#YouCanAdopt

This week has seen the launch of a new UK adoption campaign called #YouCanAdopt. Many of the UK adoption agencies have got involved, as well as adoptive families. There’s been a shiny new ‘advert’ produced too.

There has been much chat on social media (mostly Twitter) around this campaign. There has been much debate around if we should be promoting adoption?, and if we are doing so, does this campaign give the right message in the right way?

I’m going to say now that I don’t think there is a clear cut right answer here, and there are lots of voices in this discussion. Some of which we hear strongly, some of which we don’t hear enough of. A lot of people have a lot of valid different things to add. I don’t think there was ever going to be a campaign or ‘advert’ that everyone was going to agree on or be happy with. What I am going to say does not mean that I am definitely for or against adoption. It doesn’t mean that I think what others say is not valid. It’s not to ‘have a go’ at anyone. I see adoption from an adopted person’s view, and also an adoptive parent. I see it from someone, who despite being adopted, was very naive and uneducated to the long term effects of adoption. I see it from someone who has altered my views over time. I see as someone who does work with our adoption agency, so yes I ‘promote’ it.

So, the campaign is all about letting people know that they can adopt. There are many many children currently in care, and they need adopting, The campaign aims to dispel the the myths around who can adopt. basically it tells people that whatever gender, colour, orientation, marital status, they can adopt. The advert encourages people to consider adoption, to find out more.

When I first watched the advert, I was immediately uncomfortable with it, and this feeling has grown each time I’ve seen it. I’m going to try to explain why. It’s not that I’m against adoption itself. I am adopted, and I think that it was right for me. Without adoption I would not be the person I am today. I feel very lucky each day that I was able to grow up with the family that I have now. I have adopted my daughter. She is wonderful, precious and so very loved. She has changed my life for the better. I do think that in some cases, adoption is the best option for children. So, back to the advert, it made me uncomfortable, why?

Firstly, it gives a very one sided view of adoption. In portrays an almost fairytale picture of adoption. The advert describes adoption with bold, positive statements, such as ‘adoption is beautiful’ ‘family is forever’ ‘the most magical thing you’ve ever done’ Apart from the odd nod to more difficult times, such as ‘be prepared for a challenge’, and when talking about the children ‘just like any other, they will sometimes drive you wild’, there is nothing, nothing at all to indicate that adoption comes from trauma. Any child coming into adoption will do so because of trauma, even if they are ‘adopted at birth’. Adoption in itself can be trauma. There is no mention of the fact that in most cases, any links to birth family are severed, that identity if changed forever. These result of these traumas will often stay with those children for their lifetime. Parenting these children takes therapeutic parenting. Yes, it is rewarding, yes it can be magical, but I don’t think trauma, and the consequences of it are beautiful.

Of course I know that this campaign is not for me or for other adoptive parents, it’s for those who don’t already know about adoption. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure that before we adopted, or when we had newly adopted, I would have loved this advert. It probably would have worked on me, and I would have believed it. I think at that stage I probably did believe in the happy ever after narrative. It’s only now I’ve learnt and experienced adoption a lot more, that my perceptions have changed. I see a fair few adoptive parents unhappy with this advert, but, I wonder if they’d say the same thing. After all, we did all adopt, so must have thought there is some good in adoption to have done so. We were the prospective adopters one day. I wonder if we believed it because in our hearts, we just really wanted a family. Hope is a powerful thing, did it blind us? I do think that adoption prep training has moved on quite a bit in recent years, and the voices of adopted people are starting to be heard more. That the realities of adoption are more openly discussed.

I guess if the campaign told it how it was for many struggling families, they would never get anyone wanting to adopt would they? I really do hope that once prospective adopters are in assessment and training, that they are told more about the realities of adoption. I think that agencies, and experienced adoptive parents have a duty to do so. Not to scare them, or put them off, but so that these parents are the most prepared they can be to parent their children. These children deserve to have parents who are trauma aware, who will be able to support them in whatever way they need. This is why I do support our adoption agency, because I do believe that adoption can be, and is a good thing. I want to help them to tell prospective adopters about what to expect, and what they can do to help. This is why we help with the contact with birth family training. because we know that in many cases, it is safe. It is hugely beneficial. feedback from these sessions has been that people’s perceptions have totally changed, and where they never thought about contact before, now the’d be open to consider that.

Another thing that makes me uncomfortable about this campaign and advert is that it does not really include the voices of adopted people. yes, there is an adopted adult featured, and several children. But, as an adoptive person on twitter mentioned, ‘they only included the happy adoptee’ Of course, if they’d included someone with an unhappy view, then it wouldn’t be doing their campaign any favours, so I understand this. But, the whole campaign makes me wonder just how much those in leadership and power actually listen to adopted people. if they truly did, then they would know that many adopted people hate the ‘happily ever after’ narrative. They hate the ‘forever families’ narrative. They would know that ‘kindness, patience, love and a room’ does not fix the challenges that result of adoption and trauma. The voices of adopted people seriously need to be elevated more. Yes, what they have to say is challenging, and makes us uncomfortable. But, as I’ve seen it say, adopted adults are our adopted children grown up. Our small children will grow up, and have views/opinions about adoption. we need to listen to those voices now, so that we can try to get it right for our children. As adopted parents we need to make space for those voices, and advocate for them to be heard equally.

