Dear birth daughter.

20160728_110457I’ll admit, love, that I’ve always found ‘the baby game’ irritating. The game you most often ask me to play with you, usually at the most inconvenient times. A game I didn’t really understand, or the fascination it held for you. At 10-years old, and nearly as tall as me, you’d want to be a helpless, mewling, wriggling little thing, while your adopted sister, although five years younger, was assigned the ‘teenage babysitter’ role or, if she protested too much, a twin baby to you, but one that was ‘smart’, and could ‘do more’ – the one that didn’t need so much attention.

I’d nearly always sidle off and you’d usually end up playing it yourselves, or I’d reluctantly agree to a quick (imaginary!) nappy change for you, before getting on with whatever it was that was more pressing. How could I miss something so blindingly obvious?

A decade before, you were my newborn, mewling baby – on my belly, eyes locked on mine and I’m tumbling down the rabbit hole. But, when your sister came, she was not the helpless newborn sibling that many of your friends had gotten used to in their lives. She was a wary, demanding, mercurial toddler – and as much a stranger to us as we were to her.

Believe me, the urge to parent again wasn’t, in any way, because you ‘weren’t enough’. In fact, it’s because you were, and are, so special that I was greedy for another chance to watch a life develop in front of my eyes – with all the joy, terror, responsibility and sense of fulfillment that brings. That, and, perhaps, not wanting you to remain an only child, as I am, whose ache for the siblings I never had only gets stronger as I get older.

We patted ourselves on the back that you seemed as enthused as we were about the possibility of another child joining our family. When our social worker had a private ‘assessment’ session with you, she felt you had the necessary self-confidence and personal esteem to handle it.

And it’s been three years now since your life changed irrevocably. The other day, dad found some video snippets we made in that heady, eight-day, introduction period with your new sister. Watching them again now, I’m struck by how much has changed – and some things that haven’t. You both look impossibly different – your front baby teeth are missing, you’re at least a foot shorter, and your face carries echoes of the round-faced, doe-eyed baby you were. There’s footage of the two of you bouncing on the bed in the cottage we rented for that week – when your sister got too close to the edge, you laughingly hauled her back; a game you still play to this day. Then there’s the film of you patiently helping her plug the gaps in an early years jigsaw puzzle…a metaphor writ large if ever there was one!

During the tortuous, four-hour, car journey home at the end of that week, the two of you sat in the back – your (new) sister silent and withdrawn, dad and I poleaxed by the emotional intensity of ‘taking’ this little girl away from the people she called mum and dad and you, calm and composed, gently stroking her palm and singing Round and Round the Garden, over and over again.

You were so little yourself – did we expect too much of you? In those early, blurry weeks, we were all punchdrunk with the excitement of getting to know each other. But, as the months went on, you faltered. Your sister would rebuff your hugs; you’d get slapped or scratched. You’d try not to mind about your precious things being messed with, turned out, or broken, but the scribbled notice on the door of your room – ‘Get outt or I will kick your but!’ – told its own story. And whenever you came to me for a cuddle, your sister would knock you out of the way, and cry: “No! MY mummy….!” You never once said what I most dreaded: “NO, she’s not, actually, she’s mine!” Instead, your plaintive wail: “Well, she’s my mummy, too!” showed a care for her feelings that not even your white hot anger could eclipse.

One night, you broke down after your sister was in bed and said she had to “go back”, that she “didn’t like you” – and you didn’t like her, either. We explained that wasn’t an option – we were now a family, and we had to work it out. Then it came out – you missed us, your mum and dad, and all the years you’d had one, or both of us, to yourself. It was so obvious, then – in trying so hard to be a family of four, we’d somehow forgotten you needed our individual attention, too. We promised that next weekend, and for as many weekends as you wanted after that, me or dad would do something with you – just you. And then dad shoved his shoe down his shirt-front and did a made-up song and funny jig that made you laugh out loud.

We also made sure you had a separate, later bedtime so you got time with us to have your own story, watch telly or chat about your day. We made sure your sister understood the boundaries of your stuff being your stuff, your room being your room.

