Tag Archives: birth family

A Birth Mum has not Received Letterbox Contact – A Problem Shared

Today we share with you an email we have received from a birth mum.  

“To whom it may concern… my children have been adopted and I don’t know how to get the ball rolling about getting my letters and photos which I was promised years ago and I would appreciate any advice on this matter.”

A Problem SharedI wonder if there are any professionals out there who may be able to advise this mum or anyone who has been through a similar experiences. Maybe an adopter can shed some light on how difficult this contact is to maintain or how valuable it has been for your family. We understand that the subject of any kind of contact in adoption can be a very sensitive subject for most, so we just ask that people are respectful of all parties when they reply.

 

A birth mums story….a little boy loved. 

Today one birth mum, Millie, bravely tells the story of how her child came to be adopted.
 
It was late on in the pregnancy that I found out. I knew the father – we had been together a number of years but had split, I had a job, some good friends, a lot of love to give. But love it’s self couldn’t let me parent my son. A son conceived by rape. Nor could it sort out the demons that night left me with. 
 
I knew adoption was right, even though I reconsidered after his birth. I knew in my heart of hearts that he would be safer, more enriched, better cared for by another family. His forever family. 
 
At length I spoke to his social worker, detail after detail, photo after photo. I told her how much I wanted him to thrive. The doors left open for his questions. Making it clear that I wasn’t out right rejecting him because I wasn’t. He will always have a place in my life. Whether that’s in my mind and through letter box or in years to come face to face; he can find me if he wants and I will welcome him. 
 
I’ve met him, I’ve cuddled him, he’s smiled for me, I’ve held him through his injections, he’s played with my hair, I’ve kissed him farewell and he’s cuddled me back. That was gut wrenching. Our goodbye contact. Horrible name. Yet surprisingly it went ok, his social worker kindly supervised it, he was relaxed and responsive. I held it together until I put him in her car. That hurt. I focused on knowing he was going to a nice family. And they are lovely, I’ve met mum and we spoke, sharing little snippets of info that you don’t get in a CPR or a letter box letter. 
For me I know I’ve done what I can to ensure his future. Attending court dates and meetings, sharing info has felt impossible at times. Receiving my first letterbox broke my heart because he has everything I desperately want him to have, just not with me. 
 
There’ll be no slating the system from me, no denying my part in his adoption, the responsibility lands squarely at my feet. There will however be an acknowledgement that we (me, social workers, placement workers, adopters) all worked together for a little boy who is so very much loved.
Somewhere…somewhere in time’s own space
There must be some sweet pastured place

Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow

Some Paradise where horses go.

For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.

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.

Feelings on contact

We’re always pleased to have opinions and guest posts from a wide variety of people. Today’s post is from Suzanne, whose grandchild was removed and placed for adoption…

I personally think it (contact) should be facilitated. Adoptive families and birth families, if parents are not suitable then other relatives. In a mutually agreed venue, preferably not too public, but DEFINATELY not local authority. If only the once. But more often if agreeable. After all we are talking about a child’s identity. Letterbox is sterile and not a trustworthy form of contact if the birth parents have had a bad time with Social Services.
With only a letter it could just as easily be fabricated. While I have heard stories for and against this idea, the ‘for’ camp wins as far as I cannot trust what I am told by anything Local Authority.

Our son, his brother, sister and us wanted contact initially with the adoptive mother, perhaps IMG_1014over the years starting with our son; the father so that she could build up a relationship and as she felt more sure of us to include ‘the daughter/grand daughter/ niece later as she grew older. So she could come to know us as an introduction for the future. To see we are not the monsters we are sure the adoptive mother at least has been told. We have absolutely no assurances that this is not the case just meaningless comments to the contrary, “why would we want to paint your family as monsters?” To us it is painfully obvious from the way we were all abused before, throughout and since the court dates. Or is that just the way they do it in the Home Counties?

