. Maybe that’s how it’s always going to feel, understanding and acknowledging that being born was a good thing (I hope that by doing what I’m doing I create/find some meaning out of being here, like we all do) but that being relinquished, given up, separated- whatever, was a sad thing- a really sad thing.

An act that wasn’t a one off decision, but something that reverberates throughout a number of lives, for entire lives. And I feel it most keenly today. Each birthday not only a demarcation of another year but the anniversary of a wound. Of all the days, this one day always feels like a hurdle, a thing to be got past and then life returns to some kind of normality.

So, like a scratched record, I return to the tried and tested behaviours of the day. Trying to put on a happy face, being buoyant and doing what we are ‘supposed to do’ on a birthday but also, spending time alone, shedding some tears, mourning what has been lost and can never be. And, foolishly, naively, logging back onto Facebook for ‘the message’.

Nothing.

It doesn’t hurt as much as it has done before though, so that feels like some kind of progress, but I wonder why I still need it? Why does it still feel important to have acknowledgement from her on this day?
I guess its a throwback to all those years before I did find her, wondering if she thought about me on that day- I figured that if she was going to think about me on any day that it would be that one. Since finding out that I was adopted, I always thought of her on my birthday, wondered, fantasised.. and hoped.

Hoped that she was ok, hoped that she was alive and happy and in a better place than she was at 16.

And maybe thats what keeps me stuck in this place, on one day every year. Hope. The thought that for one day I could be the person on her mind and that she could value me enough to acknowledge that I’m here and can be contacted.

Mine was never a family that celebrated ‘Adoption Day’ – I was brought home from the hospital 10 days after birth and presented to my brother as one of his 2nd birthday presents. Apart from the conversation where I was informed of my adoption, we never really spoke of it again and children’s birthdays were never such a big deal (and anyone who shares a birthday that falls in the summer holidays will know how awkward they can be!)

But I always liked celebrating other peoples days (if that’s what they wanted) I’m of the thinking that a birthday is a special day and is one where it’s ok to be made a fuss of/cry if you want to etc. For children that are adopted I don’t imagine it’s unusual for a birthday to be a time of mixed feelings, where things don’t go in a straight line and perhaps even with the best will in the world, it will always be difficult.

For me, tomorrow, life will move on and I can inhabit my adult state again, but birthdays seem to have the effect of taking me back, like falling down a rabbit hole to a time and a place where I felt vulnerable and worthless and small. Roll on tomorrow.

Anna Writes: Endings

PhontoI’ve been thinking about endings a lot recently, I suppose following a bereavement that’s ‘normal’ but the other ending is one that I have chosen in the last couple of months- to remove myself from Facebook- what’s the big deal? you might think…well, Facebook is the only link I have with my birth family.

We used to write and speak on the phone in the early days but as contact has shifted and relationships have morphed into something much less definable, Facebook seems to be the way we do things now.

I can see why-it requires very little effort, people can see what other people are doing without actively engaging with them and contact can be considered a ‘like’ against a photo.

Except I’ve always struggled with it- historically I have been willing to accept the bare minimum in relationship because I thought it was better than nothing at all- offering a banquet in return for a crumb.
And my relationship with my birth mum (and extended family too) has followed this pattern: I write long messages, I send things in the post, I remember birthdays and I try to be the ‘good person’ and generally nothing comes back and I really don’t feel bitter about this, just sad.
Sad that I still sometimes feel that I’m not good enough as I am, particularly in relation to my birth family.

I suppose this all stems (like so many things) from being given away- learning strategies to ward off the threat of further abandonment- on some unconscious level believing that I need to give people things to get them to like me or not leave me. I remember at school I would never just give someone a card for their birthday, I would also feel I had to spend any money I had getting them a ridiculous present too- one that usually didn’t reflect the level or type of friendship we had- what may have appeared as generosity was actually a fairly desperate attempt to not be rejected.

So it’s pretty big deal for me to initiate an ending- there have been times in my life where I really should have ended friendships and relationships that were really unhealthy, but I stuck them out until things got really, really bad because the thought of pushing someone away was anathema to me. But things are different now.

My birth mum sent me a video via Facebook (of course) which was entitled ‘ Every kid should watch this’ I was intrigued, did this mean she was sending it to me as ‘her kid’? or did she intend for me to show it my kids because they ‘should’ watch it? I pressed play…

to summarise: the video showed a former American sports star talking about his career and his mother, how he had always found her a drag when he was successful and enjoying his fame around the world, she would be ringing him up to see how he was, caring about him, supporting him and loving him- he is giving this speech to an audience of rapt schoolchildren- then the bombshell, his mum died whilst he was away on tour (cut to scenes of the audience crying inconsolably) and he realises that he should have appreciated his mother when she was alive, he should have thanked her for all the things she did for him and all of her sacrifices, he should have been less ungrateful, he should have loved his mum better.