Lastly, some people have said that we shouldn’t be having a recruitment campaign for adoption, because children should not be needing to be adopted. If we put as much money and effort into family preservation as we do adoption, then would we even need adoption? sadly I do think that we will always need adoption. Some children will never be able to safely live in their birth family. Yes, there is the option of kinship or special guardianship care. But, sometimes, these options are not appropriate. In some cases, every effort is made to keep the family together, and sadly it still doesn’t work safely. When this happens, then every effort should be made to ensure that if able some links to birth family are maintained if appropriate. It’s a complex debate, one I don’t think we’re going to solve any time soon.. Yes, adoption does legally sever ties, but in all honesty, it did to me, and I’m really not that bothered about it. Of course I do understand that many other adopted people are bothered about this, everyone is different, that’s ok.

Back to the need for adoption, I do agree that more needs to be done to keep first families together, so that they never get to the stage where adoption needs to become an option. These families need long term support. The advert states ‘there are children waiting, they’re further down the stream’. I really feel that if there was more support ‘up the stream’, then the number of children in care would be massively reduced. To me it makes so much sense, but it seems that that is the costly option, so unlikely to happen. I guess to those who feel children shouldn’t be adopted, maybe they should ensure that they are doing something to help ensure that those needing support get it. They need to speak out. They need to practically support organisations that provide support. Only this way will those who need to hear listen and take action.

So, to summarise, I have mixed views of this campaign. I do think it’s great it is so inclusive, and that it has included many types of families. Hopefully it will help to find the right adopters for the children who do need adoption. However, it doesn’t appear to show that those who made it have really sought or listened to the views of adopted people. It paints an unrealistic picture of adoption that I’m not sure is helpful to anyone. Yes, adoptive families can be amazing and very happy. The child might not live with their birth family, but to them they are still their forever too. We should never take that away from them. We need to be talking and doing more about how to support families before, during and after care proceedings. We need to be better supporting adoptive families, providing lifelong support. We need to be raising the voices of adopted people and including them in system changes.

Out of the fog

In the last year or so I’ve learnt more about what ‘coming out of the fog means’ in relation to adoption. After reading around about it a little, I think I understand that it’s what happens when an adopted person fully comes to terms with their adoption. I found that in general terms, being in the fog means being in a haze, pre-occupied, not paying attention. When you’re in a literal fog, your view is obscured so that you can’t think or see clearly. I’ve seen quite a few adopted people using this term, and being adopted myself, I was intrigued to find out a bit more.

I am adopted, and have grown up always knowing that. Despite everything I’ve learnt about adoption, I am very secure in my feelings about my own adoption. I am secure in my identity. I know that for me, adoption was the best option for me. I personally do not feel adversely affected by adoption. Although the losses that adoption bring were and are still present for me, I do not feel traumatised by them. More recently I have thought deeply about if this is right, I’ve thought and thought again. I’ve wondered if there is something wrong with me. From what I’ve been reading, it appears I should be more affected, and yet I’m not. It’s taken time for me to come to terms with the fact that this is ok. I can feel how I want. I don’t need to feel bad or wrong for my feelings. They are valid, and what’s right for me. No one else needs to change that.

However, I think that learning about ‘the fog’ has helped me to think about adoption more widely, and to think about it from my daughter’s possible point of view. It has helped me be prepared for what she might feel. I hope it’s helped me become a better adoptive parent to her. It has helped me understand more about the fact that everyone’s adoption experience is different. Despite being adopted myself, it wasn’t until I started listening to other adopted people that I realised that not everyone has had such a positive experience as me. Or, even if they did have a positive experience, they can still have mixed views of adoption. They can still have huge losses. They can still have lifelong trauma. They can still advocate against adoption.

So, do I feel like I’m out of the fog? If I’m honest, I’m not sure I really like the term. I think it’s an unhelpful label. I’ve seen it used by some adopted people to put down and exclude others who are adopted, but who may not hold the same views or opinions on adoption as they do. I’ve been on a journey of self searching and questioning, but at the end of the day it hasn’t changed my views on my own adoption. I don’t feel I was ever in the fog, so never really needed or want to come out of it. For now anyway. It might change in the future, it might not. Either is fine.

In terms of my understanding of the varied long term impact of adoption, I guess I could say I’ve come out of the fog. Almost like the veil across my eyes has been lifted, and I can now see clearly what I couldn’t before. From what others have taught me, I understand much more now about the trauma and loss that can come from adoption. I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I never really ‘got it’ before, which maybe I should have being adopted myself. It’s made me think much more about what can be done to support families so that they don’t get the stage where their children might need to be adopted. It’s highlighted to me the importance of life story work, and maintaining links to first/birth families. I would strongly suggest that adoptive parents, and those working in adoption services seek out and listen to adopted people, and not just the ‘happy’ ones. I hope that adoption prep now focuses more on these things. If parents go into adoption with awareness of these, then hopefully they’ll be more open to supporting their children through the ups and downs of adopted life.