Our hopes for the future were dashed as a result of malicious and inhumane dealings with social services. How much of the denial of photographs or other items such as cards was a spiteful recommendation of Social Services we will never know. I have been in a caring profession for almost 40 years. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that there were people who also are supposed to care but are like the ones we have dealt with. Heartless and spiteful and for all we know that includes the adoptive mother we have no term of reference. All we have is bad experiences.

As an RGN I have a code of conduct, duty of candour and care. To have made all this up is an offence. I also made the police and hospital aware of my concerns they did nothing. A critical incident happened while in care of the Local Authority and nothing was done. I brought that to everyone’s attention and it was covered up Their internal inquiry gave enough for the SCR.

All I wanted was for my Grand daughter to be kept safe and given good care while in Local Authority care. They did neither. Two Social Workers should have been disciplined for their inactions. They were not. Yet with all the information I gave them to point them in the direction of problems it was me that was the problem to be eliminated from my grand daughter’s life. Yet all I get is letterbox. I have wondered if they think I would tell my son where any contact happened. That is against my code of conduct!

I appreciate not all experiences will be the same. I think my professional status and knowledge did not help any party most of all us. I can see the Social Services viewpoint but if the SGO had worked we would have walked the line and my son would not have jeopardised the arrangement  as they all said he would. Too late now. Our son lost a daughter but saved from maintenance payments  and same situation of no access at mercy of her mum. So adoption not the worst outcome for father or daughter. ‘Silver lining ‘ perhaps.

Contact from a Social Worker’s Perspective

We are delighted that Sue Glogg ,Assistant Team Manager  for Adoption in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, has contributed this piece to our Sore Points week on Contact. 

contact lettersContact. The mere mention of the word is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most prospective adopters as they start out on their adoption journey listening to social workers explaining the importance of children remaining in touch with their families of origin. The usual response is one of surprise, as for the first time they realise they are expected to support their adopted child to maintain a connection with their past. Hopefully, along the way their understanding of the significance of contact will develop and with training and support they will shift from that initial fearful, anxious and threatened position to one which is more open, empathic and child-focussed. Most do, some don’t! But what are we looking for in prospective adopters when it comes to contact? It’s people who are “communicatively open” or in other words, people who are open, honest, non-defensive and emotionally attuned when it comes to thinking and talking about all aspects of adoption but especially contact.

Having spent the past 12 years working as a social worker in a busy local authority adoption team, I understand just what a complex, complicated and emotive topic contact is for all involved. I understand that given the choice many adopters wouldn’t do contact and that of those that do it, some feel they were talked (pressured?) into it by their social worker rather than genuinely believing in the benefits for them and their child. I understand that for birth parents the agony of losing your child is further compounded by the wait for an annual letter, which is often late and sometimes doesn’t arrive at all, and that for adopters there is frustration, resentment and disappointment when nothing arrives in return. I understand that adopted children and young people often have ambivalent feelings about their birth parents and mixed views about contact with them, with feelings of wanting and needing to know more to feelings of anger and sadness at having to manage the loss.

Normally, when considering contact, I am, of course, thinking from the viewpoint of the child, the birth relatives or the adopters and so when asked to write about contact from my own perspective I initially struggled because it’s not often I get time to really reflect on my own professional beliefs and views and what has influenced them. So what do I know and how do I really feel about contact?

Well, firstly, as a social worker I know that I have a statutory duty under the Children Act 1989 to recommend and promote contact between children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives wherever possible. The prevailing culture within my team is pro contact and my own professional views have been influenced by training and research which backs the view that contact supports the development of a coherent sense of self and positive self-esteem for adopted children, and helps them to experience themselves as loved, thought about, cared for and remembered.