Such simple solutions, yet such a profound effect. I knew we’d turned a corner when, one weekend, you said you’d rather not go off with just me after all; you wanted to be with your dad and sister too.

And now yours is the love story at the very heart of our family – exceeding even my rose-tinted fantasies of a sister relationship.

You buy her gifts out of your pocket money; she draws you pictures or makes you something un-nameable every day in school. You cuddle on the sofa and call each other your ‘BFF’. When you do argue, and I intervene, you forgive each other instantly and turn your ire on me instead.

There will probably be times, with a five-year age gap between you, when you’ll grow apart for a while – perhaps a 12 and 17-year-old will struggle to find common ground. But at 30 and 35, say, or 52 and 57 – heck, even 91 and 96! – I hope with all my heart you’ll still be making mischief together, consoling each other, laughing your socks off together, all as you do now, and sharing your memories of family life, long after dad and I have gone.

But that’s all in the future. In the here and now, you’re taking your first, tentative steps towards a new phase in your life – more time spent in front of a mirror, endless combing of your hair, throwing aside favourite outfits and toys now deemed ‘too babyish’. So, just to let you know that I get it, now, and I’m up for playing the baby game, for however much longer you need and want me to. I just hope I’m not too late.

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We Are Family Blog 2015 in review!

Here it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about the blog in 2015!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Questions #7 A peek into how we do family.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

Our oldest has always been an early riser so averages 5.30, thankfully the baby sleeps in a bit and this morning he had a lie in until 7.30 am !!
Why adoption?

I always knew I wanted to adopt after many years working in the voluntary sector with vulnerable children and I just knew it was something I wanted to do. When I met Hubbie we talked about it and he agreed that our family would include adopted children. We now have a birth child and an adopted child, both are much loved and very much our children.
From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

The long answer is it started some years ago, but was interrupted by the birth of our son. The short answer is it took 2 years from when we approached our local authority to when we were matched.

How could it be improved?

The process has been made quicker, but it does appear that it’s missing some scrutiny and consistency. We have had a number of social workers and they’ve given us conflicting information. We also had to keep asking for additional support post match which we had expected would be available to us anyway.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How well our son has adapted to our family and how we feel he is one of us.

How was the assessment process?

It was ok, but did cause some consternation when we were made to repeat ourselves and the process how involves a lot more input from prospective adopters which means the social workers are not overseeing the content as much. Overall as we had been through the process before we were familiar with it, but if we were new to it I think we’d have felt quite alone in the process.

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

We love to play outside in the garden and eat together and we have just started to take him swimming as he loves his baths so much.
What makes you and your family laugh?

We love to sing and dance together and we joke and laugh all the time – mostly at each other.

The best thing about being a parent?

I love seeing my children laughing, playing and hearing their funny comments on life. It’s wonderful seeing the joy on one of my son’s faces when they do something for the first time.

The hardest thing about being a parent?

Letting them do things that might hurt or upset them. I want to protect my children from anything that might harm them, but I know I can’t always do that.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

Kindness is a very important quality to have – one that will do well for you in life.

What time do you go to bed?

I try to go to bed around 10pm, but often it runs later than that and I always regret it when my sons wake up at an unearthly hour.

Follow up: A birth mum shares her thoughts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecent posts about sibling and birth family contact have proved to be quite emotive for many of our readers; and one in particular prompted a birth mum to get in touch to share her own thoughts and experiences of direct contact which we thought deserved to be heard.

“I am a birth mom and I can’t say that I agree that its “always adoptive families” that “action, chase, fight for the best outcome of the child”. The agency I went through has done a lot to help and has a strong desire to help in whatever way they can for all three parties involved. Also, I have reached out, expressed feelings, respected the wishes of the adoptive parents and I have been rejected. It is true that every family is different. I have so much respect for you and other families that try to maintain contact with birth parents for the benefit of your child.” 

 

And here is the original post as it was published on April 10th 2015.

