My daughter’s sister.


I had wished and wished for her and then suddenly there she was with her long blonde hair smiling back at me, looking familiar.
The envelope had come from the local authority so I assumed (wrongly) that it was the long overdue contact letter from birth mum but out tumbled all these pictures of a beautiful teenage girl who looked remarkably like my own daughter – but older.

I was taken aback… I don’t know why because we had known for a long time that there were siblings – lots of them in fact – all adopted by different families across the country and for the first year of placement we had relentlessly persued social services to try and track them all down and put us in contact.
We had naively believed that all we had to do was round these siblings up and we would have a real life Brady bunch at our daughter’s disposal. They would write to each other, confide in and and support each other; and she would have six family members to go to with her questions.

Of course it didn’t turn out that way.

Social services did search for us for a long time, but due to the transitory nature of birth mum’s living arrangements (she moved about with each pregnancy) it was a very difficult process and eventually the trail went cold with only a couple of siblings having been identified. Of these two, one of the set of parents made it abundantly clear that they wanted nothing to do with us and were clearly put out about being approached; and the other set – while sympathetic – told social services that their child was way too traumatised by her early life experiences to be able to deal with letterbox contact with a younger sibling. … and so the trail went cold and we accepted the situation.

Later on in our placement I started to see how naïve I had been.
I attended various courses on ‘explaining life story to an adopted child’ and in doing so encountered many parents who had this type of contact with siblings in place and it appeared to be complex at best.
I was very quickly enlightened as to the confusion that can arise from such contact. How I would probably have no control over how siblings might impart upsetting or unsettling information about their birth parents and heritage to my child. It was clearly a minefield, so I stopped feeling sad about her lack of contact and just got on with being her mum.

We have always talked about her siblings but as a tiny child it didn’t mean very much to her, and as she has got older she tells me she doesn’t understand because “brothers and sisters always live together” – and she doesn’t live with any other children.
To be honest we’ve talked about it less and less as there has been nothing really to say as we had no new information…..

Until now.

The letter I opened was from the parents of one of my daughter’s half siblings. They had reconsidered their original decision from six years ago and decided to get in touch. They sent us pictures and a letter describing what their daughter was like.
And here she was. So many images of her. So similar and yet nothing at all to do with me! It was a strange feeling and part of me felt scared because this was not the old me who had happily imagined the Brady bunch all those years ago; this was the new me. The adoption savvy me who is now acutely aware of how my daughter can be thrown by new information. Who knows just how much she had ached for siblings (especially a big sister), and I wasn’t sure now how the reality would be for her.
I knew the first and biggest question she would have would be “When can I meet her?” and in reality I don’t have a secure answer for her, but it probably wont be for quite a few years.

So my initial response was to try and protect her from disappointment and uncertainty so we haven’t told her yet. We will wait till we feel we know exactly how to proceed..
but in the meantime… a little bit of me now is now also starting to get excited…

My daughter’s half sister… The big sister she has always wanted – with beautiful tumbling blonde princess hair, wearing a sparkly red dress – my daughter’s favourite colour.

If we manage this right…It might just make her Christmas!

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In the eye of the beholder

​I have just come home from a wedding where one of the guests leaned across the table  and asked “Is that your daughter running around?” When I answered in the affirmative she triumphantly announced to the table “I knew it! She is the absolute image of you! It’s like someone has taken a blue print of you and put it into a little person.” Satisfied with her deduction she grinned at us all and had I been in other company I may have thanked her for the comment without response, but several guests knew of our adoption and it made me self conscious so I put her in the picture.

“Well actually she’s adopted.” I whispered, and then I had to repeat myself as the guest looked entirely bewildered.

“Pardon? … Really?… But she looks so much like you”.

I’m pretty sure I made her feel like she’d said something a bit stupid which was the last thing I wanted to make her feel. Especially as I enjoy people seeing a similarity.

But it got me thinking because so many people are clearly looking out for this stuff. It is by no means the only time it has happened to me, and I hear similar stories from other adoptive parents too.

