First 100 (To challenge the paperwork gets a free lolly).

Contact, a simple little word that has so much complexity, confusion, love and fear behind it. I have had that little but big word in my head constantly for the last fifteen years.Thoughts of it are never far away. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it damaging? Is it therapeutic? Is it a moral issue? Everyone should do it, Should I ever have done it? Is it a great big pain in the backside? Will resolution and harmony be the end result?

As my daughter to be arrived to live with me there were no real arrangements at all for birth family contact. The paperwork supported the “they are dangerous abusive people not worthy of consideration” view. I was, through a process of government regulation and assessment, to become the cultural rescuer, the life saver, the fairy good mother balancing out life’s ‘dysfunctional’ with life’s ‘normal’

Alongside that was a gaping void of meaningful information about why and how the decision to permanently severe her from her roots, siblings and all, had been bought about. There were reports of many attempts to support that had failed. Irresponsible behaviour, aggression and non compliance from the parents. But no real family history as such. What had happened to them, what were their life stories, how did they end up not being able to parent appropriately? Who were their extended families and especially where were they? When I thought of the parents in my minds eye they existed as two isolated shadowy people in a dark cloudy bubble of danger and uncertainty.

I was advised to keep my daughters identity and whereabouts secret and not to go with her to her nearby home town. The psychological effects of this on us were much bigger than I was able to vocalise at the time. What other families, and particularly children, have to hold elements of themselves secret, risk assessed, pixilated in fear of discovery? It’s got elements of witness protection and identity reconstruction.

Of course at the time I was compliant and wholeheartedly accepted the authorities view that the security was for a good reason and that my child needed such protection. I had shameful feelings of hatred towards her parents. In the few photos I managed to eventually get by persistence with the LA, they looked in my minds eye like something akin to photos you see on the news of child abusers. Faces with nothing but negative associated with them. You could see the hard life etched on them. Signs and symbols of poverty and lack of opportunities.

Initially my daughter and I were thrown into life with each other. There was no time to consider anything or anyone else. As things ‘settled’ the murky cloud of her parents and her history was behind us most of the time. Like something that could potentially jump out of the shadows. The elephant in the room. An elephant that neither of us could discuss properly because we didn’t have the right information. Of course I fielded young questions with the reassurance that her mum and dad couldn’t look after her, they had hurt her, it wasn’t her fault, she was safe now. As time went by it wasn’t enough.

Two things mainly triggered my urge to meet them for her sake. First was the the best bits of her. The really great sense of humour. The massive grin. The loving and generous nature. The most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The uniqueness. The courage. Then the difficult bits. Fear, anger, anxiety.

My thought process went something like; There must have been good bits about her family life for her to have gained certain inherent qualities. Foster carers surely couldn’t have changed her personality in the year they had her?
The difficult bits seemed to exist for obvious reasons to me. They had frightened her and neglected her, life was chaotic and uncertain. It was loud, harsh, smokey and it smelt a bit of wee. Her belly was often empty and her hair was often pulled.
As I began to learn to understand her difficult bits, to forgive violence against me, to live with abuse in my home, to keep therapeutically calm and failing badly at times, they came to my mind more and more. Why did they do this to her?

Her behaviour didn’t make me judge her negatively. In fact I loved her more. I was mainly forgiving and empathic and spent a large proportion of my life attempting to get all those around her, family, schools, friends, doctors, police to view her in the same way as I did. To understand that her anger was justified if mismanaged. I hated it when others viewed her as dangerous or delinquent and many did. Other children were gently steered away from her and invitations to social gatherings were rarely forthcoming.
As she grew older and bigger, sympathy and forgiveness for her visibly drained away. She transformed from child victim to teenage perpetrator in the eyes of others and in the eyes of the law. I had to do intense work to avoid her being criminalised. Trying to explain that although her behaviour was at times violent and anti social she was a good person in her heart and intentions, that we loved each other deeply despite it all. That they didn’t ever see the ‘real’ her that she kept buried as protection from possible grief and pain.

