‘Happy’ Homecoming Day (is it really a happy day?)

This weekend is the little one’s homecoming day. The day we mark when she came home to us for good. It’ll be her 3rd homecoming day, which means it’s 3years since she joined our family.

As I am adopted myself, I have grown up celebrating my own homecoming day. I still mark it now 32years later. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I’ve never known a time when we haven’t had it. The reason behind it is to celebrate the day that we were taken home by mum & dad. To celebrate the start of a new life with our family. For me it was alway a joyous occasion, and it truly was a celebration. A day to celebrate being adopted. Looking back now, I still celebrate it because for me it is a day to be thankful I was adopted. I know for sure adoption was the right thing for me. I would not have had the life I’ve had, and would not be where I am now if I had not been adopted. Adoption is part of me, and forever will be. It’s also a good excuse for a cake, because who doesn’t want cake?…

The last two years we’ve celebrated our daughter’s homecoming day. We’ve done this because its been really special to carry on a family tradition with our own family and our little girl. It’s helped to be able to explain to her about adoption. We’ve been able to start to explore her story with her. We love celebrating her and who she is. We love making her feel special, to feel loved, to feel wanted. Of course she is all of these things any and every day, and we don’t need a special day to communicate this to her. It has felt right to mark the occasion when she moved to live with us, because whatever the feelings or emotions around this day are, it will always be a significant day in her life.

However, I’ve been thinking about if this truly is a ‘happy’ day in her life. From listening to many voices in adoption, I know that for some people, adoption is far from a happy thing. Some may love their adoptive family with everything they have, and yet they still have mixed feelings about adoption. The day they came home may not have happy, positive connotations. The day they came home was the day that their previous life ceased. The day they came home was the day their identity was changed forever. The day they came home was the last day they saw their biological family. When you look at it this way, it’s obvious it’s not a happy day at all. For some children the day they came home is the last time they ever saw their Foster Carers, the people who they came to love and trust. Although some children will be excited about a new home and family, I’m sure they’re also very scared and feel very alone. Coming home is very much a day of mixed emotions.

I was talking to my daughter about her homecoming day, and what this means to her. I asked her what it makes her feel like, and she told me ‘happy’ We also talked about how its ok to feel sad too because its also a day when we remember she left her much loved foster carers behind. We talked about why she needed to be adopted, and why those other people were no longer able to look after her. As a family we try really hard to talk about her Birth Family and Foster Carers. We have some level of contact with both, which I think for her really helps. They are not cut off/out of her life. When we talk about ‘family’ they are all included, because these people are important to her, as is she to them. We have photos of all those people she loves, and who love her. We are honest with her about her story, and validate/empathise with feelings she has. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, because I think she may just repeat what I say, or say what she thinks I want to hear. I hope she grows up knowing that she can talk to us about how she’s feeling. I know that she’s going to feel torn, and worried about upsetting us. I know that she’s probably going to feel confused about who she ‘belongs’ too, but I hope that if we talk to her about these things, she’ll understand that it’s really ok to feel them.

So, this weekend we will celebrate her homecoming day. We will celebrate her, we will celebrate us. We will celebrate how far we’ve come as a family in the last 3years. We will celebrate our achievements. We will remember how much we’ve all changed in that time. It is also our wedding anniversary the same day. So, we can share the celebrations of our family, as a family together. But, from now, I think we’ll also use this day to reflect, and to remember that it brings with it mixed feelings and emotions. We will talk to her about where she comes from, and about her before she come to us. I am fully prepared to stop celebrating her homecoming day in the future if she doesn’t want to. I will keep an eye out, and if celebrating is not the right thing to do, then we won’t. We may no longer openly celebrate that day, but in my heart I always will. In my mind, it’s the day I became her Mummy, and to me, that is always a day worth celebrating. And, this weekend, we will eat cake, because that’s what a celebration needs….

Is there anything right about adoption today?

I’ve been thinking for a while about the current adoption climate. I’ve been listening to lots of different voices and perspectives. I’ve been reflecting on my experience and views, and on those that my daughter might have now and when she’s older. As with every other complex ‘subject’, there’s a whole spectrum of thoughts and opinions. I don’t think there is a definite answer to this question, as there are so many variables that affect each and every case. What might be right for one person, could be absolutely wrong for someone else. Anyway, in this post I’m going to try to look at some of the themes that are currently being debated, in an attempt to explore the question.

From listening to adoptee voices, the overwhelming message that I have taken from them is that adoption in itself is trauma. Regardless of the reasons why someone might ‘need’ to be adopted, the actual physical action of adoption will cause trauma to the individual. I think it’s well recognised that moving in with total strangers, being separated from your familiar care givers is traumatic for children. As adults we understand why it happening, but for children, they most likely don’t, however well they are prepared. As adults we can see the purpose of adoption and the long term benefits it can have. Children can’t. They often don’t understand time. They only have limited experience to draw on. That experience is often negative. They learn to expect negative. They don’t know it’s going to be their ‘forever home’, they expect their caregiver to disappear, just like the last one did. How do they learn to trust again?…

The argument for adoption, for putting children through this level of upheaval is that we know that children do settle, that they do learn to trust again. We know that they will go on to have positive experiences, and that’s why adoption can be the right option for some. With time, effort, support this part of the trauma of adoption can be healed. Probably not fully, but it can be reduced. If the transition is managed well, and everyone is supported, then they can be successful. These processes should always be child centred, and care should be taken to ensure they go at the child’s pace.

The trauma of adoption runs deeper than just moving house and caregiver. As adoptees have taught me, it’s the total cut off from birth family that causes much damage. Adoptees are expected to change their names, have a new birth certificate, be permanently separated from their birth families. Their identity is totally changed, and they don’t feel whole or complete. They’re expected to be grateful to their adopters for ‘rescuing’ them, when sometimes they didn’t want to be recused at all. Many adoptees don’t know anyone who is genetically related to them. This is a big deal to some people. They feel like they don’t fit in their new families. They might not look like their adoptive family, which marks them as ‘different’ even more. They can’t give information about ‘family history’ in medicals, they don’t know who/where they get their characteristics from. They have no baby photos to look back on, no photos of birth family members to treasure.

