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?

3 horsemen

The twisted briars cloud my vista
I only see the dark and tangled past
It’s upon me the 3 horsemen
It’s crowding me
Drowning me
Making me twist and feel like I’m failing
Flailing, shivering in my nest.
I stop. I stare. I implode. I scream.
The journey of my youngest feels
Like a weighted stone and doubles
The pain of my childhood.
I see my mother’s wrinkled face and don’t feel love.
I don’t feel compassion. I don’t feel joy.
I only feel sad. Sad like a bag of rocks weighing me down.
It slips into my childhood disease and makes my stomach churn.
My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I feel guilty, I feel shame at this.
I have to resolve this.
I need to move through it.
I can’t go under it.
I can’t get over it.
I need to go through it.
I try and see open doors but I only feel brick walls.
The prospect of drowning in this is a fingertip away but I need to find a path which allows me to see the wretched past and the matriarch and allows enough light in so that the flowers can bloom. So that I can become the mother to my 2, that they need me to be. So I can be brave. So I can let it go. I am not my mother. I have time to be a brave mum to my 2 as they need me to be brave, to fight for them. To be their advocate. They chose me to be in their lives and I will get on these horses and I will pound down the walls and find those open doors.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #8

20161223_131840If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year what would it be?

We are away for Christmas so we’ve brought some of the presents from home and the rest are at home waiting to be opened when we get back. Despite my best efforts for a low key event with few gifts and more family time we’ve still had the usual hoopla. It’s far too easy to get buried under piles of food, seasonal experiences and family days out. It’s the first Christmas we have officially been a family of 4. Last year we had a court date in December that we had hoped would finalise the adoption, but a tiny overlooked detail meant that the judge deferred the decision until January. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but he was still with us and as far as we were concerned he was one of us. It just wasn’t official yet.

So this year he is spending his first proper Christmas with us. The first time he was only a few days old and his second was with his lovely foster family. They do not celebrate Christmas, but at his birth family’s request they took him to see Father Christmas and put up a tree for him. Then he was with us last year and we kept things simple with a meal at home and visited grandparents and of course spoiled him with presents galore. Now he’s big enough to sit up at the table all by himself. He eats yorkshire puddings, he loves sausages and we hope he will enjoy pulling crackers, wearing a paper hat and telling awful jokes as much as we do.

Since he came to us it’s been testing and trying and with both boys we have been challenged at times to what we felt was beyond our capability. Only other adopters really understand the anguish I feel when I wonder if we’ve done the right thing for both our children. The one who was already in our family who thought he wanted a brother until he turned up and he was walking and shouting and taking his toys and not wanting to be a younger sibling. The one who had already had a big move when he was only a few months old and who for at least a year didn’t trust us to not leave him behind whenever we visited another house.

When anyone asks what he’d like for his birthday or Christmas I struggle to think of anything. He has so many toys and clothes, he loves books, he came with plenty of building blocks. He already has a scooter, a trike and plenty of sports kit to play with. I’ve bought the boys a table football game as they seem to love it and it’s something I hope they will do together – other than fight and annoy each other that is.

Of all the things that I’d like be able to put under the tree for Baby Boy this year it would be his life story book. We have been so patient and are still waiting for anything that might fill in the gaps for us. Seeing the family who cared for him between his birth family and us is the closest we get to this. We meet up with his foster carers in early December and as they don’t celebrate Christmas it’s not as emotionally charged as it could be. It’s a chance to catch up and for them to see how he’s doing and for us to ask them about the things we still don’t know about him.

As time has progressed I feel I can ask more about how he was when he came to them. More than I could have coped with when he first came to us. That early period when he couldn’t settle at night and he would cry and miss them terribly. I felt as though they didn’t trust us to care for him and they didn’t want to let him go. In fact I’ve realised that because of his early experiences of neglect they wanted to be sure he was in a caring and loving family who would be able to support and nurture him.

If it weren’t for their kindness and devotion to caring for our little boy he wouldn’t have joined our family. Maybe we have to accept that the only life story we will have for now is the one that they are able to share with us.

All the while we are making our own life story with him. One in which he is very important.

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.

8 and counting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe adopted two brothers who we knew to be part of a sibling group of 5 :

– The two of them.
– A baby sister who was born shortly after the boys had been taken into Care and who had already been adopted.
– An older half brother. Also taken into Care, but eventually placed with extended family (which means we can not have contact with him).
– The older sister who is 4 yrs older than our eldest.

Our boys and their older sister are very close. After being removed from their parents they spent almost 3 yrs together in the same foster placement so she had always been with them – until they were split to make adoption more viable and the boys came to us.

We were later to discover that in fact there was an additional, older half sister (paternal), as she lived with her mother she had nothing to do with social services or indeed us.

So our boys were in fact 2 of 6.

But not for long.

We later got news of a new baby brother from mum. The baby was immediately taken into Care and is now with new adopted parents.

So it was then 2 of 7.

However, that was just as short lived as apparently dad is about to become a father again too. It is assumed that the baby will stay with him and his new partner.

So it will be 2 of 8 – for now anyway. Both mum and dad have plenty of baby producing years ahead of them.

It doesn’t necessarily impact on us directly, however it does complicate things around Contact and it does require quite a lot of explaining to our sons.

