Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Chapter 13 – Adoption Trek: First Contact – The Third Preparation Day Pt 2

Hey there, wait a minute Mr Postman

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.

Maureen started off, not by talking about contact but by describing the types of thinking which adopted children can get into about their origins. Whether it’s the fantastic (my Mummy is Princess Kate and my Daddy is Prince William and I had to be hidden away because... ...and one day they’ll come back and get me!) or the damaged and bleak (my birth mummy and daddy didn’t love me and got rid of me, so did my foster mummy, why shouldn’t this mummy and daddy do the same) they all affect and derive from the child’s view of themselves. It wasn’t until the following week that we’d look at life story work in detail but Maureen’s potted summary suggested that, as was so often the case, there was more to all this than met the eye.

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!

As we broke up after the afternoon session we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Doreen about the form which we were in the process of filling in. In particular we were keen to get some advice on choosing our six referees as we were keen to return the form the following week as had been requested. Looking through the form and the various bits accompanying documentation which we had been given there were many things that contradicted each other. Referees: You must choose... at least two; no more than two; up to two; two... family members

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.


Sarah Hill said...

I think the detailed description you give of your prep course will be so helpful to those researching adoption. You give a clear understanding of how intense and in depth these days are.

Thank you for sharing on the weekly Adoption Shout Out

Rachel Jones said...

Hi both,

Gosh, this is a trip down Amnesia Avenue, I remember when we were at this stage! It's all so much to take in, isn't it?

I just wanted to tell you about our experience of meeting Birth Mum. At the time of the adoption she was, shall we say, away with the fairies and didn't want to meet us. It was only 12 months after our adoption was finalised she asked to do so. Personally she was in a much better place and her social worker felt it would be a chance for her to see that the children were safe, we were just normal people, and she could move on with her life. Driving to meet her I realised that we were at an advantage, as we knew so much about her and she knew nothing at all about us. But of course, we only knew the bad stuff that we'd read in the various documents and files we'd seen. Meeting her enabled us to see the whole person - she talked about her own childhood, and about how the children were as babies, why she chose their names, all sorts of things that we can pass on to them if and when they want to know. For us, it was a really positive experience - I hope it was for her.

It was only a few weeks later that I had to write the first contact letter, and it was a huge help to me to know a little bit about the person I was writing to. And if and when the children want to know more about her I can describe her honestly and tell them a bit more about their background than I would otherwise have known.

Of course, every adoption will be different. But I'd just like to say don't be put off by the suggestion of meeting birth parents if it arises for you. By the time you meet them, your adoption will be a done deal and nothing will change that. It might be nice to have that particular piece of the jigsaw if you need it a few years down the line.

Best of luck with your adoption x

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...


Once again, thank you so much for the encouragement. You've hit the nail on the head as to one of the reasons why I was prompted to put these thoughts down. I remember sitting at home a few weeks before the first prep day thinking, "Hmmm... I wonder what the format will be. I wonder what sort of stuff we'll disuss. I wonder how it will feel." I tried looking around the blogosphere but couldn't really find anything which fitted that bill or helped reassure me it would all be copable with.

Here's hoping that people do find it useful!

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...


Thanks fo rmuch for those comments. We also managed to meet one of our little 'un's birth parents too and it was so very rewarding. Tough. Scary beforehand... but really rewarding.

It was something we were really committed to doing if we got the change and your thoughts so closely align with ours. With us it was post adoption order but still worth it. We're about to embark on our first contact letter so wish us luck!!!

Suddenly Mummy said...

I really understand the wide range of feelings about contact with birth families. I fostered my little one for a year before I embarked on the adoption process and spent plenty of time with his birth mum then, as well as with various grandmas, cousins, etc. etc. I'm so well versed in the theory behind continuing contact and, in my head, I can see why it's needed, but still my heart doesn't like it!

Anonymous said...

Followed the link from my blog and yes, thank you, a very helpful post. :)