Secondly, I know that as a team we want to provide the very best support in relation to contact but don’t have anywhere near enough staff or resources to manage it as well as we would like to. We currently have one full time dedicated social worker who manages our contact service and a part of her job is to support almost 300 letterbox contacts and 45 face to face meetings every year. I know that without her we would sink under the deluge of cards which arrive every Christmas and that the duty social worker would be overwhelmed just dealing with distressed birth parents whose letterbox is long overdue. I know that the same duty worker will also contact the adopters to chase them up only to be told that the child’s behaviour is so difficult at the moment and they are so exhausted that they really don’t want to send a letter this year because they can’t think of anything positive to say!

I know I feel frustrated by those adopters who promised to support contact before the child was placed only to go back on their promises once the child is adopted and I feel resentful that I am expected to break the news to the birth parents that there will be no more letters and will no doubt be on the receiving end of their understandable anger and upset.

I know I feel disappointed and saddened on behalf of all the children whose birth parents let them down by not engaging in contact. 

I know that I feel exasperated when the courts expect me to make recommendations about ongoing contact before adopters have even been identified and at a point when for birth parents the fight for their children is not yet over, but I am still expected to assess their capacity to manage contact constructively in the future.  I know that plans for “too much” contact will inevitably make it harder for me to find a family for a child.

I know that many of the direct contacts I have facilitated between adopted children and their siblings have been some of the highlights of a long and fulfilling social work career spanning almost 30 years and I know how happy it makes me when adopters genuinely “get it” and are not just telling me what they think I want to hear in relation to contact.

The recent Contact After Adoption study by Dr Beth Neil reported that for adopted children their adoptive families were clearly seen as “my family” and there was no evidence of contact disturbing adoptive family relationships or affecting the child’s adjustment.

contact heart

Therefore, the final message I want to send to all adopters is to please be less insecure and more open and generous in relation to contact and more accepting of birth families because the birth family is not your enemy and shouldn’t be seen as a threat to your place in your child’s life. Remember, you have a key role in facilitating your child’s identity development, self-esteem, self-worth and happiness and helping them to maintain contact is a huge part of that.

 

My thoughts and Experiences of Contact by Amanda Boorman

To start our second Sore Points in adoption week on CONTACT, Amanda Boorman from The Open Nest, tells us about her thoughts and experiences.

As a peer support charity we get calls from adopters asking advice and direction to services for many things. After running for two years I would say the most common issues we are asked about are access to short breaks, aggressive behaviour, problems at school and problems with professionals who ‘don’t get it’

Surprisingly issues with contact and life story very rarely come up.

At the opposite end of this, adults who were adopted report life history, identity and incorrect file information as being one of the key unresolved and painful issues for them.

It is a subject that when discussed can bring up a lot of emotion, anxiety, anger and confusion. I believe the issues of life story and contact in adoption are due a big public debate despite hardly featuring at all in the current adoption reform.

The pervading opinion remains that if a child has been removed from its parents, then by definition those parents do not have rights to seeing or hearing from that child again. To seek contact and the continuing of previous relationships is potentially disruptive and damaging for the child. It is recognised that having to maintain contact could be off putting for prospective adopters.

contact AB

But it is rarely as clear cut as that.

By the time a child or children is removed, social workers have put together the case for removal and presented it to court. It goes without saying that the records involved in this process will focus on the parents failings in relation to their child/children. It is unlikely that future carers will have much more of ‘the family story’ than these failings and scraps of file  information gathered during that process.

Perhaps the debate about contact begins with questioning the quality of, and commitment to, the recording of birth family history before the connections are severed.

This information is not just about parents, it’s about culture and place and extended family history. The programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ does not just focus on parents it goes generations back and recipients gain positively from information about family members they have never met even if some of this is sad.

In my adopted daughters case she arrived with a life story that if it were summed up would say:

A cruel and uncaring mother who despite numerous offers of help refused to change, she was selfish, obstructive and very aggressive. She may have been prostituting herself as her daughter has different skin colour to her siblings.

The children were unkempt and living in chaos. They had head lice, skin rashes and ear infections. The children have been removed into temporary foster care on many occasions in order to try and help the parents.

