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.

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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.

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 Twelve Blogs of Christmas #11: Memories of Christmases Past

Image 2I can only recall one Christmas from my childhood. I was 6 years old and I was beaming with the holiday spirit. I don’t remember much else up to the age of 15. People tell me stories, but they might as well be telling me about someone else’s life. Because of this, I sometimes feel that I never had a childhood. All I know is that I cannot recall two thirds of my life. I have learned to be okay with this fact and once in a while, when I really dig deep, I find another distant memory that I can add to my odd collection. This is comforting, because then I know that it’s all in there somewhere and bit by bit I’m discovering my life.

I have not always been okay with my lack of memory; it used to create an unsettling lack of self. I didn’t know who I was, because I didn’t have the tools to deal with all the bad things in my childhood. And in my respected, academic family it was preferred to sweep it under the carpet and uphold the illusion of a well-functioning family. But Christmas was a glistening sham, where we could pretend that alcoholism and violence were strangers to us. Therefore I packed all the bad, but also the good, memories away. And I lost myself in the process. I spent my teenage years trying to piece a person together. Not on a blank slate, but on a weird, dark, wobbly slate that I couldn’t read or understand. It was like starting from scratch, but having to build a hopefully stable person on unstable ground.

At the age of 20, I finally went to my first therapist to deal with the dark wobbly thing that followed me around. It was like living above an abyss that I was afraid I would fall into. I had found some peace with my missing memory, but still struggle with the consequences. However, now I was confronted with questions to which I didn’t have any answers. I had no idea who I was or where I came from and it was terrifying to let someone onto this secret. But it was also very hard to explain. How could I know so little about my own life?

Now I have created a mess of a collage from stories and pictures and unearthed memories. I build myself and my life every day and I create new memories that I try my hardest to hold onto. Mostly I rely on feelings. I may not remember the details, but I remember the feelings from the other Christmases.

And for now that’s good enough.

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.

Reasons to be Cheerful: (Whose Tummy?)

photo-3Apart from the beautiful early blooming daffodils, I have another big reason to be cheerful this week – the confirmation that our son has just been accepted into the school of our choice. A school where I am pretty certain he is going to be happy, inspired, challenged, educated and stimulated, and which he is certainly ready for.

How do I know this? Let me rewind to an earlier visit to said school where my wife is complaining about the possibility of maybe having to join in with the activities and would prefer to be in an artisan coffee shop, and I am just praying he likes the look of it… We go into his new classroom and he immediately picks up a Gruffalo book and wants to take his shoes off.

I feel this is going well.

Later on he discovers the home corner and we don’t read anything into him putting the baby in the microwave repeatedly. He is happy – the classroom is divided into different play zones and our boy discovered that there is a shop, with all the pretend grocery paraphernalia you can throw a stick at. He is in make believe Narnia.

We sit at the little table all together making biscuits with play dough and are joined by 2 existing children who are 4 years old and who seem confident, happy, self assured and content in their endeavours. We start making chit chat and then one of the boys unexpectedly asks – “so which of your tummies did he come out of?” Both of us look at each other and mouth ‘Oh’ We are not sure if our son heard the question, so I redirect it to him, with which he was able to reply that he came out of his birth mum’s tummy and gave her name. We were joyous that the first direct question about where our son started his life seemed to be resolved quite happily and he took it all in his stride.

We spoke with the teacher and commented on what happened and we also congratulated the staff on their teaching prowess. The kids were creative, polite and continually able to find stimulus, comfort and a friendly smile. We were encouraged by our son’s behaviour and really hope he enjoys this new chapter when he starts later in the year.

Later on, we joked about it. Never in a million years were we expecting questions from the kids! But it makes sense and I guess that old addage about whatever you need to learn, you lean at kindergarten is true!