Category Archives: Birth family contact

Reflections

images-3What children say or show doesn’t necessarily reflect what they are thinking and feeling. We get used to the kids acting out whatever is going on, but like all teenagers and indeed all people, they have at internal life that is less visible. Tony’s conversation with Jo on the way home from school today revealed that she had indeed been aware of my intended operation and was concerned at the delay. She had seen a letter from the hospital on the kitchen table a few weeks ago, and volunteered that even with a benign tumour postponing an operation is not a good idea in case it becomes malignant. She also remembered that both my sisters had operations last year for cancer, and wanted to know whether the hysterectomy I had many years ago was because of cancer (it wasn’t). I know from similar conversations with Jo that she worries about her birth mother’s health as well. I usually only hear after the event if her birth mother texts or phones me to say that she has been ill, generally as a result of the toll her addictions have taken on her body. I might say something to Jo, but not enough I hope to cause too much concern. I keep in mind that if Jo’s mother were very seriously ill I would at least like to give Jo the chance to meet her. It wouldn’t be a great time to see your birth mother after many years, but she might also regret missing the opportunity, even though at the moment she doesn’t feel the need to meet her. They have not had direct contact since before Jo came to us as a baby at 11 ½ months old. Tony and Jo also talked about the effects of her FASD, and Tony explained  how much she had improved and learned to compensate for its effects, and would continue to do so. He reminded her of an occasion many years ago at a children’s party. They were playing ‘Simon says’, an imitation game. Jo’s reactions were about two seconds behind the other kids, as it took her longer to process the instructions and react. A couple of years later he saw her playing the same game and the gap had all but closed.

The sound of footsteps in Jo’s bedroom was enough to send Tony upstairs. It sounded as if Billy was in her room, which can lead to a bust-up. In fact she had just spilt very hot gravy over her hand and bedding (lovingly washed and changed by me a couple of days ago), as she insisted on having supper in bed. Half an hour, clean duvet and sheets later, beloved ‘bunbun’ (off-white rabbit) in the washing machine, and burn lotion on the hand, I am just finishing these reflections. Billy too managed to spill his drink all over the kitchen table while eating, covering unread post and magazines. We need a cleaning fairy or elf to follow them around with a magic cloth. Instead all they get is me, bemoaning the mess, and a happy cat licking the remains of the chicken pie and gravy.

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Birth Mother

imageWe made it to the station with less than a minute to spare. The train was waiting on the platform. I gave Billy and his friend Edgar a quick hug and told them to run. I texted to ask whether they were on the train but got no response. I waited 10 minutes to make sure they weren’t still on the platform, then texted Billy’s birth mum to let her know that they are on their way.

It’s a momentous ending to 2014. It will be the first time Billy’s mum has ever had all six of the children she carried for 9 months and gave birth to under one roof. There was a seventh child, the first-born, who died as a baby. All seven were born by cesarean section, so the toll on Billy’s still young, very pretty and lovely mother must have been pretty heavy. I have tried imagining her feelings and thoughts at having all her children together, but don’t really know where to begin. The family represent a mini United Nations. The six children have four different fathers, two from the UK and two born overseas. Some of the family are brought up as strict cultural Muslims and others are  loosely Roman Catholic. Some have moved between the two. Some are small, with dark skin, brown eyes and black hair. Billy and his baby brother are stocky, fair and blue-eyed. The children don’t all know each other, although Billy has met them all before separately.  He only saw his ‘follower’, exactly a year younger than him, once, briefly. They were shy and didn’t say much to each other but shared mannerisms and had the same way of exhibiting nervousness. On a second visit only Billy’s elder sister turned up as his brother was still in bed. That too could have been Billy, so their teenage closeness in age as well as genetics is a common factor. This lad was brought up by his father’s sisters in London, so his mother has seen little of him either. Billy has photos of them all in his bedroom at home, and used to pin them around his bed in boarding school. I have heard social workers say that if children are not brought up together they can’t be said to have a relationship. True in some respects, but it has always been clear to us that Billy’s birth family are very, very important to him. The same can be said of Jo, also from a large family. To only hear of the birth of new siblings via foster parents or by other routes can be hurtful. There is a long way to go in terms of social work practice in the UK catching up with what birth family contact could and does mean for adopted or fostered children.

So my thoughts today are with Billy and his other family. I have done all I can in terms of setting up the visit, buying train tickets, booking rooms for the night, finding taxi cab numbers, making sandwiches, wrapping gifts and providing enough cash for a meal tonight for a large family, and for any contingencies.  The rest is up to them.

