Originally posted on her own Blog, MummyTiger granted us permission to post her story here for our readers. Focusing on adoption and the difficult subject of direct contact, we welcome discussion on this. Does adoption need to be ‘closed’ as often as it is? Or could we be achieving flexibility more often in response to children’s needs, and allowing things to change organically as children grow?
With grateful thanks to MummyTiger, whose Blog you can find here.
After my approval as an adopter one of the first profiles I was sent was for two little boys, on the surface they looked everything I was hoping for but as I read their profile I was concerned that they had other siblings living at home and ‘direct contact’ was part of their permanence plan. I was worried things would get complicated and messy, how would I explain to the boys why they weren’t with Birth Mum when their siblings were? It sat uncomfortably with me that I was dismissing two little boys who needed a forever home however I couldn’t get past that they didn’t feel right and direct contact (with birth family) wasn’t part of my plan. My attitude towards direct contact and that I wanted two children who were ‘mine’ and without the complication of birth family has been thoroughly turned upside down…
From the start of the matching process for the girls I was keen to meet with their Birth Mum (Mummy L) however Social Workers felt she was too volatile and therefore it was not appropriate so this didn’t go ahead.
Both girls had really positive memories of contact with Mummy L for the three years they had been in foster care and they missed her. Things in foster care hadn’t been as they should be, the girls were really angry about this, as was I, and they were grieving the loss of their birth family. Miss Unicorn did not want me to be Mummy, she was angry about what had happened to her and resisted letting me get close, she wanted Mummy L and couldn’t understand why things had turned out as they had. Stick Girl was also angry, she’d been at the brunt of most of the issues in foster care and the focus of the concerns in the birth family, she felt it was her fault things had turned out the way they had. Both girls worried their birth family would forget them, wouldn’t know that they loved them and missed them and they were both really worried about whether their birth family were ok. It was hard as a mum not being able to take their pain away or find a way to make it better – For anyone who hasn’t experienced adoption first hand I can confirm that ‘love and good routines’ do not ‘fix’ children who have experienced trauma and the loss of their birth families.
Lots of other things were going on in our lives at the time, my family couldn’t understand the overwhelm I was feeling and the impact it was having on my mental health, my relationship with them broke down, increasing my sense of isolation, and work threw up a whole other level of issues!
Letter box contact had been agreed as part of our adoption process however while I was struggling with life there was no time or energy for me to write letters to birth family, it felt too hard and required emotional energy I just didn’t have. After what felt like a lengthy battle we got support from a brilliant independent adoption agency for some therapeutic support. Slowly I picked up the pieces and started to work through some of our difficulties, however there remained a ‘hole’ in the girls that I was never going to fill. With the support of our therapeutic social worker I was finally able to find the space and energy needed to write our first contact letters. Each Local Authority seems to expect these to be completed differently, my girls placing LA expects letters to be shared between the adults, this gave us an opportunity to speak openly mum to mum. It was a tough letter to write and I admitted this to Mummy L. I told her a bit about myself, that she was kept alive in the girls heart, I told her some of the things we had done as a family and the girls likes and dislikes. The letter I got back reduced me to tears, it was full of gratitude and love to me and big girl for opening up our home and hearts for Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl. The letter came from a woman who appeared to be in a much better place than I was feeling! It was a tough time, I was struggling to meet the girls extensive needs and very much feeling like a failure rather than the nurturing parent they need and deserved. Mummy L had met a new partner, had a baby who lived with her and described a life full of love and happiness. I know it’s easy to write what you think others want to hear, but one thing I’ve learned about Mummy L is that she is entirely genuine and her love comes from a big heart.
Social workers told me about the programme of support Mummy L had accessed and the positive impact this had on her, however they were still reluctant for us to meet. I was told that as Mummy L was being assessed with her new partner and their baby it wasn’t a good time for her. This decision was made by professionals rather than giving Mummy L that option for herself. It may not have been right but that was a decision for Mummy L to make. As a Social worker I know the pressure to get thing right, and we don’t want to make things harder for those we work with than they already are but we need to move away from a professionals know best approach and support individuals to make decisions about how to manage the difficult and challenging times.