She was by birth an extension of her parents. By my logic that meant they could also be somebody’s damaged child. Somebody’s damaged child that perhaps didn’t get taken in by loving kin, quality care or attend therapy with a psychologist or sessions with a social worker who championed them in meetings as inherently good.
I personally don’t believe in born evil. I think we all have a bit of bad in us. Stress, violence against us, hunger and fear is likely to make most of us have mental health issues and behave in anti social ways. Education and life opportunities often help the lucky ones to stay away from the darker sides of human survival. Having said that of course there are many educated well off people abusing their and other peoples children whilst hiding behind a moat of respectability.
I think mental health is a cruel condition to manage in the culture we currently live within. Addiction even harder. Homelessness impossible.

So I thought, if I can have compassion and forgiveness for her behaviour could I have it for them? She knew they had been taken out of her life because they hurt her. She lived in fear that I would be taken from her because she hurt me. If I couldn’t promote forgiveness or at least understanding of emotional and social circumstances for her parents why would she ultimately believe I would do it for her?

Based upon on the above I searched them out. My initial intention was information gathering not reunion. After sometime and much preparation I took her with me. We eventually met Mum and Dad, Granny, Aunty, nephews, nieces, half sisters and brothers over many visits. I took her to the hospital ward she was born in and she collected a wrist band with the exact time and date (it was as the drums of Eastender’s played out at 8pm). We learnt of Grandad whose tragic death on the roll of a fate dice sadly changed her life chances forever. We saw the places that held her family history both bad and good. The memorial to her Grandad, the place her Mum hit the social worker.
We learnt it was her Mum that struggled, she was learning disabled and a child victim of abuse, the manifestation of which was very challenging behaviour. We learnt she had a good heart, an infectious laugh, no justice, no education and no money. We learnt she responded very positively to empathic therapeutic responses and clear boundaries. Her sister, a police officer, told us of systemic failures to help them as a family to keep her safe and understood. We learnt of how different things could have been with quality early intervention and support. Tons of paperwork existed but there was no investment made for the future. An expensive false economy.

With this information my daughter could make better sense of it all and with security, understanding and therapeutic support be enabled to make informed choices to forgive or not, to forget or not. As an adult she’s glad we did it although it was challenging and at times extremely sad. That’s our individual and personal experience.

In a wider context I feel that the chances are that if you have an adopted child, behind that may be a history of at least one of the following; poverty, mental health, addiction, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, poor housing, lack of opportunity, lack of attachment opportunities and love. The chances are high that your child was born into a family dealing with poverty. I have doubts that behind it lies people beyond support or ‘redemption’. Where there exists those who have committed such heinous crimes that they are beyond forgiveness, surely we have to question what society did to firstly see it coming and secondly prevent it. The children of ‘the unforgiven’ also deserve the very best support possible to come to terms with their experiences.

Losing connection to your family or having a child removed from your family are unimaginable to most of us in terms of trauma and loss. It’s the most severe punishment. Do thousands of families and extended families a year in this country really deserve such a punishment? If yes….what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on? If no…what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on?

Based upon our personal experience and wider knowledge it concerns me that adoption systems, promotion and regulation exist against an entrenched cultural back drop of mass consumerism, corrupt corporations, social exclusion, discrimination, elitism, sexism and racism all topped off with social care, health services and legal aid cuts.
I’m sure in some and probably many cases this leads to injustice and unnecessary harm to children and vulnerable adults.


16 thoughts on “First 100 (To challenge the paperwork gets a free lolly).

  1. Amanda ! You’ve covered so much – wonderfully written ! Contact-frightening or enlightening, denied or allowed!! I could write a chapter too, I hope some questions on identity may be answered. Parents or siblings may want contact but the adoptee may not, Pandora’s box, cans of worms springs to mind! What do you do when a sibling or parent knocks on the door or phones up? Or contacts a child in your care without you knowing? All of these happened to my Mum, an adopter and fosterer!
    Also a memory can be triggered by innocently visiting a place you may have had connections to! I was terrified, as a child , of someone ‘taking’ me from my parents also , as a teenager :- ‘What if I marry my brother without knowing?’ It may sound silly but deeply rooted childhood traumas don’t go away overnight, a safe caring environment and nurture obviously helps!
    We need a better network of true experiences and discussion, as this is!

