Re-visiting the CPR

Last week Little Bear was really struggling. We’d had a lovely first 4 or 5 weeks of the summer holiday and then suddenly there was a sea-change. Little Bear was just so angry. He could barely contain himself. A request like ‘please tidy the game away’ led to ten minutes of growling, gritted teeth and very elaborate deep breathing. He hated me several times per day and called me an ‘idiot’ countless times. It was obvious something was the matter but it was difficult to say what. With it being a week or so before school starting again I assumed it was anxiety for that.

On the Friday, Big Bear was busy doing something else so Little Bear and I had a day out on our own. It was one of those trips where I wasn’t really feeling it because I knew it could be a really difficult day and sitting around watching TV seemed quite a lot more appealing. However, having now been Little Bear’s mum for three years, I also knew that he needed that day out. He needed me to show him that I still really loved him and wanted to be with him, of my own choosing, despite him having a rotten week and being less than pleasant to me. I took a deep breath, reminded myself there were only a few more days before I got Five Minutes Peace and off we went.

We didn’t get off to a brilliant start because the road we usually use was shut so I had to turn around and go another way. In his fragile state this really bothered Little Bear. He announced the day was ruined and we should just go home. He protested all the way there that we now had to drive on a motorway and he hated motorways. Apparently it was the worst day ever.

However, once we were there, we had fun. We played at the park and because there was only he and I, it was easy to trail him and just follow him wherever he fancied going. We saw animals, went on a little train, had a go on an inflatable slide. We’d brought a picnic and I was surprised that Little Bear wasn’t in a hurry to eat and go. He wanted to hang out on the rug for a while so he played on my phone and we snuggled. It was lovely and I guiltily thought about my feelings from before we came out. We had ice cream and painted some pottery.

When Little Bear got tired we headed for home. Then, boom! In the car: an unexpected life story chat. A big one this time. Could this have been behind his behaviour all week?

Little Bear was thinking in particular about his birth siblings whom we only have annual Letterbox contact with. We have talked about them before and looked at their pictures but then months go by and Little Bear doesn’t say anything and I wonder whether he has remembered any of the chats. Well, he has. He’s remembered everything and I suspect he ruminates on it all a lot more than he lets on.

He told me he had been dreaming about them which is interesting because I recently read that our pre-verbal memories can appear in our dreams. He told me he misses them and got tearful. It was hard trying to explain why he can’t see them. I told him about Letterbox for the first time though and I think this year he will be able to get involved.

I was hit with a realisation: we might need to explore changing our contact agreements going forwards. It isn’t really ok that he can’t see his siblings, is it? To some extent we have been able to pretend they don’t exist – out of sight out of mind. Little Bear has previously not mentioned them or shown any understanding of who they are so that seemed ok. Although, really, it isn’t ok. They are his siblings. They do exist and now he has a sense that they should be together.

I feel it’s imperative that we listen to him and that, if necessary, we are willing to challenge current arrangements. The message from adult adoptees is loud and clear: listen to us, do not deny us our roots. I think for us to be the best parents to Little Bear we can be, we need to be willing to listen to what he wants, even if it is difficult or inconvenient for us.

Grizzly and I had a big chat later on. It would be easy to react immediately and to try to set the ball rolling. However, there are many things that need to be considered. Allowing direct contact with Little Bear’s siblings could risk leading their birth parents right to us. At the moment, being anonymous and in an unknown location feels important. What could be the possible consequences of taking that risk? It’s hard to say and near impossible to predict with the information we have.

Also, it is very difficult to communicate the difference between an idea and the reality of a situation to a 6 year old. Meeting the siblings would be a huge deal. I know he sort of remembers them but they would essentially be strangers and it could be extremely overwhelming for him. At this stage he wouldn’t be able to tell you which name went with which person. Perhaps a bit more of a connection needs to be built first.

For now we are going to hold the nugget of the idea in mind. We’ll involve Little Bear in Letterbox and, happily, we’ll be able to give him the reply this time. I think we’ll see how that goes before we jump in any further.

That was only part of the big conversation though. The enormous question of ‘why did my birth mum want to give me away?’ reared its head for the first time. I explained she hadn’t wanted to and how it all works. I very quickly exhausted the basic narrative that has covered his questions so far: your birth parents weren’t good at looking after children. Then I had another realisation: if he asked me more questions about details of exactly what happened I might not be able to answer them very well. My memory of the details (beyond the content of his Life Story Book) was fuzzy to say the least. If anything, I’m guilty of creating some sort of weird rose-tinted view of his birth parents. I have them painted as a victim of their circumstances and that they hadn’t actively done much wrong. I had even got to the point of wondering why the children had been removed when they were trying their best.

My strange little internal view of them was at odds with what I know about how child protection services work. It didn’t stack up. So I realised I had better go back to the paperwork and refresh my memory of the details of what really happened.

So that’s how Grizzly and I ended up sitting here, in our pyjamas, on a Friday night, when most people are out-out or watching Netflix, pouring over Little Bear’s CPR (Child Permanence Report – the lengthy report you are given about your adoptive child that gives the full history of how they ended up in Care).

It was much worse than I remembered.

