Letterbox contact is here again…


Oh no – the pressure of having to do letterbox contact is here again!

Every six months, I feel the stress and pressure rise the closer it gets to letter box exchange.
It’s like going to the dentist to get a filling when all I’ve rather be doing is …. well…anything else. Absolutely anything else!
That feeling as the reminder letter arrives that it’s exchange month again.
The call to tell us the birth mother is fretting because the adoptive family of a sibling sent their letter on the first day of the month so where is our’s? – We still have a week to go… it’s been busy…… it’s still on the bottom of the to do list.

The emotional roller coaster

I don’t want to share details about my children with the birth family!

I don’t want to be reminded that they had them first!

I also don’t want to think about and be reminded of what they experienced while in their birth parents care. I already parent the result daily.

I don’t want to feel like I can’t gush about how much I love my children and how amazing they are, due to fear of causing upset and distress.

I don’t want some unknown social workers to be reading personal details about our children and our family.

It feels like that one last link is still there; which means despite paperwork to say we are their parents, they are still not quite completely ours.

I want to stop writing!

I really,really want to stop writing. If it was up to my husband we would never have started. But; I worry that my children will blame me later on when they are older and understand more about their life story if I stop.

I worry that by not having fairly current information on how the birth family are doing; as my children get older they might go in search of their birth parents before they are really prepared for a meeting, just to get information that they could easily have by continuing letter box exchange.

I feel bad for the vulnerable woman who is their birth mother and the loss she has already endured.

I feel pressured by the social workers who have to support the birth mother regularly as she bombards them for any info on how the children are doing. When we asked if we could reduce exchange to yearly, this was met with oppositional pressure from all levels within the department.

I look at our two most amazing children and feel a debt to my children’s birth mother for the chance I have to share their lives and have them call me mummy!

So here we go again!

I’ve just sent our 6 monthly letters. It took me 6 weeks to write them because it was a start and stop thing.

I’ve shared lots of superficial detail so she will feel a part of their lives even though I know she will never really know them like we do.

I realise this is a small thing to do that means the world to her and that she pressures the adoption contact team daily during exchange month, to find out if our letters have arrived.

I know she has constructed a fantasy in which she gave us our children and she believes one day they will come in search of her and want to be with her again. In reality; they were removed and it may be that they choose never to meet with her. It’s a big unknown.

I know that she will write back. That despite the challenge it is to her, she always makes a big effort…… I also know I should be grateful for this and that my children will appreciate the letters and cards we receive from her when they are older.

I’m aware that many birth parents are not able to respond to letter box exchange. That my children are fortunate in having current information and we can save every single response we get from our children’s birth mother and their birth family.

I find myself having to convince my children that it is their best interests that I write to their birth mother as they have recently started to question why I’m doing it as they understand more about the reasons they were adopted.

So when will it end???

I have taken the step to write and let her know that while our children are happy to share how they are doing with her, I will continue to write and support them. But if that changes; and that should they at a later stage decide they don’t want letterbox exchange to continue or they want to limit the information, we will prioritise and respect their choices.

I know that this will be upsetting for her and she will not really understand but, I felt she needed to be prepared.

I didn’t expect the social worker to call me after reading it and suggest that if the children decided they don’t want to do letterbox exchange in future, couldn’t we just do it anyway? Do the children need to know? Clearly we were not in agreement with this idea!

So when it ends, I do not know. Looks like were staying on the emotional roller coaster for quite some time to come.

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Dear Grandparents.

Dear Grandparents.

Being the birth mum it seems that people simply put all the blame on your daughter, even the birth dad gets overlooked by most – regardless of the obvious fact that he failed our sons just as much as a parent.

Somehow it seems that it is always the mothers inadequacies that are ultimately brought into question and she who has the finger pointed at her for her failings, regardless of the fact that in this case mum and dad were still together up until the children were removed and indeed beyond.

As unjust as it is I do get it, dads can have a horrible habit of sitting back and leaving it all up to the mother or worse still just walking away from their children, their responsibility. It’s then when the – often very capable and to be admired – mothers have to stand up to the plate and keep returning those balls no matter how fast and relentlessly they keep coming.

But not all mothers can manage and can you not see that your daughter was possibly set up to fail from way back, maybe even from the very start.

