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….)


Moments like these

Yesterday my darling little girl performed in her first nativity show. She was Mary (one of a few), and she sang a little solo rendition of Away in a Manger. We didn’t know that she was going to sing the solo, and we only found out at the performance that she was the only child to sing solo in the whole show. It was a pretty big deal, especially as there were 100+ children (aged 3-5) taking part, plus a hall full of parents watching. She sang absolutely beautifully, so clear, so confident, word perfect. My daughter, who is still only 4, and a few months into school just sang her heart out, I was/am so so proud of her.

It got me thinking about these little moments of perfection in this unpredictable world of adoption. These little moments that fill us with pride, with hope. Moments that top our reserve and resilience tanks up for the challenges and battles that may lie ahead. These moments, they help us to believe that we are doing a good job of raising this little person, that we are doing something right. These moments that help us to look back to how far we’ve come. To remember that we use to dream of moments like these. I think when you’re waiting to be a parent, you dream of going to your little one’s first nativity. Sometimes those dreams seem and feel like a life time away. yesterday I realised that that dream came true.

Moments like these remind me what a wonderful little girl my daughter is. To remember what she has gone through and experienced in her life. To remember that she has not had the same start that most of the other children did. I am amazed at how well she is doing & what a fun, loving little character she is. yes, she has her struggles, but she’s thriving and making progress. moments like these are evidence that adoption can and does work. That permanence is important. I absolutely know that adoption and/or love does not solve everything. I know that we may still have our struggles in the future, but for now I’m going to rest in the wonder and magic that was created yesterday.

Moments like these mean that I very much have her birth family on my mind. I am conscious that as I publicly celebrate her successes, they may be feeling very sad and left out, especially at this time of year. I can imagine that they would have loved to be the ones sitting there watching her. Maybe they are thinking about her and wishing they knew how she’s doing at school. I do sometimes feel guilty for being the lucky ones experiencing watching her grow up and sharing all those important firsts with her. There has been quite a bit of debate recently around contact post adoption, and moments like these have made me realise that current contact arrangements are so unnatural. Yes, adoption happens for a reason, and sometimes contact is not appropriate or safe. But sometimes it is, and I feel like we need to explore how we can open it up a bit more between us and some members of birth family.

Moments like these make me feel excited for the future, and grateful for the positive 1st term we’ve had at school. They make me extremely thankful for a wonderful, supportive school where she is positively thriving. Next week she is going to receive a merit for outstanding achievement, which is evidence of how happy and settled she is there. They are also friendly, helpful and nurturing. I know not every school is like this, so I feel very lucky we have them. We are due to start Theraplay next year, so I know the future may be unsettled and more tricky. I’m going to try very hard to think back to ‘these moments’, and remember what a special, precious little girl she is.

To my darling little girl, thank you for making Mummy smile, you are wonderful…

So Lucky

Today I was talking to my little girl about why she was going to dress up in spotty clothes and take some money to give to Children in Need at school. I told her it was to help children who were not as lucky as she was. She responded by telling me that she wasn’t lucky, and I explained to her that really she is. By this I meant that she has all the clothes, food, toys that she could ever need or want. We talked about the children who didn’t have all those things, and how donating some money would help them.

But, talking about being lucky got me thinking…..I know that some people feel that when children are adopted into loving families who give them everything they need and more are ‘lucky’ Lucky to be ‘saved’, lucky not to be in the situations they were in. Lucky to have a lovely Mummy and Daddy at long last. I want to make it clear that when these children are adopted, although they do have all the love and everything else a child needs, they are not lucky.

Many adopted children have backgrounds that no one would call lucky. Being adopted does not make them lucky, The very reason they are adopted means that there is trauma in their life. Even if they went to their adoptive family at birth, there is still trauma. Trauma can begin in the womb, and even trauma this early can have life long lasting effects. Adoption brings with it much sadness and confusion. Adoption often means losses for all the people involved. Adopted children are not lucky to have to come to terms with some of these in their lives. They are not lucky to have to live with the damaging consequences of others actions. I think that some adoptees are made to feel that they should feel lucky, or grateful for being adopted. From what I’ve observed, it’s when they’re pressured to feel like this but don’t really, when resentment and bitterness creep in. I think it’s really important to acknowledge and accept that some adoptee are not grateful, and do not feel lucky to be adopted.

