Who Mothers The Mothers?

 

 

When I told my Mum I was thinking of adopting I’m sure she was worried but graciously hid her concerns. I’m sure she was aware of the naivety with which I set foot but encouraged me every step of the way.

It began and has continued with adoption and childcare related articles arriving in the post. She was like a one women research unit sending facts, figures and examples, both good and bad. Like a strange sooth sayer, articles from her would arrive on subjects I was just about to consider, or inspiring stories precisely when I needed cheer-leading.

Other times parcels would be sent or given. I had become unemployed very quickly as my daughter could not manage school and money was tight. Cat food, homemade jam, socks, wellies, cake, vegetables, children’s books, vitamins, seeds. Quirky but perfect if you know us.

She didn’t get cross or even mildly irritated when my six year old put weed killer all over her store of home baking in the freezer. Nor did she bat an eyelid when the window got put through on the day we dog sat.

Very quickly my Mum became a key figure in my daughters life. Like a Zen Granny, patient, curious and non reactive. Where others more expert and professional would flounder in the face of extreme behaviour she just was. Gentle and unflustered. It was as if she had graduated with a PHD from the university of Dan Hughes  in between the supermarket and cooking everyone’s tea.

At the times when I was so pushed to my limit that I wanted to explode, I would bring her to mind. I would also say her name to my daughter when she felt the same. At the moments we wanted to kill each other I would say, “Imagine Granny was here”.  It was as if in our atheist household she was the head of The Karma Fairies, an omnipresent but forgiving goddess.

I hid lots of things from my Mum. The extent of our struggles and the intensity of the drama that played out over the years. It felt like one of those necessary  lies. The type that kindly prevents the worrying and sleepless nights that particularly Mothers are prone to. But the truth was revealed quite suddenly and without edit when we hit a crisis so major it was undeniable.

As ever she took it on the chin and loved my daughter more at a time when others struggled with feelings of protecting me above all else. The non judgement was precisely what was needed. The articles that arrived became more political and in them an unsaid encouragement to me to fight back, to not give up, to know we were right.

As my daughter is transitioning into adulthood I am reflecting on what we have learnt and using that to inform us on how we may best be able to support others.

Part of that reflection is the realisation that I couldn’t have survived without the support of my Mum. It makes me wonder about the mothers who do not have the support from their Mums (or mum figures) either in the present or through the maternal lines of their history.

My Mum could teach me because her mum taught her and with this I can be a good enough mum myself.

It makes me worried that some mums, birth, adoptive, and foster may have to rely on the state for support in the absence of an available/financially solvent parent. The state as the surrogate mum that is at times more a cruel and stingy nanny. A morally bereft mum that judges and ignores and doesn’t listen properly.

Us mothers are often pitted against each other in the complicated dialogue of neglect and care. But the more we fight together for early intervention to mother the mothers, the more the wheels of karma may be oiled and the safer our children and our children’s children will be.

My name is Jazz…

 

 

My blog number tow

When I was 8 I met my berth mum and dad. It was a very hart pulling day. I ran up to my mum showting mummy I cried a lot. It was for all of us.

why was it upsetting?

because the ss said loads of horibiail thing about my mum and dad but pitikicley her.

We met in my home town which was hull we met at a a hotel we went for some lunch and then we went to get a bubble gum mashsean. I loved it I’ve been seing my mum and dad for 10 years.

How duse it mack me feell?

It’s a very mix fellings because some times I hite her but utther times I love her to bits. she can be a pain in the back side when se wont to bee when I see her it brings fellings Up fellind like why I’m a adopid.
See seams like a very nice person but then I look at her then I understand why. But the fellings like Duse she still love me? And Im I still her little girl? When she goes I some times get Vialent it mack me fell very mad.

Why do I get vialent?

because it brings up very hobble things up like haveing Flash backs of her been not very nice but I just try and put my brave face but peopel like my adopid mum No that some think isent right

Do I regrt meting her?

some times ya but the I look at her little face. Then I smile the I think no. I don’t regret meting her because I look and think she got the problem not me I’m like the mum .

But I just tink some times mummy bear is my rall mum I love them both very much.

