Real life stories: Contact

I constantly trawl the net so I can learn from personal stories.

Here is a collection of great posts about real life experiences and challenges around relationships with birth families with adoptee children.  I hope they hold some answers for whatever questions you may have around this aspect of living within a life touched by adoption in some way.

I hope these are of help to anyone out there with any questions, doubts or dilemmas. If you wish to contribute to this list, then please let me know and i’ll add your link.

From Jazz Boorman at “All aboard the trauma train” an adoptee’s description of the first time she met her Mum at the age of eight:  My Name is Jazz

From Fiona Fergusson at “Surviving 15 years of adoption” an adopter’s 6 part overview of letters & visits with Siblings: Part one , Part two , Part three , Part four , Part five , Part six

From Amanda Boorman at “All aboard the trauma train” an adopter’s proactive story of seeking out her daughter’s Mother: Mind The Gap 

From New Pyjama Mummy at ‘New Pyjamas’ adoptee/adopter honest and thoughtful preparation for her first visit with her daughter’s siblings: Making Contact

A year

People talk of loss as if the big milestone events end with adoption, and only the ramifications continue.

But the loss never ends; letters bring news of new happenings missed, our days are full of moments we wish could be shared, and decisions continue to be made outside our control.

This week marks a year since news came that CHTs Mother, who we had wanted to meet so badly, was dead; probably by her own hand.  In one swift blow the mystery of her Mother can never be unravelled, and is now heightened by the questions behind her death.

We are too late.

This little girl’s grief is profound and no words on this page can capture it.  Bereft, her Mother is gone forever from her reach, along with the answers to why; why their love and kinship was not enough to keep them together.

Surprised by the intensity of my own grief, I came to realize the strength of my bond and my love for this woman; in one sense her fiercest ally and champion.  I also struggled beneath the weight of my intense anger at her in the knowledge of the further devastation it would wreak on CHT, and my growing guilt from the unwitting role I played in the battles of her mind, now the war had finally brought her life to an end.

Mourning joined hands with a grief already felt, and this year has been long and hard.  In many ways we are stronger, stitched together as we try to make sense of this bombshell ripping through our already fragile lives, and again by the aftershocks it brought with it; we were not welcome at the funeral, nor included in the decisions of her estate, were not kept informed, nor recognized as family.   Outsiders once again, the very system that encourages open acceptance of the bonds to a birth family does not in equal measure acknowledge them by law.  Floundering in the complexity of a Mother’s death comforted in the arms of another mother, the people around us unwittingly denied her even the right to grieve.

It is not our way to remember a life through its death, but still we feel the need to mark this day somehow.  So with candles and a song we welcomed her in and remembered: a beloved, bittersweet woman who we knew and loved so well, but was a stranger to us.

AA, we know you suffered deep sorrow and regret at your mistakes, and there is no denying the pain that this caused.  But your little girl is here in my care, and she loves you very, very much.  I promise to always keep a part of you here and alive in me, to pass on to her every day, so she carries the best of us both in her precious heart.

Letterbox: a guide to indirect contact

What is letterbox, or indirect contact?  This is simply a means to keep in contact with family members and/or foster carers through letters and correspondence.

How will we know what to do?  An agreement will be made before placement.  It is clear and prescriptive about who you are being asked to write to, when, how often, and what to include.

Who decides this, and when?  Each party should feed into the Contact Plan before placement as part of the matching panel, so make your voice is heard.  Remember, you are making decisions for a child; the detail of the plan should be in their interests.

And the legal lowdown?  Some are informal, and some part of the Placement and/or Adoption Order so legal requirements may vary.  It is, however, expected that you follow the recommendations.

Is it safe?   Protocol removes the exchange of addresses; letters are sent securely via a third party letterbox (hence ‘indirect contact’), and content is checked and then forwarded on.  But mistakes are made.  I’ll be blogging about this elsewhere, as well as the impact the letters have on us.

What do you put into the letters?  We begin by writing updates about the tapestry of life: my hair is long, I like spagetti, I won the football, I stayed in a caravan, I got a new tooth.  As she gets older, we also add in more of her burning questions, opinions, and whatever she wants to get off her chest.

