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 the 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.