I haven’t read it for more than 3 years and when I read it last time, I hadn’t even met Little Bear. I suspect that what I looked for in it was quite different to my current viewpoint. Then, I was alert to how many times he’d moved, what things had specifically happened to him, whether mum used drugs or alcohol. I suppose I was looking for red flags. I probably didn’t pay too much attention to the bits about his siblings because they weren’t going to be adopted. Because Little Bear was the youngest, there wasn’t a lot about him specifically in the report. However, now that I’m reading a report about my youngest son, not a child I haven’t met yet, I’m attuned to other clues. This time, I wanted to get an idea of his birth parents (an accurate one) and what the home environment was really like. I needed to know about the reality of their day to day lives. Who are these people? How do they tick? What were the risks back then? What are the risks likely to be now?

The picture I now have of them is much less rosy, let’s just say that.

This time I paid much more attention to the siblings – what had they been through, how were they likely to be coping now? The thing is that they aren’t just random children who don’t matter to us; they are our son’s siblings. They do matter. In fact, the journey of one in particular is hard to read and it was the bits about them at which I cried, not any of the bits about Little Bear.

I don’t think the birth parents can really change to any dramatic degree. I don’t think they have the capacity to change the things that would make a difference. Things for the siblings though are very much subject to change. A lot is going to depend on the care and guidance they have now. They could be a product of their earlier childhoods or they may have been able to overcome that early adversity. They could gravitate back to birth parents or take their lives on a completely opposing course. We don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know but if we go down the route of increasing contact, we’ll need to ask some questions. There is certainly a fine balance between giving your child access to their past and keeping them safe in the present and future.

For the first time I feel the weight of responsibility of being a custodian of Little Bear’s story. The choices we make now and the things we do or don’t do could have a huge impact on how Little Bear will feel about being adopted in the future. I read so much about adoptees feeling marginalised and misunderstood that obviously I want to avoid the mistakes they feel were made for them. At the same time, I feel the pain of their adopters who no doubt wracked their brains and their hearts, as we do, trying their best to figure out what the right decisions are.

 

*I have absolutely no idea how I managed to create a rose-tinted view of LB’s birth parents. Perhaps it was subconsciously more palatable? Either way, I can highly recommend revisiting the CPR at moments of doubt, even if I was haunted by some of the information for a couple of days afterwards.

 

Re-visiting the CPR

A Confession

Readers, I have a confession to make. It is something I expect Society will disapprove of. It will certainly be frowned upon, if not judged very negatively, by most. I’m just going to spit it out: Little Bear still has a dummy.

I suspect this is controversial for two reasons. Firstly because Little Bear is 5, on the nearer to six side of things, and typically children give up their dummies whilst still pre-schoolers. Secondly, because I, his mother, am a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT) who not only should know better but should be militantly opposed to dummies full stop.

It may make me a rubbish SaLT (I’ll take the chance) but I am not opposed to dummies. I certainly think they have their uses. Big Bear had one (ok, about nine) and was particularly attached to them, often sleeping with one in his mouth and one in his hand.

Initially, I tried extremely hard not to give him one, thinking it would make me a bad parent (as well as a bad therapist) if I did. However, after about 7 weeks of following the NHS guidance to demand feed, I had been feeding Big Bear around the clock and when I wasn’t doing that he was latching on to anything and everything (my arm, Grizzly’s nose etc.). I had to acquiesce to save my sanity, as well as my nipples.

Looking back, there are so many things to beat yourself up about as a new parent that I genuinely don’t think a dummy should be one of them. There are two main risks with dummy use: the impact on the infant’s teeth and the impact on their speech. Unless a child is plugged in constantly (wrong on many levels), an average amount of dummy-use is really only damaging to speech if a child speaks with the dummy in their mouth*. I have found that fairly easily solved with a ‘no talking with your dummy in’ rule, which I do stick to religiously. It hasn’t hampered either Bear from being a chatterbox. The dummy hasn’t stopped them talking, they have just got used to taking it out of their mouths to do so.

As Big Bear approached three years of age, his speech was developing well but I began to notice a change in his teeth. They were starting to angle outwards a little. It was obvious it was the dummy and it had to go. Although I knew he didn’t need it, I did know that he liked it A LOT and I was pretty trepidatious about the big withdrawal. Exactly how many nights would he scream for?!

I knew cold-turkey was really the only way but I wanted him to be as prepared as possible. We talked about dummy fairies and invented some sort of fable about what good purpose they put discarded dummies to (I can’t quite remember the details). I’m not ashamed to say we also used a good portion of bribery – those dummy fairies give a good reward! We left all the dummies outside on a plate on the allocated day (because clearly the fairies live outdoors) and the next morning a Lego truck had magically appeared in their place. The deed was done.

In reality we had one or two nights of Big Bear struggling to get to sleep but there was none of the fuss and palaver I had imagined. The big dummy withdrawal was, dare I say, pretty easy.

Several years later when we were in the process of Matching with Little Bear, it transpired that at the age of three and a half, he still had a dummy. Tut, tut, we said. How awful! He really should be rid of it by now! Just give it to the dummy fairies: how hard could it be?!

In our naivety I think we even suggested the Foster Carer’s should do the deed before he came to us.

The outrage! A three and a half year old with a dummy!