In conclusion. I want to say thank you to those who have bravely spoken out about their experiences of adoption, it has certainly helped me. I’ve learnt to be confident in my own experiences and views. I feel more prepared to support my daughter, but also to be ok with the fact that she might feel differently to me. Or, she might feel the same, and that’s absolutely ok too. All views matter, and all views are valid.

Foggy Sea on the Isle of Wight – an amazing phenomenon to watch as the thick fog quickly descended and literally rolled out onto of the sea. Beautiful!

Grateful?

I follow a fair few people on social media, and there is always been lots of discussion. around whether adopted people should be grateful to have been adopted. Grateful to their parents for adopting them. It’s one that I’ve always found interesting, because being adopted myself, and having also adopted my daughter, I think I can bring thoughts and experience from both sides. What I do want to make clear now though, is that there isn’t a right or wrong view. Experiences are personal and they shape people’s opinions. It’s ok to think differently to others. It’s ok to disagree.

I think the old view of adoption is that the adopted person is very lucky to have been adopted. That they are lucky to have escaped the terrible situation they were in. That they are lucky to have the chance to grow up safe and loved. Lucky to have such amazing parents who saved them. Historically adopted people have been expected to feel grateful for the new life and everything that goes with it that adoption has given them. They have been expected to be seen to be grateful to their parents.

This view I think comes from a much less acknowledged and openly talked about knowledge and acceptance that although adoption can be, and is a good thing, everything about it also carries loss and trauma. I think we now understand how adoption is a loss of identity, a loss of family. For most, the reasons for adoption are traumatic, the repercussions of which will stay with that person for the rest of their life. The actual adoption in itself, although healing can also be traumatic. Imagine being taken from everything you know and living with people you’ve only just met. Imagine not seeing those you people you trusted, and thinking they’ve gone for ever. Of course steps are taken to minimise trauma that results from adoption, but it’s always still going to be there.

When you think of all these things, it’s easy to see why adopted people are often not grateful or thankful to have been adopted. Some didn’t ever want to be adopted. Some never asked to be. Some were never given any chance to say what they wanted to happen to their lives. For some, despite the difficulties in their birth families, they’d rather have them then have their connections to their biological family severed by adoption. I can really see why some adopted people are angry they were adopted. Some are angry at the system, some at their adoptive parents. Some at everyone/everything.

Now, I personally struggle with the view adopted people shouldn’t be grateful and thankful to be adopted. For me, adoption has been a overwhelmingly positive. I am indeed grateful and thankful to have been adopted. I know my story, and I know that the alternative to adoption would have resulted in a very different life for me. Adoption has literally given me life. I know I wouldn’t be where I am, or have achieved what I have without it. I know I am loved, and have learnt to love because of adoption. I feel incredibly blessed to have the parents and siblings that I do now, and I wouldn’t be without any of them. It was my positive experience of adoption that made me want to adopt a child myself.

I don’t think I should change my views or opinions about being grateful for being adopted. I don’t think I’m any less of a genuine adopted person because I feel like I do. And, yes, sometimes I have been made to doubt myself, my experiences and feelings because they don’t match with others. Feeling grateful and thankful doesn’t take away from the difficult bits. I still lost my birth family. My identity was still changed. I still have unanswered questions and lots of gaps of knowledge about my early life. I still wonder about what life would have been without adoption. There is still trauma there, there will always be. However, it hasn’t made me feel that adoption has been a negative or bad experience for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have what I do because of it.

So, now I am now an adoptive parent, I do think a lot about how my little girl will feel about adoption as she grows. We talk quite a lot with her about adoption. We talk to her birth family, and are in regular contact, both directly and indirectly with some of them. We have talked about her being lucky before. Not because she’s adopted, but when we’ve donated to charity or given things away to people who might not have the material things that she has. We talk about being thankful for the things we do have.

I absolutely do not expect her to be thankful/grateful for being adopted. I don’t expect her to be thankful/grateful for us being her parents. After all, we have contributed in part to her trauma. I don’t think I realised that at the time, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really understood that adoption in itself is trauma. I think we do try to help her work through her thoughts and feelings, and we validate what she tells us. We are honest with her about adoption. She knows how much she is loved by us, and her birth family. We try hard to help her still have connections to her life before us. We work hard to try to help others learn how beneficial and important these connections are.

If she does express that she is grateful to have been adopted, or thankful to us for adopting her, then that’s ok. I can’t very well say I’m grateful to have been adopted, but she’s not allowed to be. Our stories and experiences of adoption may be different, so we will probably feel differently about it it. But, it’s ok to feel the same too. What I will tell her though, is that we are incredibly grateful and thankful to have her in our lives. She has bought so much love and joy. She has enriched our lives so much. We came to adoption, yes because we thought we could give a child a safe, loving home, but also selfishly because we wanted to be parents. We chose adoption for our family. She did not. We know that love does not fix everything, and she really doesn’t have to be grateful to us. I’d quite understand if she were the opposite.