The argument seems to be that when we understand the level and depth of trauma that some of these issues bring up, then how can we knowingly put children through it again and again? I’ve had it said to me (as an adoptee adopter), that I’m ‘repeating the cycle of trauma’. I get this, I see where they’re coming from. But…for some children, their best option is still adoption. Adoption with every effort made to maintain some of those links, to maintain that identity. This could be through some level of direct contact where appropriate. It doesn’t have to be a birth parent, it could be another relative. It could be through a foster carer who the child lived with before adoption. All these connections will allow the child to build up an understanding of where they come from. The child can ask these people important questions, they may have access to relevant information that helps them make sense of who they are. As an adoptee told me this week, it allows gaps to be filled, and prevents the mind imagining. Or fears/fantasies being made about their birth family.

As a family, we have direct contact with birth family member and foster carers. It’s hugely beneficial for everyone involved, and I think it is helping our daughter make sense of her story. It’s helping her learn about her two families, and how/why she came to be with us. As she gets older. she’ll be able to explore more and ask more questions. It might not be easy, but we’ll always try to do what’s best for her. The other day I was talking to her about adoption, and she was asking questions, and I could see the confusion on her face. It felt so wrong that someone so little would have such big thoughts to have to work through. I hope gave her an appropriate answer that helped her to understand a little bit more and reassured her. It made me angry that if she hadn’t been adopted, she wouldn’t be asking questions like this. Without going into details about her story, I know that adoption was best for her given the options available. We are very open with her as appropriate, and she has a good understanding of her story. She does ask questions, and I hope she always feels able to, however difficult the answers might be (for us and her). Contact with birth relatives doesn’t answer all those questions, but it does keep that link open. I think that in adoption these days, direct contact is being considered more. As the research shows the benefits it has, more people see that it must happen (where appropriate). Prospective adopters need to be told about it early on in the process, and professionals need to consider it more. More needs to be communicated to make people understand that adoption isn’t a fairy tale story in which everyone lived happily ever after. Adopters need to understand that adoptive parenting is hard. They also need to know it can be wonderful too.

Another argument against adoption is why don’t people become long term carers/guardians rather than adopters? That way, the child maintains their identity, and are not legally disconnected from their birth family. I see the benefits of this approach, but I’m not sure there would be many people willing to be essentially carers until the child is 18, rather than a parent. I know that no one has a right to ‘have’ a child, and to be a parent. But, being a parent is what many people do want to do. Historically there was a need to reproduce to achieve survival of the fittest, and continue the gene line. Now days it’s not about that, but I still think the desire to have and care for children stands. For some people, genetics doesn’t matter, and their chid doesn’t have to be related to them, for them to have deep sense of needing to care for and protect that child. To me a parent is very different to being a carer. This doesn’t take away from the fact that carers do an amazing job of looking after children, usually as they would their own. However, for some children having a parent rather than a carer allows them to feel secure, to know that no one can take them away. It provides stability and familiarity that enables them to start to heal, to strengthen attachments. A child needs these things first before they can start to learn and take on the wider world. For some children, they will never manage or thrive in a family, and in these cases long term, care is appropriate. Voices are being raised in the adoption world, and maybe practice will change to give more options for adoptees to maintain their original identity.

What also needs to be done is that more support needs to be given to families, so that they don’t even get to the point of needing children taken into care. More support needs to be given to help children return to families from care. But, we can not ignore the fact that for some families, they are given chances and more chances, and a massive amount of support. And yet they are not able to keep children safe. Many times this can be due to generational deprivation, and sometimes the safest thing to do is to break this cycle altogether. More needs to be done to work with families where children have been adopted out, to prevent further children being taken into care. To help parents learn to parent safely.

In conclusion, to answer the question, there is a lot ‘wrong’ with adoption right now. But, these issues are complex, and will take time, effort, money to solve. There does seem to be more awareness around some of the problems, and more voices being raised in unison to petition for things to change. But, on the flip side, when done well, with support, there is lot right with adoption now too. It’s not perfect, and it never will be. However, adoption does give the most vulnerable and hurting children the chance to grow up safe, and to achieve their potential in life. It can provide healing, and it can transform a child and their life before them.

I am adopted, so why did I adopt?

There has be A LOT of chat on twitter recently about adoption. About people’s motivations to adopt, about reasons children are adopted, about parenting adopted children. There has been many voices, opinions and view points put across. Sometimes it’s got pretty heated, sometimes it’s got pretty nasty. I have watched and listened, absorbed and learnt from what’s been going on. I tend not to actively engage, but have at times attempted to stand up for myself and others where I have felt strongly. I am usually shot straight back down. I really believe that most of what is said truly comes from those individual’s hearts. They feel passionately and strongly about what they believe in. As I’ve said before, conversation and dialogue is good. I can see that through effective communication, things are changing, and people’s eyes are being opened.

I will happily listen to other people’s views and opinions, and honestly, I’ve found most of them helpful;. Listening to adoptee and birth family voices has really made me think about adoption from their point of view. It may have changed, but even 3-4years ago when we were approved, I don’t think prospective adopters were really encouraged to seek those voices. I think listening and learning can only prepare adoptive parents, and this can only be a good thing for their children. However, as someone who is and has adopted, I will NOT tolerate being called an an abuser and a child trafficker. (By other adult adoptees). I will NOT tolerate the assumption that all adoptees have been abused, and that they go on to adopt ‘like an abuser going on to abuse’ (by this I think they mean someone has be traumatised by adoption, so go on to cause trauma to someone else by also adopting) Just to be clear, I wasn’t personally called these things, but the person/people who tweeted these was I think addressing adoptee-adopters in general. And this is the reason why I wanted to write this post. To stand up for myself, and other adopters who have grown up and adopted children themselves.

