A couple of weeks ago I wrote about sharing our daughter’s life story book , have a read here: http://secretlife.me.uk/life-story/ if you haven’t already. I thought I’d do a little update to let you know how we got on. These last couple of weeks have brought up a lot of feelings for all of us, and if I’m honest they sort of caught me unawares.
So, the initial reaction was pretty good, she was interested, and seemed to take in the new information well. She didn’t seem too bothered by it, and happily went back to watching Peppa afterwards. She seemed fine for the rest of the day and slept as normal that night. We had let nursery know (the communication book we suggested is working well), and I was able to give a verbal ‘heads-up’ in the morning too. They said she was fine, and the only thing she had said was that ‘she doesn’t sleep in a cot anymore, she sleeps in a wooden bed now’. She did move from a cot into a toddler bed when she moved from the foster carers to us, so maybe the discussions had triggered this memory.
It was the 2nd/3rd days after that things changed, she became much more unsettled. She was very emotional and argumentative/whiney, which I know every 3year old can be, but she is normally so bright and happy that this was unusual for her. We went back to lots of screaming from her, and some chewing of clothing and toys. Both things she used to do much earlier in placement. When she’s ‘chewy’ we know something is up. One day she was unsettled from the moment she woke up, and normally she’s a happy morning person. Even a trip to the farm which she normally loves couldn’t cheer her up.
It’s really hard to know what to say to her. When we tried to talk to her and to find out what was bothering her, but she just repeated what we said, and I didn’t want to put words into her mouth or name feelings she didn’t have. However, I think it was good to keep talking about what we’d read about, and to wonder. It gave us more opportunities to reinforce the fact that she is our little girl and she’ll be staying with us forever. We read her intro book, which helped to remind her of when she came to us.
Another really interesting thing my little one has started doing is to reject her favourite doggy friend B. Now, we gave her B pre-intros, so he’s very strongly linked to us. He features heavily in the intro book, and she has be inseparable from him since then. She’s always thrown him around as most small children do with their toys (mostly down the stairs every morning), but now she’s throwing him intentionally. She’s been shouting at him and telling him she doesn’t love him. She’s excluded him from her play and pushed him away when offered to her. Now I know he’s only a toy, and children do that, but it feels deeper with him. I do wonder if it’s all linked to the life story work and sub-consciously trying to push us away because all those other people in her story that she loved went away too. Maybe? I try not to take it personally and to try to understand why she might be doing it, but it hurts and its hard. We do try to show her how much we al love B, and how sad we’d all be without him. She normally gives him a cuddle and kiss fairly quickly, so I know deep down she loves him.
The ‘challenging’ behaviour lasted a few more days, although mostly at home, not out and about. I got really cross with her one morning before work/nursery and had to drop her off when she was still upset. We had tried to make up before she went in, but it didn’t feel proper. I felt so bad seeing her look so sad when I left her. I worried about her so much I rang nursery to check she was ok. apparently she was fine. I was pretty much crying myself by then, I felt such a failure and disappointed with myself. She was hurting and I felt like I made it worse. Im not sure how I managed to pull myself together to be professional for work, but in the very short walk to work I somehow did. When I picked her up she was happy to see me, and she had learnt to spell her name.
A week after we first shared the book, things still weren’t great. The book was out on the table but she hadn’t asked to look at it, so we hadn’t. We decided to show it to her again, as we thought maybe talking about things and looking at the pictures might help if she had got confused or couldn’t remember some of the details. I sat with her in her room and we looked again. We sat for quite a while in the end, and chatted. We talked about how Birth Mum’s lifestyle choices weren’t healthy, and why some of the people she loved couldn’t look after her. She really took it in, and at bedtime, she used some of her toys to be the people in the book, and almost acted out some of what we’d read. I was amazed she’d taken in so much, and had the capacity to use the toys to demonstrate her understanding. It broke my heart at the same time. She’s so little to have to even think about some of these things. We were able to talk about how she misses those people. She asks if Birth Mum is feeling better now. I’m glad she is starting to piece together the fragments of her life, but angry that she has to do it in the first place.
On Monday she put something in her ear in Nursery, it was unwitnessed, and we couldn’t get her out, so we ended up going to the hospital. They couldn’t get it out either, so we had to go back the next day to see the ENT consultant, who thankfully did get out the tiny bit of plastic with no damage to the ear. I do wonder why she did this, yes all children do these sort of things, but was it because she felt a bit all over the place anyway? After the hospital visit she was really not herself, again it could have been because of being at the hospital, but again it felt like something more for her. The next day, some sense of calm was restored, and since then things have been better. Still not completely better, but she seems more herself, we only have couple of screams a day compared to several. I do wonder if the hospital trips have anything to do with it, as we showed her we do care, and we do look after her when she’s hurt herself or is unwell. Maybe she was able to trust us more now. Again, maybe I’m reading too much into it, adoptive parenting does that to you, or at least it does to me.
After a few tricky mornings pre nursery, I managed to get her there with no problems again. Interestingly after we read the book a second time she clearly said she didn’t want it out in the living room. I put it away in the playroom, still visible and accessible so she knows where it is, but not somewhere she sees it all the time. She hasn’t asked for it since, and seems calmer for it. We haven’t talked much about her life story.
We are 8months post adoption order, (and nearly 16months post placement). We asked for an assessment of need around 7months ago as we felt we needed some support mostly around life story work and possible play therapy to help with this. We have heard nothing at all from the placing LA since this request. Our social worker has been trying to chase it, but since the AO, I get the impression we’re very much low priority. I know 7months is nothing compared to what some people wait, and we’ve held off chasing because we are not ‘in crisis’, but this is an assessment that little one is legally entitled too, and she’s not getting it. We could really do some help with how to help her explore and come to terms with her story, but it’s likely to be several more months before any, or even a basic assessment is offered. We had some training at our adoption agency, but that was generic, and it’s very different when you have an actual child and you’re not sure what to do.
So, despite the fallout, which was I was expecting, and yet it still took me by surprise I am glad that we shared her life story book. We had always wanted to start telling her her story when she was little, and to build on it as her understanding and awareness grows. I think it’s really important she starts to form her own identity, and she can only do this by being fully informed. It breaks my heart to have these discussions with her, and for her to be so confused and unsettled by them, but I’m glad that we do at least have some of the resources to help us. She makes me proud everyday, and despite all her struggles she still smiles her beautiful smile. I love that I get to experience all these new things with her, and celebrate the successes as well as work through the tough times together too.