To end, I want to say thank you to those adopted people who have opened my eyes to the bigger picture of adoption. You’d have thought that as an adopted person myself, I would have ‘got it’ before I did. I’m sorry that I didn’t. Even though it’s been hard and painful for others to share their experiences and feelings, I’m grateful they did. Hopefully by taking them on board, I’ll be a better, more understanding parent to my daughter. I hope she grows up knowing we tried to do what we thought was best with what we knew. I hope she grows up feeling loved, but under no obligation to feel grateful or thankful for being adopted.

Six!

Dear Darling,

Tomorrow you are six! For us that’s 3 1/2 years of loving you. I know you’ve been loved since the day you were born, you are so loved. We may not have known you since that beautiful day 6years ago, but we will love you forever more, for sure. I don’t remember what we were doing that day, but I did take this very pretty picture. I’d written that I love spring and the new life it brings, little did we know that on that day, a very pretty little girl was born. We waited another 2 1/2 years to meet you, but it was so worth the wait.

So, this year, it’s flown by. You’ve continued to get taller, and more clever. Your feet at size 2, and you’re in age 9-10 clothes! You’re starting to help to do your hair, and you love a pamper session at the hairdressers. You can properly read and write now. You’re really good at maths too. You love music, and it’s lovely to hear you playing. Music really relaxes you. Hopefully this year you can start learning to play an instrument. I can’t wait to hear what you play. I love your stories and drawing. So creative and expressive now. You’ve done amazing at school, and have become a school councillor. You’re great at thinking of other people, and wanting to help them. You’re a really caring, thoughtful girl. We were really proud when you got a merit certificate before Christmas, for your writing. It certainly has got so much better recently. Very well deserved.

You’ve loved gymnastics, and have now got two proficiency awards. You work really hard in lessons, and always come out telling me all about how you’ve done. You’ve got a new bike, and hopefully once we can go out and about again, you can practice a bit more. You still love scooting, and love the little seat we got to put on the front, so the doggies can have a ride.

We enjoyed a lovely summer, and had some great fun. I think your favourite activity was swimming in the outdoor pool. You did really well at holiday club, and often brought your creations home. We went on holiday in the hottest week of the year. Luckily we went to the seaside, so you spent a lot of the time cooling off in the sea. And eating ice-creams. We were very grateful for our air conditioned room, so we slept very comfortably at night.

We are so proud of how you have taken to increased contact with your Birth Relative. It’s a lot, for the grown-ups to take in, so you as a little girl have done so well. I’m so glad we get to see your relative more now, I’m sorry we didn’t do it sooner. I love it when we see them. I love seeing how happy and relaxed you both are. I love that you have this connection. I love that we have lots of happy photos as memories. I love that we are finding out about your life with them before you came to us. I am sorry you can’t see them as much as we’d like, but what we’ve got is a start, and hopefully we can build on that as time goes on. It was so special you being able to speak to them on your birthday. I know it will have made their day, and made them very very happy.

You are such a sunshine girl, and bring smiles, laughter and fun on the hard days. This year has had its fair share of hard days for sure. In the summer we lost the 2nd baby in my tummy. You didn’t know, I’ll tell you one day, but I didn’t want to make you sad. You would have loved to be a big sister. One day I hope you will. Until then, we’ll make the most of having you to ourselves. Having you here on those tough days have kept me going. You are the best medicine I could ask for. One of our favourite songs to sing to each other is 🎶 ☀️ You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away☀️🎶 My little love, you have no idea how much sunshine you’ve bought to my life on those dark days. Thank you.

This year has certainly been a challenge, and we’ve only had a few months. I am so incredibly proud of how you’ve coped with everything thing that the Corona Virus has thrown at us. You woke up on the Monday morning to be told you weren’t going to school, and now 5weeks later you’re doing amazingly. Your whole world turned upside down in an instant, with no warning. But then I think about how you’ve sort of done this before. Every time you moved to a new home, you started all over again. I hope that having us with you this time has made it a little more reassuring for you. I hope you feel safe. For a little girl who is so sociable and friendly, it’s really really hard seeing you not be able to play with your friends or family. For someone who loves being out and about, it’s frustrating having to keep you indoors so much. But, I have loved spending this bonus time with you. I have loved watching you learn and play. I have loved cooking and reading with you. It’s been fun to document what we’ve been doing. I think it inspires others. Hopefully we’ll look back on this time as a fun, relaxed time. Hopefully we won’t have to do it again, but I am so grateful to have had you. I don’t know how I would have got through it without you. You have kept me busy, you have kept me motivated. Thank you!

Your sixth birthday, wasn’t quite what we had planned, and you missed out on so much. But do you know what, we all had a lovely day, and it went as well as we’d hoped it would. I am so proud of you, you haven’t moaned or complained once. For a little girl who is only six, a lockdown birthday is really not what you’d want. I hope you still had fun. I hope you feel very special and loved. I’m so glad you loved your cake. Daddy and I loved making it for you. I know you said you never ‘happy cried’, but I think you did, and it made me cry too. I’m so glad we made you happy on your special day, I hope we do everyday. Once we’re allowed out again, we’ll have another birthday for you. We’ll have another cake and a big ballon too. So, you’re a special girl with two birthdays this year. Hopefully looking forward to that will keep us all going u til we celebrate with family again.