Yet, here we are, over two years later, the three and a half year old is now nearly six and he still has the dummy. So what has gone wrong?

Have I been too chicken this time?

No. Not too chicken. A little older, a little wiser and a LOT more tuned in. I haven’t taken Little Bear’s dummy away because he still needs it. Along with his blanket, it is the only thing that is guaranteed to calm him.

Usually the dummy and blanket live in his bedroom and Little Bear only has them after his bedtime stories when the light is going off. Most of the time he half forgets about them and can fall asleep without them. However, there are still days when he pads sheepishly downstairs with them, lays curled in the foetal position on the sofa and disappears off into his calm place for a couple of hours. If I didn’t let Little Bear have his dummy on that sort of day, he would prowl about, itchy, discontented and ill at ease. He would seek trouble, struggle with instruction and generally have a very difficult day. The relief and release when he gets the dummy is almost palpable.

When Little Bear was younger/ newer to our family we daren’t go on any car journey without the dummy and blanket secreted in my handbag “just in case”. There were months when they were literally the only way to calm him (though there was also a risk he’d lob it at your head).

We have many more available and effective calming strategies now and don’t take the dummy anywhere any more (apart from on holiday). However, when Little Bear starts wandering around the house with it, it is the equivalent of a red warning light. It means that Little Bear is not feeling good. We might not know why and neither may he, but it alerts us that he needs something different today. It generally means he needs few demands, lots of TV, cheesy pasta for tea, somebody to feed it to him and an early night. As yet, Little Bear can’t communicate this to us any other way so we have to rely on the medium of dummy interpretation. He has a wide enough vocabulary now but I don’t think he can pinpoint how he feels, let alone interpret the feeling enough to be able to voice it.

Although these are all valid points, there is something else, more fundamental, that is holding me back.

The dummy and blanket are the only things I can think of that Little Bear has always had. They have travelled with him (one assumes) from his birth family to foster care and from there to us, providing him with a reliable and consistent source of comfort along the way. Perhaps I should say that they are the only reliable and consistent source of comfort he has ever had. You would usually anticipate that the reliable and consistent source of comfort would be your Mum or Dad but as Little Bear has had three different ones of each and not one of them has accompanied him on his whole journey, he has had no choice but to seek an alternative source.

How can I, hand on heart, take away that consistent and reliable source of comfort? I genuinely don’t think that I can or, more importantly, that I should. Having had so little control over what has happened in his life I think I can hand over the reins of this one to Little Bear himself.

I know that Society will stand in judgement, as I too probably would have done a few years ago. I know Society will consider him too old and my behaviour in allowing it to be atypical. I have decided that I care not one jot. Sometimes I make that type of decision quietly. What wider Society doesn’t know about won’t bother them. However, if I really don’t care what anyone thinks and I genuinely believe I am acting with the best of intentions, why should I hide it? Society needs to become accepting of the fact that not all children follow a typical pattern of development and therefore will not adhere to the rigid expectations we set out, whether anybody likes it or not.

Last week I read a blog on a similar theme, though it was about using a baby carrier with a three year old, and I realised this type of age-related pigeonholing is happening left, right and Chelsea (It was written by @LivingtheTheory and you can read it here: http://living-the-theory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/thats-no-no-now-hes-getting-bigger.html ) Can we please quit it with the chronological age expectations and think developmental needs? So what if a toddler still needs to be close to his Mum when they are out and about? So what if my 5 year old still needs me to feed him sometimes? So what if a sixteen year old with severe learning difficulties still wants to carry a teddy around? So what if a ten year old still needs a pull-up at night? So what? All children have different needs. I’m not sure we need to get our knickers in a twist about it.

I have no idea how long Little Bear is going to need his dummy and blanket. I don’t think it is something I can set an age-related target for. Will he still have it when he’s a grown man? Somehow I doubt it.

 

*The main impact on speech of having a dummy is that children talk around it and inevitably start to form some of their speech sounds incorrectly. It is usually the tongue-tip sounds that are affected the most as the dummy prevents the tongue tip from reaching the alveolar ridge (the flat hard ridge behind your top teeth) , a place it needs to be in order to make accurate t, s, l, n, d, z sounds. A tell-tale sign of too much dummy use is the presence of a process called ‘backing’ in a child’s speech. The front sound ‘t’ is made at the back instead, so it sounds like ‘k’. Everywhere a child should use a ‘t’, they will use a ‘k’, so ‘tea’ sounds like ‘key’ etc.
Dummy use isn’t the sole cause of this process, it could just happen anyway, but it is not a process usually seen in typical development so can be a red flag.
As Little Bear has Developmental Language Disorder, with accompanying speech disorder, I would be stupid to allow him to speak around his dummy. Interestingly, although he has had many atypical processes in his speech, backing has not been one of them.
However long a child needs their dummy, I do believe that speaking with it in is a massive no-no at any stage.

For the record I do care about Little Bear’s teeth too. He has regular checks at the dentist and so far they are lovely and straight (as are Big Bear’s adult teeth).

https://fulltimetired.com/wp-content/assets/fttwr/fttwr-widget-1.1.php?animate=1&message=

A Confession

Contact

The subject of contact has been prominent in our house this week for a few reasons. My involvement in it has got me thinking about the importance of contact in general and how it is of multi-faceted benefit. There are benefits not just to the child in the centre of it all but to those around him and those on the receiving end of the contact too.