A stubborn disruptive father who will not engage with services and shouts out in meetings, often in front of the children.

There have been many reports to social services from neighbours which describe the mother shouting at the children and slapping them and then causing trouble with the neighbours if they tried to intervene

Based upon this I accepted the professional view that no contact was in the best interests of my daughter and her brothers.

A couple of years after placement I chose to seek out her parents myself. My dad was a history teacher and history, particularly biography, is something we all enjoy as a family. I found the scrap book of disjointed photos that arrived from the foster carers and the file reports lacking in any real and meaningful life history. I felt without detailed history, both good and bad, I couldn’t support my daughter properly.

After meeting her parents the story I had to share with my daughter was:

A mother with an undiagnosed learning disability. Her father was tragically killed at sea when he was in his twenties leaving her (6 months old) her mother and three young siblings. She was prey to a local paedophile at a young age and then abused in local authority care where she was placed due to her subsequent challenging behaviour. Previous relationship with a violent man and a pregnancy with this man that ended up in late stage miscarriage.

Having had an African American great grandfather she and her family have a dark skin colour which has been passed down to her daughter.

One sister is a detective constable who tried to help the family but as a single mum found it impossible. Another is a nurse and the third emigrated to Australia where she cares for the elderly.

The mum is unable to parent without intensive support but when given empathy is fully aware of her failings and honest about these failings. She is very loving but when under pressure becomes anxious and aggressive. She made many calls to social services pretending to be a neighbour and reporting herself. She believed the children should have been removed sooner in the absence of intensive parenting support. She feels social services didn’t ‘get it’. She is unable to read or write without support. She needs help to make it to appointments.

A stubborn but loyal father who is considerably older than the mother. He has previously bought up five children with no local authority involvement. He was extremely fearful of losing the children, he has a deep mistrust of social care systems and is over protective of the mother. When treated with respect he is gentle and generous

There is no doubt that my adopted daughters birth parents failings damaged her. So did the service she received from the state as a vulnerable child. I have no doubt her parents were not easy to deal with. There did however seem to be missed opportunities to gather correct information that could help my daughter understand her family history and identity better as she grew up.

Maintaining contact with an extended family beyond your own can be extremely challenging, especially with scant information and no support. It can also be costly and involve lots of travel.

Making a decision to begin contact or maintain it when the information is damning of parents or news letters are constantly unanswered is almost impossible, especially without a meaningful and safe connection having been established between the two families in advance of the adoption placement.

Where contact has been properly evidenced as being damaging or potentially damaging to children this also needs careful and therapeutic input towards healthy endings that put the child’s needs first. Children should be given therapeutic support to make individual decisions about contact.

This approach would require specialist and committed long term support work. In times of austerity, budget cuts and an adoption agenda focused on recruitment, as well as adoption continuing to be placed culturally as a saving mission, the resources are simply not there. Evidence gathered from adult adoptees about their experience of contact or lack of it is also missing as a means to inform good practice.

In a very small nutshell our family experience of contact has been that we are glad we made it happen.

We wish we had been given more support. It’s been emotional and messy. It’s produced amazing and happy memories and has also triggered some very tricky stuff that has needed to be dealt with therapeutically.

As an adult my daughter tells me that when she struggled after contact it was the saying goodbye again not the contact itself she found difficult. She is glad she got to know her lovely gentle father but the pain of losing him recently is hard. She wonders if it would have been easier not to have known him than deal with the grief. She has forgiven her mother but not forgotten what her failings caused to her and her brothers. She remains angry with her about this (and tells her so) but also loves her unconditionally. She loves her policewoman Aunty who is a role model and is proud of her brave grandad who risked and lost his life for others.

She no longer feels she is from a ‘bad’ family and identifies positively with her home town. Contact got to the truth warts and all.

Sometimes as an adopted person she hates her mum….both of us.

