Tag Archives: identity

It really does go in…

I’ve written before about pets on my own blog The Boy’s Behaviour.IMG_20160213_195905We’d hoped to rescue a dog from a local rescue centre, but all of them felt that Dollop was/is too young. So, instead, we turned to guinea pigs, and most recently we rescued a hamster.

Poppadom Jackson Po joined us a week ago, and we are all in love with this teeny tiny bundle, despite the wheel keeping us awake at night!

But what I want to share with you is the thinking that my children put into us rescuing Poppadom –  if you’re ever in any doubt about whether your children are hearing you as you talk about adoption or identity – I have wondered this at times – then read on…

IMG_20160215_220716In Poppadom’s pre-rescue cage, he had an gnawable bridge and a plastic strawberry shaped hidey hole. So whilst I filled in the adoption papers, Mini and Dollop went in search for things to put in the cage, and I was most impressed when they came back with the exact same items – “We chose the same things as before so he’ll recognise them and feel more comfortable”.

On the way home in the car, we were thinking about names. He’d previously been known as Po, but we didn’t like it. So instead we collectively came up with Poppadom Jackson. But Mini pointed out that as he’d been known as Po before, we ought to keep that as a middle name – just like we’d done when we adopted him.

Husband and I exchanged glances in the front of the car.

“What a great idea that is Mini.” I said. “We’ll definitely do that.”
Too stunned to take it any further, and wary of pushing it too far anyway, we left it there, but I feel confident that we can come back to it and relate it to Mini’s own identity.

So, clearly, all those times when I’ve mentioned identity and transition, Mini has been listening. See I always thought the the fingers in ears and la-la-la-ing meant he wasn’t listening – similarly the eyes glazing over, shrugging shoulders and turning the telly up, but it turns out I was misreading him a bit!
The drip-drip really does work, and we’ll continue at it.

Feeling Different

Today’s post is from John, an adopted adult who shares his views and feelings…

When reading the stories of other adoptees, I often feel that I am odd or unusual. Going for a walkTheir stories talk of a yearning to find out their roots, or of feeling a sense of loss or anger. Yet, I have never had a deep longing to discover my roots nor I have ever felt a sense of loss or anger. I have always just accepted my adoption as a fact of life and feel secure in my identity as my adoptive parents’ son.

I have met my birth mother. She gave me up voluntarily and clearly loved and cared for me. I wanted to let her know that things had turned out well. We do get on and I do see our similarities but, for me, there is not the deep connection others sometimes speak of.

I often wonder what makes my story different from so many others.

I was given up voluntarily by a loving, responsible birth mother who cared for me in the womb and for the first week of my life. I believe that I was given up because of her love for me. I am sure that she would not have given me up had she not felt it was in my best interests. I was also adopted as a month and a half old baby into a well matched, loving home by parents who were utterly devoted to me and who told from me from an early age that I was adopted. I cannot remember not knowing. I also look very like my adoptive parents so I could easily hide that I was adopted if I wished. I did have difficult times in my teenage years but I don’t believe these were any more difficult than any other teenager trying to find their place in the world.

I have been reading the Primal Wound. As an adopted person, I do not particularly recognise myself in it but I do believe what it says is true of other adopters. I see much of what it says in the experience of my sister. She has felt a deep sense of loss and anger which she has had to work through over many years.

Clearly, there is something subtly different in my sister’s experience of adoption and my own experience. We have both enjoyed a similar upbringing and much of what I describe above about myself is true of her yet her emotional response to her adoption is completely different to my own. I have my theories on why this is. From reading the Primal Wound and from considering my own experience and my sister’s experience, I believe that first few days after birth are critical. I was cared for by my birth mother for a week after my birth. She was not.

This is why it is so important to hear from adoptees. Each adoptee has their own, distinctive story of adoption. We need to hear their story to understand why one adoptee has one experience of adoption and another a different experience so that we can use this information to improve the experiences of the adoptees of tomorrow.

We must give adoptees the space to share their story. It will be in this patchwork of adoptee experiences that answers can be found that can help the adoptees of the future.

Anna Writes: Why search?

PhontoI touched a little bit last time on finding and meeting my birth mother and I wanted to stop and take a few steps back and talk about why I wanted to search in the first place.

 

There has been research undertaken looking at why some adopted people search and some don’t (there’s a reference at the end in case anyones interested) -whatever someones individual reason for searching it’s never an easy decision to make and one that’s likely to ebb and flow over time…

Some people may just want to know some more details than what they have, some may want to make contact, some people might be looking to find something that they don’t feel they have ever had, with a myriad of reasons in-between.

I always knew that I would search, from the moment I found out for sure that I was adopted, my curiosity was activated and I was ready to go- except of course I wasn’t because the law says that I needed to wait until I was 18 to get a copy of my original birth certificate- 18 always felt a bit extreme from my perspective, technically I could have got married or certainly could have driven a car, before I was allowed my own birth certificate. I know the world of adoption is much more transparent now than it was, but still, 18 is a very long time to wait -and it felt it.

Growing up I knew two things 1) my birth mum was 16 when she had me and 2) she lived relatively close- imagine how tantalising it was to know those two tiny bits of information….and there was absolutely nothing I could do with them.