The Perils of Presents

Gifts003Presents are another seasonal minefield, whether birthdays or Christmas. The anticipation invariably ends in anti-climax. We probably try to compensate for the children’s shaky start in life  by giving them too much. We used to tell Billy that the best present was a hug and a kiss, and that he was a much-loved boy. He was never very convinced about either of these propositions. We cope with the continuous demands  by suggesting that they keep a birthday or Christmas list. That way we can avoid saying “No!” which can so easily be mistaken as a rejection of the child, rather than an attempt to curb excessive material wants. Billy at 16 is much better at gauging what he can reasonably ask for and expect, and is generally pleased with it. He is a master at extracting one more thing out of us. He doesn’t like surprises. He wants to choose his presents and see them when they come into the house, so that he is reassured they are really there. Jo is more reflexive about the existential nature of her wants. She knows that material goods will never really fill the hole she feels inside. She is already anticipating ‘the worst Christmas ever’. Almost every birthday and Christmas are the ‘worst ever’. However carefully chosen the gifts  they will be a disappointment. If she is given money Billy will pressurise her into getting something he wants, and she falls for it every time, lured by the promise, seldom kept, that he will play with her. She used to break all her presents as soon as they were unwrapped, then be left distraught, surrounded by the debris. I would spend hours battling with almost impossible to open plastic and tiny screws in order to assemble, charge, and re-wrap toys. I would read and memorise instructions. If they couldn’t be played with immediately they would likely be trashed or discarded. It was more difficult with relatives, as Jo would usually break her gifts in front of them. It wasn’t generally intentional. She  would take things apart, yank and pull at them, and yes, sometimes smash or cut them up to deal with the pain inside. This displacement was probably another aspect of the self-harming that has dogged her since she was small. She would then complain that Billy had far more things than her, and we would patiently list or remind her of all the things that she had been given but subsequently broken. The first real success, about three years ago, was an iPod we gave her for her birthday. Maybe she was just growing older, or maybe it just hit the spot, who knows.

The kids have never yet shown any inclination to buy or make a present for anyone else and don’t do thank you letters (I do those still on their behalf). Jo does like giving gifts to friends. When younger this would generally be my stuff taken from home – jewelry, books, knickknacks. I would only get to know when occasionally a mother would ring up and ask whether Jo really had permission to gift an unusually valuable item. Other things just disappeared. An odd assortment of things also miraculously appear, ostensibly found abandoned somewhere. I’ve done my share of trying to trace the owner and return stuff. The school grounds must contain a wide selection of curiosities judging by the items discovered at the bottom of Jo’s school bag.

IMG_0562There is also the rivalry concerning cards or gifts from birth family members. Billy could not help pointedly asking Jo what she had been given on receiving a card with £20 in it from his birth dad. Luckily I could point out that Jo had received a lovely mouse mat with photos of two of her (half) siblings on it, from the family who adopted them. We used to have regular, if not frequent, face-to-face contact with this family, which meant a lot to Jo. Unfortunately they feel their kids need time to get used to Jo’s gender transition, and don’t want to meet up at present. It must be tough being true to yourself at times.

 

Birth Family Contact at Christmas

christmas-tree-man-singChristmas is a time when families should be together, and we treasured those early Christmases when the children were small and we could share their excitement. We did learn pretty quickly that too much excitement is overwhelming, and that anticipation, having to wait for things, and surprises can be distressing rather than fun, but we do still look forward to celebrating the festival together.

Christmas is also one of the times that our adoption agreement stated we should have letterbox contact with certain birth family members. This was not particularly satisfactory for a number of reasons, a key one being the slowness and censorship exercised by the local authorities administering the contact, or often lack of it. We have thankfully moved beyond that point. I have booked train tickets for Billy and an overseas friend from his last school, who is coming back to stay with us after Christmas, to visit his birth mother and the half-siblings who live with her. It will be the first time he’s been on his own. He didn’t want to stay at her house, which would be quite a squash, so I have also booked him into the guesthouse we usually use on our annual summer visits. I thought he’d probably like to see his birth dad as well, who lives in the same area with his partner and her two boys. We have just exchanged texts to see if he is free to meet up before Billy and his friend return home. It’s risky, I wouldn’t want Billy to be stood up by him. When we saw them in the summer they invited Billy to a baby cousin’s Christening in October. His dad had been asked to be godfather, and he said he would meet Billy at the station and put him up. October came and went, and I didn’t hear anything. I emailed and texted, no response. Billy didn’t say anything but it was easy to sense his disappointment and feelings of rejection, which I’m sure hadn’t been intended. I was pleased to get a text just now from his dad saying that the Christening had been postponed until after Christmas, so Billy wasn’t excluded or forgotten after all. I know many families are wary of face-to-face contact, and some have very good reasons to avoid it. That hasn’t been our experience, thankfully. All the family members we have met, and its quite a few by now, are kind to Billy, care about him and are proud of him. They are also thankful to us, and it feels more like one big extended family than a painful rupture in relationships between his family of origin and adoptive family. There was a hiatus, certainly, and damage was done, but at least Billy won’t have to wait until he is 18 to do some surreptitious searching. I don’t think any of us would have handled a closed, secretive adoption very well.