While the therapeutic support the girls and I were getting had helped, things at home were still tough, Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl continued to have many unanswered questions about their early life and struggled with the loss of their birth family. It was agreed that both girls needed support to process what they knew on a surface level about why they had been removed from their birth family and help them ‘move on’; we were fortunate to be allocated a lovely Therapeutic Life Story Worker. As we started the Life Story process began both girls had the same two big questions; Why did we experience what we did in foster care if we were removed from Mummy L to keep us safe? And, why can’t we see our Birth family? The first question I’d been fighting to get answers to and was hitting a brick wall, there was no explanation and despite banging very loudly at the Local Authority’s door I couldn’t get Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl the answers they needed. The second question I also had no answer for – why couldn’t they see their birth family? Mummy L was settled, she was in a positive relationship, her older son was visiting her at home regularly and her youngest was living with her, why were the girls being prevented from knowing the birth family they missed and being reassured they were safe?
With the support of our Life Story Worker I continued to request that Social Workers facilitate a meet between myself and Mummy L with a view to initiating ‘direct contact’ if it went well. I also ‘Googled’ Mummy L and prepared myself to contact her directly if necessary, even if this felt a much scarier option. I was excited and anxious to meet but was I opening a door I couldn’t close even if I wanted too? What if things went wrong?
I knew that seeing Mummy L was right for Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl however I wasn’t sure it was the right thing for me… I was opening the door to the unknown and it was scary! I was also starting a new job, each day I drove to work and cried the whole way there, was this the start of me losing my children? Would they want to live with mummy L, rather than the overwhelmed and stressed mummy they currently had? Could I stop them if it was the right thing for them? In the lead up to the girls reunion with Mummy L, I went through what can only be described as a grieving process for the possibility I would lose ‘my girls’. The grief and heartbreak at the possible consequences for the step I was about to take was compounded by the journey to work covering some of the route to my parent’s home, this brought up the heartbreak of my own family breakdown, was I going to lose the children I had fought to protect and lost my own family for? As with most other areas of this parenting journey I have managed it mostly alone, occasionally dipping in to Twitter for understanding by the bucket load, the isolation was immense. I would arrive at work, put on a brave face, support other families, contribute to team meetings, do what I needed to, before crying all the way home and then trying to put on another brave face to deal with being Mum.
After what felt like UN level negotiations a meet up between myself and Mummy L was finally arranged, we met in a public place with a social worker who supported us both well, we talked, cried and hugged, bonding over our love for two gorgeous, funny, feisty and amazing girls who call us both Mummy. After a couple of hours that felt like just minutes we prepared to leave, I felt we had a connection and more importantly I trusted her with my girls, except they weren’t my girls they were her girls and they had been taken from her.
After my emotional but lovely meeting with Mummy L I collected all three girls from home to drop my eldest to the train station. It was in the car that I told Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl, eager to know where I had been that day, I had met Mummy L and they were going to see her too. They both squealed with excitement, bursting to know how she was, endless questions about their new baby brother and the rest of the family. Miss Unicorn then crumpled in to tears, tears of relief and years of pent up emotion finally escaping from her. This was the beginning of the healing we all so desperately needed.
I’m not sure how, between them finding out and it actually happening, we contained the excitement of Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl seeing Mummy L, they did brilliantly, even managing a long morning with me at the garage with a massive car issue that delayed us leaving on the day!! We arrived at the meeting point for the girls first ‘contact’ in over five years nearly two hours late, very nervous and very excited. The initial meeting was in one of those soul less Local Authority rooms that they use for such purposes, it was beige, bland and in need of some TLC! After initial hugs and a few tears, the social worker left us to chat before we went out into the park for the girls to meet their baby brother who was outside with a family member getting very upset as he didn’t know where his mummy had gone! We relaxed and chatted over cake in a more natural way than a LA office would ever allow. I stood back and watched both girls play at the park with Mummy L, it felt right and natural even if a bit surreal! I’d planned the visit on route to a little holiday, I wanted the girls to have something to look forward to and to ‘buffer’ any disappointment or sadness they might have having to leave her again, as it was, after a few hours of trying to make up for lost time the girls got tired and were ready to leave. After lots more hugs and I love yous we left with two tired but very happy little girls.