The end

Mind The Gap

birth-family-contact

When I decided to adopt I was someone who had qualified as a social worker and had consequently worked within “the system”.

My political interests informed my practice and my specialism was outsider groups. I had worked with travellers to support the writing of letters to Government, learning disabled adults to form a clients committee, people with HIV and Aids to gain holistic health treatment, and a project to achieve an anti racist education model.

Very soon I realised social work wasn’t the job for me as I felt one could not afford to care properly, emotionally or financially. I made the decision to commit to actually caring for a lifetime. Better to try and make a difference to one person properly than manage budgets for an industry, that by its very nature, was too unwieldy to have true empathy.I believed empathy to be a key requirement in caring. The cliched but true “walk a mile in my shoes” thing.

When I was first handed a file with several children’s faces looking out I wanted to vomit. The potential match paperwork didn’t allow me to see, hear or smell them. Their fate was in my hands and it sent a shiver. They had no choice.

The “chosen” one arrived with little physical baggage but a whole lorry load of the emotional kind. Like a million tiny piece jigsaw (still haven’t completed it).

There was a life story book that began with life at the foster homes. The bit before her reaching four years old came in a damning file of demonisation and I hated her mum. Chaos, neglect, violence. What a bitch. Stupid cow. Thank god for good old me.

This judgement was short lived as more information filtered through via my daughter and also my political brain that always loved the possibility and truth of the sub text.

I started to do my own assessment based on a social work model and in an anti oppressive way as I had been dutifully taught by BASW.

I called the adoption team and asked to be put in touch with the birth parents. There was a shock horror tut tut reaction all round. I had never been given any advice on birth parent contact nor knew of any arrangements other than with her siblings.

The arrangement for her siblings was for me to preside, along with a social worker, over a final “goodbye forever” contact in a fun pub. The children ran amok, ate salt, spat a lot and kicked each other. My daughter gave her two brothers gingerbread men with smiley faces. There was more expression in the biscuits faces than theirs. I went through the motions but knew it was all wrong and horrendously managed.

I fought a long time to reverse the decision and one brother was adopted by a great open couple who allow contact and the other, after a lengthy court battle, came to live with us on a long term therapeutic foster placement.
The horrendous court delay cost him a lot emotionally as he was in a children’s home from six to twelve whilst we fought, but he still calls us home at twenty years old.

Back to the parents. I eventually insisted enough to get a meeting in a social work room with mum and dad. I was warned that I was going to face an angry violent woman who vehemently opposed the adoption and was a general public nuisance.

She had served a prison sentence for punching the social worker who took her children away. There would be two social workers present and security if necessary.

As the day approached I was pooping myself and prepared for the worst. As I made my way down the corridor and into the room my heart was beating out of my chest.

We came face to face. Birth mum and Adoptive mum. She came towards me, laid her head on my chest and wept like a child. It was one of the most powerful emotional experiences I have ever had. Birth dad, an elderly ex soldier was shaking in the background his veiny hand outstretched to mine.

From that day on I went with my gut moderated with a healthy dose of reality. I met with them many times before our daughter knew anything of it. I talked to them, filmed messages from them and challenged their denials or edits in a non judgemental way. I heard their stories that filled in the gaps in my ability to know our child. I made myself into a safe and sturdy bridge between them and her.

I started to slowly filter information to her about her parents and explored how she felt….. it varied between longing to see them and longing to shoot them. After watching the film where her mum said “its wasn’t your fault it was mine I’m not very well” she was ready to meet them.

The day remains etched in our minds and it still stings. I filmed it but we don’t know if we can share that yet. It is almost too powerful. A displaced and fragmented eight year old runs down a hotel corridor, arms open wide towards her mother shouting and sobbing “mummy!!!!!!”. Their embrace is heartbreaking and yet cathartic for all.

What follows is not a bed of roses or a skip into the sunset. It’s been bloody hard work to manage safely and therapeutically. My daughter faced triggers and showed challenging behaviour after some contacts. At certain times of development she has wisely, through therapy, chosen not to have contact for anything up to a year.  However what we have is a history that involves the elephant in the room sitting visible on our settee, drinking tea, celebrating Christmas and birthdays, sharing information and most importantly, slowly if at times clumsily, extracting shame, guilt and feelings of rejection from our daughters soul.