Any Advice Gratefully Accepted

Having read the recent blog about sibling contact I thought I’d write asking if anyone has had any problems with direct birth parent contact. I know that to most this may seem like a strange ‘problem’ to have but here goes…

When I adopted my daughter I agreed to annual direct contact with her birth father. I didn’t want her to hit teenage years with all the possible angst that that can entail and ask why I wouldn’t let her see him when there was no reason for me doing so other than ‘I didnt want to share you’. Had I not been a single adopter and had it been her birth mother who wanted contact maybe I would have felt differently, who knows. Anyhow for one reason or another we fell through the cracks last year and contact was not arranged. I tried unsuccessfully to contact social services leaving voicemails but no one returned my calls. I finally heard from them saying they would chase it up and get back to me but they haven’t and now another year has almost gone by.
I guess what I’d like to ask is whether anyone else has experienced this and also if any of you know whether it is my responsibility to be chasing up contact. I’m also worried that a gap of two years (spanning ages three to five) will make seeing him harder for my little one.
Any advice gratefully accepted.

Any Advice Gratefully Accepted

Having read theImage 1 recent blog about sibling contact I thought I’d write asking if anyone has had any problems with direct birth parent contact. I know that to most this may seem like a strange ‘problem’ to have but here goes…
When I adopted my daughter I agreed to annual direct contact with her birth father. I didn’t want her to hit teenage years with all the possible angst that that can entail and ask why I wouldn’t let her see him when there was no reason for me doing so other than ‘I didnt want to share you’. Had I not been a single adopter and had it been her birth mother who wanted contact maybe I would have felt differently, who knows. Anyhow for one reason or another we fell through the cracks last year and contact was not arranged. I tried unsuccessfully to contact social services leaving voicemails but no one returned my calls. I finally heard from them saying they would chase it up and get back to me but they haven’t and now another year has almost gone by.
I guess what I’d like to ask is whether anyone else has experienced this and also if any of you know whether it is my responsibility to be chasing up contact. I’m also worried that a gap of two years (spanning ages three to five) will make seeing him harder for my little one.
Any advice gratefully accepted.

Photo taken by Lili Gooch

Flummoxed, Perplexed and Bewildered

peppaI am perplexed…

Forgive my bluntness, and I’m sorry this blog won’t be more entertaining but I’m desperate for information so I’ve come here to get it off my chest and let it all hang out…
We brought our beautiful three year old daughter home 2 years ago as a 13 month old baby and were informed she was the youngest of five (to our knowledge) siblings and half siblings dotted around the country. All have the same biological mother but apparently (again – to our knowledge) one of them may well also have the same biological father making this a full sibling. This information was tantalisingly and casually dropped into one our many conversations with birth mum’s social worker who hinted at it but couldn’t say more than it was extremely likely.
Our daughter is an only child in our house and talks longingly of wanting brothers and sisters at home with her. I don’t want her to grow up not knowing these siblings if there is a chance she could have a real relationship with them. I also don’t want her thinking that we just didn’t bother; we have and are bothering and yet we are getting nowhere.
Social services did manage to track down one sister (which had me jumping for joy) but her adoptive parents made it clear they would reluctantly accept only yearly letterbox contact despite living not that far away and that this is non- negotiable. My partner and I were flummoxed, then angry; we cannot understand their decision. If it were the other way around, we would definitely be willing to support actual contact on a regular basis. We cannot help but think they are thinking of themselves, not their daughter. We cannot help but think their decision will backfire.

Another family seemed to be completely off the radar yet I was able to find them on a social media site with literally no information other than a name. I duly forwarded this information to social services who then used it to contact the family but got no response. It’s killing me that a sibling is so close and yet the family refuse to respond to invitations for contact.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a rose tinted picture of the Waltons all sitting round a big table in harmony, I just want the best shot at some sort of a relationship for her with her brothers and sisters but it seems impossible.
As far as the other two siblings go, one is literally nowhere to be found – despite having been adopted and therefore known and documented somewhere; and the other one is in the care of a member of the birth father’s extended family. Ironically, at a our meeting with birth mum she attempted to pass us the contact details of this closest sibling but it was intercepted and deemed inappropriate by the powers that be and we are now no nearer to having any contact with this one either.
I’m ranting I know, and it’s probably difficult to even follow the threads of all the avenues we have had to follow to try and find her brothers and sisters. But how do other adoptive parents feel? Is our experience typical? Normal? Do we just have to accept that she will not know her siblings until she grows up and even then, only if they and she feel like it? Couldn’t the biological connection of siblings be a source of security and warmth in her young world, and couldn’t it also have the very real potential to grow and develop into much more in adulthood? Her siblings all seem tantalisingly close yet out of reach and I find it really hard to just accept that it has to be this way.