Ok, maybe I could talk to my friends about what that might mean or I could escape into my fantasy world a little bit with it, but really, I could attach no meaning to these facts because they remained abstract, I couldn’t research because I had no name, I couldn’t ask my parents any more because they didn’t know any more and I grew up with a paralysing fear of hurting them, so I stayed quiet.

When I reached 14/15 I went to do a weeks work experience at my old primary school, this all went well until the final day when my supervising teacher, who had also been my teacher when I was in reception class, told me that I was named after my grandmother- I was kind of intrigued by this- thinking I didn’t remember my paternal grandmothers name, she had died when I was 7 and she must have meant her, until she said “no, your real grandmother”- the world stopped me still as the reality of what she had just said sank in- I started to ask questions, who was she? did the teacher know my birth mum? where were they? The teacher refused to tell me any more information, other than she played bridge with my grandmother on a Wednesday and she had been to see me when I was at primary school. The teacher made me promise not to tell my mum what I had told her. I retreated back into myself, full of anger.

So. now my available information had almost doubled, I had a couple more snippets to store away and roll over in my mind trying to make sense of the senseless (as it turned out what she told me wasn’t quite true, I was named by my grandmother not after her, but what she told me led me to spend almost 2 years on wild goose chases with many disappointments…) My resolve to search only increased from this point and I couldn’t have wished away the next four years fast enough- I thought if I can just get to 18, I can find her, I can ask the questions I have always wanted to and I will have another mum, one who can love me unconditionally, one who can tell me it’s going to be ok and that I am worth something.

or not.

Having all this time certainly gave me the space to think about what I was looking for and why I was looking. I think my primary focus for searching was identity, wanting to have some sense of something that I belonged to, a history, maybe a culture and a geography- I wanted to feel part of something bigger than myself and to have a connection to anything.

I wanted to find a way to stop feeling empty- I thought that if I had some contact with birth family, some answers, some sense of where I came from, the hole inside me would fill up and I could feel ‘normal’…

I wanted to make sense of what had happened, so just to have answers to the questions that I’m sure many adopted people have: why? when? who was my father? have I got siblings? is there anything in your medical history that I need to know about? (because remember all those questions that come later with the medical world…) how has your life been? what do you like? are we similar? the list goes on and on and on.

I thought that by searching and finding I would find a way to myself.

My sense of identity and self esteem being so poor that I needed to look externally to attach to something abstract.

People in the adoption world talk about “jigsaws” and “missing pieces”- I guess this language can be helpful when thinking about how people with great big holes in their history and identity feel, maybe it’s also worth noting that some people start out with very few pieces and may never reach a full picture.

Anna.W

Ref- Howe, D and Feast, J (2000) Adoption Search and Reunion: The long term experiences of adopted adults: The Children’s Society.

Anna Writes: What’s my name?

Phonto

Our names: our school pegs, our register entries, an ID badge, a passport, a bank account, a driving licence, how we introduce ourselves.

 

Of course, all of our names are given to us, some a gift, others a curse, some that don’t quite sit right with the face in front of us, or for the body that the person inhabits, but its something we all have.
For people who have been adopted we often have two, or perhaps more depending on the nature of our transitions.

Multiple surname changes are common throughout life, through marriage, partnership, divorce, re-marriage, maybe divorce again, but adoption brings something different, another first name, maybe it’s known through a life story book, maybe more likely, the birth name has been kept to foster a consistent sense of identity for the child, but, if like me you were born before the language of ‘forever families’ and ‘therapeutic parenting’ it is likely that you had one name before adoption and another after.

What does this mean for a sense of identity?

I hated my name, it was so stuffy, formal, most definitely not me but thankfully my adoptive parents gave me a name long enough to play with, so for my formative years I was known by at least 4 different versions of my name, some of which I had encouraged and one of which was a piss-take-but-in-a gentle-way kind of version (funnily enough, the one I am really fond of now). I wasn’t at all surprised when aged 5, my adoptive mum told me whilst cooking tea, that I was adopted, I knew that I wasn’t biologically theirs (it was fairly physically obvious) but more than that I just knew at some primal level that something was amiss.

One of the only reactions I clearly remember having to this news was wanting to change my name- finally, I thought (at the grand age of 5!) I can be who I want to be and that person was Debbie (!) so I rolled into school the next day and announced that henceforth I would like to be known as Debbie- much to the amusement of my classmates, who of course ignored me and carried on using my given name.

But this feeling has never really gone, this sense of just not feeling at home in my own name, because -it isn’t my own name.

I got hold of my birth certificate aged 18 and there in black and well, black was my name. This was the name I had been given at birth, I didn’t know by who (although a teacher at my primary school once told me that I was named by my grandmother- I thought she was being weird at the time but it turns out they played bridge together, so ….)

A Dutch first name and an English last name, I practised my new signature, to perfection.

