Friday, 19 September 2014

Snakes & Ladders

We are walking away from trauma, loss and separation and some days we seem to have walked so far.
Some days we appear to be on a cosmic Snakes and Ladders board, just with very small, infrequent ladders and lots of snakes that take us back from where we came.
We make a baby step, then another in the right direction, we fall and we seem to be back where we started.

Our psychotherapist calls it regression.

  1.  A return to a former or less developed state.
  2.  The act of going back.

The usual suspects provoke its arrival, the new school term, birthdays, trips, the summer, memories, people, family, shampoo, and the word ‘no’, it is a long and unpredictable list. 
The inevitable onset of puberty, physical and emotional change, complicates the picture.
We look back to see where it came from to try and look forward to sidestep any potential provocations.

Sometimes the regression is fleeting, in the flicker in the eye or change in expression we see the frightened/angry/desperate infant for a second. Sometimes we go back to the chaos of thought and feeling for a day or a week.
It can be banished by a distraction, words or comfort, sometimes it can’t.
It is the testing of hope, like a shadow that looms and subdues the light.
Warned though we were of its inevitability it still comes as a shock, a disappointment.

Though I’m not sure what the goal is but sometimes it seems unreachable with the threat of regression underfoot

It’s not all bleak, we’ve had our ladders. We’ve expected the worst and seen the best. We’ve been left agog at self-awareness and insight.

A two-rung ladder outweighs a myriad of snakes.
Hope is a potent thing, so we roll the dice every morning.

Friday, 12 September 2014

What is understood need not be discussed

Before I start I apologise for the cryptic nature of this blog, feel free to be unimpressed

I appear to have three types of people in my life.

Type A - Those who don't understand, prefer not to understand and will never understand, sometimes they appear to understand but if you scratch around you discover that it is a facade.

Type B - Those who understand after it is explained it to them, though I may have to re explain it to them every time I meet them.

Type C - Those who understand.

Understand what? I guess is the immediate thought. Perhaps how you answer that question classifies you.

You could substitute the phrase "get it" for "understand", but that may not help.

Now I hope you don't find me disingenuous. There are a myriad of reasons for where you fall into my types and it is no judgement or reflection on you. It is just where I find you.

The profession or the experience of the person does not correlate to their Type. We've known post adoption workers and Social Workers who sat happily, disturbingly happy if I'm being honest, in Type A. But I've met people with no experience of adoption or children who instinctively fall into Type C.

So, what's my point.
Well, I think I'm trying to say thank you to good friends who just get it, the likes of @colourcarwen & @2outof3 and the rest of the twitter verse. Family, colleagues and friends, not a long list but a significant one. Often they just listen.

They get it, they don't have to ask, they don't need explanation. They just nod and don't feel the need to offer home spun "time is a great healer" fortune cookie wisdom. For that I'm grateful.

American surrealist Loren Adams said 'What is understood need not be discussed'.
I don't know what he's talking about but I know what I'm talking about.

If you do too then I'm sure all of this made sense.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The 'F' word.

Recently I’ve noticed the increased used of the term ‘Forced’ adoption. I can’t tell if becoming more aware of it or it is a term that is sliding increasingly into popular use.
If I’m honest the term strikes a chill in my heart. In fact I’ve not been able to bring myself to read an article in this months Professional Social Work magazine with ‘forced adoption’ in the headline.

I have to ask myself what am I afraid of?

I guess the term conjures up the worst of images, children snatched from crying mothers by heartless autocratic Social Workers and given to adopters, oblivious and irrespective of the devastation left behind. Tragic historical cases that surface again and again, shaming the authorities responsible.
When the term is used for contemporary that's when my blood turns cold. 

Though I’m young in my Social Work career I’ve seen enough to know injustices happen, cases slip, Social Workers drop the ball, lies are told and courts are not always places of justice. It seems that the media would sometimes have us believe that there are more injustice than not. However, I know that is not the case but one unjust 'forced' adoption is enough. 