    • Thank you so much for your comments. You are absolutely right about triggers. Even after over 10 years of two families working together we have to be mindful of them. We were lucky to have some therapeutic input around contact where things could be openly discussed. J was able to lead the way and the levels and these changed at times according to where she was at. In an ideal world it would be great to have therapy and guidance wrapped firmly around all plans for contact….and even no contact situations. I had to go with my gut as a parent which I acknowledge has some risks. J currently wanting her mum to move in : )

  2. Such a timely and well observed post.
    Your experience, and that of others, needs to be a catalyst to challenge the received wisdoms and the accepted dogma that purveys so much of the adoption process.
    I take my hat off to you and pray God’s speed to your message.

    • Thanks Al, you inspire me with your openness and I know from it that you, like me consider and explore what to do for the best a lot of the time! I know every situation is different but my instinct is that many more adoptions could be open to contact if all those involved were supported properly. If nothing else I feel forgiveness has to play more of a part. xx

  3. I am moved by your ability to empathize and truly see your daughter’s emotional needs. It takes courage and insight to overcome your own fears as an adoptive mother, and forge ahead and connect with your daughter’s biological family. I have no doubt that she is better off having this connection. I was adopted in the US in 1964 and grew up in a loving home that also never discussed adoption or my biological family – it was as if they didn’t exist. I always felt that I was pretending to be their daughter. In retrospect, I feel that I would have benefitted greatly to have connected and known my biological family. I greatly appreciate the open and honest relationship you have with your daughter – you are giving her the gift of having a voice. You are a true role model for adoptive parents.

    • Thank you for reading and replying. I really appreciate you saying I have given J a voice because that was at the heart of my intentions. As she was quite young at the time of reunification with her family I was mindful that I didn’t steer her too much and it helped that we had a trusted therapist who could speak to her away from me. It wasn’t easy at times to manage the strong emotions it all bought about but my guess is that they were there anyway. As parents adoptive or not all we can ever do what we feel is right and out of love. I would have been truly devastated if it had caused J any damage. As she matures as an adult it is easier for us to work it all out. Thanks again x

  4. Your writing is so clear and powerful and makes a very good case. I have such mixed emotions about contact, which I so wanted to support in the early days and engaged in enthusiastically for 3 or 4 years. Then, through therapy, we found out the extent of the abuse that had gone on. Now I find it hard to justify contact at all. I know that both BPs had difficult early lives, for one reason or another, but that is not an excuse for what they and their friends did to their children. I want to forgive them, but at the moment I just can’t. And I fear that if I let them back in to our children’s lives, the abuse and the lies would happen again. We do talk about them and acknowledge their influence, but all in the context of the past. I know one day our kids will probably want to meet up with them again, and I will help that happen if they really want it to. I just want them to be as prepared as they can be beforehand.

  5. Thank you for commenting, you are so supportive of us xx I completely get what you mean. There would definitely be strong limits to my acceptance of contact if I felt J was being further abused by it. That in fact was my main worry in case she was pretending to be happy to see them. Again therapy plays such a large and important part in working it all out. I know of many situations where contact is not a good idea. In these instances I still feel as much info about family history can be good. There may be things to be proud of further back in the story, family members who didn’t abuse them, family achievements etc. love to you all x

  6. We visited the places where my daughter had spent her early years including homes and schools. This journey together helped her make an informed decision about contact with her birth family post 18. Having worked in social care all my adult life it gave us both an insight into the difficulties that my daughters family must have had to manage. No wonder they didn’t. My daughter is now 20 years old, came into care at 5 years old and was adopted at 7 years old. She remembers the trauma – she lived it. With good support and love we have been able to move forward as a family who share a history with our daughter – some good, some bad but always how she became the person she now is.
    I admire your leap of faith in undertaking such a mammoth task of visiting the past with and for your daughter. Best wishes