I think the thought behind these comments comes from the assumption that all adoptees have unresolved childhood trauma, and that some decide to adopt in the hope that it will fix their own hurt and pain. All adopters have different reasons and motivations to adopt, but I can categorically say that this was not mine at all. I wanted to adopt because I know and have experienced how positive it can be. I do not see my parents as my adoptive parents, I see them simply as my parents. In the same way, I do not refer to my daughter as my adopted daughter. She is my daughter, no doubt about it. For me, adoption is part of my identity, but does not define me. I am not ashamed to be adopted. I don’t hide it, but at the same time it’s not something I need or want to tell everyone I meet.

I did not want to adopt because I wanted to rescue a poor suffering child, or because I thought I could give them a better life than what they had. I hear some say that adoption is better for the child because of the life and experiences they’ll have. And others say that even with the best life in the world, no one wants to be separated from their birth family. To have all ties with their biological family severed. I have to agree with the later, and agree that regardless of what happened before a child is adopted, adoption in itself is trauma. To be honest, I don’t think I really understood or appreciated this as much before I adopted my little girl. I want to encourage those that spoke out about adoption trauma, that we do listen, and we do take on board and learn from what they say. They have helped me to think about what I can say to my daughter, and how I can help her to talk about and come to terms with her ‘trauma’ We already have direct contact (we like to call it ‘seeing (*birth family name))’, so she does have that physical link at present. Now she’s a little older she does actively participate in ‘letter box’ We have been doing formal life story work, and we talk about her birth family quite a lot. The other day she asked me if (*birth mum name) will never be her mum again. I reassured her that (*birth mum name) will always be her birth mum, and I was/will never, ever going to take that away from her. She seemed comforted by this.

As an aside, I also did not adopt because I was an ‘infertile’, or because I wanted a ‘womb wet baby’ (yes, actual terms I’ve seen people use). I do not believe that new born babies are a ‘blank slate’ who have experienced no trauma. As I said before, I adopted because I am living proof that adopted people can and do turn out ok. Because I know firsthand that adopted people can and do live happy, fulfilled lives. I know that love is not enough. However, I do know that being and feeling loved a valuable and powerful. I know that my little girl knows she is loved by us, and by her birth family. Of course I know that adopted people have differing experiences, views and experiences, not all as positive as mine. I feel saddened and angry that some adopted people were treated badly, and yes abused by their adopted families. I do believe it happens, and absolutely do not condone it. I agree these adoptees have every reason to be angry at adoption and everyone associated with it. I do agree that the adoption system at present is not perfect, and that there are things that need to change. I do believe that there are people/professionals who are trying their best in increasingly difficult and stretched services.

So, to conclude, I want to say that I am thankful I was adopted, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wasn’t. I am keen to work with others to try to improve adoption in its present form, and to help to educate people on the complexities of adoption. I get that adoption rarely has the ‘fairytale ending’ some want to believe it does. I do accept that others have different experiences to my own, and that’s ok. However, it’s not ok to accuse others of things which they quite simply are not.

Praise Be! (to school)

If you’re a parent of a school aged child, then naturally, school will be a massive part of your family’s life. Last year, we became one of those families when our little girl started full time school.

I’ve come to learn that as an adoptive parent, choosing the right school for your child will affect every day, and usually every hour of each day. So, getting it right is essential. Getting is wrong could spell disaster. We chose our school really for proximity to where we live, and where we work. To be honest we didn’t really know what to look for in a ‘good school’, but have friends who’s children go there and had good things to say. When we looked around we got a really good impression, and there was no reason that we could see that would mean we wouldn’t want to send our daughter there. It wasn’t rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, but for us this didn’t matter, we know that league tables arnt everything, and what was more important to us was that it would meet our daughter’s needs as much as possible.

I hear a lot about how schools have not delivered, or not supported adopted children. All children deserve to have a positive school experience, and all children should feel safe in school. Sadly, some children do not have a good school experience, and that’s not acceptable whatever. However, I do also feel for the teachers who work in schools. Theirs is an incredibly hard job, and most of the time they are trying their absolute best to support each and every child. I think we as parents sometimes forget that teacher have many children to support each day, not just our own. Their day does not end when the children go home. They have their own lives to live too, and as we know, everyone’s live have their own challenges to navigate too. Sometimes I think we’re too quick to criticise and complain about teachers, and sometimes we need to try harder to find something nice and encouraging to say too. I do have to admit though, we have been very lucky and have had an excellent experience so far, so I guess if we’d not, maybe I wouldn’t be able to say the above so easily.

This post was really just to show some gratitude and thanks to our daughter’s school and teachers. I really wish I could name it, as it really has been great. But for now, you’ll just have to believe me…

There is a number of reasons why school has been a great experience for us this year. Firstly, it seems a very gentle and nurturing school. They have a lot of pastoral support available, and really celebrate and champion the children. Obviously they do care about results and targets, but from what I can gather, they equally care about the children’s well-being and social/emotional development. They have ‘keeping-in-touch’ days for certain children in the holidays. These days give these children a chance to do activities such as cinema, meal out that most other children take for granted. They use their pupil premium money (not PP+) to run a free breakfast club. This means that children get to have a good breakfast, which sets them up for the day of learning. The times I have been into school, I’ve been really impressed how well the staff know the children by their names, and they talk to them as they walk round the school. When we went to buy our little girl’s uniform before she even started school, I told the reception ladies her name, and they knew who she was even then. It’s the little, personal touches that make a difference.

I hear of lots of schools who have numerous dress up days, and other special days that are out of routine. Lots of events and activities. Our school has very few of these sorts of days, which I think is just fine. it keeps the routine predictable, and helps regulate everyone. If events happen, they seem pretty low key and relaxed. Sports day was lovely, the focus was on taking part, having fun and learning that faster doesn’t always mean winning.