So, here’s to this next year. I’m sure it will be filled with fun and adventures, and exciting experiences. You’ll be in year 2 at school, I’m sure the teachers have lots of interesting learning planned for you when you go back. Hopefully we can do some more cycling and swimming at some point too.

Lots of love, Mummy Dearest….. XXXXXX

Family Time

This week we had our 2nd independent ‘contact’ with Little Love’s Birth Family. This time we arranged it (nearly) entirely ourselves. It was (nearly) independent of any professional input. I say nearly because there was one brief intervention from the support worker at Social Services because the family member had sent a message to us via them.

Since talking quite openly about our direct contact (we prefer meet up, or family time), I’ve had a few people ask about how they can do it too. So, I’ll let you know how it works for us, and hopefully it might help others. As I’ve said, we are not professionals in this area, so I don’t want others to think that our way is the only or right way. I want to stress that every situation is different, and that’s ok. What might work for one may not for another. I would advise to seek professional support and advice. But, also to go with you intuition and gut instincts. You know your situation, your child, your family. You know what’s best for them. I’d say be careful. Really think about the risks involved for everyone. Don’t underestimate the impact it will have on you, the child, the birth family. It is exhausting, it is intense, it takes time to sort. But, it can be so beneficial. It can be beautiful. And it can be fun too.

So, we are now at a stage where we can arrange and meet our time on our own. We have a second phone we use, so as not to use our personal ones. But, to understand how we got this far, I need to take you back a few years to the beginning. When we were being considered to be matched with Little Love, we knew from the start that direct contact with a member of her family was going to be requested. This information was on her Link Maker profile, so we knew about it even before we knew very much about her at all. It was something we said we’d definitely consider, but at that point hadn’t really learnt much about how it works. It was quite uncommon 4years ago I think, so I don’t think we knew anyone else who had direct contact. This person is not a Birth Parent, but it is someone whom she lived with before she went into care.

We were fortunate enough to meet the family member before Little Love came home, and this really helped us to confirm in our minds that direct contact was going to be a positive thing (we hoped). It was lovely to meet the person we’d be seeing again, and to hear how much they loved our daughter. To hear how much they wanted to still see her and be involved in her life. To hear how they would take precautions to make sure contact worked as safely as possible. They were fully committed to direct contact, and it helped us to be as equally as committed too. At that meeting we started to build a relationship, that is still growing now.

The next meeting was arranged and supervised by a support worker from the placing Local Authority. It took place about 10months after our daughter came home, which was about 11months after she and her relative had last seen each other. It was in a place where neither of us live, about half way in between. The support worker provided transport for the relative as they can’t drive. This first meeting was really quite emotional, and the relative clearly found saying goodbye hard. They knew they weren’t going to see Little Love for another year, and that must have been so so hard for them. It was only a couple of hours, but it was lovely. Little love was initially a little shy, appropriately so. But she soon warmed up and was quite happy and comfortable with her relative. At this point we knew we’d made the right decision to agree to contact. The 2nd and 3rd meet-ups were in the same place, and took pretty much the same format. It was great to see LL and her relative pick up where they left off the last time they’d seen each other. The meet ups were each a year apart. They often felt like long years, but also seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.

At some point during those initial meetings we were informed that the LA we’re planning to withdraw their physical support for these meet-ups. They said that this was normal practice, but came as a surprise to us, as we didn’t think it hadn’t been communicated clearly to us. We were committed to continuing this invaluable family time, but were concerned about the lack of support would affect the relative. They relied on support workers not only to provide transport, but also to be emotional support before and after the meet-up. We have each other, and get to take our daughter home with us. Her relative attended the meet-up without other family, and has to say goodbye for another year. It didn’t seem fair for them to have to do it alone. The LA told us that the alternative arrangement was that the relatives son would provide transport, but that they were not to get involved in the actual contact itself. We had concerns about this as we didn’t know that person, whether they would be a risk. Yes, they weren’t going to physically be at the contact, but they would be around surely? We requested the LA to do a risk assessment, which they reluctantly did & we agreed to proceed.

The first non supervised meeting went ahead about 4months after then previous meet up. We thought that as we weren’t restricted by when support staff would be available, we would increase the number of times we see Birth Family from once a year to 3-4times a year. This seemed like a more ‘normal’ wider family relationship, and we might as well whilst we still can. Our brilliant support worker at the LA was really helpful, and acted as the ‘middle man’ to help arrange it. She even provided a contact number for the day (at the weekend) should we need it, so we felt well supported. The meeting went brilliantly, it was everything we’d hoped for and more. Everything ran smoothly, and everyone had a great time. We spent around 4hours with each other that day. It was so nice to have the freedom to take the time we wanted with each other. Although the support workers had been lovely at previous meet-ups, it was lovely to not feel watched or supervised. We were free to relax a bit more, and to really start to build a meaningful relationship with each other. We realised that the relative’s son was sat in their car waiting whilst we spent time with them. We went with our gut instinct, and decided that even though we didn’t know this person, they were keeping their end of the deal. They were keeping out of the way, whilst still being committed enough to drive their relative to see us. We decided to let them join in and meet our daughter. We’re so glad we did. It wasn’t planned, but it was ok. It was beneficial. They hadn’t seen little one for over 3years, so they were delighted to see how she was doing. They are part of her family, so we felt she should have the chance to grow up having the opportunity to start to get to know them. It might lead to contact with more birth family members, it might not, and either or neither is ok.