And fail she did – horribly, yet does the responsibility for the children being taken into Care really fall on her shoulders alone?

I read her report, I know that she didn’t have the best start to life herself. It seems that you failed her – failed to teach her what a parental role fully is, failed to instil the virtues and the sense of responsibility required. Maybe even failed to teach her love.

You failed her and in turn did you not then fail our sons and their siblings too?

Where were you when she was clearly struggling? Where were you when your grand children were hungry, dirty or left alone?

Where were you when social services stepped in?

She was little more than a child when she first became a mother, even if you had experienced similar failings in your upbringing, you would have had maturity and one would hope wisdom – surely you knew better.

I know that you lived locally, I’m pretty sure that you must have been aware of how bad things were getting and how your grandchildren were suffering.

Am I now fully pointing the finger of blame at you?

No and I apologise if it feels like that is so. Your daughter was an adult, she was married and had 5 children – she was responsible for herself and her family.

And maybe you did try, maybe you did step in and got pushed away, but nothing I have seen or heard suggests that was so.

So this is not about blame – after all what can blame possibly achieve? It’s just about recognition.

Recognition that the picture is in fact a much bigger one than many people see and recognition for your daughter who is simply not the ‘demon’ mother many now make her out to be and that maybe it is convenient for even you to buy into.

It may all have been beyond her ability, beyond her comprehension, and I guess she has paid the ultimate price for that and I’m sure she suffers every day.

However, I do wonder if you do too?

The Worst Babysitter


My partner and I don’t go out together leaving our sons very often at all, in fact over the five years they have been with us I doubt that it has even been as often as ten times. We have been out individually with friends while the other stayed and looked after the boys on a number of occasions, but even so it’s a rarity that they don’t have both of us to kiss them good night and tuck them up in bed. It is an important part of the day and we know that both the boys get such a lot from the routine of showering, us drying them (still at 10 and 11 they seem to love the nurturing and intimacy that being cocooned up in a big warm, fluffy bath towel and wrapped in our arms brings) and settling down with a book before they go off to sleep.

Not going out is not any kind of sacrifice, we are older parents who are more than contented with what family life has brought and we never feel that we are missing out in any way – in fact quite the opposite, I think we relish the laziness of quiet nights in and the opportunity to recover from our busy days.

However, when we do leave the boys we of course need to have a reliable babysitter and until quite recently we were very fortunate to have a young neighbour who was more than willing to sit for us. The boys really like her and were comfortable being left with her and we loved the fact that we not only got a lovely and very responsible young lady, but in addition we were reassured that her mother (a very accomplished parent) was just 4 doors away.

Of course even with this level of confidence and knowing that the boys would be fine, the first couple of times we left them we had our phones out on a lap and in ‘vibrate mode’ for the whole evening, in fact I had to stop my partner from texting the sitter every few minutes asking if things were OK (it was probably every hour or so, but it felt so much more).

All was good until our wonderful neighbour had the audacity to selfishly go off to university. Fortunately the next time we were going out a good friend hearing of our predicament offered to sit the boys, they were excited as they have a great relationship with this friend already – so everybody was happy.

We left the usual instructions of the bedtime routine and said that as it was a weekend they could stay up a little later until 8.30 or ‘maybe even 9.00’ as a special treat. Four years into being a family we were far more relaxed than in the early days and barely gave thought to the situation at home and just got on with enjoying our night out, on our return we quietly entered the house and as we took off shoes and coats, fussed the dog and grabbed something to drink we were both a little confused that the sound coming from the TV was in fact – children’s TV. It was 11.30 at night and as neither of us had any idea that children’s TV was even on that late in the day we were somewhat thrown, I am of an age when children’s TV went off at 5.45 (Magic Roundabout) and it’s never on much later now for our boys.

Assuming our friend had been exhausted by the boys and had just fallen asleep the moment they went to bed without even changing channels, we quietly made our way into the Reception room.

Yes indeed our sitter was asleep – rather amusingly on his back clutching a half full glass of wine to his chest. Far more surprising though was that he was flanked by our sons, wide eyed and with beaming smiles as we entered the room they turned and said –

‘We love J being out babysitter he lets us stay up really late and look he brought us treats too’. As I surveyed the coffee table I was somewhat perturbed to see empty coke cans, crisp packets and empty chocolate and biscuit wrappers.