Scotch Eggs

WAF LOGO DEC 14We are sitting having dinner and both our sons are excited because a friend from school is with us, conversation jumps around and one of them makes reference to ‘Mummy’ at which point the friend says ‘you have two Dad’s because your mummy is dead’, ‘no she isn’t they reply in unison’ and then go on to give two slightly different explanations as to her whereabouts.

We are of course very open about their past and talk about birth Mummy and Daddy as being part of their lives, even though we have no photo’s of them and have had no letter box contact from either of them since the boys were placed with us two years ago. They mention very little about their time before Care and although we never push, we do try to make it clear that they can always be open and talk about anything. We feel that it is not actually a reluctance to do so, but mostly because both the boys were very young when they were taken away – just 2 and 3 years old – and have few clear memories. In fact they actually spent longer with their foster parents than with their birth parents and they both talk openly about their life there.

Also, they were with an older sibling in the foster placement and we do feel that some of the little that the boys have shared about life in their original family is probably ‘borrowed memory’ from their sister who was 6 when they were taken from their parents. She was of course far more aware of the reality of their situation than our boys could have been, especially our youngest and she no doubt has very vivid memories that she would have shared with the boys.

Our oldest seems quite ‘unemotional’ about his birth parents, but to be honest he is a very ‘matter of fact’ little boy and hugely pragmatic, so it’s not so surprising. His brother on the other hand is the complete opposite and is clearly hurt and confused about his past, as a consequence he has little time for his birth parents and clearly has a lot of resentment towards them. On being shown an old birthday card sent from them for his 3rd birthday – that we had stumbled upon in a box of ‘mementoes’ that had arrived with them – he declared ‘they are nasty people, I don’t like them’ and threw the card to the floor.

We have tried to reassure them that they are good people who were just unable to look after them, but we have been armed with such little information, and are aware that there may be things that need acknowledging and dealing with that we have no idea about.

So back to the dinner table.

Our youngest’s explanation as to where mummy is starts with ‘she is not here, she couldn’t look after us’ however his brother declares ‘she is in prison’!

‘No she is not’ I correct. To which they BOTH responded ‘yes she is’.

I thought for a moment and remembering them both sharing the experience of being taken away in a police car and going to the police station, I bring this up and say that maybe they thought she was taken to prison, but in fact she was not.

To which both said ‘no, she had to go to prison’ and the oldest continued ‘she tried to give me away and the police said that was very bad and that she had to go to prison’, his brother finished ‘yes, she didn’t want him, she wanted to give him to somebody else’.

Unsurprisingly, my partner and I were somewhat thrown by this and questioned them further. We are now pretty sure that there is certainly truth in what they were revealing and although we are not as yet sure that she was convicted and sentenced, we are now pretty convinced that Mum was at the very least arrested for ‘trying to give away one of her children’ – our oldest son.

We knew that the information we had been given was a bit vague and somewhat sketchy, but we hadn’t really considered that such huge and important information could be missing.

Over the two years we have been together there have been a number of small surprises and revelations from their past, but until now nothing any more revealing than the time we were walking around a supermarket and our oldest became quite animated and with a look of total glee declares ‘Wow these are my absolute favourite’ and proceeds to pick up a pack of Scotch Eggs – something his new vegetarian parents had clearly been depriving him off.

That was about a year ago and although we loved our wonderful sons with all our heart, had been together for a year and we had assumed that we knew them quite well it made us realise how we still had so much to learn about them. The revelation at the dinner table has displayed JUST how much that could be.