Between meet ups we do send texts and pictures with updates of how our daughter is getting on. We sent each other Christmas greetings, and we were able to send them a picture of her with the Christmas present they bought her (they send a voucher via letterbox, and we choose the gift on their behalf). Previously we had to wait until the next letterbox to tell them what we’d bought, but now we could tell them in real time. This is amazing, and much more normal. More recently Little One has been phoning her relative every couple of weeks. She tends to speak to them on speaker phone so I can hear, but not necessarily get involved. I love hearing them chat away. Love that they get to do this. Little one started saying ‘Oh my goodness!’. I don’t know where she’d heard it. Then one day on the phone her relative said it, and they sounded exactly the same! She was able to phone her relative on both their birthdays, which again is so natural and normal. Being able to keep in contact, especially through lockdown has been great, and helped us not feel that they’re so far away.

The most recent meet up was again a great experience. Because of the weather, we couldn’t go outdoors, so we went to a pub for a meal. It was a good opportunity to spend time chatting, and getting to know each other a bit more. We had the chance to fill in some gaps from Little Love’s time with them. We heard stories of things they did together. They shared their precious memories with us. The relative’s son joined us for the whole time, and it was comforting to see that they are well supported buy him.

During this time we were able to film a short video with the relative. We help to deliver our Adoption Agency’s training session about ‘Contact with Birth Families’ to prospective adopters. We tell our story about contact, in the hope that it will encourage them to think about it being an option for their families. We share the positives and benefits, as well as the hard bits and challenges. We show a video of our daughter talking about her experience of seeing her relative. It’s very well received. We think it’s vital that the adopted child’s voice is heard. We as adopters and professionals are usually the loudest voices, and we didn’t want the adopted persons voice to be missed. We thought it was important that Birth Family are given a voice too. It’s their story as well, and without them, we can’t do this level of contact. I rang the relative a few days before to explain and asked them to think about it. They agreed to do it, and seemed to appreciate being included. Hearing them tell their thoughts and reflections is powerful. I really hope it helps others to be more open as to what they could offer their children and their families.

So, that brings us back to the present time. It’s been a journey these last nearly 4 years. It’s not always been easy. There has been worries and every emotion there is. But, it’s been so incredibly positive. It’s been so beneficial to everyone, and has really helped to build on life story work. Meeting up with family has given us a natural reason for us to chat to Little Love about her family, her story. It’s made it an easy, positive conversation to have. It’s absolutely the right thing for our daughter, us, her birth family. We have been two families coming together, with a shared love of our precious little girl. We only want what is right for her. I wish we’d done it sooner, but then, maybe we wouldn’t have been ready. We certainly haven’t done it on our own. I think it shows that these sort of things absolutely do need professional support and guidance. When others have asked me ‘how do we do direct contact?’, it makes me realise that we’ve been very fortunate. It was set up for us, given to us on a plate. Yes, we’ve actively engaged in it, but it was thanks to the social workers who were forward thinking and proactive that it got started in the first place.

As we move forward, we plan to meet up every few months, nothing confirmed yet for the next one. But that’s ok because everyone trusts that the others are equally as committed to make this work, and so it will happen. We plan to ring the relative a bit more, because they might manage this more than texting. When I rang them prior to the last meeting, they told me it had made their day! I am excited to share the videos, and get those voices out there. I hope it encourages more people to consider direct contact for them too.

Real

Recently there has been quite a bit of debate around a TV advert which showed a young girl searching for her ‘real dad’.

it caused much upset to adoptive families because it appeared to encourage vulnerable young people to independently search for their birth family. To not have the support to do it, and to have to deal with the consequences on their own. It appeared to show a successful reunion, which is not always the case & could possibly give false hope to others wanting to search.

In this advert the word that really stood out, and that was hotly debated was the word ‘real’ It made me think about how this relates to adoption, and what it means when we mean the word ‘real’ I think it means different things to different people.

when talking about ‘real parents’, I would say that both the birth and adoptive parents would like to claim that they are the (adopted) child’s real parents. I think that actually all parents are real.

One adoptive parent claimed that there is a difference between real and birth parents, and added that they were the ‘real’ parent. If I’m honest, this annoyed me, it didn’t seem fair. Yes, they were the parent raising the child. And yes, any parent (or carer) raising a child is very much real. They care for the child, meet their needs, love them. there is no doubt that they are a real parent (or carer)

But, I don’t think that we can then not call a birth parent a real parent too. They might not be physically raising the child, but they are still related to and created them. They are also very much real. To dismiss them is surely wrong? They might not be legal parents, but they’re still real people. We need to see them, treat them as real people.