Intrigued, I continued (on and off) my searching process until finally, 9 years later I found my birth mother. She confirmed it was my biological grandmother who named me, after her own adoptive mother-believing it was a fitting way to memorialise her.
And I felt I had some roots. Some grounding in a name that takes me from the lowlands of the Netherlands, to the post-industrial towns of the North of England, to the middle of nowhere where I was raised. I had something that signified my journey and marked me out as ‘other’ (which is how I felt anyway).

And I use it now, not all the time- I have never plucked up the courage to go the whole way and change my name ‘back’…maybe one day, but for now, I use it for my writing, for my poetry -for the things that I do that feel like they come from me, the authentic bit, the part thats emerging, because everything else is just layers.

Anna. W

The Importance of The Life Story Book

Today we’re pleased to bring you a guest post from Katie Wrench, who – amongst other things –life story work is co-author of a guide to life story work. Here she talks about “The importance of the life story book- how to get it right for your child….”

Identity is a strange phenomenon; difficult to define and often taken for granted when we have a strong sense of it, and yet desperately sought after when we are denied it. Thankfully most of us have a notion of what it means.
If I were asked the question ‘Who are you?’ I might answer drawing on many aspects of myself: my name; how I look; my home town (Manchester) or my current home (West Yorkshire); my footballing allegiances (City not United); my family (wife, mum, sister, daughter); my friendships (a small, select few); my hobbies (even smaller and more selective); my values; my gender or ethnicity…. I could go on.

I also think about the nights my brother and I spent sitting with our mum when she was dying, not wanting her to be alone. We spent hour upon hour together while mum slept, through the dark hours of the night until the sun rose, re-visiting the past, sharing stories, unearthing memories and realising we each remembered things the other had forgotten or had experienced events or people surprisingly differently. When I look back at this awful time, I treasure those hours. I realise I am so lucky to still be able to use my family to develop a sense of who am I. My identity is still developing in the context of enduring familial relationships.

Traditionally, the family has been the source of all knowledge about its children. Where this process has been thrown off track by experiences of trauma and loss, or separation from birth family and community, how much harder it is for children to develop a coherent and positive sense of who they are. Where children have been repeatedly separated by multiple moves (from birth family to foster placements to adoptive family), each move fragments their personal history further. With each move, access to priceless information is potentially lost.

This is why a life story book should be so much more than a re-working of a social care chronology, with edited highlights from the legal bundle thrown in for good measure. It must include everything that makes a human life: the funny anecdotes; the stories that are special just to that child; the facts and the fictions; the idiosyncrasies of family lives – the things my brother and I spoke of in the dead of night… It should have intrinsic messages woven throughout the story: that this child is loved and loveable; that the trauma he suffered was not his fault; that he deserved better parenting.

So why is it that some social workers seem to find it so hard to do? Why is it so difficult to write a story that will initially help a very small child understand his world and help his parents explain the journey he has travelled to their homes and hearts?

Here are some of the tips I offer social workers in the hope that you can use them to advocate for better stories for your children. In an ideal world, I think children should really have up three stories depending on their age, although I realise the reality is that some don’t even have one. The first should help the toddler (possibly a simple metaphorical story), the second should speak to the primary aged child and the third (the later life letter) should be suitable for the older adolescent. Above all….
– It should contain a coherent narrative account of the child’s story in a way that will help him share his past with his adoptive parents and others.
– It should give a realistic but compassionate account of early events to dispel any lingering fantasies or distorted views about the birth family.
– It should acknowledge issues of separation and loss and the pain this brings.
– It should help the child develop a sense of security and permanence, promoting attachment to his new family.

What should you insist on?
— Insist the story is written following Joy Rees’ family friendly approach; starting with the present and ending with a hopeful future, with the child’s difficult history sandwiched in the middle. The past is then openly shared, but symbolically held and embraced by the adoptive family.
— Insist that the stories of the past don’t overwhelm the story – the history should be honest but short – kept in perspective in terms of the child having his whole life ahead of him, not necessarily to be defined by a difficult start in life.
— Insist that stories and images of the child’s life with you are integrated into the Life Story Book and that you proof read the draft before the completed version is handed over and accepted. Make sure you are comfortable with the language and content and that you feel you could share it with your child.
— Insist on good grammar, spelling and punctuation and captions on photographs!
— Insist the story reflects the developmental age and abilities and interests of your child and incorporates suitable language, graphics and images. Does it look appealing and interesting to a child? Is it personal to him?
— Insist on a genogram – it might not mean much to a toddler but might help you answer tricky questions from a teen…

Please feel confident in giving feedback to your child’s social worker in order to get the story you and your child deserve that will help you both now and in the future.

About Katie…
Katie is a Team Manager in a Therapeutic Social Work Team in Leeds, where she has practiced for the past 12 years. She is also an art psychotherapist, short breaks foster carer and mum of 2 children and 2 kittens. She primarily works with children and young people who are fostered or adopted and their parents and carers. She also provides specialist training and consultation to social care practitioners, foster carers and schools around Life Story Work and other related subjects such as attachment and trauma. She has co-authored an accessible guide to life story work entitled: Life Story Work with Children who are Fostered or Adopted, Creative Ideas and Activities. (Wrench & Naylor, 2013)

She can be contacted at katie.wrench1@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @WrenchKatie.

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.