The first thing that happened was that we decided that Little Bear had asked us enough times now if he could see his Foster Carers and we needed to listen. It has always been in a casual way – mentioned one day then not for weeks and usually mentioned in passing.

Initially, when Little Bear first moved in, it was an active decision on our part that he wouldn’t speak to them for a while. The transition had been quite rushed and Little Bear hadn’t seemed to miss his Foster Carers Karen and Bob at all. If he did it wasn’t in a way that he could verbalise or even that he shed tears over. It felt odd.

It was only after about 6 months that Little Bear started to mention them and then it was usually when he was displeased with us.

During the first months my own feelings about Karen and Bob were very confused. They had been lovely to us – very friendly and welcoming and they had gone out of their way to include Big Bear and ease his distress when Introductions proved very hard on him. However, I also felt angry about various aspects of Little Bear’s development that clearly hadn’t been nurtured or developed in their care. I was upset that he should have been further ahead than he was after such a long time with them. I knew he had the potential to be further on because he was literally flourishing in front of my eyes. I was upset that his tongue was cracked from dehydration; he didn’t know what fruits or vegetables were and was having to take laxatives for his sluggish digestion. He hadn’t learned to do basic things like walk holding hands and was used to playing in his room with the light on in the middle of the night. I was upset that we had to start parenting from scratch, down to teaching him his own name and getting him to follow even a basic instruction.

We had our work cut out and I honestly didn’t know if I could speak to Karen and Bob or what I would say to them if I did.

I suppose if I’m really honest I was also worried about our attachments at that point. I genuinely think speaking to them or seeing them could have broken the fragile bond that we were gradually forming with Little Bear. I guess some of my motivations for not having contact were selfish.

However, I always intended that in the longer term we would have some sort of contact for Little Bear’s sake. I do think children should be able to stay in touch with their Foster Carers but I also think this should very much be taken on a case by case basis and directed by the child. I sent occasional messages and Christmas cards etc. I thought Karen and Bob might have sent Little Bear a birthday or Christmas card but they didn’t. Perhaps they weren’t bothered about him anymore?

More recently I have known that the time was coming when instead of just allowing Little Bear to talk about Karen and Bob and affirming that it really is ok for him to miss them, I would need to go one step further. I would need to facilitate him speaking with them and possibly seeing them. All of a sudden I felt ok to make this happen. I didn’t think it would threaten our bond at all. And moreover I wanted him to have the opportunity.

So recently I contacted them to see how they felt about it. I was surprised by how keen they were and how happy my text had made them. The phone call took place and I was surprised by how nice it was to hear their voices. An adopters relationship with foster carers is unique I think and can’t really be likened to any other type of relationship. After all, you don’t usually move into a stranger’s house for a week or so and then take away the child they have been caring for. It is a very unusual dynamic.

For us, it turns out, it is a dynamic in which despite not speaking to them for 2 years and having very mixed feelings about the care they provided our son (though I know they didn’t do any of it purposefully) we are still able to have an easy and comfortable conversation. It was lovely to hear how they and their family are doing and also their genuine joy in hearing about Little Bear. It seems as though they do think about him and wonder about him but don’t want to intrude into our lives by getting in touch to ask us about him. I have made it clear that we would not see that type of contact as an intrusion and would welcome it.

I think the phone call was important for them. They needed the contact.

Little Bear needed the contact and wanted it but was quite discombobulated by it. When Grizzly asked him why he wanted to speak to Karen and Bob he said, “Because they used to love me”, which really hit the nail on the head in the brilliantly simple way that Little Bear does. It also meant we were able to explain that they haven’t stopped loving him and I’m sure the phone call helped with proving that.

Little Bear didn’t talk to Karen and Bob for long though he did tell them he would like to see them. Although he was a bit all over the place whilst I was on the phone, the behavioural fall-out that we expected afterwards didn’t materialise. I think for him, the wait was the right thing to do.

I was also surprised that Big Bear was really keen to talk to Karen and Bob and he too got a lot from the conversation. I suppose that Bob and Karen are a part of his brother’s past that he is a part of too, in a way that Little Bear’s birth family are not. He remembers being in their home and the kindness they showed him.

All in all, I think our first foray into making contact with Bob and Karen was really positive and I genuinely hope it will lead to more chats and possibly even a meet up. The whole thing has just served to illustrate that in adoption nothing is black and white; nothing is purely bad or purely good. Most things are a weird swirl of greys – a very complex mix of positives and negatives that cannot be separated into neat piles. Once you embrace the grey swirl, rather than being upset by the negatives or viewing the positives through a rose-tinted lens, things seem much easier to navigate.

And when it comes to complex grey swirls, nothing is more complex or swirly than our relationship with the other people we need to maintain contact with: Little Bear’s Birth Parents. It is Letterbox time so I have been thinking a lot about Sian and Joseph too. When I last wrote about this it was to say that we had requested an update that I didn’t think we would ever get. Miraculously we did get an update (to which Sian and Joseph had to consent) and it gave us the clearest picture we’ve had of them to date. The update also included information about Little Bear’s birth siblings.