The Open Nest Charity provides a neutral, safe and calm environment for both sibling and birth family contact www.theopennest.co.uk

Adoption Sore Point – Contact

We are going to do it all again and this time we want to talk about CONTACT.

sorepoint

 

 

 

 

Maintaining contact with an adopted child’s birth parents can be very difficult for many families. Some find it too difficult to agree to contact right at the very start of their adoption journey, others find the momentum to continue with contact, difficult to sustain over many years. It can be a tricky topic to discuss because families feel protective of the lives they have created for their adopted family, contact can seem to threaten this.

Today, social media can also bring unsolicited contact, complicating family life, sometimes with a devastating effect. For others well managed contact has added depth and meaning to an adopted child’s life story and brought them a greater sense of identity.

So what are your views and experiences of contact?

Do you think maintaining contact is important?

How could contact be better facilitated?

What are your concerns and worries around contact?

Has maintaining contact been a positive experience for you?

We want to hear everyone’s opinion on this. We already have some contributing pieces from adopters, an adoptee and an adoption social worker but, we would be interested in hearing from anyone one else who would like to contribute. You can email us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com.

Our Sore Point week will commence on Monday 13th July. 

We will have posts each day related to the topic of contact and will hope to offer a diverse set of opinions and experiences.

We will have a #TASchat, twitter chat, on Thursday 16th July 9pm GMT on the subject of contact.

We will have a special contact themed #WASO on Friday 17th July.

We will be using the hashtag #Sorepoint during the week.

We would also like to include a list of resources, so if you know of anything which would be helpful to others, around the topic of contact, please let us know.

And as we said before, if you would like to contribute or even have an idea for something to include in the week, please contact us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com

 

Who is The Adoption Social for?

 

There has been a bit of confusion over on Twitter this week amongst our followers,We need you about who The Adoption Social is for. Some people have assumed that because they aren’t adoptive parents, that this site is not suitable or appropriate for them, and therefore they feel they can’t contribute.

We’d like to say a big Sorry if you’ve felt this way and if we’ve given you the impression that this site is exclusively for adoptive parents. It’s not!

The truth is, we are adoptive parents. We came together through a mutual love of blogging, and a desire to help link up those who blog about adoption. Thus The Weekly Adoption Shout Out was born. We’ve come such a long way since then, and The Adoption Social stands alone as a support site for those who don’t necessarily know the back story of how it came to be.

Our aim has always been that The Adoption Social is created and led by those in adoption and those experiencing and living with adoption in their lives. We therefore need you to write for us, contribute your experiences and knowledge so that we can pass that on to others and they in turn can support, understand and help you and many more.

Because of our own experiences and connections, most of the content on this site supports adoptive parents rather than anyone else within this world of adoption. That’s not because we don’t want posts from other people, or differing perspectives, we do, but they are harder to find. We do hope however, that what is published gives all sorts of people an insight into adoptive parenting and the needs of our (currently) young adoptees, and allows you to support others and gain support, even if it’s just knowing there’s someone else out there in a similar situation.

So whatever your position – adoptee, care-leaver, foster carer, adoptive parent, prospective adoptive parent, contact supervisor, birth parent, wider family from either birth family or adoptive, social worker, therapist, health visitor, special guardian, kinship carer, doctor, specialist, student or other interested party, we would be happy to have you featured on The Adoption Social, and invite you to guest post, write us a problem, share poetry, write a review or have a rant.
We also invite you to link your blog up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out – so called because the links are about adoption related subjects, not just for adoptive parents.

If you really want to write for us but aren’t sure if your subject is right, then send us a copy at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com and we’ll have a look and remember that we are always happy for you to use a pseudonym or anonymise your post for you. 

 

 

Picture Ourselves

Here Suddenly Mummy shares memories of her family and recognises, through her reflections, the importance of identity…..