Our daughter’s teacher has been amazing, I don’t think I can thank her enough. She has meant that the first year of school has been a really positive one. It’s been a fantastic base for which our little girl can build her experience on. She has firm foundations, and these will help to shape the rest of her time in school I’m sure. Her teacher is very experienced, firm, but fair and kind. I don’t know if she’s taught adopted children before, but she has always made us feel reassured and confident that our daughter is well looked after. I emailed her long before our daughter started at school, so that communication was well established. She always replies to emails promptly. Sometimes late at night, bless her. She has made an effort to understand our situation, and is keen to help as much as she can. She listens, and validates what we have to say. She understands the importance of good transition, and has provided some extra bits where requested. For example she hand delivered a photo book for the Little One so that she could become familiar with the new school and staff before she started there. She visited us at home, and the Little One at nursery. They don’t actually seem to do much formal work around transition to new classes, but I’m sure her teacher would provide extra if requested. They seem to drip feed new information, and I know they’ve been talking about what life will be like in year one for a few weeks now. Little One seems to cope ok with new things at the moment, but I have every faith that if she struggled there would be no problem getting some support. I’m told the children don’t really notice the transition to the formal learning in year one as it’s very gradual. The year one teachers already spend time with the children weekly, so they know each other well anyway.

We have been having some Theraplay and life story work the last few months, which means taking the Little One out of school for 1/2 a day each time. This obviously means she’s missed quite a bit of school, which is not ideal. However, her teacher does totally understand why it’s needed, and really supports it. When I told her about this initially, she immediately offered time or space in school to support it. We decided not to meet in school as we wanted it to be independent, but it was good to know that would have been an option should we need it. Her teacher ‘get’s it’, this I know because she once told me that it was really good for us to be able to have some quality time with Little One. She had also spoken to the head teacher, and explained on our behalf why it was an authorised absence. Her teacher also told me how she was really moved when the Little One had told her class about her life story book, and about when we went to the judge, and he said ‘that Mummy and Daddy could keep her forever’. The teacher had said that we could bring the book into school if wanted, but I think we’ll not go there at the moment….However, I don’t doubt that if it was taken into school, Little One would be fully supported to share it with her classmates. The fact that she wanted to talk about it at school just shows how safe and supported she feels there. We are very grateful to her teacher for telling us about this, it really helps to know what’s been happening, and we can make sure we talk to our daughter about it too.

Earlier this week Little One told me it was Teacher’s Day, and she wanted to buy her teachers some chocolate to say thank you for teaching her. Teacher’s Day does exist, just not this week. However, I let her carry on with her plan, so she she chose some chocolates (her favourite of course), and she wrote a thank you card. She took it to school, and the teachers were so happy. I think it was a wonderful surprise, and it really came from the heart. It was totally unprompted, and really showed how grateful she is to her teachers. I thought it was nice to do now rather than at just because everyone else is at the end of term. I bumped into her teacher on the way to work this morning, and she thanked me for the card/chocolates. She said Little One has done so well this year, and has achieved so much. She said we must be so proud, and she’s really looking forward to seeing how Little One grows and develops as she moves up the school. She thinks she’ll go far, and I agree.

To conclude, here’s a great big THANK YOU! to school, her teacher and all the other staff who have helped us this year. Their love, care and compassion has made a huge difference to us all. The ‘evidence’ is clear to see in Little One, she is learning, she is thriving, she is happy and she is a joy. Here’s to next year and seeing what that holds….

Raise Her Voice

There has been much discussion recently about adoptee voices. About what they say, how they say it, and about whether other people listen to them. There has also been much discussion around adopter voices, and if in some cases they are ‘doing all the talking and none of the listening’ There has been much debate about ‘over-sharing’, and protecting young adoptees privacy and stories. As with any debate, there are many sides, and in many cases, all these voices are valid and important. But how do we decide who is right? who we should listen to? I don’t know, I don’t think I can answer this, and it will forever be a topic of hot debate.

I am not going to speak for all adoptees, because even though I am adopted, I am not all adoptees. My story and experiences are not all of theirs. Their voices are every much as important as mine. I want to listen to them, to hear from them, to learn from them. I know that not all adoptions were like mine. I want to understand why they have the feelings they do. I want to make sure I am as much prepared as I can be for when my little girl (who is also adopted) needs me to walk with her through her journey to coming to terms with her own story. I cannot do this if I draw on only my knowledge or experiences. I am so very grateful to adoptees who have already spoken. Some of the stuff they have shared has been incredibly hard to hear, but it has massively opened my eyes. I hope lessons can be leant from their stories, so that we do better. I’m never going to be perfect, and I’m never going to get it all right, but I do know that with the knowledge and understanding I now have, I have some hope of being the right support for my little one.

More recently I have been thinking about how I help my little girl to raise her voice. She’s only 5 at the moment, so she’s not going to be tweeting, or writing any blogs any time soon. I do try to think about how she might feel or what she might have to say, but, I don’t want to speak for her. She has her own thoughts, and her own voice. I think that it’s really important, even at her young age for her to be able to tell others what and how she feels about adoption. I want for her to have the opportunities to use her voice, but I don’t want to be putting the words into her mouth for her to speak. They have to be her her own words, even if I’m uncomfortable with what she might say. I’m also aware that I don’t want to use her, to force her to speak when she doesn’t want to, or she doesn’t have the words to say. I don’t want to take her words when she doesn’t have the understanding to consent to share her thoughts. It’s a fine line, one I’m still mulling over.