What was brilliant about it was the insight it gave us into how they are all coping with Little Bear’s adoption and what some of their worries and preoccupations are. This has made writing Letterbox letters so much easier and has allowed me to tailor the letters to address their anxieties. Last year (our first experience of Letterbox) I think I felt quite vulnerable in my relationship with Little Bear and the thought of Sian and Joseph alone was enough to jiggle my confidence, let alone having to write to them.

This year I feel very different. This time I feel the responsibility of playing my part in helping them to cope with the loss of their son. That is not something I thought I would ever feel or say. I feel the same about supporting Little Bear’s birth siblings. Luckily they have sent us some specific questions and we have answered those. The letter to Sian and Joseph has been harder but I have tried to anticipate their concerns and address them as best I can. I have made sure they know Little Bear knows he is adopted and that we talk about them.

It is suddenly very obvious to me how important the contact is for them. At this stage I would say it is more important for them than it is for Little Bear, though I anticipate his need for it to grow as he does.

I think our role in it all is quite different to how I used to think of it. The contact is not about us. First and foremost it is about Little Bear and trying to future-proof as much as possible. Secondary to that, we might actually be able to make a difference in Sian and Joseph and the siblings’ lives if we can put our own feelings aside and think carefully about what they need from us. This is where good social work is crucial and why I really feel that allowing us updates is so vital. It is a road that has to be walked with caution but one that I am hopeful about travelling.

A crucial part of our update was that it would be okay for us to meet Sian and Joseph (we had previously been told we couldn’t) so now we need to think long and hard about whether to go ahead and do it. I rather suspect we will but therein lays a massive grey swirly mire to wade through.

I would say that adoption has about fifty shades of grey but that would conjure up the wrong image entirely. It’s grey and swirly and the black and white is inextricably tangled. Lets stick with that.

 

Contact

Birth Parents

It is letterbox time again, here at Bear HQ which has got me thinking about Little Bear’s birth parents, Sian and Joseph. I have to confess that I am feeling quite discombobulated about the whole thing. I am confused about how I feel about them, how I should feel about them and what I should do going forwards. Brace yourselves readers while I blog it out.

So, last year’s Letterbox was, in my opinion, a bit of a cock up. You can read about it here: Letterbox Update In short, I suspect that the letter I wrote languished upon a disorganised Social Worker’s desk for the best part of 7 months before even an attempt was made to get it to its rightful destination. At the time I was upset about it because I felt it wasn’t fair for Sian and Joseph. If I was them and the only contact I had with the child I had given birth to was an annual letter, I would really want my letter. I would want it when I knew it was due. No doubt they drew all sorts of conclusions as to why we hadn’t bothered to send it.

Sian and Joseph didn’t reply to the letter, which I felt was a bit strange as they both attended court and showed signs of wanting to do the best they could in the current circumstances for Little Bear. Several months after his birthday we did receive some birthday cards from them (which no doubt had been sent at the right time but had also languished in the mountainous pile of paperwork on the desk). In the card Sian had written that she was sorry for not replying to our letter, she just didn’t have the words.

I felt sad once again reading that statement. Of course she doesn’t have the words, she is probably heart-broken; she is potentially never going to see her youngest child again. For me, rightly or wrongly, that sentence says “help me”. It says, “I have no idea how to go about writing this letter, though I do really want to”. And, if as I suspect, Sian also has speech and language difficulties like Little Bear, not only will she be struggling metaphorically to find the words but literally too.

In order to try to right the wrongs of last year and get us back on track this year, I contacted said disorganised Social Worker before our Letterbox was due. I suggested (again) that Sian and Joseph might need some help with Letterbox. I also asked how they are and how Little Bear’s birth siblings are.

Now this is where things get murky and I get very confused. I know that they can’t tell us much about how things are as it would be a breach of confidentiality. Obviously I am not asking them to do that. I am not asking for Joseph and Sian’s place of employment, inside leg measurement or bank details. All I really want to know is are they vaguely ok? Are they dead? Are they in prison? Are they homeless? Are they rampaging around the country trying to locate Little Bear? I just feel that it would be useful, as an adopter, to have a vague sense of whether they are functioning in their lives or not. I would also like to know whether they pose any danger to Little Bear or us or not. I have no real sense of this due to the paucity of information in my possession.

I suppose I have half an eye on the future, when Little Bear might decide he wants to track them down. I need a sense of who exactly these people are. They could make attempts to find him before then. But would they? I have literally no idea.

Anyway, so I posed the ‘how are they?’ question. The Social Worker (who gives Social Workers in general a bad name) initially ignored my question. I had asked it on the phone several months ago and now again by e-mail. She eventually did respond to my e-mail but not the part about Sian and Joseph. So I asked again. This time she said that she was going to ask their Social Worker to contact them to ask if they can share more information with us. This was not what I envisaged happening.

If I were them I might well tell Social Services to F off. It makes us seem like really nosy so and sos and they must wonder what on earth we want to know and why. It also makes me wonder if what I am asking for is out of the ordinary. Am I living in some sort of dream world where I don’t actually need to know this information? A basic, “yes they’re fine, nothing has really changed” or “they are having a difficult time at the moment” or “I don’t think they’ve really accepted the adoption” or “they seem to have moved on with their lives” would have sufficed.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve annoyed said Social Worker with my persistent questions and that she is being purposefully obstructive. I definitely think that Social Services would have much preferred it if we had just adopted a child from their LA care and run off into the sunset, never to bother them again.

