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.