Adoption can be a beautiful thing and social media is full of #adoptionrocks, but every so often I remind myself that adoption is not always happy, fluffy and full of joy.
For all the love and happy moments I get to share with my children, it would be unfair for me to not acknowledge the great loss of another family who no longer have them in their lives. And be aware of the great sense of grief and rejection my children feel being apart from those who brought them into this world and with whom they shared some happy times during their early years, moments which we were not part of or will ever fully be able to share.
I remember on the very first day of our stage one training, birth family contact formed part of our discussions. Everyone had their own limitations and things they felt they could and could not do. My husband was adopted as a toddler and I had seen his mixed emotions around his birth family over the years. So we began there and tried to prepare ourselves to do the best we could for our children with regards to contact.
Contact with birth family, in its different forms – direct, letterbox, sibling or court-ordered – was something discussed at length during stage two with our social worker and we began to fully understand its importance and benefit. We made a commitment between ourselves that we would always strive to put our own feelings aside when it comes to contact and focus on what is right for children and their birth family.
Our children came to us in August 2020 and were five and six years old at the time. We were offered a meeting with their birth father before they were placed with us and we tentatively agreed. We knew some of the background and had concerns around the safety of the contact and we were helped and supported with this by our PACT social worker. The decision was made that from that point on we would refer to ourselves using our middle names in all contact with birth parents.
The meeting was online due to COVID restrictions and distance and we were supported by our PACT social worker, while the children’s social worker supported the children’s birth father. We were nervous and a little reluctant, but we knew we were doing the best thing for everyone involved.
The meeting lasted around 30 minutes. The children’s birth father was very emotional. He wanted to know that we would love the children, he wanted to know what we were going to do for fun, how we would help them grow and develop.
We in turn wanted to get to know him better. We asked about his own schooling: his favourite subject was science, so he was very pleased to hear I teach science. We tried to find common ground with him and to reassure him that his children would be well loved and looked after.
We asked if there were any songs we could listen to with the children that would remind them of him, for happy memories, funny moments, names of pets and if there were any particular foods he would like them to try. He named a very specific northern dish to us. At the time, knowing the children’s food preferences, we were not convinced they would try it, but we made sure that our first day of introductions my husband and I ate it for dinner and took plenty of photos of that moment.
We found the meeting so incredibly useful. Yes, the second the camera switched off we cried. The magnitude of loss for everyone involved, in order for us to gain, was great, but it has provided us with so many useful things to talk to the children about. Our children feel like we know a small slice of their past and that we knew their birth father. They consider him as a friend, rather than a father figure, and they believe that we feel this way about him too, as we have those few snippets of information about him. It has also made letterbox contact much simpler, as I have felt able to write to him more personally, than if we had not met.
When the children were placed with us there was no option to meet with their birth mother, due to her location. However, when I was filling out the Adoption Order paperwork I noticed that she had moved again and so contacted the children’s social worker to see if she would like to meet. The children had been with us for nine months at this point and their birth mother had not even had the option of a goodbye contact with them.
We were told she would not want to meet us, but she did. We were told that she may not log on to the online meeting, but she did. We were told she would not want to talk for long, but over 45 minutes later the children’s social worker brought the meeting to an end.
We knew the children well by this point and loved them deeply and being able to convey that to their birth mother was such a rewarding experience. She was not angry or upset with us, just grateful for our family. She had, by that point, received our first letterbox contact and was able to ask questions around that.
We encouraged her to write back with specific things which we knew would be important to our children, and although she has not felt able to do this yet, we hope she will one day. She told us how she was seeking help and we told her to keep trying, that she could make the children proud of her and the changes she is making. We asked about her favourite songs and talked about memories the children have of her. We asked if there were any meals she likes to cook, so that we too can cook them and give the children space to remember her around our dining table.
The small act of us offering this meeting to her, meant that when she received the court papers for the Adoption Order she wrote a lovely letter to the judge, wishing us and the children well, saying she wanted the best for them and knowing that placement with us was the best thing for them. We will be eternally grateful for the gift she gave to us of her birth children. Having met her, I feel a warmth towards her, which I think is transferred to my children and we have lots of lovely discussions about her.
We are so pleased that we set aside our own feelings and nerves and met with the children’s birth parents. We have direct contact with their half-brother who was adopted by another family a year before we met them. This too is so beneficial for the children, they like to know their brother is safe, they feel as if they have an extended family in his adoptive family.
Navigating that relationship is not always easy, as there are so many people’s feelings to consider, but it is something we have invested ourselves in and will continue to pursue for the sake of our children.
We continue writing every six months to the birth parents and although they have not written back, I will always tell the children when I am writing letters and give them the chance to contribute. We have also been so excited recently to received letterbox back from their half-sister, who lives with her own birth mother. Through the letters we can see a relationship blossoming with a part of their family who they have never even met.
It is so important for our children to understand where they have come from and for them to find a place in our family now and forever. So many adopters we know would not consider a meeting with a birth parent, but now they know our experiences, they wish they had.
I would always say, if you get the chance, then go for it.