I think it;s the adoptive parents that are the lucky ones in adoption. Because of adoption they have the chance to be parents, when they may have felt that they would never be one. It gives them a family, a hope, a future. But, I sometimes think that adoptive parents feel the pressure to be lucky all the time. I think that it’s sometimes very hard to feel lucky when its incredibly challenging. They might feel that they didn’t ask for this, but that they should be grateful because they are lucky to have children. The message that is sometimes given might be ‘they signed up for this, so they should get on with it’. I guess during the difficult  times it’s helpful to remember that yes, it is really tough for us parents, but whatever we feel, its probably even more tough for the child. I think it’s helpful to think back about what positives and good things the child brings to our family. To think about the ways in which we are all lucky together.

So, lucky, it’s a complex term in adoption. As an adoptee myself, I think I feel lucky for being adopted. I do know for sure that I am grateful for my adoption. I know I would not have had the love, nurture, opportunities and experiences if I had not been adopted. I don’t know how my little girl will feel about being adopted when she’s older, but I do hope that she she knows that I don’t expect her to be lucky for adoption. I hope she grows up knowing we try our best, and that we love her, I do hope she does understand that she is fact lucky to live a comfortable life, but that at the end of the day we are the lucky ones to have her as our daughter.

What does an OT actually do?

This is a post all about Occupational Therapy (OT), and why I love it! I wrote about it previously (here). Some of this post is the same, so apologies for some repeated content, there is new bits in this one too though, so keep reading! (please)

This week is Occupational Therapy Week, in which we celebrate and promote OT. Promotion is the hot topic this year as the main focus is all about how we’ secure the future of our profession’. In today’s health and social care climate, there is an every decreasing budget and services are having to really fight to continue. We as OTs need to prove why we are a valuable asset to any service. We need to demonstrate why we offer a unique service that is definitely not the same as other professionals. We need to stand up for ourselves to prevent us becoming deskilled and labelled generic workers.

Many people ask me ‘what is OT?’ It’s actually really hard to define as it is such a varied job with many specialties. It is not occupational health, and as my husband likes to think, it’s not just about measuring toilets. It’s essentially about ‘occupation’, not just the work variety, but ‘occupation’ that describes every single part of a person’s being. Anything, from eating, walking, talking (and everything in between) is essentially occupation. It is the tiny things such as flickers of movement in the fingers (which can enable function) to the bigger things such as feeding yourself or getting washed. I was trying to find a proper definition, and really liked this quote from the homepage of the Royal College of OT website ‘Helping people to live, not exist’ I loved it and feel like it sums up my job pretty well. See their website (here) for more details.

I have been an Occupational Therapist for 11 years now, and I think I love it even more now than I did way back then. I think this comes from personal and professional maturity, and from having so much more experience and confidence. I went to uni to study OT straight from school/6th form at 18, so was very young without the valuable life experience that I think is needed for this job. I currently work in acute stroke care which involves assessing and carrying out rehab with people who have just had their strokes. Despite its challenges, it’s an amazing job, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to share people’s journey to recovery with them.

I love stroke rehab, it’s fascinating. I am a bit of a geek and love learning about the brain, and what it can do, how it works, and what we can do to aid recovery. I love working with patients and seeing them get better and able to achieve more. We see some people with massive strokes, and it’s such a delight to share their recovery with them. To help someone learn to sit up again, to see some movement regained, and to see them feed themselves again makes all the hard work so so worth it. To help someone express their feelings, to watch them learn to talk again, to see them take their first steps is wonderful. To enable people to make their family a drink, or to do a puzzle with their grandchild is amazing. To be able to advocate and fight for a patient gives a huge sense of achievement. To have worked really hard and see a positive outcome after a tricky case is great. To watch a patient walk out of hospital when they were unconscious when they came in is pretty special. To see them when they come back to visit looking so well reminds us that there is life outside the hospital. We don’t do it for the recognition and thanks, but when we do get it, it lifts the spirits of the tired team members.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself since becoming an OT. I’ve learnt that I am a good leader and teacher. I never thought I would make a good leader, but I don’t think I’m doing a bad job now I’m doing it. I love teaching students and seeing them learn. I love seeing them achieve and enjoy what they’re doing. It was such a pleasure to see the last student we had slowly come out of her shell and increase her confidence. With a bit of nurture and encouragement she did really well and gave some really nice feedback. I also bumped into another student I’d had about years ago, and she told me that she still uses some of the skills she learnt with us now she’s qualified all these years later. It’s lovely to know what a positive impact we had on her. It made me so proud. I am actually quite a shy reserved person, but somehow at work I can speak out and up. I have been able to step way out of my comfort zone, and have felt really good for doing it. I volunteered to be the department resus trainer even though I always got really nervous when I had to attend the training myself. I learned to really enjoy this role and was proud of myself for having the confidence to give it a go.