The excited conversation woke our friend and as he sat up (still clutching his wine glass), he smiled a rather cheeky smile and said ‘the boys have been fantastic, I figured they deserved a few treats’.

There was a time when we would have been really upset, we would have felt betrayed and let down by our friend, but we have relaxed as we have eased into our role as parents and consequently we immediately saw the amusement in the situation – and indeed the sheer joy in the boys faces.

Of course now the boys want J to babysit every time and we have been more than happy whenever he is available to arrange that and strangely enough even without any pressure from us, he now makes sure that they are tucked up at a sensible time and not full of sugar.

He hasn’t acknowledged it, but we think he realised just how much easier that is for him, which is indeed something we learnt very early on.

Finding Me a Family.

Not me; I have one. Rather some reflections on the series on Channel 4 that ran before Christmas and on a recent blog in the context of us receiving our first contact letter from one of our child’s siblings, because ultimately it might turn out to be “Finding My Family” for them, in the fullness of time.
Firstly, how utterly heartbreaking it all was. Even though there was little exposure of the circumstances under which the children came to be looked-after, why they were removed from their birth-parents, we who have adopted and therefore have had access to case files know how much more heart-break there is above and beyond children being in foster care and looking for a forever family.
When we read our child’s case file, since they were removed from their birth mother the moment they were born, most of the file was a harrowing account of birth mother’s life from early childhood and how, to all intents and purposes, she never really had a chance from the get-go. That was hard to read; it truly personalised the context in which our child came to be with us and made me angry in many ways that the vulnerable child that was our child’s birth mother wasn’t protected and supported – we felt that if that had happened, she would not have gone on to have had five children removed from her care. And that the utterly gorgeous person who is our child would not have the heartbreak in her life that will now inevitably come when she is older and able to fully understand why she was removed from her birth-mother’s care. How much better for her never to have known us and therefore never to have that in her future? That’s an actual question, not a statement.
Secondly, the siblings bit. There was a little family of four siblings in the programme, looking for a forever family. The programme told us that if no adoptive family were forthcoming in the immediate future, the four would be split into two or even adopted separately. How utterly heart-breaking was that thought? Of course what we did not see or have explained in the programme is that sometimes the eldest of the siblings do not experience a childhood at all in those situations being instead the surrogate parents, even at that young age, and the ramifications that might have for their development. But it seems counter-intuitive to split up siblings.
In our child’s case, the siblings (some full, some half – that’s a genetic and somewhat cold view of the world in my view, but that’s another story) were all born before and removed from their birth-mother’s care. Our child is the youngest of the group (as far as we know at the time of writing) and therefore never knew them, even intuitively or unconsciously. For five years we battled to find out where they were, to get contact in place – and it was a battle, believe me, one that we almost relished fighting on behalf of our child – and for five years we heard nothing from any of their families, despite sending letter and photos and saying how much we were longing to hear from them on behalf of our child. We were upset and disappointed and sometimes furious, to be honest.
And then wholly unexpectedly, a letter and some photographs landed on our mat this week. Be careful what you wish, or battle, for. Because unexpectedly for me at least, it triggered highly conflicting emotions. I thought I would feel joy that finally it had happened, that we had been answered after all that time, happy that our stories, photos and pleas had not just disappeared unresolved into the ether.
But would it have been easier to explain years later how hard we tried, unsuccessfully, we tried sweetheart we really did – look at all the letters we wrote for you; now let’s just carry on being us three, shall we? Now that’s not even a rose-tinted, unrealistic and frankly stupid option. Now there’s a sister out there, who looks a bit like you, see, an older sister that you’ve often said you wanted. I’m full of fear for our child and for our cosy family. But also full of hope. But also full of anxiety. And joy. And panic. And happiness. And trepidation. And optimism. And dread.
But I look at what might happen to those 4 children from the programme and how indescribably painful the separation would be. And how they might grow up with a longing the source of which especially the smallest ones may not even understand or be able to articulate. And with a guilt for the eldest that she couldn’t keep her brothers and sisters together, even though it was never in her power. And I think we’re lucky in many ways; we only have to try to explain and manage the getting to know you process and hopefully an introduction to perhaps a life-long bond. It may not go the way we would like, we may bodge the explanation, they may not bond at all, they may never want to meet. All sorts of things could go wrong and we will feel responsible if they do, no doubt. But also we could be responsible for facilitating a wonderful new relationship for our child, one that will outlast us. Here’s hoping.
And here’s hoping those 4 lovely children find each other together for the rest of their lives.