I was stunned. Not even upset, just staggered that she would send me this- what was she trying to tell me? I sat on my feelings for a day and then messaged her the following day- and I told her. I told her how confused I was and how hard it had been watching something sent from her that bore no resemblance to my experiences of being mothered, that I felt upset that she would send this to me. I let her know I was making an active choice to come off Facebook and that I would write to her soon.

She sent a brief apology and assured me she had not meant to hurt me, which I don’t doubt, but this felt like the last in a long line of insensitive moves on her part, so I stuck to my guns and deactivated.

This may seem a bit ‘all or nothing’ in response to a video but my relationship with my birth family via Facebook has been ambivalent at best, I feel like there’s too much scope for misunderstanding, passive aggressive communication and just plain old ignorance, so I chose to keep myself safe.

So far, its been a revelation, not only have I saved lots of time (!) but I also feel free of the worry of what is coming next, what post or photo or share is going to destabilise me and reactivate old feelings. I am living in the present and acknowledging the past, rather than the other way round.

I have chosen to end one type of connection and to maintain another that works for me and it hasn’t destroyed me…me saying ‘this isn’t ok’ is alright and the only changes that have happened have been positive…So this year instead of spending my birthday checking Facebook to see if my birth mum has sent me a message (which has never happened) I will be actually enjoying my day with the people I love, not feeling sad that I was given away, but happy that I ended up where I did.

Anna.W

Editor’s note: Anna’s taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks, so don’t worry if you don’t see a post from her. She’ll be back again soon.

Anna Writes: Trauma

PhontoThe separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

 

 

 

Removal, relinquishment, via bereavement or forced separation across geographical boundariesregardless of the circumstances surrounding the event, it is always going to be traumatic.

For those children who have not only experienced a primary severance of connection, but multiple placements (and losses) since, their grief must increase incrementally, becoming further compounded by each new start.

Trauma has a multi faceted impact on people, from the physical to the psychological and relational and everywhere in-between. We know a lot about trauma from eminent scholars and scientists in the field like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Daniel Hughes, Babette Rothschild and Antonio Damassio, to name a few, we know because of people like Allen Schore and Sue Gerhardt who have written more recently and so accessibly about pre and peri natal brain development and the effects of cortisol on the brain.

We know because it’s there. It can be seen in the eyes that bear an ever present layer of sadness.

I have a really terrible memory, not just in a ‘where did I put the remote- oh, it’s in the fridge’ sort of bad memory but a full on wipeout. Before the age of 10, I have a handful of memories, if I were to draw a timeline, there would be a big blank space and then later on some more smaller, less profound ones.
I sometimes wonder if it’s a result of something like cortisol that could have caused this- was there something in the separation that caused my amygdala and hippocampus to go offline? did something in my brain short circuit, when as a baby, I cried and cried and the right person wasn’t there?

When I met my birth mum she told me that when her own mother found out that she was five months pregnant, she beat her with a wooden coat hanger all over her body- what does that do to a person stress-wise? What happens in other cases where a child isn’t immediately removed from that environment but left to suffer until agencies intervene? Layer upon layer of trauma. More obvious trauma.

And I get that we need to focus on that, and there is so much more understanding about the effects of trauma on the brain and how to parent therapeutically and empathetically to support positive connection and develop healthy new neural pathways, it’s wonderful that science and reality are starting to level with one another.

But what of children that are ‘just’ given away? There are loads of us- not as common these days of course, but from when records began thousands upon thousands of babies have been relinquished and adopted. I’m not entirely sure that we are included in the trauma informed rhetoric because ‘we would have never known any different’ but my experience tells me that being separated from my birth mum is probably one of the most traumatic things that has happened to me. I was 10 days old, so how can that be?

How can it be that I grew up with a pathological fear of rejection, abandonment issues, nightmares, bed wetting, low self esteem, destructive coping strategies, poor concentration, an innate disrespect for authority, identity issues,a wonky moral compass, eating problems and a need to always be doing 10 things at once?

When I think back now on those early years, I feel like I was a stone knocked down a narrow alley, scratched and bowled, over and over, submerged in a shame, so quiet and pervasive…was a
chemical to blame? Is this the pickling in cortisol that the clever folk talk about? Because my birth mum didn’t use drugs and she didn’t drink, she did sport and ate well – so I cant help but come back to the separation, was that the bit that broke part of me?

I think the adoption world is much more trauma informed now, and it gives me a lot of hope that children who have been adopted in more recent times will have the benefit of parents who are willing to learn and understand their experiences from their perspective, and potentially be able to access external support when needed rather than keep things under wraps or try and cope alone.

I would like to think that any child who is relinquished (at any age) or placed in care or removed or abandoned or has survived the many ways that attachment can fail is afforded the understanding that what they have experienced is a trauma and is supported by the system accordingly.