This year I’m the department audit lead. I was representing my team leader in a meeting and said I might be interested in the role. My manager gave it to me there and then without any discussion, gulp! Now I’ve got my head around what the role entails, I’m actually loving it. It suits my enjoyment of organisation and analysis well. It has challenged my communication and logistical skills, but I’ve got some nice feedback, which has been a massive encouragement. It’s also made me realise that I really do care about the quality of work that we do. It’s been really interesting to really look at how well we are doing what we say we are doing. I am passionate about delivering a quality service that meets the needs of our patients. As I’ve grown in experience I’ve realised that its really hard to balance this with the needs of the service. I’ve also been able to understand a bit more about the challenges of delivering healthcare in the current social and economic climate. I’ve been able to think about how we overcome some of these challenges.

Since becoming an adoptive parent I’ve seen that there are many qualities and skills of an OT that make a good parent, although I’ve also learnt that it’s often much harder to use them at home than at work. I always thought I was quite a calm and patient person, but since my little girl came home I’m not so sure… However, I have been able to use some of my skills at home as well as work. We do quite a bit of DIY art and crafts, and I’m sure some of my OT identity to use everyday things as ‘therapy’ has been in use there. Being a stroke OT, I know a bit about the brain, so I’m fascinated about the affect of (developmental) trauma on a child’s brain development and use. I know that as the brain is the body’s ‘control centre’, any part of daily functioning/being can be affected by brain damage. I know that the pathways in the brain can be to some extent ‘re-wired’, and am really interested to learn more about how this applied to children with development brain damage (such as those with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or other ‘trauma’). A large part of my work involves working people with sensory (sensation, proprioception, visual) impairment, and helping them live with their impairment. I know that many children with ‘trauma” have some level of sensory impairment (may that be underestimulation or overload) I’ve explored sensory impairment more in other posts, (see Interception & Sensory processing for more info)

So, the focus of this week was what can we do to secure the future of the profession. I think we need to continue to be involved in research and leadership at the highest levels. But I strongly believe that we can use the most simplest of occupations/activities to have a huge impact on patient well-being. I think as OTs  we are very good at considering patients’ basic well-being and mental health, and that by addressing poor well-being we’re laying the foundations for positive engagements and participation. If patients engage in therapy because you’re working with them on something thats important to them, they get better quicker, which means they get discharged quicker, everyone wins! (Yes, I know that in reality it’s more complex). We can simply use our time, to listen to talk to problem solve together. We can address barriers to activities such as feeding, using the toilet, personal care. We all know that when we can achieve these activities, we feel so much better in ourselves. We can encourage someone to continue an interest or hobby in hospital which can lift mood and improve mental health. These are occupations in their most basic of forms, but they’re all what we normally take for granted. This week OT’s have been encouraged to make a pledge of how we will champion Occupational Therapy. Mine will be to try to use more well-being activities in my everyday practice. I hope that we never become too busy, or too advanced to forget that at the end of the day, our job is all about ‘Helping people to live, not exist’

National Adoption Week 2018 – It’s complex…

This week is National Adoption Week in the UK, a chance to promote adoption, and encourage people to consider it for them. From having a quick look through my twitter feed today, there is a lot of debate about this, and a lot of conflicting views and opinions. I’ve noticed that the fact it’s National Adoption Week is not always very popular, and have been thinking about why that might be.