How do you go about writing them?  I always work alongside CHT.  First, I grab her short attention span and note down her swift monologue.   Next I type up and ‘extend’ her words into letter form.  I then read it back, and add or remove as she sees fit.  I adapt the letter for each person we write to (sister, parents, foster carer), and then she signs it off and sometimes adds a message.  The whole process usually takes a few days so she can deal with it in small emotional chunks.

What about the photos?  CHT chooses her favourite photos of the year and we make up a collage and print them off on lovely quality photo paper.  We do take care not to choose any photos that identify or place us – like school uniform or landmarks.  Not because of ‘cloak and dagger secrecy’, but because we believe contact of all kinds should be a planned choice on both sides.

Should we include anything else?  CHT often does a drawing – usually just one – which we copy and put into each envelope.

What about the letters we receive?  You may, or may not, get replies.  Family are often not told the same protocol as you are (crazy I know), so may not be sure what they are supposed to do.  Our experience is that if we do get a letter, it usually comes as a reply in response to ours.  The letterbox checking system isn’t fail safe, so I usually do a quick once over of the letters first; this also helps me prepare for what support CHT might need.  The time delay also means that Christmas/Birthday cards for CHT never arrive on time.

What if the letters have difficult or inappropriate content?  From our experience it is pretty evident that no one gets any support or guidance in how to write these letters.  People can easily make mistakes through just not thinking things through.  If there is a clear problem or issue, then communicate this to your letterbox contact person and ask for your needs to be asserted.

Any other Mumdrah tips?

Send from the heart: I always support CHT to create something that reflects what she feels; it helps to imagine what we would want to receive. I don’t just mean the content, I mean the care and consideration put into them.  For us the letters are like lifelines.

Go easy: When we receive letters, sometimes we read them straight away, sometimes CHT wants to wait a while.  Once we’ve read them and poured over any photos that arrived, I copy them and store the originals – along with the accompanying letter from SS -and CHT keeps the copy to look at at her leisure.  This means that we can always make a copy when I find them tearstained under her pillow, forgotten under her bed, ripped up and thrown from the window, defaced and ruined, or screwed up in the bin.

Remember whose letters they are: I have never for one moment considered archiving her letters ’till she is older’.  They are her letters, and it is not my right to withhold them. That would be my general advice, but of course that would change if the content was threatening (but then i think SS would be dealing with that for you).

Continue the connection: If the letters mention a song or similar, we often go and listen to it afterwards.  I try and find any way to strengthen the connection and bridge the divide through the events and the news that are shared in the letters.

Keep everything that comes through letterbox.

See what BAAF has to say about indirect contact.

Letterbox contact – not as daunting as it feels.

Family ties

In Mumdrah’s world, there is nothing simple about Family. 

Convoluted and complex, the warm care and comfort of our family comes with a deep pain hidden in its folds.  Love – for us – walks hand in hand with a hurt that haunts.

On paper we are just one woman and one girl, but in truth we are Legion.

Around our kitchen table sit people shaped holes. We do not know their smells, their feel, or how they like their tea in the morning because our knowledge of them is more illusion than real.  But they still belong with us, like a backbone.  And we favour giving them a presence in our everyday over the mistaken pretence of leaving them behind.

There is no competition, nor rivalry.

The strength of CHTs feeling for each of us is separate and contained, though it may sometimes chafe or collide, ebb or flow.  Accepting the dynamics of this love – far from alienating or undermining us – builds bridges and bonds us closer. The love she has for her mother presents no threat; for her to feel unfaithful would be the measure of my own deep failure.

This is our family, this is our circumstance.

Why hide?  Embrace and explore family ties with honesty, whatever the consequence; in spite of it.  There is no sanctuary from it’s shape, from its history, from its pain; but there is danger in the exile of any one of its parts.  Challenging though it may be, discovering and questioning the reality of her life story helps find a way through the pain.

Turning away from the truth leaves unanswered secrets.

Longing left unanswered becomes backfilled with fantasy. These children come to us young, but will not always be so.  Questions left unanswered now will return – in a year, ten, twenty – swollen and festered with yet more questions about complicity, deception, and time wasted.  Missed opportunities.

Our family may be formed like no other, but it is real; and we embrace it as it is. 

Family ties – for just two of us, we count in more parents and more siblings than you can shake a stick at.