A picture

There were three photograph albums created of my parents’ wedding back in the early 70s. I now have two of them in my possession. They are quite beautiful really in their black and white simplicity. My mum peeps out from behind the thick rims of her glasses looking rather like Nana Mouskouri. My dad is thinner than I ever knew him, extremely clean-shaven, slightly gawky in his wedding-day suit.

In one shot, the camera peeps through a keyhole at a young couple kissing. There is the church, the flowers, the guests, the promise of a future.

Of course, once a marriage dissolves, the number of people who care to keep such reminders dwindles. I don’t remember whose unwanted albums I now have, whether my parents’ or my two sets of grandparents’. Both my parents have new spouses and new albums now and it seems as though I am the only one to whom those  aging collections of images hold any meaning. I keep them in their original boxes in a little-used cupboard. Almost guilty secrets.

My parents officially separated when I was thirteen, and divorced a year after that. Fairly soon after they had both moved on to new partners. I was the only child of their marriage. My older half-sister, although legally adopted by my Dad, was quick to take sides in the divorce and soon took to calling the man we had both called Daddy by his first name only as if he was a stranger to her.

In the space of a few months, my Mum moved out, my sister emigrated, my paternal grandmother who had lived with us for seven years got her own place, our house was sold. Some of these people never saw each other again. For years after, the only link between these people who had lived as family, who had been family, was me, standing there like an unavoidable monument to a dead marriage.

A couple of years after the divorce, while looking for something or other in my Mum’s cupboards, I came across a plastic bag stuffed full of little paper and plastic wallets. Photographs.

Hungrily, I opened each wallet, spilling them all out around me on the floor. Pictures of my Mum with my sister as a baby before my Dad and I ever were. Pictures of me as a baby, of all of us, on holiday, in the garden, Christmas, birthdays, smiling, group shots awkwardly posed with background landmarks, Stonehenge, the Houses of Parliament, various seasides.

Nobody was home so I took my time, picking through them, checking the back of each one for dates, names, places. Instinctively I knew that I had to take some of them, to keep them safe, to be the person that treasured this past that nobody else seemed to want anymore. I stole them. I made a collection then that I still have today – not so many that anybody would notice, but enough so that I had my own timeline of our lives in pictures.

My stepmum knew both my parents before they were married. She hadn’t been my stepmum long before she told me that my parents’ marriage was in trouble from the start. Even when I was a babe in arms, the love between them was gone. From the moment I heard that I longed to know that my parents did indeed love each other; that my Mum married my Dad for love and not because he was safe and ordinary and boring, the opposite of her first husband, or because he was prepared to take on my fatherless sister and raise her as his own.

I longed to know that I was conceived and carried and birthed with love. I asked my sister once. She said yes, they loved each other. I don’t know whether I really believed her.

And this is just a divorce. Such a common thing these days that it hardly merits a mention. Compared to the disruption and dislocation of adoption, it’s almost nothing. I got to grow up knowing both my parents, knowing who I was and where I came from. I have had to put some work into accepting that identity and valuing it, but where I have had a winding journey, my son will have an uphill battle that will probably continue for his whole life.

Sometimes I admit I roll my eyes a little at some of the things said and done in the name of ‘identity’. I am impatient. I want to move on, get on with our lives. But one day my son will want to see the pictures, will ask whether he was conceived, carried and birthed with love. He will want to know that his origins are not a dirty secret or an embarrassment that everyone wants to brush under the carpet. Because, although it may be far from a fairy tale, the story of my son’s origins is the story of him. That school picture of his dad, those few photos of him and his birth mum, the tiny collection of toys that the social workers gathered from her abandoned home, the little trainers that I would never have chosen for him – these are all he has of a past that belongs only to him.

I am grateful that I met my son’s birth mother many times. I will be able to speak of her with warmth and compassion and understanding. It has often seemed to me that I am the only person to willingly remember the history that gave rise to my existence. I hope that my son never feels that way.

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.