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

Close encounters of the contact kind

My post today forms part of the Weekly Adoption Shout Out theme – contact.

Direct contact – close encounters of the third kind.

I make no bones of using this opportunity to plant a few thoughts.

However your family is made, imagine for a moment being together.  There will be love and laughter, conflicts and hopes, truth and denial, loss and increase; celebration and heartache – all in one room.  If we had to give that melting pot of experience a name, it would be something deeply evocative emotive; overflowing with depth and timbre.

In our adoptive families, they would have us believe the name of that gathering is ‘contact’.

Contact: a junction of surfaces, mutual tangency of the limbs of two celestial bodies, the junction of two electrical conductors, an association or relationship [Mirriam Webster].

Contact: an authority centric, institution focused, top down term that sanitises basic human bonds and strips them of all their wonder and emotion [Mumdrah]

Contact: a euphemism that tastes bitter on the tongue; tinny, awkward, hollow, municipal.

Contact: an instruction that communicates duty; an obligation to be endured.

Contact: a scene coloured with the grey of secrets, suspicion and partition.

Contact: a concept that turns a family encounter into nothing more than a meeting.

Contact: a word that transforms a family into alien nations struggling to overcome translation.

Words are powerful; metaphors for our cognitive framework. They inform our thoughts, our feelings and our actions.  This policy wonk terminology of adoption sculpts the lives of everyone and anyone who enters. Unaware, we inherit this pervasive language and it shapes our families to its own design.  Our use of it builds a restrictive cage around us, and perpetuates the trauma and isolation of adoption. It divides us and separates us, and upholds a system that is way off course.

These sterile words keep us all from a different way of thinking and understanding; one that could feed and nourish the road to healing and wholeness.  By using them, we collude and ally ourselves with their negative values. The mindset these words creates seems to undermine and fracture the families they describe.

Indirect contact.  Direct contact: all I can think of are those five iconic musical notes.

Think now how differently it would feel if instead of ‘contact’ we:

Gather. Visit. Party. Flock. Swarm. Throng. Huddle. Rally.  Assemble. Powwow. Get together.

I work hard not to be infected by this terminology of adoption, and I reject their words #bethechange

 

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.