Only last week I was helping out on my daughter’s school trip and was walking along holding hands with her and another little girl when one of the mums called out ‘How funny! Your daughter walks exactly like you. She’s completely inherited your physicality and way of walking’. This time there was no need to fill her in but it’s clear that spotting a likeness does seem to please people; and I suppose that is why the matching process is so important, although at the time I thought it was absolute nonsense. I couldn’t see why we were told it was unlikely we would be considered as prospective parents for a mixed race child because we are not mixed race ourselves. Or that we wouldn’t be considered for a child of any other ethnicity than our own for the same reasons.

I remember we felt certain we were ready to take on the challenges, and to love and parent a child of any background and culture. But had we been matched with someone who was clearly not biologically related to us would we all now be enduring the opposite responses from people?

Instead of people commenting on our likeness, would they now be constantly asking us why we didn’t look alike? And would that become hard to deal with? And what would that be like for our child? Maybe it would be ok – I get a sense that it would – but it’s not clear cut and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore..

Family Hug

It’s been three years.

Our anniversary was simply acknowledged with a family hug, the four of us embracing – as we have on so many occasions throughout those three years – in a circle with our arms wrapped around each other and squeezing as tight as we can until somebody complains that it’s too tight or that they can’t breath and then (and only then) we loosen our embrace.

It’s a bit of a family ritual that came about from those early days when we were thinking of anything that we could do that incorporated the word family, anything that would help us bond together and get the boys feeling that they belonged and that we were indeed a family.

It’s a simple – but actually quite intimate ritual and on this occasion it certainly belied the true magnitude of what we were celebrating.  We had been a family for three years which meant that both our boys had spent longer with us than with their birth parents or their foster parents .

Three years and we could finally reason with ourselves that they unquestionably saw us as their parents and their only parents, no more sharing with ghosts of the past, no more fearing that although they clearly loved us that they in fact loved other people who have parented them more.

We know that they were probably foolish fears, but we carried them with us regardless and it felt good to finally let them go.

It has been an amazing three years, not easy by any stretch of the imagination (but nobody said it was going to be) and in spite of the tough times what we remember most are three years full of hugs and kisses and of laughter and of love and of learning.

For the boys: learning about us, about who we are, about our rules, and about our expectations.

For us: learning about who they are, what their – very different – needs are and well… just learning how to be parents.

Part of that learning was just how much a hug can mean – especially a family hug.

A Less Pristine Experience

20130330_111946A Less pristine experience

I was struck by a weekend away with some friends recently when it slowly dawned on me that in their eyes, my status as a mother was way below their own as ‘biological’ parents.
The experience hurt and surprised me. I had expected that there would be lots to catch up on and share between us all about being new parents but it quickly became clear to me that in their eyes I was in a very separate camp to them.
There was an element of pity and fear for the future when the subject of my son came up and an absence of the sheer joy I had expressed out the birth of their daughter.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe it was not pity but uneasiness. They simply didn’t know how to talk about and enjoy my adoptive motherhood in the same way that they did their own.

Why I wonder does adoption do this to people?

The birth of a child into a family is generally marked with cards and unfettered celebration from family and friends, but as new adoptive parents we don’t seem to warrant this. Some of our friends and relatives don’t know how to behave around us and it makes me sad. Not just for us as parents but for our children too because surely they will pick up on it in some way.

Letter Box Contact

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Yearly letter box contact has been agreed and we diligently get the boys to write Christmas cards for birth Mummy and Daddy – regardless of indifference from our oldest and huge resistance from his younger brother – in addition we put pen to paper and write a letter updating them on the boys past year.

This has taken place three times so far, but sadly the boys have received nothing from either Mum or Dad – who are no longer together.

I understand that the situation must be tough for them both and I appreciate that it could be easier for them to try to erase the past and to get on with their lives. However, we hope that social services have explained the importance of this contact for the boys and for us as a family and that they are constantly encouraging both Mum and Dad to be doing the right thing and put their feelings to one side for the sake of the children. If that is happening then it’s clearly not getting any results, but actually I wonder if it is at all, after all this is the agency who have supplied very little information of ours sons past and have failed to get a photo of either birth parent regardless of many requests from us.

Of course all correspondence must go through social services and it is checked for anything inappropriate or upsetting to any party. Awareness of this ensures that we give extra consideration to what we say and how we express it, consequently we were most surprised to have our most recent letter returned to us.