The other week we filmed a video at our Adoption Agency to be used in training for prospective adopters. We were asked to talk about our experience of direct contact with Birth Family. I was keen to share our very positive experience in the hope that it would encourage other adopters to consider it. I suggested that our little girl could join the discussion around how she finds the experience of meeting her relative, and how it makes her feel. I was really torn about if we should ‘use’ her in this way, especially as when I discussed it with her before filming she got upset because it made her really miss her family. I thought hard about if it would be right to put her through an emotional and stressful experience. We decided that we’d see how she felt on the day, and let her decide if she’d like to talk or not. In the end she did, and she did brilliantly. I think that hearing how it is from the child themselves is such a powerful message. For those adopters to hear is so valuable. They’re not just hearing a social worker tell them the benefits of contact. They’re seeing the benefits in real life. I’m really proud of her, and in the end felt that we’d made the right decision that was in her best interests. I hope she’ll look back and know that we tried to include her, and we strongly believe in the importance of giving her opportunities to use her voice to make adoption better for other children. I am grateful to our Adoption Agency for listening to us, and taking on board our suggestion to include our daughter. I’m grateful they are forward thinking, and child centred. I hope this experience will encourage them to seek adoptee voices more in the future.

Another opportunity for her to raise her voice is coming this week, again at our Adoption Agency. We have been involved in some adopter focus groups in which we help to shape and plan the training and support services offered by the agency. It was suggested that as its half term this week, maybe the children could attend the focus group, and they could tell us what they’d like to see happen. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and such a great way to give the message that the adults want to listen to the children currently affected by adoption. Again, at only just 5 I’m not sure my little girl fully understands about adoption, but it will be really interesting to see what she would come up with.

So, in conclusion I am grateful to adoptees for raising their voices. I hope adopters listen and are challenged by what is said. I am hopeful that we can continue to find ways to help our daughter raise her voice so that the future of adoption can be improved for her as well as many other children.

Maternal Mental Health

This week has been Maternal Mental Health week. A week to try to focus on maternal mental health, and to make everyone more aware of the impact poor mental health can have on mothers. A week to raise awareness, and let mothers know that they’re not alone if they experience mental health difficulties. Actually, it’s quite normal to struggle mentally, and that its totally ok to seek some help and support if needed.

I think that it’s great that there is more awareness of maternal mental health, that can only be a good thing. If it means that mothers are better supported, I am delighted. I hate to think of women struggling on their own.

I was looking at some social media posts about maternal mental health this week, and was struck about how nearly all the posts were about mothers who had given birth to their children. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, and of course women who have given birth experience mental health difficulties. However, I was saddened that women who have come to motherhood by other routes (eg step parents, fostering, adoption, family carers) seem to be missing or overlooked. Almost as if these mothers don’t experience mental health struggles, or that their mental health struggles are not as valid because they didn’t give birth to the child. I don’t think anyone has actually said any of these things, they’re just thoughts I’d had and wondered if any one else had too?

The type of motherhood that I know about is through adoption. I became a Mum just over two and half years ago when our little girl came home aged nearly two and half. It has been a roller coaster of emotions since then. I admit I think I did struggle with my mental health at times. Being a mum by any means is not easy. Being a mum by adoption brings all sorts of challenges that I don’t think some people are aware of or consider enough.

When our daughter came home I was delighted, I was finally a mum, which was something that I had dreamed I’d be for a long time. I couldn’t believe my dream had come true. I loved being a mum, I felt so so lucky. But, I struggled. I struggled with the sudden change of everything I knew. The change in routine, the change in roles. I went from working full time, to a full time carer of a toddler. A toddler who was also adjusting to a loss of everyone and everything she knew. If I struggled, my heart breaks for how she must have been feeling.

Of course any new mother experiences much of this, suddenly they have a brand new baby and a new life to get used to. But, I think that an adoptive mother has that extra bit of pressure that unless you’ve lived it yourself, I’m not sure you can get your head around it. The pressure I put myself under to be the perfect mum was immense. I felt like I’d failed her and let her down when things went wrong. She deserved better. I felt guilty for wishing my old life back, for wishing I could be carefree again. I felt ashamed I’d feel this way. I thought everyone was watching me, judging how I managed. There were frequent social worker visits and reviews. I think an admission I might have been struggling would come across as not coping, so I think I tended to keep quiet about how I really felt. Reflecting back on it all now I feel like I kept the people who cared away physically and emotionally, thinking it would be easier to just try and get on with life myself.

Before adopting I’d heard a little about Post Adoption Depression, but I guess it was something that I thought might happen to others and not myself. Looking back, I don’t think I fully had post adoption depression, but I do think that my mental health took a bit of a battering. I think it’s really important for adopters to be more aware of risks to their mental health, and to think about what might trigger comprised mental health, as well as what they can do to optimise their mental health. Also, to be aware that post adoption depression can be experienced by anyone, male or female. I do believe it’s real, and I do believe adopters need more support, especially in those early days.

Another aspect of maternal mental health and adoption that I think can be overlooked is that of birth mothers. Birth mothers are mothers whether their children are adopted or not, and their mental health is equally as important as any other mother. I wish that birth mothers (parents) got more support for their mental health. With proper support some might be able to turn their lives around, and for their children to stay with them. In some cases, they wouldn’t have subsequent children removed. The pattern of generational deprivation could be stopped. In cases when children are removed, this must cause massive distress, and must have an impact on mental health. I do wonder how many of these women have proper support when this happened. Think of the outcomes there would be if women were properly supported….

You’ll be pleased to know that for me, life got better, and my mental health did improve. As I bonded with my little girl and adjusted to the new life I had I was able to cope better. I realised that I was putting too much pressure on myself, and that vision to be a perfect mum was not achievable or realistic. As I stared to relax a little bit I felt better bout myself. I realised that I was actually doing a good job. I found that it’s vitally important to have a good support network. To have people to talk to about how you feel. To have people to help, and to keep offering to help, even if you push them away initially. To connect with other adopters who know how it is, and who can offer lived advice. To have supportive professionals who are there to support you as well as the child. One of the most helpful social workers I had contact with came to see me, and really just sat and listened to me. Listened to me talking about my feelings and let me talk, to get it all out. I wish there was more low level support for adopters. Someone who will just come to have a chat, without having to wait for weeks or go through a formal assessment process. Someone who is detached from the placement side of things, purely a support worker. Sometimes that listening ear is all that is needed to prevent small problems escalating into bigger and bigger ones.