I have had to live with my decisions as any parent does. All parents have to make potentially life changing decisions for their children even when they are not psychologically damaged. I do not judge those who decide against contact. Each child is individual and some birth parents too selfish or damaged to play a part in any healing role. If mismanaged, contact can be retraumatising and cruel. The childs healing must be central to all and personal judgement must be put aside.

If contact is out of the question I would ask:

“has your experience of local authority assessments and support been good for you in order to support your child?  Has it ever felt like you and your child are seemingly abandoned by the system that put you together? Have you had to argue for help or get a bit stroppy to be understood on behalf of your child? Would more money help hugely to care for your child’s needs at home or school? Do you ever worry you can’t cope with your child? Do you ever feel like screaming or running away? Do you ever have to count to ten so as not to smack your child?”

If you have felt any of this as a secure, literate adult adopter spare a thought for the dispossessed, and if nothing else maybe try and teach your children the politics of deprivation and poverty. Educate them to the realities of social care, and the power some agencies hold in their position as a third parent. That third parent may be cruel in its ignoring your families cries for help. It may neglect or abandon you. I found it has helped to do that as my daughter has grown up. It promotes a healthy understanding, fighting spirit and self reliance that can aid the transformation from victim to survivor.

My name is Jazz…

 

 

My daughter wants to have her voice but is worried due to her severe dyslexia that people will, in her own words, ‘think I am stupid or thick’. She is neither and editing of her words as she writes affects the flow and concentration. I  have told her not to worry.

Here is the first part of her story. The music she has chosen comes from her emotions playlist. Jazz has always communicated through music. This week’s track sums up her negative feelings towards the system that has generally failed her.

My name is Jazz…

jazz desk

i was born in July.

i was tacen a way fome my berth mum when was 4 years old.

as the ss touk me away thay bangd my head on the door i got told bay my dad i was begging he to let me stay i pobley dident undersand way but my body will have i love them still to this day i was fosta bay fost mum and dad he was in the posest off dieing i rember to this day how much he ment to i was the favent he was like a popper dad and she was a prroper mum one of my merrise is hime saveing i can still smeil that smeil to this day

i met mummy bear when i was five i rember the day i felt a lot of diffent things

i felt happy and seked i was testing out a bit to much i gess i was prettey fuck up exsuse my langwich when she came to meet me we sticjk the touns out at ech uther we went to the park it was autam i spite in her face i guss i was testing her i bit to much.

i rember the ferst time i staid at my mummy bears house i had a yellow room with a moon light on the wall nexst to my bed wich had a winney poo dovey cover on it i lots off toys i no that moment i was loved we had lesaner for tea it was like ive been the size i was a baby i went back to my fosta mums and dads i cart rember if i cride or not then i had to say bay to my fosta dad i rember going to hotibal i goit him a card and some cholattes it was a siad day but i wont of undersand i was onlkey 5 so quite quickly i moved in with mummy bear because my fosta dad had died

Call Yourself An Expert?

This weekend I saw the fruition of weeks of intensive work to put on the first Open Nest charity conference ‘Taking Care’. I can’t deny it wasn’t stressful. Organising something fairly single handedly, as a volunteer, whilst juggling a small business and family life can be mind boggling. But I’m a believer of putting your ‘money’ where your mouth is. I wrote the post below eighteen months ago (yes I am trawling it out again…forgive me) It was one of my first blogs as a new charity founder. I was a bit scared of being called ‘too political’ or ‘maverick’ because I believed in community and community activism. I felt adoptees and adopters were sometimes treated as a by product of adoption and was willing to say it in public.

I was right to feel that as some people in the adoption arena have eluded to it at times over the last year or so. Written off as a bunch of Twitter parents who were anti adoption. It seemed to shock some people that we wanted to create a charity that actively facilitated the voices of those who knew first hand that adoption was not perfect. That we wanted to say the charity was owned by us all not guarded and financially exclusive. Anyway, I ignored them and carried on regardless. I set up the charity determined to create as many free tools and initiatives to support adoptees as I possibly could. Where they couldn’t be free they would be affordable. I wanted to be an antidote to corporate business dressed up as concern. I swore I would not be salaried by the charity. This I guess could be seen as devaluing ‘the product’, but only by the wrong eyes.