The voices of the adopters are never heard in the in the articles or programmes. But I can’t help but think of them.
As adopters the unwritten or unspoken contract that we enter into is that this is in the best interests of the child or children we call ours. 
That everything was done to ensure that the children could not remain with their family of origin. Every stone turned every door pushed and every corner looked into

We have to believe that.

For my children I know their story and journey and I rest assured that we were the best route possible for them but I can't help but feel a chill when I hear the F word.

Friday, 29 August 2014


Words are like toothpaste once they're out you can’t get them back in.

Clearly the topic of stupid things to say to adopters is a rich seam, mined at depth across the internet. All adopters have their own list of pet hates and anthologies of stupid things that have been said to them.

However, I will throw a recent question that I've been asked into the fray.

After getting to know someone eventually the topic gets round to children and inevitably adoption.

Then the conversation comes to this point:

“Wow, six children? And you’ve adopted?....................are any of them your own?”

Now, as you read this please understand that I don’t feel militant, offended, angry or indignant.

I normally pause, mainly because I’m torn as what to say next.

If I say:

“Do you mean are any of them biologically mine?”, then I sound like a self righteous arse.


"Actually I consider them all to be mine, a gift", then I sound like a pompous arse.

Quite a dilemma.

But I recently discovered the solution as I paused like a rabbit in the headlights of these two responses.

I smiled, with a slightly confused look on my face. (I should never play poker)

As I smiled they realised what I was thinking, they realise what they had said, they realised my dilemma.
Then they laughed, nervously, then I laughed and then we both laughed together.

It was all ok.

I find it odd that people feel able to ask questions of adopters that they would never ask other people. My particular favourite asked of Mrs C is "do they all have the same father". I can only imagine the response if that was asked of any mother with more than one child.

As I say, words are like toothpaste.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Curiosity killed the.............

As noted in my recent post we have recently been subject to the increasingly common experience of being contacted by birth family through Facebook.
Reflecting on the incident it would appear to be a little naïve to be surprised or shocked.

We were found through snippets of information, two first names and a town, the trail of breadcrumbs led online, here then there and re appeared in our lives.
This experience mixed with a recent thread on twitter made me reflect on the temptations available to this generation of adopters, adoptees and birth families.

In the majority of current placements the theme running through them is that the children were not relinquished or given freely to adopters. Birth families are left with memories and not much else. The much televised tragic view of the stoic, silent and dignified mother is an endangered relic of a historic model of adoption. Children forcibly removed from parents is a painful majority of contemporary adoption. Freely available to these families is a raft of social networking platforms that potentially offer them a link to their lost children.

For the benign or malevolent alike the hope and thought of discovering information, a picture or celebratory status update or even achieving contact would be almost irresistible.

I have to ask what would I do in the face of such ‘temptation’?  What would you do?

For the adopted child or teenager curious about identity and history, perhaps the temptation is easier to satisfy. With key information often in the much-maligned LifeStory Books then with the minimum of information, full names, towns of birth and images, then contact is literally at their fingertips.
In my children’s shoes what would I do? What would the 15 year old me have done?

For the adopters?  
I’ll come clean, I looked.
Not every month, week or day but I looked, perhaps once or twice a year.
So why did I look?
Of course I have a duty of care, identifying potential harm is my duty.
I check for broken glass in playgrounds. Were they close or far, was there a potential for harm.
But I have to confess that at times my searches were to satisfy my own curiosity and intrigue, what had happened in the intervening years, who was with who and living where. Were they close or far, was there a potential for harm.
Was I right or wrong to look? I don’t know.
My motives were mixed.

It feels like SW, adopters and post adoption support services are lagging, not sure how to react or protect.
If I had the answer I’d be rich and on a book tour. So, what do I do, we talk with each other, we are frank, we dispel myths, we ‘friend’ and ‘follow’, we try and stay one step ahead, we try to be savvy and we pray.