Trauma defined-
1.
a. Serious injury to the body, as from physical violence or an accident
b. Severe emotional or mental distress caused by an experience
2.
a. An experience that causes severe anxiety or emotional distress
b. An event or situation that causes great disruption or suffering

The separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

My fact, at least.

Anna.W

Anna Writes: Contact

PhontoIn keeping with our Sore Points theme, this week Anna writes on contact.

 

 

 

 

contact

verb:  to communicate with (someone), typically in order to give or receive information

noun: the action of communicating or meeting

synonyms: communication, connection, correspondence, touch, association.

I initiated contact. Aged 28. I had spent half my life looking, wondering, searching on and off, on a mission that took me away from my own family to nights spent in hotels in the Hague and day trips to London. I really wanted contact.

I was prepared for anything…. or so I thought.

Thanks to some excellent detective work by Zwanet at the Births &Records Bureau in the Netherlands, I found a Great Aunt, she in turn, after our own period of contact, let me have the last known address for my birth mum and her then husband.
I wrote. I held my breath and I waited.

She was on holiday- her ex husband responded, said they all knew about me and that she would be delighted to hear from me. I exhaled, at last, relieved to not be rejected. Elated to have found her.

A flurry of contact started, letters once a week and emotional phone calls late at night, I felt overwhelmed, ecstatic, nervous, I needed her to slow down. to back off. To be more adult, less needy.

We shared information, I asked her what I needed to know, she answered in as far as she could.

I felt I had the upper hand- I had found her, she had not come looking for me, so I could call the shots. I asked her to slow down, we agreed to wait a while to meet.

We met, 10 months after first contact. A cliche played out in front of me, I was outside of my body as she got off the train and made her way over. She hugged me, she backed away and touched my face and told me I was beautiful. I couldn’t breathe.

We spent the day together, at my house- she talked, and talked and I listened. She left and I felt like I’d been hit by a bomb- all the life she had shared with me felt like a weight, some more weight to be carried.
Her life had never been the same after having me. She tried to get me back 2 years after giving me away- too naive to understand that adoption meant forever. She went on to have many more children, a self confessed attempt to fill the void that I had left.
She engaged in numerous destructive relationships, unable to find any peace within herself, she felt she deserved to suffer.
She had a bad relationship with her own mother, who had sent her away as a youngster to live with grandparents abroad, the rips in the fabric of attachment becoming ever clearer. Her own mother had been adopted- my head swam, I couldn’t keep up and in a way I felt relief when she got back on the train.

Contact cooled, we had met, the pressure and keenness to meet had subsided, but we maintained some sort of links- she learnt how to email, we both joined Facebook, she forgot my birthday, I watched the contact between her and my sisters with envy and hurt, I couldn’t find a way to deal with these new childish and unprocessed emotions, we grew apart.

My sisters got my address and I had contact with 2 of them, they were at once, both suspicious of and curious about me.

I was intrigued. We forged some kind of connection.

A year after we had met, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from one of my sisters. Come now she said, Mum is not going to make it through the weekend.

Panic. Dread. The emptiness. My husband and I sorted childcare and got the next flight out, my birth mums partner collected us and drove us to the intensive care unit in a huge hospital on the German border. My second physical meeting with her, kept alive by tubes, the monitors bleeping in time with my palpitations. She had suffered a huge heart attack, out walking with my youngest brother, she was dead for ten minutes. A miracle that she had survived they said. Her brain starved of oxygen, no one knew whether she would make it.

I held her hand and watched as she made involuntary movements, jerking through the induced coma she was in to keep her temperature down.
Her partner encouraged me to speak to her. I felt like a fraud, a stranger in a strange place, with strange people only connected by a genetic code and some sense of burgeoning loyalty.
We stayed for 2 days, I spent time with her, the longer she survived, the better the outlook.
We had to go back not knowing.

Several months later, she went home, she had a successful heart transplant and she was learning to be again. I couldn’t get the images out of my head, the wound right down the middle of her, the anguish on her unconscious face. I sent cards and letters, nothing came back.

After a year or so, she began to re-emerge, a motivational quote on Facebook here, a two line email there and this is where we stay. The last four years characterised by all too brief social media interactions, some trite words, and the gulf widening between us. I don’t know how she wants me in her life, she can’t be how she was and she can’t ever be my mum. Although I think that’s kind of what I wanted her to be, all those years ago.

I don’t regret finding her, I am so glad that she is still here and I really feel for everything that she has endured and survived.
Negotiating contact is always an ongoing endeavour, we oscillate between adult/child and child/ adult interactions and that might not ever be completely right for both of us, but I have got better at telling her what I need to and she does respond in kind. It is something.

I have done this as an adult, I could have only coped with this reality with the love and support of my own family. I can’t imagine how navigating contact as a child must feel, to have limited letterbox connection, to manage all of those complex emotions as a small person must take such resilience and support from all concerned, because its not just living with the feelings, its pre-empting and managing someone else’s.

Anna W