    • Thanks very much for your comments, really interested to hear that you have also sought family history to enable informed decisions to be made. I understand you are an adoption support worker and I wonder how you find the current systems of support to help families come to decisions around contact? As our situation was 15 years ago when there seemed to be no emphasis on history as such, I wonder if things have changed much? I would love to see systems that could gather information on wider family history even if direct contact is considered not appropriate. I’m guessing that would take a lot of resources but feel it would be priceless. xx

  7. Thank you for this post. So much of it resonates with my own thoughts.

    Once, in reply to the question ‘why were you adopted’?, I replied that I was adopted because of a complex mix of socio-economic factors, stereotypes, attitudes towards mental illness, poverty, homophobia, a lack of education, legislative frameworks, local authority practices, recent local authority events, the actions of my birth mother, my birth mother’s history, a lack of resources, the personalities of various people, multiple professional opinions, multiple not-so-profesional opinions, lack of support for kinship carers, the availability and inavailability of certain support measures, chance, caution, classism, being an ‘adoptable’ boring goody-two-shoes, and living in a country where adoption exists and is seen as a legitimate solution to particular problems. This was not the answer they were looking for, but for me at least I believe it is the most correct one. It shut the nosey person up at least!

    But more seriously, I feel that for me – and perhaps for some/many others – adoption was an extremely harsh and unnecessary solution. Certainly no one was beyond redemption (or in need of forgiving at all) in my case. But I feel alone in some of my views, as every day I am confronted by the attitudes of people such as my parents and friends, who all talk about ‘those kind of people’, those ‘kind’ of people consisting of people such as my birth family and foster families and basically anyone who does not lead a life like their own. I am confronted everywhere by an insidious belief that everyone has the same degree of agency in their lives (and that if a person doesn’t have a sense of their own agency they’re mistaken and making excuses), and I never see an appreciation of the sheer exhaustion and never-ending and thankless decision-making that can come with poverty, or the effect that a lack of resources (money, support, mental health, a health upbringing, education, etc) can have on said person’s decision-making. It’s therefore refreshing to read something different.

    But mainly I could write all day on contact! The biggest trauma of my life remains the loss of every single person I had ever known and loved, bar one, at my adoption by ‘stranger-adopters’ at age eleven. I am speaking of the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is a very hard thing to learn that none of your relationships possess anything of worth and that the only thing they are fit for is oblivion. The damage to my life caused by a lack of post-adoption contact surpasses everything else I have ever had to endure. The severance of all my relationships struck at the very core of who I was, by casting everything and everyone I loved as worthless, and by teaching me that my love for other people was of no consequence. After the Adoption Order my parents were free to do with my relationships, memories, possessions and religion as they wished; it makes me wonder why the state did not step in and say: ‘Wait, this is a person; you cannot destroy them’. It is unlikely that I will ever experience the loss of so many people and so much in the same instant ever again; if I do, it will most certainly kill me.

    But it’s not that way for everyone, and the same system that failed to protect me – who needed contact – fails to protect others – who most certainly don’t (and, of course, everyone inbetween). If only we had the holy grail of knowing precisely how, on what grounds, by whom, and how often contact decisions should be made (and of course that crucial and increasingly difficult ability to actually enforce them).

    But I also think that the idea of ‘contact’ is often framed too narrowly, particularly when thinking about how adoption can cause pain to people other than the adoptee. I am now some ten years into reunion with all those I lost, and I continue to be struck by how many people were affected by my move from my foster parents (with whom I had lived for years) to my adoptive parents. I was plucked from an entire community, and it was not just me, my birth mum, and foster parents who grieved. Unfortunately my parents’ decisions affected far more people than just my immediate birth family, and so much pain and bafflement was caused to so many people on so many sides that I am often left wondering at the ethics of what occurred. Indeed, I find it perplexing that when there was only a single person experiencing difficulties and (arguably) putting me at risk, a solution should be put in place which causes more than a decade of suffering to some twenty people, including perfectly functional birth family members. But then what do I know? We all know that modern adoption is A Good Thing and only done when necessary. /sarcastic.

  8. Thank you for this. We’re less far along our adoption journey than you are but it helps to know others out there with some of the same doubts, thoughts, and experiences. Keep up with all the good work your doing, its much needed!

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