It was interesting because all the complaints and chat came from adoptive parents, and very little from adoptees themselves. This gives quite a biased view. I do agree with what was said, but I do wonder that if we asked adopted people who they feel their real parents are, what would they say? I think that what’s important is that it’s for them to decide, and whatever they feel, that is absolutely fine. We shouldn’t be labelling people for them. For some it might be very difficult to call either ‘real’, or they may be still be working out how that relationship works.

I am adopted, and I very much see my adoptive parents as my real parents. They raised me, they love me, I am their daughter. They are to me my parents, simple as that. I would never call them my ‘real’ parents because I don’t need to make that distinction. I never questioned it. It’s not that I don’t see my birth parents as real. For me, I guess it’s because I never had a relationship with them, and I don’t think I ever yearned to want or need one.

I wonder if I asked my 5year old about who she feels her real mum is, what she’d say. She calls me Mummy, and she’d name me if someone asked her who her Mum is. But, she knows she has two mums. She knows I didn’t give birth to her. She knows who her birth mum is. She calls her by name. She knows her story. She knows that her Birth Mum will always be her Birth Mum. I can’t, and wouldn’t ever take that right and title away from her. I told her that one day, and think it really helped her to know that it’s ok to see us both as her Mum. To see us both as very real to her.

So, to conclude, I think it’s good that the advert highlighted the issues around searching for family in adoption. Maybe it shows that there needs to be so much more support for everyone as they navigate the complexities of this. I also hope it reminds us all to think about the language and labels we use, and to think about the people behind them. At the end of the day we’re all people, and all people are 100% real!

Adoption Celebrations

This post is all about whether we should celebrate adoption, and the various ‘milestones’ associated with adoption. I have been thinking about this for some time now, and was prompted to try to write some thoughts down. It came after someone mentioned on Twitter about seeing others announcing and celebrating the arrival of their child via adoption. They wondered whether such an event was worthy of a celebration?

Its’s a tricky one, this because as with every situation, we don’t know the full story behind this, as someone else said ‘snapshot’. So, we naturally come to conclusions and I guess, judge. I wanted to think about why adoptive parents want to celebrate adoption, and why seeing them do this could make others upset or uncomfortable.

I don’t know if I”m just a bit more connected on social media now then when we were going through the adoption process, or that its a much bigger anyway now. However, I see with and engage with adoption a lot. One thing I’ve noticed is the adopters use widely to ‘document their journey’ From pre approval, matching, to the child coming home, and beyond. It seems a big thing now, and there are even adoption milestone cards that some people use. I was thinking about why we feel the need to do this, and thought that maybe it’s because we want it to be like it would be if we were pregnant. It allows parents to not feel left out of this preparation phase. It builds the excitement and anticipation. It draws others into our journey, and provides support.

Now we are parents, we fairly often take to social media to share our daughter’s achievements. The funny things she does or says. The joy she brings to our family. The fabulous little girl she is. Why do we do it? Because we’re parents, and generally that’s what parents do. Our daughter may be adopted, but we’re just like any other parents in that we’re proud, and we want to share our happiness with others. Parenting requires your absolute all, and this includes celebrating the good bits. I think as an adoptive parent, if you don’t let yourself do this, you could end up feeling not fully their parent. You might feel a bit detached maybe. Like you’re not allowed to celebrate because it might upset someone else. Obviously, with adoption there are additional things to consider about what and how we share. But, I don’t think that should take away being allowed to celebrate.

For some adoptive parents, the little things really are the big things. Their child may have achieved something massive for them, so of course they’re going to want to celebrate, and why not? I guess it can provide hope to others as well, that somehow, someday they’ll get there too.

Parts of adoption that are often celebrated include matching, introductions, homecoming day and the granting of the adoption order. Now I’ve understood adoption trauma more, I have mixed feelings about celebrating these events. They are normally hugely happy and positive to the adoptive family. But of course, with adoption there is always loss, grief and sadness that goes hand in hand with these ‘milestones’ One family’s gain is then another’s loss. One family’s happiness is another’s pain. It’s complicated, and no one story is the same as another. It’s very emotive, and people will have big feelings and views about it.

We have and still do publicly ‘celebrate’ these markers of our story. But, we often think about our daughter’s birth family, and how they might be feeling on those days. We talk to her about them, and discuss her story with her regularly. She knows that it’s ok to miss them and to feel sad. I think that as she gets older, she might not want to celebrate those events so much, and that’s ok. I hope that adopters these days do consider birth families when they celebrate. Of course we only see what they share, and shouldn’t assume, but I’d like to think that there is more awareness of adoption trauma now. I hope parents are empathetic and sensitive in what they share.

I’m going to end this post with this quote, which I love. I don’t know where it comes from, but it think it perfectly sums up adoption. As adoptive parents we must never forget this. She is our daughter, but she is their’s too. Although she is legally ours, she wouldn’t be here without them, and she has a huge place in our hearts as well as in theirs too.

Post Adoption Support: should we have it?