For the conference, the people who work for our family business held a film night and we used the donations to make the conference bags contain more than some crap leaflets and a plastic pen. It meant we could add touches to the day that expressed how we feel about adoptees, adopters and those who strive to make a difference in a harsh world.

Yesterday the incredible energy in the room quite blew me away. I was already a hot sweaty mess as I stood up, having stressed out all the previous night about having to speak. It’s one of my phobias and I very nearly ran away at 4am. I felt embarrassed and vulnerable. I need not have worried as the people who came to listen had big hearts, big dreams, big plans and open minds.

Feedback was that the day was inspiring, refreshing and caring. I am truly thankful to the generous speakers, trustees and guests who shared thoughts and worries and laughs and ideas. I felt inspired and confident to not only speak out in future but to go on with the charity that Jazz and I dreamed of in another space and time at our kitchen table.

The thing that made me personally feel taken care of was the fellow adopter who made me laugh a lot, the lovely lady who made sure I drank something, the adoptee friend who helped me carry heavy boxes until late the night before, the social worker who acted like my mum and kept me calm. The man who wrote me a poem and the mum I only met that day who helped me pack the car with a trolley load of “stuff”.

Most of all it was the amazing audience who said yes to ‘taking up arms’ and ‘owning it’ without a second thought. I can’t wait to work together again.

 

Since I began on the adoption journey fourteen years ago I have met with, read from the pages of, been trained by and admired several experts. They write about, give advice about and train around adoption issues. But how did they get there and more importantly what have they taught us.

The answer is….. not really as much as my children,

my mum, my children’s birth family or my friends who are parents have taught me.

There is a place for theory in learning and if I have rare spare time I do love a good academic read that backs up my experience, but nothing beats practice based learning.

It has increasingly peeved me as the years have rolled by, how much talk there is in theory, in parliament and in the media about changing the adoption experience for adoptees, but very little action in real terms. It’s all mouth and no trousers as far as I can see.

All the big adoption organisations, agencies and children’s ministers have been around with funds to do surveys, studies, evaluations, papers etc for years. Why has nothing much changed for adopted children in terms of good education, relevant specialist therapy and family support for all adoptees?

When I could a) afford b) afford travel c) get child care, to attend attachment training or some such thing, I found the majority of the audience professionals. For some a welcome day out of the office.
One social worker even told me without shame that she attended a course on attachment issues as they have to reach a quota of attending training… It didn’t mean she took the theory on or changed her practice accordingly.

An average training day can cost up to £150 per person if it’s close to home and more if it involves travel. Even if an adopter can save up that amount of money their child may not be in an emotional position where they can be left without specialist childcare.

The nature of training courses often deny the very existence of the issues they purport to be expert around. Sometimes we can’t get out much, sometimes we struggle financially. Sometimes our families cant cope with our children when they are anxious, sometimes our children are most anxious when we are away from their precious daily routine.

I admire and respect Dan Hughes, Caroline Archer, Louise Bomber et al. But they are not round my house during a bad spell where the theories seem too dry and homogenised to fit my daughters individual rage and unstoppable pain, or to soothe my burnt out helplessness. The academic theories and suggestions towards perfect responses have at many times left me feeling both empty and failing.

I now believe I’ve served my time to qualify as expert, and so have my children. We can take our knowledge to skilled therapists who can help us use this knowledge to the best, but theories on paper, or expensive training has no value to us in our every day lives.

We have never yet experienced experts rushing to make us heard out in the political world nor to give us their time for free to ease our intense journey. Every bit of expert advice has had a price attached or a road before it that is inaccessible to those not paid to attend.

What helps hugely is a shared experience. Advice or support from others who understand your language and emotions without question, because they have actually been there not just spoken to someone who has.

