Raise Her Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maternal Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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