10 Missed Calls

Like many today I am somewhat attached to my smart phone and I have it within reach pretty much constantly. However I was recently away on holiday and just decided that I wanted a day without it so left it behind on a trip to the beach. I didn’t miss it at all and in fact I barely gave it a thought throughout the day.

Arriving back at the accommodation it wasn’t sitting out anywhere obvious and I was still happy to be without it, some time later we were leaving to meet friends for dinner so I searched out my phone. I discovered that my brother had called, in fact I could see that he had called 10 times throughout the day as my phone was displaying 10 missed calls. There was also an SMS – ‘Call me bro’. That all seemed a bit keen – in fact it seemed a bit desperate.

Our 79 year old father had recently spent 3 1/2 months in hospital, finally recovered and well he had been moved into a care home just three weeks earlier – so of course I assumed this was about him:

– Had he had another fall and broken another bone or two?
– Had he caught yet another nasty, dangerous infection?
– Had he organised a alcohol fuelled party against the home rules?
– Had he insulted a resident or carer in the home and was getting his marching orders?
– Had he done a runner in his wheelchair?

These and other thoughts ran through my mind as I made the call to my brother. He answered and after asking how the holiday was going, he said ‘Sorry bro, there is no easy way to say this – Dad has died’.

It was a total shock, I had left my father less than a week earlier and although very unhappy to be in the home, he was physically well.

We had already set off for the restaurant and I was walking a little ahead of my family and friends, how to handle this information – most significantly for our two adopted sons – suddenly became the most relevant issue at hand and from necessity it had to take priority over my own emotions. Our sons have suffered so much loss in their short lives and it has clearly impacted our youngest quite severely and I had no idea how this further loss would affect him or his brother and of course being on holiday added an additional dimension and difficulty to breaking such shocking news.

Telling children of the loss of anybody close to them is difficult, however with the extra level of loss an adopted child has experienced it possibly makes it even more of a concern. Our sons knew that their grandfather had been very poorly in hospital, but they also knew that he had recovered and was well and they had visited him a few times over the past few weeks.

As I finished the conversation with my brother I was already aware that I needed to contain myself and to not give any indication of how I was feeling as I knew immediately that I would need to prepare the boys for the news over a period of time. Also, as we were leaving the next day we would soon be home, which I figured would be a much more secure environment for then to deal with the information.

So I said nothing, which of course made for a rather difficult meal and end to the day for me. However, I actually started to realise that I was also allowing myself to process the loss and deal with the shock privately, which I appreciated. I shared the news with my partner and friends after the boys were tucked up in bed and then the following morning I simply said to the boys that I had spoken with their uncle who had said that Granddad had become quite ill again and that we were quite worried, then again the following day when we were back home I brought it up and said that Granddad had sadly got even worse and as he was an old man we were very concerned that he was so weak. On the third day I said that there was no improvement and that things looked very bad – then that evening we told them that Granddad had sadly died.

They were clearly a little upset, but both of them appeared to take the news well. They had immediately started to ask if he was going to die when I first said that he was unwell again and I had answered that it was possible and having a couple of days to process the possibility I think at least helped remove the shock. We have spoken about Granddad almost everyday since and both boys wanted to come to the funeral, where they were very well behaved and respectful of the occasion, which we feel was evidence of them dealing with their emotions.

I am sure they will be processing the loss for sometime now, but it does however seem that they are coping with it. We of course will not take that for granted and will keep an eye on them and hopefully will be able to recognise any difficulties if they arise.

Meanwhile we will continue to talk about Granddad as still being very much part of our lives and we will share the many happy memories we have, hopefully the loss is then wrapped in warmth and love and positivity. I have learnt for myself that the best way for me to cope with loss is to always think of something happy, wonderful and positive about the loved ones who are no longer with us in a way that warms my heart and with each of those thoughts comes a smile – a genuine smile from deep down – and it’s very hard to be sad when you are smiling. This I am trying to pass on to my sons, for the loss they are suffering now and indeed for the loss they have suffered in the past.