Not able to keep my mouth shut, I also persevered on the point about supporting Sian and Joseph with Letterbox. Apparently if they want some support they can come to the Post Adoption Support Team and ask for it. I find the idea of them actually doing that completely unrealistic. Why would they come, cap in hand, to the very people who removed their children, to ask for help? Surely the days of them feeling that Social Services can help them are long gone? I have been living a delusional fantasy that there might be some sort of follow up or after-care for people who have lost their children. Surely it would be more beneficial for society to try to support birth parents, help them to grieve, help them with moving on whilst trying to keep them on the straight and narrow? Surely losing your children is a big precipitating factor for other issues such as mental health difficulties or drug or alcohol addiction?

However, recent thinking has left me reflective. Evidently my utopian view of social work is unrealistic in the context of austerity and cuts to services. I don’t suppose social workers do have time to be keeping track of where birth parents have got to and what they are up to at the moment. I guess they do have to prioritise families that still have children in them. And the question that burns most on my lips: why am I taking the birth parents side in all this anyway?

I think that had Sian and Joseph physically or sexually abused Little Bear I would be a lot clearer on my feelings towards them. I wouldn’t have the same sense of loyalty and I certainly wouldn’t feel sorry for them. I don’t mean to belittle the neglect that they did inflict on Little Bear, because I know only too well the long term and pernicious consequences of it. However, I do think it is possible to unknowingly or accidentally neglect someone in a way that you certainly couldn’t accidentally sexually abuse someone. It is not Sian’s fault that she herself had a shitty upbringing and is not equipped with the skills to parent. I keep coming back to the fact that it is a very unfortunate set of circumstances and foolishly or not, I do feel sorry for them. I feel a perverse moral duty to do the right thing by them, despite the fact that they have caused my son’s developmental trauma.

I suppose, on a human level, I know they must be suffering and I don’t want that for anyone. And also, despite anything that happens, we are already inextricably linked by the fact that their son is our son.

I do wonder whether I might not have such a rose-tinted view if I was furnished with a little bit more information though. After all, people do not have their children removed from their care for just a little bit of carelessness.

The thing is where do we go now? We have always said that we would be open to the idea of meeting Sian and Joseph but if we can’t even get Letterbox sorted it is hard to see how we might be able to work towards that. Is my pro-active (if perfect world) approach to the Social Worker causing us more problems? Is her communication with Sian and Joseph impacting on their opinion and willingness to work with us? Are we ever going to move forwards?

I’m starting to think that I’m wasting my energy. Perhaps I should just send our Letterbox contribution off into the deep blue yonder and think no more about it?

This is about Little Bear though. What is best for him? That is the crux of my thinking and is so difficult to answer because I just don’t think I have enough information to say. At the very least I want to be able to tell him that we tried and, to the consternation of a certain social worker, I can honestly say that we have.

In the unlikely event that we ever get an answer to our questions I will let you know.

 

*Please don’t think that my rant-y-ness over this Social Worker indicates any sort of anti-social work stance. I know many fabulous ones and we have been extremely well supported at this end. I am just particularly irked by this one.

 

 

Birth Parents

Beginnings of Life Story Work

Little Bear has now been with us for 16 months but we are just in the fledgling stages of talking about his life story.

In the early days together Little Bear did not have enough language to ask any questions or to understand any explanations we might have tried to give about many things, least of all his complex start in life. We kept a photo of him with his foster carers, Karen and Bob (not their real names) in his bedroom as a starting point and as a way of showing him there was something else before us. He looked at it sometimes and we talked about Karen and Bob openly: about things Little Bear had done at their house; about things we had done when we first met him there; about whether he might be missing them. After a few months he would sometimes say that he was going to go back to them. I wrote about that phase in I’ll stay. No, I’ve changed my mind..

I think Little Bear has always understood that he is adopted, even if he didn’t necessarily know that that was the word for it. I think he knows he didn’t always live here and can certainly remember being at Karen and Bob’s. I don’t think he can remember anything before that. For the majority of Little Bear’s time with us, this has been the extent of his life story knowledge. He hasn’t asked many questions and just seems to accept that he lives here now.

About 6 or 7 months ago we received Little Bear’s Life Story Book. Although we had had our criticisms of his Social Work Team I have to give them their due and say that they’ve done a great job on his book. We are very lucky, not least because he actually has a book, but also because it is nicely personalised and his birth parents have provided quite a lot of photographs for it, including scan and baby pictures.

I remember feeling a little freaked out when I first saw the book. It was partly because it was the first time I had seen photos of his birth parents and stupidly I wasn’t prepared for that. It was also because we hadn’t yet dipped our toes into the life story pond and it felt as though the book itself might have dormant chaos-inducing powers that could manifest if Little Bear so much as looked at it.

Our social worker, ever direct and sensible, told us to stop shilly-shallying and get on with showing it to him. With her words ringing in my ears I plucked up the courage and showed Little Bear the book. If the book does have hidden powers they are on the blink because he couldn’t have been less interested in it. I tried again a few days later but got the same response. I left it out where he could get it if he wanted to but he never did. Occasionally I would say “shall we look at your special book?” but this was always answered with a definite “no”.