I thought id think first about why we might need a National Adoption Week. I guess it’s to raise the profile of adoption, which is probably in itself not a bad thing. I think the more people who are aware of adoption and all that come with it the better it is. The more that services such as education and health are aware of adoption and how it affects all who are involved must be a good thing. Maybe if services are better informed, they’ll be able to provide a more appropriate service to those who need it. Secondly, it’s likely that there will always be adoption, and therefore there will always be a need for adopters. Sadly, society is not going to change enough to mean that all children are going to be safe to stay in their birth families. I know that some people think that adoption should be the last resort, but, for some children it will be their best option. Their best chance of a safe, stable childhood. If the publicity and campaigns attract just a few of the right people, then that must be a good thing.

Some people feel adoption leads to the ties to birth family being severed and so children are denied an identity. In some cases children are left in their birth families or returned to therm with support. These families are given support and second chances, but still do not change enough. I know there is much debate around this, and I’m not going to go into it, nor am I saying that all birth families are not willing to change. What I do know is that multiple moves, neglect, pre birth trauma cause massive trauma, and these children bring this to adoption with them. yes, adoption itself does cause trauma, but I don’t believe it’s the sole cause of some of the difficulties adoptive families experience. I know that some adoptees are very anti-adoption, and some blame their adoptive parents, and in some cases this is valid I’m sure. However, I feel that most modern adoptive parents understand the importance of concepts such as life story work and contact. They are honest and open with their children about their history, and do support their children in working out who they are.

Much of publicity around adoption this week will be very positive, and probably quite simplistic. It will imply that all these children will need is love and a warm, safe home. It often doesn’t touch on the other things they’ll need, and the challenges that might be faced by families. Some adoptive families will see this as unrealistic, and almost as if it fails to acknowledge the realities of modern adoption. I see where they’re coming from, but everyone needs to hear positive stories, they’re what give hope, they’re what keep people going through the tough times.

Saying this, I do hope that the agencies then make it priority to teach and inform prospective adopters about what they are likely to experience. I hope adopters learn about trauma, attachment and many other aspects of adoption. I would recommend that they read all the books, but so importantly they need to read and observe real life experiences. Blogs and twitter have been great. I think they’ll be so much better prepared as they’ll expect some behaviours and might even know how to manage them. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for any type of parenting, but I do recommend that any prospective or new adopters learn about therapeutic parenting. We didn’t know a lot, have learnt as we’ve gone along, but it has made such a difference. A lot of adoption agencies will have an ‘experienced adopter’ come to talk at prep groups. Most of the time it will be adopters who have minimal difficulties who have had smooth time. But I think that it might be helpful for adoptive parents who have experienced difficulties to have a chance to share their story as well. Of course there has to be a balance, but I think most adopters would look back and say that they would rather they know what to expect than not. I hope that there is more teaching around other issues that might be experienced, such as sensory  and education difficulties.

A popular phrase that comes with national Adoption Week is #SupportAdoption. Yes, I think this is really important, but the vital word is support. I think that all parties in adoption need support. For birth families, for professionals, for adoptive families. I’ve heard it said that for some children they could have stayed with birth families if support had been in place from the beginning. Support is needed to prevent the cycles that mean successive generations of children are placed in care. Support is needed to for adoptive families to help them become a family, and then stay a family. Post Adoption Support is very varied, and often families are not helped soon enough which leads to serious difficulties and breakdown. This is why I think #ProvideAdoptionSupport is equally, if not more important. I think professionals need support too. They’re people just like everyone else, and some deal with horrific situations with very little support or thanks themselves.

To conclude, as an adoptee and an adoptive parent I’m very for National Adoption Week. I am glad I was adopted, I could not have had the life, or have achieved what I have without being adopted. I am grateful for the support that has enabled me to become a parent. I love being my little girl’s mum, but it’s not always easy. I am passionate about helping her come to terms with her story, and who she is. I know that adoption will not make her struggles go away. I know that there may be difficulties ahead to come. I get that adoption is not perfect or the solution for all children, and I’m not saying it is. All I’m saying is, sometimes lets stop looking for negatives in everything, and lets celebrate the good!