We are ok, our kids are ok. Yes, we had a shock but we’d laid a foundation that caught the fall and gave room for manoeuvre, at least for now.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Life Story Book

I apologise in advance as the following blog has no whimsical anecdote or profound insight that will ruminate in your soul. It is just a plain old moan.

We seem to have a pants time of it with Life Story Books for Flossy and Lotty. I understand the usefulness of them as a tool for unraveling their journey. Though the big three did not have life story books they had albums of photos and they were a wonderful tool to use to illustrate their story. We kept them safe but where they could access them when they wanted.

Flossy and Lotty's first Life Story Books books were rubbish, and I assure you I am choosing my words carefully. We received them after their protracted and painful journey into adoption and from the outset we realised that we could not use them. The main reason being they had birth mum's address in. You don't need a crystal ball to work out what they would do in a fit of teenage rage 10 years down the line.

We contacted the LA and asked for them to be changed or amended as they were laminated. We were politely told 'no', just 'stick something over the address'. To be honest it was the least of our worries so we tucked them away.*

Turn the clock forward 5 years and with the imminent arrival of Peanut looming and the knowledge that birth mother had moved we felt it would be good to get the books out and see if they would be of use. Time had faded the memory of the other reasons that we weren't impressed. Incorrect names and dates, Disneyesque sentimental twee poems (don't get me started) and when your seven year old can point out spelling and grammar mistakes on each page then you know that things aren't good. We cleared up factual errors and let the girls keep them, shacking our heads in dismay.

Along came Peanut and as the opportunity arose we requested that the Flossy and Lotty be issued with LSBs that matched the one to be issued with Peanut. After showing the rather embarrassing previous attempts the head of service agreed and apologised for the shoddiness and the incompetence previously shown.

We got new Life Story Books, all was as it should be and the girls were pleased and they were stowed away in their rooms. Occasionally, they come out and they have a look.

So, to this week. I arrived home in the late evening gloom after an evening presenting the Skills to Foster course, all emotive stuff. Lotty was waiting for me and asked me to look through her Life Story Book. It was unusually peaceful and after my evening the significance of the Life Story Book was perhaps more focused than usual. I read through the pages, we looked at the photos and the clip art used to illustrate points. I then realised that every piece of clip art (there's a lot) was of a white face, a white mother and baby, a white family and so on. For the observant Lotty does not have a white face, the photo's in the Life Story Book reflect this fact.

I feel a little embarrassed that I'd not noticed sooner and I'll admit that my appreciation of race and identity is a work in progress. For all children identity can be challenging but to ignore such a significant aspect in what are widely hailed as significant tools for adoptive parents is just plain crap. We have never relied on the Life Story Books  to do the work that is our responsibility but it should be a tool available to us, beneficial and informative.

For us this is clearly not meant to be.

While I'm on, I'm still waiting for Later Life Letters from 2008, but I'm not bitter.

* Rest easy in the knowledge that in the intervening 5 years we had done a significant amount of work in relation to life story just not used the book.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


How can you prepare for adoption, for a stranger, or three, to enter your life.

We were diligent on our prep course, answered the questions and entered the discussions.

We were open and honest in our home study.

We read the books and did the homework.

We sought advice and talked to those who'd walked the same path.

We discussed what we would do when this or that happened.

We jumped through all the hoops, danced to the right tune, and towed the line.

Then rather than being a good idea and a hope for the future they became names and ages, rather than what ifs and maybes.

Words on paper, descriptions from Social Workers and anecdotes and routines from foster carers.

Blurred images from a camcorder.

We studied the words, video and pictures.
Then we studied them some more and we talked and talked and talked.

Still, they existed out there, abstract and untouchable, real but not real and not the here and now.

Then they became flesh.

Exploding into our lives.

Strangers in the home, personalities and opinions, likes and dislikes, feelings and thoughts.

We were not ready.