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!

Yearning for secure attachment

I assume that most adopters feel that the most crucial aspect of our relationship with our child/children initially is getting them to attach. I think it’s fair to say that we feel that attachment proves that we are doing a good job, that we are creating real security and that we are ‘getting it right’, in fact that we are unquestionably becoming a ‘complete’ family – and the sooner that it is achieved the better.

It’s only natural that we all yearn for that child/parent bond to be significant as quickly as possible, the bond that we are enviously aware is no doubt automatically there with birth children, yet is one that we have to work hard to achieve as adopters – after all we are competing with the ghosts of birth parents, foster parents and other parental figures that have been in their life prior to us, maybe even a teacher or a grandparent, aunt/uncle or older sibling.

Our children arrive as strangers and although they reassuringly turn to us right from the start we know that it is as their care givers and that it is led by circumstance and need – not emotion. We take what is on offer and as time goes by maybe even start to kid ourselves that it is real even though we know that it is too soon and more than we should be expecting, regardless we know that we have to keep trying, keep doing the best that we can to win our way into their hearts.

And gradually we see change, we see a increasing level of closeness, an intimacy that is new and of course so very rewarding. We feel that all our hard work is paying off and we allow ourselves to assume that all those fears of damaged attachment that the social workers planted in our minds throughout the preparation course and beyond are indeed unfounded – even for those of us who may have children who have been diagnosed with attachment disorder. We feel fortunate to have escaped the issues we were told could so clearly be a part of our life – forever.

Or maybe not! Maybe our child/children are not as settled as we hope for and maybe we are dealing with difficulties, with challenging behaviour, behaviour that we are truly struggling with, maybe there are clear signs that the attachment is questionable, signs that I think many of us chose to disregard or play down in attempts to convince ourselves that they have indeed attached, or at least started to attach.

My partner and I certainly did, we saw clear signs that our sons had attached from quite early on in the placement, or more to the point – we felt it. We felt the love, the bond, we felt the attachment and it seemed so real – and in the case of our oldest son amazingly it seems that it was.

However for our younger son, it is now evident that we really have been fooling ourselves. We certainly knew he had issues, which we always put down to the trauma he suffered. We knew that he was diagnosed with attachment disorder and that he displayed behaviour reflecting this, yet we still believed that there was true attachment. We feel his love, we see his joy when he interacts with us, we see his need for us and the unquestionable security that we bring.

Yet now we know that it is just not enough and that we still have a way to go regardless of the more than 5 years we have been together and we also know – and now accept – that there may never be full secure attachment.

Because of behaviour problems (mostly at school) he recently underwent a phycological assessment in view to undertake ‘theraplay’ and we have been truly shocked by one set of results in particular.

The therapist had asked our son to draw a circle and then a larger circle around this and the same again and again. She then asked him to think of all the relationships he has had and currently has in his life and starting in the centre circle write the names of the people that are most important to him and then work his way out as the relationships feel less important.

Our son wrote just 5 names, 4 in the centre and one in the second circle. These names include the one constant in his life – his brother – as well as his one and only friend and the family dog. Shockingly these 5 names did not include either myself or my partner.

They also did not include birth parents, long term foster parents (of almost 3 years), other siblings (who we are still in contact with regularly), a new aunt who he was especially close to until her death 3 years ago or any other of his new extended family – other than Granddad (my father), who we have not witnessed a particularly close bond to and who sadly has just died – adding to our son’s loss.

The therapist gave us time to digest the information and then said that she realised that it must be difficult to hear, but in fact was not too surprising. She pointed out that he had left off all the people he has got close to who have in some way deserted him – undermining his attachment. She said that our absence was evidence that he was still not able to fully attach to us because of the fear (probably subconscious fear) that we too would ultimately let him down and leave him – as all these people in his life before us have and as indeed Granddad has now done too.

We know the loss he has suffered has severely affected him, but I guess we hoped that we had broken through that and that the close, loving relationship that we have is proof of secure attachment and that we really had reassured him that we are not just here for him now, but that we always will be.

We just hope more than anything in the world that we will eventually get there. The positive is that we are optimistic and even if full secure attachment never happens, we feel confident that he will always know how much we love him and that we will always be here for him, no matter what.