This week is National Adoption Week, and there has been much talk about adoption. There has been many voices heard, and many views shared. It’s been great to listen, to participate in discussions. To share my experiences, and to learn from others. There has been much chat about if we should even be having a National Adoption Week because it is essentially a recruitment drive to find more adopters. The stats show that there are currently more children ‘waiting to be adopted’ then there are potential adopters. I’m not going to go into the arguments around if we should have adoption in the first place, or f we should have a National Adoption Week at all because that’s for another day. I am going to try to explain why I think that Post Adoption Support is really needed.

A big theme of the current discussions seems to be around ‘preservation” , specifically around family preservation before adoption is even considered to be an option. I get that if first/birth families were helped and supported more, then in some cases it would never get to needing adoption. If families could be helped to manage their lives so that children are safe and able to grow up safely, then families wouldn’t need to be broken up by adoption. If children could be supported to stay in birth families, then they wouldn’t have the life-long consequences of adoption. For example, a loss of identity and relationship with their birth family. If families could be supported more during and after care proceedings, then subsequent children may have more of a chance of staying with their families.

However, in some cases, children can not stay safely with their families, and some will need to be adopted. Adoption isn’t for every child, but for many children, it will give them the chance to be a child again. To grow and to thrive. It will give them stability and secure base that they couldn’t get before.

Today I was challenged by someone who felt that funding should be used for family preservation and not for post adoption support. That funding for family preservation should be the priority. I agreed with them in that family preservation is really important, and that there should be more support available so that it didn’t get to the stage where a child needed to be adopted.

However, I had to disagree with them that there should be no post adoption support. Their argument was that adoptive families should just get on with it, because our choices should not take priority over keeping families together. That adoptive families should find a way to either get the help themselves, or already have the skills needed to care for children with very high levels of need.

I feel that most adopters will do everything they can to support their child. Sometimes this means being supported by skilled professionals who can assess and provide the appropriate intervention. I pointed out that most adoptive parents are just that, parents. We’re not therapists, and that’s why we pay therapists to help us learn to do the right thing. Also, a lot of the time, a child’s needs are not fully known at the time of adoption. We can’t predict what they might need in the future. We commit to l support the child for the rest of their lives, and this includes doing everything we can to make sure they have access to appropriate and helpful external support.

Many parents will be willing, and do pay privately for specialist assessments and interventions, but sometimes they just can’t afford too. In some cases the needs of the child amount to so much that working, and caring for them are not possible. Most parents try and manage the best they can for as long as they can, and sometimes asking for help, admitting they are struggling can actually be really hard. They then need to be treated with compassion, empathy, understanding. Just like those birth parents who needed support right back at the beginning should have been. It’s not a case of some people being more deserving than another really. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about the adults, it should be for the benefit of the child.

As a family we have had, and benefitted from post adoption support in various forms. We have had formal support from the Adoption Support Fund in the form of therapy and life story work. It was really helpful, and we have been able to use what we’ve learnt every day at home. We feel very grateful that we were able to access this support. We engaged in a lengthy process with the LA because we felt that it was something our daughter needed, and she had a right to access that service.

But, there are many other forms of post adoption support that are equally vital, and to be honest, without, I’m not sure we’d be where we are right now. Among them is informal support from family, friends and other support services. We have engaged quite a bit with our adoption agency, and local adoption group. We’ve found the peer support invaluable. We’ve had the chance to chat to professionals, and to speak out our thoughts and worries. Together, we’ve been able to talk about strategies and things to help. Just having a named person to contact if needed makes such a difference. Support workers are vital, and sometimes having early low level support can prevent problems escalating to bigger issues and crisis points. It’s needed so much more for both first/birth families and adoptive families. It probably doesn’t cost a lot, but it does so much good. I wish there was more.

This weekend we had our first independent meet up with our daughter’s birth family. It was with someone who we’d met up with before a few times, but previously they’d always been accompanied by a support worker. This support has been withdrawn, partly due to just not having the resources (people , money, time) to send someone out on the contact sessions. We decided earlier in the year that as we weren’t going to have supervised sessions, we’d like to increase the frequency of these meet ups. Our support worker helped to organise this meeting, and communicated between everyone.

The actual meet up went brilliantly, and we could not have hoped for a better day. Our daughter was able to meet another member of her family. Someone who was, and will continue to be part of her story. She and her other relative picked up where they left off from the last time they saw each other. It was such a privilege to observe and be part of. Yesterday we were two families, that came together as one with a much loved little girl at the centre. It was wonderful and bittersweet too as it was a reminder of the loss they’ve all suffered, and of the relationships they can’t fully have. However, it gave hope that these are relationships that can be grown and deepened.

We could not have got to this stage without the brilliant post adoption support from the LA. This day had taken over 3years to work towards, with lots of support for us and birth family. This is why post adoption support is vital. Adoption can tear families apart, but done right, it can also bring them together too.

‘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. 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, not all of them might be happy.

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 may feel torn, and worried about upsetting us. 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. At the moment I do think it’s important to mark the occasion, and to celebrate it, whilst at the same time acknowledging and making space for whatever, or however she might feel as she grows up. I am fully prepared to stop celebrating her homecoming day in the future if she doesn’t want to. 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.