The irony of all this is that the real experts on the emotional results of adoption are usually just rolled out to make up user number contributions to surveys or to support adoption campaigns. Not wishing to be negative it can be easier for adopters to sugar coat or miss out the dark side of adoption. Nobody wants to tell strangers their deep personal struggles via a snapshot nor give the impression they regret their family when they don’t.

My daughter wrote for BAAF “My Adopted Life”. She was quite young and flattered. But she couldn’t write the real teenage story of her loneliness and anger and mixed feelings towards both her mums…. but best smiling foot forward didn’t get her the support she desperately needed at that time to make sense of it all. I believe adopters and adoptees are experts on the issues we face day to day. I think our voices are missing in the political arena, especially around the difficult bits. I believe that this is because difficult bits equate to potentially expensive bits.

With current government proposals, I can sense the scrabbling around to capture the decreasing money pots…and I can see the forthcoming opportunities for care industry profit making through fast track adoption and its resultant problems.

The question is… If adopters and adoptees were enabled to take part in expertly solving some of the issues we faced for ourselves, who would be out of a job?

This is a call to arms.

Another Brick In The Wall

 

 

By the time my adopted daughter was eight she had been excluded from three schools for “aggressive” behaviour and left another before it came to blows yet again. I decided in the end, that as I was no longer able to work due to constant care, we would be better off learning from life, family and friends.

I wrote an article for a national newspaper about attachment difficulties in adoption, it was around the time the Labour Government were talking about adoption reform and theories around attachment and trauma were even less communicated about back then.

With the money I earned from the article we bought a shed and made our own school at the bottom of the garden. It had a table and chairs, toys, books and learning posters on the wall donated by Granny and Grandad.

My daughter loved it… we mainly played  as her attention span for sitting still was around ten minutes. Favourites were shopping, modelling dough, cooking and of course, playing out the care of babies.

It was difficult for me as I felt a level of responsibility that at the time I could have done without. Just trying to be a good enough therapeutic mother 24/7 was a challenge enough!  However, the lowering of the huge anxiety that school attendance had bought about, meant less challenging behaviour at home and we were generally much happier.

As a result of no school attendance my daughter missed out on a peer group and it made me feel sad. Knowing that she was missing out on………… well mainly birthday parties and being chosen for the school play or sports team, which I knew she would have loved. (have to say though that it still makes me laugh inside to recall the nervous faces of the teachers who did have any nativity play experiences with her. And the horror at “the poo” in the book box… her revenge for exclusion from swimming for “naughty”  behaviour!)

On a sad day I looked up “Peer” in the dictionary and it said:

“a person who is equal in social standing”

My daughter could not be equal in social standing at school as her experience of life was so very different and not one that could be easily explained nor understood by another child, let alone teachers.  Knowing the idea of peers was a tricky and elusive one for her I concentrated on enabling her to have a couple of good friends who remain loyal and loving to this day.

After home teaching for a while we made a very big and quite scary move and rented a house in a very rural spot. I felt it was the right thing though and we have been here ever since. Ironically it was whilst here that we received the most wonderful Outreach teacher from the local team. Louise was our teaching angel. She listened and understood and saw the virtues of quiet time or trampolining as much as that of spelling correctly or doing fractions.
She taught my daughter ten hours a week and being at home made it easier for her to relax and learn. It also gave me ten hours a week to recharge my batteries, call a friend, read a book. Educate myself.

My daughter is eighteen now and still needs constant support with learning in general. She is extremely emotionally intelligent, articulate, well travelled, good at art, cooking, drama, sport and makes a mean playlist which is one of her favourite ways to communicate feelings and thoughts. (she will be using them to blog soon).  I feel very proud of herand her achievements.

When I asked her this week what song makes her think of school, she said, by singing the lyrics at me with a grin on her face  “we don’t need no education”.

Well I think we do. I think the teachers who are at a loss need it. I think social workers need it and I think the Government needs it.

Children with attachment and trauma issues need more understanding and support. Teachers need the tools to make a difference.

It’s not rocket science!!… because that would be a much more complicated subject to explain……… and you would need specialist scientists…….. and its not nearly so important………..

books picIt’s not rocket science…