We had written two things which social services had an issue with. Firstly we wrote that the boys were looking forward to meeting their new baby brother when contact was finalised for the baby to join the twice a year contact that was already set up for various siblings. Apparently the term ‘looking forward’ was deemed to be inappropriate, we have been told that as having the new baby removed from birth Mum would be a traumatic experience anything ‘positive’ in relationship to that would be hurtful and disrespectful.

Secondly, we have been told that our comment that out youngest was ‘still struggling to come to terms with the changes in his life’ and that we were dealing with difficult behaviour as a consequence was insensitive as it could be seen as judging them and commenting negatively on their failures at parenting.

Really?

I responded saying that we have absolutely no animosity toward birth Mum and Dad – in fact maybe surprisingly quite the reverse – and that we would never attack them in any way in what we wrote. I went on to say that being open and honest is an essential part of adoption and that I was confused that we were being asked to edit out truth and to sugar coat reality.

They stood by their original criticism and insisted that the letter was edited at it is not acceptable in its original format.

This has angered me as yet again as an adopter I feel that we are the ones expected to ‘make it work’ for everybody else. I have often felt that social workers expect too much from us and have been frustrated in the past at being judged unfairly and being expected to tow-the-line regardless’ of us clearly disagreeing.

Maybe I’m just being a bit over sensitive and a bit touchy, but you know even if that was the case I think we have a right to be occasionally and wouldn’t it be nice for social services to respect that and acknowledge that?

As an adopter I don’t expect any kind of gratitude – in fact it embarrasses me to even consider that – but I do expect respect. Not for adopting, but for being a parent of a traumatised child or children and everything that comes along with that. In addition most of us have relationships – put under pressure since the children moved in, work to prioritise, homes to run, finances to juggle, we have to deal with schools, child minders, play dates, friends, illnesses… the list is endless. Yet on top of that social services expect US to put the feeling of the birth parents over our own and to pussyfoot around reality – a reality that we have to deal with and live with every minute of every day.

There was a time when I was angry at the birth parents – for the neglect, for the resulting damage and for the lack of any responsibility, but I am long over that and now I am not even angry at the fact that they fail to write or send a card once a year, in fact in a perverse way I am just grateful for them giving the chance for us to be the family that we are – a family that feels like it was meant to be.

Yet I feel that social services are threatening that ‘harmony’, the resentment and anger at the birth parents that I felt Initially could indeed return and not because of anything that they have done (or not done), but because of – what I feel is – a huge injustice and imbalance from social services.

Surely that would be bad for ALL concerned.

P.S. it’s somewhat ironic and very frustrating that the letter to us pointing out our suppose lack of consideration towards the birth parents was sent a month AFTER Christmas, apparently our correspondence which was sent to social services two months early had sat forgotten about on a desk. If only social services could always show the same consideration and respect that they expect of us.

Dancing on a tightrope.

20150502_154014Five years old, the books tell me, is an age when my daughter is not going to be that interested in her life history and experience tells me that’s true. But it is also the age when children start noticing the world around me, hence the various conversations I have had in recent months around the theme of “my child was asking why your daughter doesn’t have a daddy. What should I tell them?”
I know I should have the answer to this ready and waiting but I just don’t seem to get the right words. Firstly, which daddy? Her birth daddy, who as far as I know’s only contribution was biological, or the non existent adopted daddy which I choose not to give her? But even if I can give them the language to explain adoption to their child, is it my place or theirs to do this. I want my daughter to start controlling her story, but 5yrs is such a tricky age. I have shared with her what I know, in terms that she broadly understands, but this doesn’t mean she is ready to answer all the random questions a 5yr old kid can come up with, or to filter what she wants to share and with whom. Plus, 5yrs is also the age of imagination and she is filling the gaps in her understanding with fantasies – one time her father is dead and another time he is looking after another family because “if he isn’t looking after me he must be looking after someone else”. I want to correct her fantasies but I don’t have an alternative story to offer that will make much sense to her, never mind her school friends.
As if that wasn’t enough, her imagination is being supplemented by fiction. I had never realised before how much children’s films deal with issues around abandonment, search for parents, orphanages and adoption in one form or another. I had already mentally reserved any exposure to ‘Oliver’ and ‘Annie’ until she was much older but it is impossible to avoid – from Hercules to Kung Fu Panda to Despicable Me to practically every superhero it is constantly catching me unawares. In some ways it can be helpful to show her ‘good adoption stories’ but so many of these stories aren’t. I don’t know how much my daughter draws comparisons to her own history or whether it goes over her head. So do I raise the parallels and open up things she isn’t ready for (those same books tell me she would start thinking about her ‘alternative family’ much later in her childhood) or say nothing and follow her lead?
As always, I feel that building my daughters understanding of her life history is like dancing on a tightrope, two steps forward, one step back, trying to keep it all in balance.

