Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Chapter 9 – It’s all about ME!!!!!! – The First Preparation Day Pt 2

Who watches the watchers?

So, the introductions had been made and the ice breakers had been broken out. It was time to get into the programme in detail.

Now, at this point perhaps it would be interesting to muse a little on personal dynamics and group sessions. Having been around the corporate world for some time in our jobs we were both used to these – the concepts of formin’, stormin’, normin’, performin, and so on. We were also savvy to how group exercises work. The trainers invariably stress that you should just be yourself and relax. After all, no one is assessing every word you say or every thing you do.


I’d been through enough job interview panels, assessment centres and the like to know that when someone says to you, “Don’t worry, this isn’t a part of the assessment process, it’s just a chance for you to get to know more about the company in an informal setting...”, they are without exception watching you like a hawk. The very thought that, at the end of the day, Maureen and Doreen (the two social workers presenting the course) wouldn’t be getting out their pencils and scribbling a little report about each of us was, frankly, laughable. Of... course... they... would...!

I hesitate to mention that, some months later, as we prepared for our Adoption Panel date we got to read copies of the assessments that they weren’t making and the reports that they weren’t writing.

Normal service has been resumed
Anyway, down to business. Since the first session was to focus on us it was unsurprising that we began with an exercise based upon sharing our own experiences and motives for seeking to adopt. It’s an oft quoted phrase that “careless words cost lives”. In this context it cost preconceptions... Early on, one of the group made a throwaway comment about coming into the adoption process the “normal” way. Ping! A red flag flew up from the two session leaders... “Normal?” said Doreen, “What’s normal? Is there normal? Are any of us normal? Are none of us normal? Are ALL of us normal? Is being normal, normal? Is not being normal, normal?”

Around the semi-circle there was a visible rolling of eyes and uncomfortable shuffling of bottoms as if to say, “What have we got ourselves into?”. There was definite vibe of “What’s all this psycho-babble going on about?” You could see each person present vowing not to say the “N-word” for the next four weeks (or indeed 8 months).

We moved on to develop the theme further. On the assumption that we’d all have more or less N-word childhoods, just how much had they been the same and how much had they differed? Of course, it only threw up the truism that we ALL consider our lives to be normal (and others’ not to be?) yet all our experiences are different. Maureen and Doreen were at pains to underline that, when you’re looking at an adopted child, there is no normal. Indeed, given the experiences which many adopted children will have gone through prior to coming into the looked-after system their own normal was quite likely to be well beyond any of our experiences. Hmm... good point, well made.

We continued to examine our differences in experience. How had our various parents’ ways of showing affection differed and how had this fed through to our own preferred styles of showing affection? What had been the notable high and low points in our lives, particularly our early lives, and how did we feel about these now? What differences had they made to how we had developed into adults?

At a complete loss for words...
And then the concept of “loss” was introduced. It was important, we were told, that we could come to terms with the losses we had and would experience in our lives. Tangible losses and those which were more conceptual. The loss of the lives and family we had always imagined ourselves having (prior to infertility treatment, IVF and other such things getting in the way of our carefully planned-out futures). Most importantly perhaps, we would need to come to terms with the loss of the birth children we’d never had... We were asked to think about our “ideal” vision of our child and to mentally throw that vision away.

At that point the psycho-babble (others in the group might probably have chosen a stronger word) filters started to slam shut around the semi-circle. “Hang on a minute. How can I have ‘lost’ something I never actually HAD?” “Losing some imaginary concept doesn’t count!” “Come on, this is all just mumbo-jumbo!” The social workers shot each other a quick look as if to say, “Hmm, this group’s going to be a handful...”

Or perhaps that’s exactly the reaction they had hoped to elicit and was a perfectly N-word reaction for a Preparation Day. Either way, a lengthy debate ensued which culminated in some of the group agreeing to agree to disagree... Funny thing though, by the end of the second day the idea and effects of “loss” in its psychological sense seemed a completely natural concept to all of us. The barriers had clearly been chipped away. It’s almost as if they’d planned it that way.

Of course, over the following few months the deep significance of loss in its various forms became clear to all of us and even the staunchest complainants looked back and conceded... “OK, fair enough!” Certainly the following week when we did an incredibly powerful role play on the losses which an adopted child will have experienced the concept was much more accepted around the group.

The day progressed with videos of adopters recounting their experiences, with more talks on the adopters journey from a practical and an emotional level. And then we were given our homework along with another hefty form to start considering and filling in.

The homework was to write a diary reflecting on what we’d learned that week – about ourselves, our partners and the adopter’s journey – and to answer some deliberately intrusive and probing questions on the our history from first deciding we wanted children to the present day. Finally we were asked to summarise our feelings after the day.

And so the first Preparation Day was over. As we walked to the car park we both realised that we were absolutely exhausted! We staggered to the car and drove the short distance to the local branch of a favourite restaurant chain where we slumped into seats at a table in the window. There was no way we were in a fit state to brave the drive home through rush hour traffic, let alone settle down to cooking dinner. The thought that one or both of us might, at that point, be put in charge of sharp knives... Anyway, we must have looked like an oddly unromantic dining couple. Gazing in eyes-glazed silence at each other (or at least into the middle distance over each other’s shoulders), struggling to form vaguely coherent sentences, barely able to lift our forks to our mouths. Totally spent!

However, we both felt excited and even more full of anticipation of what the road ahead – and the following week – would bring.


Anonymous said...

Great post - very well written, I could picture myself in the preparation group with you! It brought back a lot of memories of my preparation groups, although they were a long while ago (1995 and 2002) and the content of the sessions is notably different

I really sympathise with how mentally and physically draining the sessions can be. I just wasn't expecting that before I attended them. Even the second time I had forgotten how draining it really was!

Stix said...

Ah, the normal word! 5 years into placement, we still don't use the word normal. In many contexts anyway!

I really like your writing style, and the way you are so descriptive. Thank you for linking your post to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

theonehandman said...

Preparation days were exhausting for us. I went to work that week, not really caring about my job. Once you have learned about loss, separation and trauma in children, all else seems a bit trivial!