Arranging for the girls to see their brother wasn’t so easy, he remained ‘Looked After’ by the Local Authority and despite him spending weekends with Mummy L and time with extended family as part of his visits the issue of him seeing his sisters appeared to be a concern to social workers involved. The ‘contact’ was arranged for a weekend he was at Mummy L’s however this time we would have 2 social workers at the visit. We arrived and were told the ‘contact’ had a limit of two hours, given I had driven for over two hours to get there and the last visit had been open ended, I was frustrated that that this decision had been made without consultation. Despite being a Social Worker I felt worn down by the system and social worker involvement, frustrated by the bureaucracy that surrounded decisions being made about us and my children having a relationship with their family. It was during this visit I told Mummy J that going through social workers felt to be making the process more difficult than it needed to be – we swapped numbers and agreed to work out what was right between ourselves.
Mummy L was clear from the beginning things would move at a pace that worked for me and our girls. We arranged another meet up in a public place, this time including Mummy L’s sister, the girls cousins and their brothers. The children played as if they had never been apart and it felt like family should be.. Within weeks we were having dinner at Mummy L’s house and meeting more family, Big Girl came up from Uni to spend the day and we got to see just how much Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl were loved, as were we. The following month our new family visited us at home for both the girls birthdays and our ‘contact plan’ now works in the same way most family plans do, without schedules or written agreements but with the purpose of enjoying each other’s company and making memories.
It has been amazing to watch Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl become more confident as individuals as they have learned about the family they missed, that they are loved and where some of their characteristics have come from, mostly that they are so like Mummy L and her sister! They have also picked up plenty of mannerisms from myself and Big Girl and are a real mixture of both their families. Our lovely girls are surrounded by strong and determined women, it’s in their DNA and in their homes – I’m just glad I now have a co-parent to navigate the teen years!
Given that Mummy L lives around two hours away from us getting together is usually planned and we do things together as a family which is lovely but I felt I wanted for the girls to be able to develop their relationship with Mummy L without me as well. The Adoption UK conference being in a location closer to Mummy L than me felt like an ideal time to move things on to the next step.. After a bit of, is it going to be OK? and, what ifs? on my part, a sleepover for Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl with Mummy L was arranged. It was a lovely weekend, Miss Unicorn and Stick Girl got to spend time with Mummy L and their siblings, Mummy L did make up things that I’m rubbish at with Miss Unicorn, Stick Girl visited their Nanny, and Mummy L got to watch her baby girls sleep for the first time in 9 years. I got to spend time in a hotel room alone without anyone arguing about who was going to have the complimentary biscuits, met some wonderful Twitter friends in ‘real life’ and came away with a stronger passion to use our story to encourage a different way of thinking around ‘contact’ in adoption and the importance of relationships in healing.
Forever family as a term for adopted family is one that I struggle with, the connections to our birth family are interwoven in who we are and remain part of our identity forever. Family is also not all in the DNA though, through Miss Unicorn, Stick Girl and Mummy L, Big Girl and I have a bigger and fuller extended family who will remain in my heart forever.
Mummy L has given our family more than she will ever know, she gave me her blessing to parent ‘our girls’ and them her permission to be loved and cared for by me. She shows us all that there is more than enough love to go around, she encourages us to know that with love and support we can do or be anything we want in life. Mummy L allows us to be a family and feel part of a family, our relationship has been the start of a lot of healing. Mummy L supports me to be the mummy I wanted to be and for that I will always be grateful.
Mummy L has also given her permission and encouragement forthis Blog piece, I hope I have done our story justice.. Love ya xxx