So, to conclude, I’m glad that maternal mental health is being taken seriously. I feel passionately that all mothers’ mental health is important, and that we need to help all mothers to feel the very best that they can.

FIVE!

Dear Darling,

It’s that time of year again, can’t quite believe that it’s come round so quickly. It’s your birthday again, and as you remind us so regularly, you’re now five!

Wow! what a year you’ve had. You’ve done so much, and grown up so much too. You really understand birthdays now, and it’s lovely to see you excited about yours. You’re so good at choosing gifts and making cards for everyone else, but now it’s your turn. It’s your 3rd birthday with Mummy & Daddy, so you’ve now had more birthdays with us than you’ve had anywhere else.

I was having a think about the last year, and all you’ve achieved. It makes me so proud to look back to see how far you’ve come, and it makes me excited to think about what’s around the corner for you. I think a highlight for you was going on holiday, twice! You really loved our holidays, especially the swimming. To think that this time last year you wouldn’t let go of us in the pool. Now you’re very happy to splash around on your own and are getting more confident in the water every time we go swimming. You summed up our holiday well when you proclaimed one particular day as ‘the best day ever!!”

Your biggest change was starting school, and as usual you took it all in your stride. You walked in on the first day with a smile on your face, and straight away got busy playing with the sparkly play doh. I am amazed by your enthusiasm and ability to learn. I still can’t quite believe that you can read properly now. I think it’s been one of my greatest parenting pleasures seeing you learn to read. I love reading with you, and it’s been a privilege to see a whole new world open up in front of you. I have to be careful now because you know when I’ve read something wrong, you definitely keep me on my toes! Your writing and drawing has come on loads too. I Love that one of your favourite things to do is to draw and colour. Maybe you’ll be an artist one day, who knows…

Although I’m proud of you for doing so well academically at school, I am also very grateful that you’re doing well in other areas. Your teacher tells us that you’re a great little friend, and very caring. You eat well, and have a go at everything. Another of my highlights was seeing you singing Away in a Manger in the Christmas Nativity. I’ll never forget your sweet little voice singing so confidently and clearly. You definitely deserved your merit certificate for that. I love coming to collect you from school everyday. You always run out happy to see me, with a big smile on your face. It makes me smile too.

Another great achievement has been starting gymnastics. You’ve done so well settling in there, and working hard each lesson. When I watched you, you listened hard and had lots of fun too. You’ve got so much stronger these last few months, and are getting really good at your running and scooting. I love going for our run/scoots together. You’re a great little motivator and help me keep going. It’s great that we’ve found something we like to do together. The hard work is paying off, and you managed to run the whole of the mini run the other day. What a difference two years makes. When we first did the run you struggled and fell over. This time you ran it all without stopping, and had a big smile on your face. Your medal collection is catching up with mine now.

I think that this year you’ve started to understand your story a little bit more. We talk quite regularly about it, and will continue to do so as you want to. You coped really well with meeting up with your relative and foster carer. I hope that these meet ups are helpful for you, even if it is all a bit confusing for you right now. I know you’d like to see them all more than we do, and maybe in the future, we will. I know for sure that they all love you so much. They think about you lots, and they’ll definitely be thinking about you and missing you on your birthday. I know that they’re happy you’re happy, and they’re glad you’re thriving in our family. They will always be a part of your past, and of your future too. I was so proud of how well you engaged in the letterbox bits we sent, and I know that they meant a lot to those that received them. I know your Birth Mum remembers you and thinks of you, even if she’s not able to write back right now.

You’re such a great big cousin, and It’s been lovely to see the bond with your cousins grow this last year. They look up to you, and I can’t wait to see the adventures you’ll get up to in the next year. I know you’d like to be a big sister, and I know you’d make a brilliant one. I’m hopeful one day you will. For now I’m glad we get to enjoy you on your own, to soak you up and give you our undivided love and attention whilst you’re still little.

I want you to know that although you’re now five, you’re still our little girl. If you need us to look after you like we would a baby, that’s ok, we won’t stop that just yet. We’ll go at your pace, and do what you need, don’t worry about that.

You know that my favourite song for us at the moment is ‘you are my sunshine’, and I think it sums you up perfectly. You most definitely are my sunshine, and you make me happy during the most grey of times, There have been some very grey moments this year for me, but you’ve kept me going and kept me smiling. The song says ‘you’ll never know how much `I love you’, but I hope you do know that I love you so much. I hope you know that even when I get cross, or when we fall out, I will always, always love you.

So, Happy Birthday little munchkin. Let’s celebrate the brilliant year you’ve had, and look forward to all the new adventures and experiences we’ll have in the year to come……

Mother’s Day After Loss

Today was Mother’s Day in the UK. I looked up the definition of the word ‘mother’ in the dictionary, and it told me that it is used as a noun, but can also be used a verb (e.g. a ‘doing’ word). This means that really anyone can ‘mother’ (look after) another person. You don’t have to be a female to ‘mother’ someone, and you don’t have to be a ‘mum’ either. I know plenty of people who are neither of these but do both perfectly. Interestingly, Mother’s Day was actually originally called Mothering Sunday. The meaning behind it comes from when Christians would visit their ‘mother church’ on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Somehow this occasion has become a day we now use to honour and celebrate mothers and children. I think that sometimes Mother’s Day can be seen as excluding those who are not mothers (as in those who don’t have children). However, I think that if it can be looked at in a way that celebrates all those who ‘mother’ us, it includes all sorts of families and those who care for us.

