Oh hello there baby bump

First of all, don’t worry, this is not a pregnancy announcement, just my musings about babies at the moment. Baby bumps, babies, pregnancy, it seems to be everywhere at the moment and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit recently.

Someone told me they were pregnant the other day, I was of course immensely happy for them, but it also sparked off a variety of complex feelings in me.

We did try to have a baby naturally, but quite quickly decided that adoption would be the route for us. We didn’t want to go down the route of fertility investigations or treatment as we didn’t feel it was for us.

Sometimes I feel  jealous of others for being pregnant, but then I feel like I’m not allowed to feel like this, because essentially it was our choice not to try more.  I feel like I’d like to know what it feels like to be pregnant, but I’m also not sure I’m really that bothered about being pregnant. Maybe It’s the newborn I’d like?. But I’m also glad we didn’t have to go through some of the baby stages (think poop explosions, sleepless nights). I’m forever looking at the baby accessories and tiny cute baby clothes in shops, and kinda feel sad that I didn’t get to buy any of them. I wish I could join in birth stories and breast feeding chat with other mums. They all seem to have been friends since their babies were born, so it’s hard to slot in a couple of years later.

I wish I had given birth to my little girl, then she wouldn’t have the loss that adoption brings. I would know that she was safe in pregnancy. I would have prevented those multiple moves in her first years. She would be spared her sadness and confusion of her story. I would be able to tell her about what she was like as a baby. I would have videos and photos to show her. I would be able to show her off on social media like all the other parents do. I would have got to choose her whole name. However, all these things make her her, and actually I love her just as she is.

I have the most beautiful little girl, and I’m so glad we found each other. I am  grateful I get to be her mummy, to experience what being a mum is all about. Sometimes I do think about what would have happened if she had gone to another family, what would she be like? what would she be doing? I hate to think of her growing up with someone else, so I try to hug her a little tighter everyday, and tell her I love her a little more…

Life Story: Pt 2

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.


Life Story

Today we shared our little girl’s Life Story Book (LSB) with her for the first time….

Before we came to adoption I had never heard of a Life Story Book, so when I first heard it talked about I didn’t really know what it was, or why it is significant in an adopted child’s life. I am adopted myself, but don’t have a life story book, so I wondered what’s changed in the 30years since I was adopted.

So, what is a Life Story Book you might ask? Well, it is exactly that, a ‘life story book’ It is a specially written book that explains to the child in an age and developmental appropriate way about their life, and how/why they came to be adopted. They are meant to be adaptable, so they grow with the child as their understanding and comprehension of their story increases. Information can be added, and facts can be expanded on to provide more detail. The child’s Social Worker (or more often than not a support worker) will put together the book. I think it’s meant to be done by no later than just after the granting of the Adoption Order. Once the child is old and mature enough their parents can share with them their Later Life Letter. This is a detailed letter written to them at the time of adoption by their social worker. It details everything about their journey to adoption. If life story work (with or without the book) is done properly, then the basic facts in that should not be new information.

The quality of Life Story Books varies massively, with some being great, and others really not. Some have inaccurate information, poor quality pictures and are not age or developmentally appropriate. Some children never get their book, even years later.

We were very lucky and have got a really good book. Yes, it does have quite a bit of the standard clip art, but there are lots of photos (that we provided when requested) too. The written information is just about right for our little girl now, and for the next couple of years. The pages are removable, so if we want we can just take some out if we don’t feel it’s helpful. It’s a large photo album type book, with each page really nicely presented on bright colourful paper that appeals to a little girl. We were actually given our book back in the summer, but have held off until now to share with our daughter. When the social worker brought it, our little girl was just about to start nursery so we didn’t feel it would be right to add the book into her life just yet. We have felt that the time was right to share the book in the last few weeks, but wanted to wait until after Christmas to do it. This was a partly selfish decision because we wanted to enjoy Christmas during a time in which we all felt quite settled, and didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’

I have always know I was adopted, and when I was talking about this to our social worker she asked how my parents had helped us to know, understand and accept this. I chatted to my Mum, and she said that it was just something that was talked about from the very beginning. Initially with just the basic facts, but building on them as we got older. She said that by the time we could really understand, we already knew our stories, and nothing was a surprise. I guess this is partly why we didn’t have Life Story Books as they are known now. So, this is how we’ve tried to approach it with our little girl, to slowly drip feed her the information and facts as opportunities have led us to. We’ve had quite a few situations where these conversations have been prompted, such as attending court for our celebration hearing and contact with birth family members and foster carers. We have read a few books about adoption, so we’ve started to introduce that concept. She knows she didn’t grow in my tummy and we have been able to tell her why her Birth Family were unable to look after her. Also why she didn’t stay with her Foster Family who she adores.  She knows the social workers looked hard to find Mummy and Daddy, and that she is going to stay with us forever. She loves her intro book, and we still read it regularly. Just recently we’ve talked a bit about what we did with her in intros, which she remembers some of. It all helps to build up a narrative around why she came to us and what her story is.

So, today was the big ‘unveiling’ of the book. I felt quite apprehensive about it because I didn’t know how she was going to take it. I’ve heard some stories of children really struggling with their books, and it causing lots of confusion and upset. It felt like a big step to take, and my girl is so little still really, was it fair to unsettle things when we had worked so hard to settle her? Could I deal with the emotional fall out, life is tiring enough without that extra stress? She wasn’t particularly asking for more information, so did we need to give it now? Lots to consider, but we felt that now was the right time as we wanted her to be familiar with the book. We thought it would be better to give her the information (as appropriate) now whilst she is little so she can take time to absorb and process it, rather than wait until she actively asks and it be too much all at once.

I sat with her on my lap, and together we looked through the book. Her Daddy was also in the room, so could join in any conversations, and could reiterate the important bits. Because she can’t read, I was able to go through and only pick out the bits she already knew. She enjoyed looking through the photos (I’m so glad I spent the time sending so many to the support worker, it was worth it). It prompted conversation about why she couldn’t live with those people again. She was able to really start to understand where she came from. I think the only new information she got today was that we’d met Birth Mum and another relative. We looked at photos in the book that were taken at this meeting just before we met her. She didn’t actually recognise Birth Mum from the photo, but she already knew her name. We talked about how I think she probably got her height and beautiful smile from her. She asked to ‘read’ the book again, and took time to look at the photos again. We sat and looked/chatted for quite a while, and my husband said she had the look on her face of real concentration and processing what she was learning.

She has seemed ok for the rest of the day, happily making some thank-you cards and then engrossed in Peppa Pig. She is feeling a bit unwell, so actually a great opportunity to try to relax and not rush around. I hope this gave her a chance to start to process it all. She may be too young to really realise the significance of it all, but I’m glad we’ve taken that step on our journey together. I’m sure there will be some more wondering and questions, and probably some confusion shown in various ways. I hope that she knows how loved and cherished she is. I hope we can help her to understand that all those people in her book loved her too. I hope she knows she’s our girl forever now and although she has her future with us, we’ll always respect and acknowledge her past as it’s part of who she is and what makes her her.