Sad Eyes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI previously wrote a blog about being at a party and meeting a number of people who knew our sons from their time in foster care. we had been confused that nobody recognised them and surprised by everybody saying just how much the boys had changed.

We could not see such a huge difference and even when told that it was more than them just looking older, and that it was a ‘fundamental’ change, that they looked healthier and happier – as much as we understood it and accepted it, we failed to see it to the extent that was clearly evident to others.

That is until now.

This week we stumbled upon a DVD that the boys brought with them when then first arrived that was filmed at a children’s play centre. It showed the pair of them sitting in a car seat ‘driving’ in front of a screen projecting moving cartoon images. We had watched it soon after they first arrived and it is sweet and charming and we thought it a lovely little peep at the younger – yet to be part of our world – them.

However, watching it again now is very different indeed, and what we see are two almost unrecognisable little boys. They are smiling and laughing and there is no doubt that they are enjoying themselves, but their smiles are not the smiles that we know, the smiles that we see every day, the smiles that light our lives and that we love so very much.

It takes me a while to understand. I study the faces in the DVD and I realise that the smiles are ‘limited. They are quite brief and  contained around their mouths and only around their mouths. It is suddenly very apparent that the rest of the face and particularly their eyes are not smiling or sharing in their happiness at all.

In fact it’s very clear to see a sadness in their eyes, a sadness that the laughter simply fails to erase. It is a look that wonderfully is no longer there, making the two little boys in the DVD quite different little boys to the ones we see before us today.

Terms such as ‘smiling, but with sad eyes’ are used a lot and I have always considered them a bit of a literary tool for lazier writers – especially in the music industry – and also a bit of a cliche. In fact if I gave it more thought and consideration I guess I found it to be a bit nonsensical, people smile because they are happy or amused or content and it lights up their face, when they are not truly happy the smile is very obviously insincere and not a true smile at all.

However what we are watching in our sons’ faces in the DVD is indeed happiness, they are having a lovely time and there are spontaneous bursts of laughter and genuinely happy smiles, but regardless of them both so clearly enjoying themselves and being happy with what the moment brings, their smiles are concealing a sadness.

It is heartbreaking to watch – both my partner and I are emotionally affected – but just how deeply we did not realise until the following day.

I was with a close friend and telling her about the DVD and how the change in the boys is SO evident and explaining about the sad eyes. She said ‘it must make you so happy and proud that you have erased that sadness’, at which point the always positive, glass-half-full me started to say ‘No. In fact I feel the exact opposite. It makes me hugely sad for how they suffered before we were there to protect them’… but the sentence was never completed as I felt myself choke up and immediately start to shed tears. Real tears. Proper heart felt tears.

I was embarrassed and also shocked. Shocked at the level of emotion I was feeling but most of all by the tears which had literally sprung from nowhere.

Tears had been a pretty regular event in the first few months of becoming a father – surprisingly more for me than for my partner, and dealing with the overwhelming emotions of it all had knocked me for six. I had got used to uncharacteristically shedding a tear or two in the early days but things had slowly calmed down; and although I often have a lump in my throat when talking about the first moment we laid eyes on ours sons, or about something they have said or done that has touched us, on the whole tears are nowadays thankfully under control.

Or apparently not.

It pains me hugely to think of my sons suffering and me not being there to prevent that and as much as I know it is illogical and I guess even foolish, the feelings are real and they are clearly beyond my control. As a parent whose place it is to always protect my sons, knowing it was an impossibility doesn’t stop it from feeling like a failing on my part.