Anyway, grammar and history lessons aside, I have been thinking a lot today about Mother’s Day. Of course it’s been a day for me to celebrate. It’s been a day for me to honour my amazing Mum. She is my role model, the mum I aspire to be. I am so grateful to have had her (and dad) in my life. I am actually really grateful they chose me to be their daughter. Without them I know that my life wouldn’t have worked out the way it did. Without them I definitely wouldn’t be where I am in life today. Today has been a day to celebrate being a Mummy myself. I am the lucky one to have my little girl. She brightens up our lives more than she will ever know. She brings fun and laughter to our house. She has taught me so much about myself, and she inspires me daily to be the best mum I can. Sometimes even now I still can’t quite believe I get to be her mum.

Today has also been a day to be sad and to reflect. Of course with adoption there are losses, and today they seem to be very much apparent. As we celebrate me becoming a mum, I cannot forget that in order for me to do this, someone else has ‘lost’ their child. Little Love’s Birth Mum will of course always be her Birth Mum. I can’t ever take that away from her (and would never want to). She delivered Little Love into the world, and they will always have that connection. It makes me very sad that she doesn’t get to share the experience of watching Little Love grow up. We work had to make sure that Little Love knows she has a Birth Mum, and I guess I want to reassure her (Birth Mum) that we actively do talk about her and try to help Little Love make sense of her story. I do often wonder about her, and wonder where she is or what she’s doing. I worry about her, I hope she’s ok. I think about how she might be feeling. I’m glad we met her, maybe we’ll meet again one day. I think as she gets older Little Love will understand more about the ‘loss’ of her Birth Mum, and I imagine this will be hard for her too. I hope that I can support her to come to terms with this as she needs.

Last year, nearly a year ago I had a miscarriage. Today was the first Mother’s Day after loss. At the time I didn’t expect the miscarriage to have had such an affect on me. I expected to just be able to get over it, and have been surprised that that hasn’t been the case. I’m ok, but every now & then I am hit by what I guess is a wave of grief. Grief for the baby that never was. Grief for the future that I imagined but that we’ll never experience. These last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking more about if we’d had that baby, and how they’d be a few months old now. I makes me miss something I never even had if that makes sense. Baby or not we still have Little Love, and I’m not saying that having a birth child would make me any more of a mum than I already am. Neither am I saying that Little Love is any less our daughter, but it still feels like something of me is missing. I was working today, so we didn’t go to church as usual. I think it was actually a blessing in disguise because maybe being surrounded by all those gorgeous little babies there at the moment might just have been just too much for me today.

Anyway, to summarise, Mother’s Day is wonderful, and great opportunity to honour those who love and support us. But it’s also a day in which people’s sadness is very acute. Mother’s day after loss is hard, and that’s ok to.

The Baby Club

The other day my little girl was off school sick, so she did what any poorly person would do, and watched quite a lot of TV. One of the things she watched for the first time was ‘The Baby Club’. This is a programme that is on CBeebies at the moment. It’s essentially a baby group that you can watch at home, and join in as much as you’d like. Each episode has a small group of parents, their babies and a presenter who leads the group. As with any baby group, there are songs, actions, stories and sensory play. Parents interact 1:1 with their baby. Each session lasts about 15mins. The idea behind it is that if you can’t attend a real life baby group, you’re welcome to join in from the comfort of your own home. It would be great for isolated parents, although it does miss the actual interaction with other adults that is essential for parents. The great thing is that you can get it on iPlayer, so you can join in at any time at suits you and you’re not restricted to a specific time like you would a normal group.

Anyway, Little Love really enjoyed this programme, and watched it several times. She asked me if we could go along, and I had to explain that 1) she is not a baby and 2) we didn’t know where it’s held. She took it upon herself to make her own Baby Club with her teddies. This was totally unprompted, and I was really surprised that she initiated it herself. She must have been really desperate to go. It was great for her independent imaginative and role play, which she rarely does.

Because she enjoyed watching, but wasnt particularly actively joining in so much, I decided to sit with her to watch and participate as if we were in the group ourselves. So we enjoyed doing the signing and actions. We listened to the story, and we explored the sensory object of the session. This involved being organised and having the bits we needed on hand. That time we needed a sponge and bubbles. We also did the ‘calm down’ activities and enjoyed rocking and cuddles at the end.

Her love of this programme got me thinking about why she enjoyed it, and what she took from it. She’s nearly five, so in theory should be long past the baby stage of development. She developmentally shouldn’t really need the level of nurture or sensory experiences that babies do. She should probably find basic nursery rhymes and repetitive stories a bit boring. She is incredibly bright. She can read, she is doing amazing at school. She is a great talker, she zoom fast on her scooter. She can feed herself, she can take herself to the toilet.

Her love of this programme reminded me that even though she is all of the above, she still a little girl too. She’s a little girl who may have missed out on lots of aspects of her infant life. We don’t know a lot about what her experience of being a baby was, so we can only assume that we need to fill in those gaps. She needs, she seeks those baby experiences. She loves sensory play, she loves being a baby. She thrives off being cared for like you would a baby. Sometimes balancing parenting her as a nearly 5year old as well as a baby feels a bit strange and counter intuitive. But, we go with it, because that what she needs right now. She needs the basic nurture (bottles, swaddling/wrapping in blankets, rocking, feeding, dummies) to feel safe. Letting her regress when she needs to helps her cope with the big demands of everyday life. It provides perfect opportunities for us to provide the nurture she needs to feel cared for and loved. It is so important for attachment and bonding. I really wish we’d done more ‘baby’ stuff when she came home aged 2 and a half. She’s big for her age, so I can’t carry her anymore, but these activities all take place sitting together on the floor, so we can have that close physical contact without it being physically too much for me. I don’t think it’s ever too late to do ‘nurture’ activities, and I think the child will make it clear if they want it or not.

I would really recommend this programme to other adoptive parents with older children who would benefit from nurture, sensory, repetitive activities that you can do together. Because you do it at home, no one is watching or judging you for caring for your child like you would a baby. You can do as much as you like, and can adapt the activities to what you need. It’s a fun, quick and simple way to interact with your little (or not so little) one. They won’t need it forever, but I guess whilst they do, it’s a perfect opportunity to soak up those moments of precious quality time together.