Explanations as to how the siblings/half siblings fit into their lives, explanations as to why they all live where they live, explanations as to why half siblings on dad’s side get to stay with him when our boys couldn’t and most difficult of all explanations as to why mum keeps having babies if she is unable to look after them.

In addition, justification as to why there are half siblings that they do not see at all and are not part of their lives in any way – not even letter box contact.

We knew that we were not simply adopting two stand alone children, but we had not really considered that things could get quite so complicated or that we were taking on quite so much. We are very pro Contact and had agreed to twice yearly meet ups with the siblings and their adopted families as well as with their foster parents (who have such a big and important part of their lives). We are now tied to 7 different families, 4 of which meet for Contact, but who knows if and when any of the three siblings we do not have contact with will become more involved in the future.

We are thrilled to be maintaining relationships where we can, however a selfish side of us wants to scream ‘enough is enough’, there are some complications already and it feels as though they could continue to be added to our lives for quite some time.

We are fortunate so far that the families involved in Contact all get along very well. We may not have that much in common, but there is clearly respect and consideration for each other and thankfully it is all quite harmonious, however we are only too aware that may not be the case with any new people coming into our ‘extended family’.

 

They f*** you up

lili gooch 1It’s said that once you become a parent you will get to know someone who you have known all your life but never really known. Your own parents. Usually this is said with tenderness and often forgiveness.

Since I became a mum I have got to know mine better too. Only they don’t come out the better for it. It has stirred up a lot of deep seated resentment and anger.

You see … I was the compliant one. I did well in school and at after school activities. I never caused much trouble. I had self-obsessed parents, who lived knee deep in their own problems. They simply had little time for me. I definitely got more attention from them if I did well and was helpful.

Our home was a good middle class academic home. Liberal, tolerant and forward thinking. Members of the chitteraty. You can tell them by their unfailing and superior persuasion. My parents imparted a lot of knowledge. Mainly about astrology, politics, STD and contraception.

My parents got drunk at parties and it being the seventies had multiple partners. Before I turned 14, I had had 3 stepdads, 3 stepmums, not counting the lovers. I could tell these lovers by their unnerving, disproportional interest in me, and then they’d suddenly be out of our lives again. I also had 6 stepsiblings, some of whom I never saw again after our parents split up. This did not faze me too much. This was normal.

One day a week I would cook for the family. Thursdays. I started aged six and stopped when I moved out aged 18. There was a purse to go shopping for ingredients. If mum forgot to put it out I would cook from whatever I could find in cupboards and the fridge. I painted my first wall in our new house aged 8. From aged 10 I cleaned the house every week. I babysat for people in the neighbourhood and my younger siblings from aged 12. And so on… None of this ever seemed unusual to me. Until I became a mum. Now I think blimey, I was a kid. I also think it strange that my siblings and I spent so much time home alone.

My siblings never really learned to cook or clean. They spent their time getting angry and shouting at the grown ups a lot. They wanted to be seen. I reasoned with them, telling them our parents loved us but agreed they could be silly. That they – my siblings – should grow up, stop shouting and stop expecting things of my parents that they would never get. But they just kept on slamming doors and moved out as soon as they could. I now cringe at what I said to them.

As a good adoptive parent I read a lot about parenting and trauma. But I’ve been surprised at how much I seem to be reading about my own family rather than about my daughter. I understand that my parents had awful upbringings. I see their pain. That they did try to do their best. But at the moment this knowledge does nothing but anger me. For crying out loud they had four kids with ten fingers and ten toes. Who have all done reasonably well in life.

My parents were well educated and affluent. I flirt with the idea that they had a moral obligation to get themselves sorted. Instead they indulged in decades of extended adolescence. Once they became parents why did it not dawn on them to try?? My mum did. But in effect this meant that she spent my adolescence in therapy. Emotionally unavailable. She was licking her own wounds. I get that. But I’ll be damned if she didn’t inflict a few new ones.

I could tell my mother’s mood from the way she turned the key in the door when she got home. And usually it meant I would get out and stay out of her way. Turn off the music, gather my things and go to my room if I had been daring enough to spread out and enjoy the living room.

It seems more customary to get angry at your parents in your teens and twenties. Not in your forties. I admit these thoughts and feelings of mine are puerile. I’m having my teenage go at my parents in my late forties.

But that’s where I am.

Really really f***ed up at my parents.

I’ll be damned if I want to repeat those mistakes.

I’m working so hard at understanding my past. I am especially trying to turn certain knee jerk reactions around. Like the short sneer at my daughter or a quick scolding of her when I can’t contain her needs and demands. Those moments strike me with pure fear. Because I remember how it felt on the receiving end. So I work at our relationship. Moment by moment. Event by event. And I apologise to her when I mess up.

Being an older parent and having waited for so long to become a mum, I used to think it was a weakness, but now it seems it is a strength. I’ve done career, I’ve proven myself – of sorts – to others, I have a mortgage, a car, I can decide my own bedtime and what is in my fridge. By all accounts I’m a grown up. My parents were children when they had me. They only just finished school. I was a whoops. Born just before free abortion…

My daughter is the focus of my life.

I am very happily resigned to being second forever more. I want to be a mum till I leave this mortal coil. As a child, I often felt we were in the way of our parents’ happiness. Their sighs were a give away. I know they loved us, but did they like us? Do they?

I am determined to do it differently, better preferably.

Playing has been an excellent place to start. Enjoying each other.

Getting to know my daughter.