Thanks to the Adoption Social I have been ﬁnding out in much more detail about different aspects of the world of adoption, some fairly recent developments and other aspects that I had just not been aware of -life story work is something that I ﬁnd really really interesting; as an independent member on a local adoption panel, I hear a lot about life story books, and life story work in general- though in that context it seems to be the preserve of social workers and happening without the input of the people affected- as with adoption itself..
The work of Root and Branch has been demystifying some of this for me and has got me to thinking about- if I had received (or ideally co-created) a life story book/memory box what would I have liked it to contain?
What would have been important to foster more of a sense of identity and could have helped to counter some of the shame that I felt about being ‘different’? What questions would I have liked answered?
( I am clearly writing this with the beneﬁt of hindsight, which I’m aware removes me from the reality of children and young people trying to make sense of their journeys so far.)
I suppose the most obvious starting point would be photographs- growing up, there were only about 2 or 3 pictures of me and my brother up in the house, it’s not that my parents didn’t take them or get them developed, it’s more that my mum didn’t like to share, so hundreds of unseen childhood photos remain hidden away in cupboards gathering dust. The youngest photograph I have seen is me at 16 months, it seems a strange hole to have no baby photos.
Pictures have subsequently always been really important to me, I enjoy documenting life through photos and writing down the funny things that my kids say so that they can have a record of their lives when they are older..so for me, the more pictures I could have seen the better- ideally I would have also had a picture of my birth mum, dad and grandparents- as much of my birth family as possible, to have some sense of where I ﬁtted. To help locate some resemblance to other people.
I would like to have known where I was born, what time, how much I weighed and whether or not I was breastfed- simple things, but facts that would ‘normalise’ and could give some colour to the picture surrounding my birth. My adoption record states-
‘A is illegitimate and was born normally, mother has agreed to adoption’ not quite the ﬁrst line most people would want in their life story…
It would’ve been good to know where my birth family was from, where they had lived, places that I might have been able to visit growing up to provide me with a sense of geographical connection. It was much later in life when I realised some of my birth family had lived really close to me and with this knowledge my relationship to my home town took on a new signiﬁcance, but only after I had moved away.
For my own children I have saved things like the ID bracelet from hospital at their births, the welcome to the world cards, knitted gifts and special mementos like locks from their ﬁrst haircut and ﬁrst lost teeth (yes, maybe I’m overcompensating as I never had any of these things…) but they feel important, I would like my children to have a sense of their own history, an understanding that their milestones were and are, so important, or at least worthy of being documented so they can be revisited.
Letters would have been great- although knowing the kind of person that I was, any scrap of information would have been pored over and re- read a thousand times, but it would have been so helpful to have had some understanding of why I was given away- in the words of the people who made that decision.
I was told by my adoptive parents that my birth mum was too young to look after me but that was all- pretty much for 18 years- I think if I had grown up with some sense of the context of that decision and that actually several other people were involved in it and also that my adoptive parents actually really wanted me rather than being in the ‘right place at the right time’ all of those things would have helped combat some of the very negative feelings I had about my own worth.
So, photos, letters, mementos and facts, a few of the things that would have made a difference, things that would have helped me to have an increased sense of identity, connection and perhaps even worth- these items and objects coupled with an openness and willingness on my parents part to talk about adoption would make up my fantasy life story book.
I know its impossible to pre-empt what an individual child might want or need from a life story book but perhaps if we ask people who have been through the adoption process what they might have liked, it could help…