Adoption: The Great Debate….

It has taken me a while to find the words to what I want to say about this subject, because I know that it is a very emotive, and because I know that there are a lot of different opinions and views. I hope that I get my point across ok. I want those reading to understand that this is personal, it’s real life and it’s oh so complex.

I totally get that someone else may think differently, and that’s ok, if we all had the same views the world would be a pretty boring place. We need differences to create a dialogue, and we need to always be discussing issues that occur in adoption, because without discussion we will never learn from each other, and we will never improve the experiences for adopted children. I think I’m right in saying that we all want the best for children and whether we agree with adoption or not, if we’re having such heated debates about the subject it shows (most) people really care and want children to grow up safe and loved.

What’s been happening on twitter recently has really shocked me, and made me incredibly sad that people can be so nasty to each other. I think that the relative anonymity that comes with twitter can make people think they can say anything and get away with it. I do wonder that if people were talking face to face, or using non anonymised accounts if they would be so mean to each other. From what I can gather (mostly) adoptive parents tweets about daily life with their children are being commented on by (mostly) adoptees. Although there are some birth family members and other adoptive parents joining in with the ‘discussions’ From what I can gather adoptive parents are being told they are selfish for wanting to adopt, to stop thinking they have rescued a child. They are being told they are causing harm to the child by adopting them.

From a personal point of view, as an adoptee myself, we actively chose adoption to be our route to become parents as I/we know first hand how positive adoption can be. That it can have a positive outcome. That adopted people can achieve, and can lead a happy, settled life. I certainly don’t think I rescued my little girl, and I don’t think I’m harming her by adopting her. I acknowledge that in an ideal world she wouldn’t have needed to be adopted, but she did and she was. She is thriving. She will have lots of feelings/emotions around adoption, and I’m prepeared for her to feel different to me about it when she explores it more. I also hope I’m prepared to help her navigate her journey when the time is right.

There are a number of other accusations and intense anger directed to adoptive parents. Some adoptee adoptive parents (me included) have been criticised for adopting a child, when ‘we should know better’. Adoptive parents have responded clearly hurt by these very personal comments, and have tried to explain that they are doing their best in often difficult circumstances.

I think we can all agree that adoption does cause hurt and emotional pain. It is all about loss, on all sides. Massive loss to the adoptee, and also loss to the birth family. I think that the adoptive family also experience loss that sometimes isn’t taken into account. This amount of multi layered loss is of course going to cause problems, and I do think more needs to be done to support everyone to deal with it. In current UK adoption children do often have other difficulties, whether they be emotional, social or physical. Some of these children have massively complex needs, and they need skilled people to help them. Adoptive parents try their hardest to care for these children, but end up becoming their therapist rather than feeling they are a parent. Some of these difficulties undoubtedly come from the circumstances that meant the child needed to be adopted. Whether this be in-utero damage (drink, drugs, maternal stress), or post birth chaotic lifestyles and numerous caregivers or moves and broken attachments.

I’ve noticed that one area that was ‘debated’ was how much adoptive parents share online. Some parents where criticised for over-sharing and shaming their children. I have to agree, I do get where their coming from. But as ever there are two sides to every story. On the one hand, there are views like mine that, ‘if you wouldn’t like it said (or pictured) of yourselves, then don’t share it of someone else’ I do try to stick by this because I know that when she’s older my little girl may well read what I’ve written and said about her. However, I am very aware that on the other hand, the realities and struggles of adoption need to be told, and the truest way to do this is through honest real accounts. I think people need to be aware of the damage that can be caused by drink/drugs, abuse and neglect (and other adoption related difficulties). I think people need to be aware that adopting babies doesn’t mean that everything will be fine. I think people need to know how alone and isolated everyone in adoption can feel. That’s birth parents , adoptive parents and adoptees too. No can truely know what it’s like to be these people unless they have lived it themselves. Naturally humans tend to gravitate to people who they have things in common with. I know that many adoptive parents use twitter as an informal (but immensely valuable) support network. They need people who ‘get it’, who can provide that comfort or encouragement when they have no one else to give it. Adoption tears families and friendships apart as much as it makes them, and sometimes physical family/friends disappear when things get tough. No one should have to feel alone, and that bit of virtual support and understanding is a lifeline.

Online interactions can be great, and a they can be so valuable for everyone involved. Even if people don’t agree, we have so much to learn from each other. We can only learn if we listen to each other, and we can only listen if we are willing to learn. I have learnt a lot from other adoptive parents and adoptees purely from using twitter and other social media. I know that my parenting style comes in part from what I’ve heard, read and learnt. I know that my little girl has benefitted, and has a better Mummy because of it.

Hearing adoptee voices has shown me that others didn’t have the same experience as me, and their views differ, but that’s ok. Their words have made me think different aspects of adoption I didn’t really consider before. I feel so much more prepared for how to support my little one when she needs it as she looks to understand and come to terms with her story. Listening to birth parent voices has really opened up my awareness of what they experience when a child is placed for adoption. I’ve really been try to understand their emotions/feeling and how it’s trauma that continues after adoption for them too.

I really hope that the hate and nastiness can stop, that people can remember that other people are exactly that ‘people’. No one is perfect, not one person has the same experience as another (even my identical twin and I don’t), and so assuming others will feel or act the same is wrong. Taking out your anger on someone else who didn’t cause your situation is wrong. Yes, it’s absolutely ok to be hurt and angry, but sometimes directing it at those who are willing to try to listen to you because they want to support their child better actually pushes them away. At the end of the day, who wants to listen and learn from someone who just shouts abuse at them the whole time? As parents we teach our children about being kind, about respecting others, about having empathy for others. How are they ever going to learn these if we don’t practice it ourselves.

To conclude, I’m going to leave you with this, I think there’s a lot of truth in this little saying ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ (From Bambi, I think….)