Hoping we weren’t causing some sort of deep-seated harm, we followed our instincts and followed Little Bear’s lead. If he didn’t want to look at the book, we wouldn’t make him.

A couple of months ago, not long after Little Bear started school, he learned which month his birthday is in and went around proudly relaying the information. One day when we were in the car, Little Bear asked Big Bear when his birthday is. Then, as he does, he asked “why?”. I explained that was when Big Bear had come out of my tummy. I can’t remember whether Little Bear asked or whether I just took the opportunity to explain that he had not come out of my tummy, he was adopted: we had chosen him. Then he asked “did I come out of Karen’s tummy?”. I said “no, you came out of a lady called Sian’s tummy” (not her real name). That seemed to satisfy him and he didn’t ask anything further.

Last weekend our friends and their new born baby came to visit us. Little Bear loves babies and was keen to be the first one to get a hold. The visit must have triggered something as Little Bear started talking about T, a baby who was in foster care with him and whom he really misses.

A day or so later, Grizzly and Little Bear were playing upstairs and came across his memory box under our bed. As memory boxes go, I think it might be a bit rubbish. There isn’t much in it, mainly clothes and some items of unexplained significance. However, there was a photo of Little Bear with his birth siblings. He was very interested in it, particularly the aspect of seeing himself as a baby.

The next morning, at 7am when he woke and came into out room, Little Bear went straight to his memory box to look for the photo again. He wanted to show me and talk about his “friends”. I explained they were his “tummy brothers” because they had come out of Sian’s tummy too. I then had to right the confusion I had caused by explaining that they hadn’t all been in there at the same time. I was able to tell him their names which Little Bear was very interested in and he tried to learn them. I told him that they were in foster care like he used to be.

Little Bear didn’t want to put the picture back in the box so I let him chose a special place to keep it where he could find it if he wanted to. He has visited it again since.

When we got downstairs I offered his Special Book and this time he was very keen to look at it. We looked at Sian and Joseph (birth father) and I got myself in a bit of a tangle over what I was calling them. I kept saying “tummy mummy and daddy” to make it a bit clearer for Little Bear but Grizzly was in the background reminding me we had agreed on “Sian and Joseph”. The problem with life story work is that it is often thrust upon you when you are least expecting it and as we are only at the beginning I’m not that confident with what I’m saying or how to explain things yet.

As usual Little Bear took everything in his stride. He was most interested in seeing himself and then his foster carers. He was very happy when he found Big Bear, Grizzly and I and we looked at photos of some of the fun things we have got up to together. Little Bear didn’t show any recognition of Sian or Joseph and didn’t ask anything about them.

The whole time we were looking at the book Big Bear was hovering behind Little Bear’s shoulder. He seems very unsettled by all of the life story work, particularly talk of Little Bear’s birth siblings. I think it makes his position as Big Brother feel wobbly. He didn’t say anything afterwards but I can tell he would rather we never had to look at the book again.

I feel relieved that Little Bear’s story is more “out there” now. There never were any secrets but his lack of interest meant we didn’t discuss things much and I am aware that some of his peers are much more conversant with their stories than he is. However, I also feel reassured that our approach of drip-feeding information as and when opportunities arise is the right one for Little Bear and that we should continue to follow his lead.

I’m sure in the future the inevitable “why” questions will crop up and no doubt they will catch us unawares. I hope that we are able to find the right words when they do.

Beginnings of Life Story Work

The Adoption Order

This weeks’ big news is that we have been granted our Adoption Order (AO). It sort of feels as though it has been a long time coming and we have got here ridiculously quickly all at the same time.

We have wanted to get the AO all sewn up since Christmas. Getting the paperwork to court, via Social Services seemed to take forever. It took weeks for anybody to notice that they didn’t have our wedding certificate (which we duly sent and fear we’ll never see again!) and the clock continued to tick and there continued to be silence.

One day, out of the blue, we returned home to find a very official looking letter on the mat – it was from the court explaining there was now a hearing date. We shouldn’t attend but Little Bear’s birth parents could if they wanted to. We knew that they could contest the AO if they chose to but we had no real idea whether they would or not.

We have not met Little Bear’s birth parents. When we embarked on the adoption process we had no idea that meeting birth parents would even be a possibility. I was quite shocked when we were told that it is and is in fact considered good practise, when we attended the prep groups. I wasn’t really sure I was too keen on the idea.

However, Grizzly’s Dad died when he was a young child so he has first-hand experience of what it is to lose a parent and to wonder about them. Ultimately he would want to see his Dad but with that not being possible, the next best thing is to share stories etc. with people who did know him. Grizzly immediately felt that that he would want to meet our future child’s birth parents – so that he could tell our child all about them when the time was right: so that he could share real, tangible information from having met them, not just theoretical information from a piece of paper.

I agreed that if it was best for our future little one I too would be willing to meet them and would put my personal feelings aside.

However, in the event, we made our willingness to meet Little Bear’s birth parents known, but Social Services were adamant it would not be appropriate in this case. We weren’t told a lot, only that birth mum would have found it too difficult to cope with.

