Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Chapter 13 – Adoption Trek: First Contact – The Third Preparation Day Pt 2
In the afternoon session on the third Prep Day we started to broach the thorny subject of “contact”. The group seemed to go into the discussions rather polarised in their attitudes. For us, the idea of an open adoption had been liberating when it was first mentioned at the Open Evening and Orientation Day. Rather that sort of honesty rather than having a deep, dark, dirty secret hanging over the family. The sort of thing that Auntie Agatha would let slip over Christmas dinner during the teenage years. Light blue touch paper... Was it something that we were actively looking forward to? No. Of course there would be baggage which went with that and we’d just have to deal with those downs if we were to enjoy the upside.
For others they clearly hadn’t reached that point. They were still openly horrified at the idea of spending time and energy on the evil birth parents for time immemorial. After all, they were sufficiently bad people that they had their child taken away in the first place... And what about all those neglect and abuse horror stories? We shouldn’t be worrying about how they felt. Did I mention before that our group was a little feisty and had some strong opinions they weren’t afraid to voice?
So there was clearly an uphill struggle for Maureen and Doreen to get the rest of the group at least partly onside.
She outlined the various sorts of contact process which were common – whether letter box with birth parents or occasional one-to-one with birth siblings. She outlined how contact changes for the child before and after adoption. This was a revelation to most. We have some friends who foster so we were more familiar with their wards’ regular visits to a contact centre where an afternoon would be spent with their birth parents. We were also well aware of our foster friends’ views on those birth parents, their ability to provide adequate parenting and the likelihood of their children ever being returned to them. We were also aware of how they needed to cope with the behavioural aftermath of the visits. With this in mind it was comforting to know that the vast majority of post adoption contact with birth parents was by letter only. It was also comforting to know that we would be in control of how this information would be shared with our children.
It was at this point that she threw in the thought that it might be beneficial to meet the birth parents in person after placement. This thought drew a few gulps and horrified looks from around the room.
Some of the things which she mentioned seem blindingly obvious in hindsight but they came as a revelation to all of us as we listened. She stressed the value of consistently continuing with the contact process. The ability to show a confused teenager that you had been reliable and kept to the deal every year when, as is common, letters back from the birth-parents petered out in time. On the flip side of that, to be able to show that same confused teenager that they had worth and were loved in their birth parents’ eyes, even if they weren’t equipped to show that at the time... To say it was emotional and hard going was an understatement. Rewarding though and we emerged from the discussions content that, however hard it would be in practice we would be committed to making it work.
It was at that point when Peregrine and Esmerelda piped up. “So the letterbox contact is all anonymous is it?” “Well, partly. It’s done on a first name basis. The birth parents will write to you as Peregrine and Esmerelda and that’s how you’ll write back. It’s all done via a postbox operated by the social services department so they’ll have no way of knowing your surnames or addresses.”
“Hmmmm... do you have any idea how many couples there are out there called ‘Peregrine and Esmerelda’? Have you ever tried Googling it?”
The penny suddenly dropped with Maureen and Doreen. Through their careers and their businesses both partners in this couple had built up a nice healthy web presence for themselves. Combine that with the pairing of two unusual names and it would be very straightforward for any birth parent to have a good chance of tracking them down. Well, they conceded, it was always possible to write using middle names or even pseudonyms. But there was a downside. At some point you’d need to explain to your child why you’d been “lying” to their birth parents all this time.
It didn’t take much prompting to head off into a discussion of the dangers posed by Facebook and other social media. At the end of that I’m not sure if we were more or less enlightened or reassured!
Very helpful. We ran through our suggested list which majored on people who’d seen us interacting as a couple with their children. What about our best friends? They’d just moved to Brussels with their jobs but we’d spent lots of time with their two kids and looked after them on many occasions? My brother in law, as his teenage son had been really close to us throughout his childhood? Mums and Dads of course. Our other closest friends who had stood with us through shared infertility difficulties? There seemed to be an inordinate level of pressure to choose the right people to support our case when interviewed by the social workers. At the same time all the political concerns arose about who to have in and who to have out. Who would be offended and feel snubbed if they were not included. This was more political than drawing up a wedding breakfast seating plan!
Anyway, our list was finalised and would be in the post, first class, the following morning. Then all we would all have to do was wait until after the Prep Days were completed when a decision would be taken on who would move forward from our group and those successful would start their home study. It was all that simple, or was it.