Without having met them and having read only very factual information about them, we had no real concept of them as people and therefore nothing much to base a judgement on about whether or not they were likely to contest the order.

At our most recent review meeting, Little Bear’s Social Worker said she didn’t feel they would. Then, at a further appointment, she reported that birth mum in particular wanted to attend the hearing and “have her say” (whatever that meant) but did not plan to contest it.

True to their word, both birth parents attended court and did not contest the planned order, meaning that the judge was able to grant it there and then. The Social Worker described the birth parents as being “upset” in court but “wanting to do the best” for Little Bear. I felt very emotional on reading that part of the e-mail.

It is times like this that you remember how out of the ordinary adoption is. I think I’ve fallen into a relative normality – Little Bear feels like he’s ours, it feels like he should be here. We’ve all got used to each other. Gone are the days when I dreaded what the morning would bring and when I’d rather not have clapped eyes on him when I first woke (I wrote about our difficult beginnings in Love & in Getting brother or sister). Gone are the days when we had to act out loving him and when I did more “managing” of behaviour than anything that felt like the “parenting” I was used to with Big Bear.

It is not that everything is easy now, though most things are easier, it’s more that there is a familiarity, a normality, about our daily lives. Little Bear is part of the furniture, just as much as any of the rest of us. And as I go about this normality, I mostly don’t think about the fact that I did not give birth to Little Bear. It could partly be because he fits in so well and does have similarities with us (physically, in his character and in his preferences) that I don’t constantly keep in mind him being genetically someone else’s.

However, on getting the AO and on celebrating it, it was not lost on me that in another corner of our island, Little Bear’s birth parents would be grieving. In a perverse way, was this a celebration of their loss?

Of course I am happy that the order has been granted – it is what we have been working towards, a landmark for any adopter. It confirms what we feel – that Little Bear is our son and this is now cemented by him officially sharing our name.

And yet..

For the first time I have felt an emotional connection to his birth parents. I can’t help but feel sadness for them. As my Mum said, who wants to feel that they have not been able to give their child what they need? Who wants to know that they’ve failed as a parent and face a future in which they may never see their child again?

I think perhaps I would not have been able to afford them this empathy had they have purposefully harmed Little Bear. Obviously they were not able to keep him safe or nurture or develop him appropriately but as far as we know, they did not abuse him.

I am puzzled by them though. What stopped them from taking the many, many, opportunities provided to them to change their circumstances? Why didn’t they fight harder? Did they know they couldn’t do it? That it would be best all round this way? Or do they feel wronged? As though in their eyes they were perfectly good parents and it was all Social Services fault? How much do they think about Little Bear? Do they wonder about us? What do they wonder?

One thing that plays on my mind is that Little Bear’s birth mum breastfed him. It is probably hideously judgemental of me but I had just assumed that he would have been bottle fed. Breastfeeding is such an intimate act of bonding that I now find it hard to imagine that same mother empty-armed, without her infant in her care. I know breastfeeding alone does not make you a good mother (and obviously bottle feeding certainly does not make you a bad mother) but it says something about the level of care she tried to provide. She did try to bond with him; she did try to give him the best start health-wise.

The fact that she was not able to maintain this level of care says more about her own life experiences and the failures of those around her than anything. I feel she has been a victim of her own circumstances which in itself is a great sadness.

Equally, the fact that they both attended the court hearing says something to me. I think that many birth parents would not attend. I think others would contest so that they could feel as though they had fought for their child. In attending but not contesting I feel as though Little Bear’s birth parents have shown that they do care and almost given us their blessing to go ahead and raise Little Bear as best we can.

Perhaps I’m off the mark and that is not how they feel at all. But now I wonder where previously I was happy to pretend they didn’t exist.

I think I will still feel a weird bolt to my chest whenever I see their picture in Little Bear’s Life Story book – a very stark reminder that they do exist and this is not ordinary parenting. But I am now keen to make some connection with them. We are going to be doing Letterbox contact and that is due to start soon, which I’m pleased about. I feel that they will reply. No doubt I will analyse their letter in some depth.

Having now successfully managed to deflect all attention away from us being granted the AO I must now try to re-gain some focus! Grizzly and I seem to do this a lot – taking fairly major milestones or events in our stride and just trucking on without actually celebrating them or even pausing for a momentary pat on the back.

We spent approx. 30 seconds briefly acknowledging that this was indeed a milestone, we had got here without even considering divorce and everyone was still alive. Good. That’s settled then. What about these tiles that have been delivered but half of them are smashed? And so went the evening.

We are aware that this is a rubbish way of going about things so we think we might right all the non-celebrations of the last year with a big party once all of our building works are complete. And of course there is the celebration court date to come too.

As I said at the beginning, although it has seemed like a long journey, in other ways it is hard to believe that we have reached this point already. Fittingly, today is exactly one year to the day since we first saw Little Bear’s profile. If you’d have told us on the 10th June 2015 that in one year’s time this gorgeous little man, smiling at us from the piece of newspaper, with 5 scant sentences residing beside his head, would not only have been living with us for 9.5 months but would legally be one of us, I don’t think we would have believed you – especially as, at that point, we had only been approved as adopters for 10 short days! The whirlwind continues. .

 

The Adoption Order