So, been thinking for a while about sharing our story of adoption in the hope that it might help other families and because it is such an incredible journey, it feels somehow important to document. Maybe one day it will also be important for our daughter who shall remain anonymous as this is her story too and she may not want to share it. I’ll call her Angel as we called her our ‘angel child’ for the first six months of her time with us, knowing full well that as soon as she felt safe enough, a more fully rounded two-year old would emerge. She was also referred to as an ‘angel child’ by her birth mum and dad who had lost a previous pregnancy and so were very grateful when they fell pregnant with her.
Angel is 9 and will be 10 in July. Right now we are what I call ‘in the cut’. We have just come out of our longest spell of equilibrium (about 3 months) and I felt a new baseline of her self-worth had been reached. It probably has but when the wound opens up, it’s incredible how deep it goes but I’m glad it’s not festering under the skin and it's clear for us to see. That way we can help her clean it out so that it can heal until the next time.
It starts on a Thursday when she comes back from a playdate and somehow ends up in a heap on the floor. She says her finger is really hurting. Tears are bubbling up, so I sit with her on the floor and rub her back, ‘Have you had a really hard day?' ‘Yes’. We stay like this for a bit. I often find that a physical ‘hurt’ manifests when she is hurting inside so wasn’t sure if the finger really was a thing but have also learnt that it doesn’t hugely matter; it’s just acknowledging the hurt, whatever it may be.
It's after school the next day. We are in the park with some other mums and kids. Angel has gone off by herself, so I go to see her. She is crying a bit and rants about a game they were playing that she doesn't like. She says she just wants to play with Tara (her friend) and she wishes Tara was her sister and that she could live with us. Ah, this is 'big stuff', I think. A recurring theme is how sad she is that she can’t live with her younger sisters. I know I need to stay close and present; this is what she needs when big feelings come up.
On Monday Angel asks if I can take her to school instead of daddy. I explain to her class teacher that she is feeling sensitive. I ask the Senco if she can check in on Angel a few times during the day. This is a strategy we have used a lot when she is feeling unsettled and it helps her to know that other adults are aware and care about how she is feeling. I pick her up after school and we go to the park. I trail her around like I did when she was little, watching (no phone scrolling for me today lol). In the car on the way home I ask if the Senco checked in.
Angel - No, they didnt
Me - Oh no, how did that make you feel?
Angel - Like they don’t like me and want me to leave the school.
Talk about a leap! I say maybe she felt that way because she wasn’t feeling good inside and was thinking about her birth family,
Angel - Yeah, because they didn’t want to keep me.
Me – They did want to keep you, they just couldn’t and you know it’s not your fault don’t you?
Angel – Really, are you sure? I feel like it’s because of me (and here she whispers because she knows these are naughty words). I feel like I’m a fuck shit kid and that’s why they didn’t want me.
Me – Oh that must be horrible to feel that way. (Of course my heart is breaking inside.) You’ve got to remember that your mum already had 3 kids taken away and they did want you, she just wasn’t in a very good way to be able to look after you properly.
Angel – Yeah because she was really young
Me - Well not that young when she had you but very young when she had your older sister
Angel – How old
Me – I think around 16
Angel – You said 15 before
And I think how she takes in and holds on to all the information about her past, like precious golden nuggets.
Me – Did I? The truth is I’m not 100% sure, I think she was 15 or 16 but I don’t really know and maybe we need to know, maybe we need to know exactly how old she was when she had your older sister, when she had the twins and all the exact details for everyone else?
Angel – Yes, because how many brothers have I got? Three?
Me – Yep (it’s hard to keep track on her dad’s side as well!). Shall we go home and make a big family tree and figure out everything exactly?
Angel – Yes!
She is excited and as soon as we come in, I tell hubby about how Angel is feeling and the plan. Angel likes it when I tell people how she is feeling. Think it makes her feel heard and helps process the feelings too. We learnt early on that the harder it is to talk about the more you need to and never shy away from naming difficult stuff. Seems counter intuitive at first, like if you’re sad, do you really want to pour over photos of the people you’ve lost? Actually yes, that's exactly what you need to do most of the time. I remember a time when she was three and I had to go out for work. She as was acting up a bit. My mum said something about me going and I whispered ‘Don’t remind her’ and she said ‘No, you need to acknowledge it’. It hit me like a bolt that she was right and I didn’t want to go into it as didn’t want her to get upset but maybe she needed to be allowed to be upset and actually in accepting her feelings, she would be less upset. So, I said
‘Are you worried about Mummy going out?’
Me - I know it’s really difficult for you when I go out and I’m sorry but I will be back in a few hours and Daddy and Granny will be here the whole time.
It made it so much easier than trying to brush it under the carpet and instead of trying to slip out quietly, we made a big thing of saying good bye. It didn’t always mean there weren’t any tears but it meant that whatever she felt was ok by us and I think that really helped her learn that all her feelings were acceptable and so she never needs to bury or hide them.
The family tree is pretty complicated as she has five siblings on her mum’s side and four on her dads and I have to go back to her life story book and dig out all their names and dates of birth and then go through letters from her birth mum to find out when her two younger sisters were born (who are still with her birth mum) and then we have to work out how old her mum was when she had all the children and discover that she was 16 when she had her first child, 18 when she had the twins and 21 when she had Angel. Her dad was 30 when he had her.
Not sure the family tree is the best piece of artwork we’ve ever done but it is satisfying to have it all down. We feel we need to do another one that takes into account her foster family, as they are such an important part of the story but decide to leave that for another day. She says
'I wish my birth parents had kept me, but then I wouldn't be with you‘
Me - 'I know, it’s complicated isn’t it’.
I think it’s amazing that she can carry hold those contradictory things together and I kind of feel the same way. Seeing the pain it’s caused her, I wish her Mum could have got it together to keep her too but then we wouldn’t have her....
We video call the twins (also adopted and whom we have regular contact with - a story for another day). She is a bit shy because she hasn’t seen them for a while because of Covid restrictions, so I chat with them and their Mum. She whispers to me to tell them she is a ‘fuck shit girl’ which I chose not to share lol.
We talk some more in the bath and I say again that she isn't responsible for what happened and that in fact she isn't responsible for anyones feelings and if dad or I are happy or sad it isn't her responsibility.
Angel - Yes it is, I'm responsible for how everyone feels like you, dad, granny, Isobel (her cousin) and you're not happy with me all the time!
Me - You feel I'm not happy with you a lot? I'm really sorry you feel that way, it must be horrible.
Of course, the overwhelming urge is to say 'No, that’s not true', and counter it with something but I’ve leant that isn’t helpful in getting to the root of an issue. Best to just acknowledge what she feels and how hard it must be feeling that way.
Me - When did you last feel like that?
Angel - Yesterday when you took ages to come back with the food from the car.
We had been in the park with a friend when Angel said she was hungry so I went to get some food I had in the car. I had been no more than 15 mins. I was gobsmacked that she experienced that as me not being happy with her and realised how regressed she gets when she is ‘in the cut’. So much so that if I can’t immediately meet her need to be fed, she experiences it as ‘I’m not happy with her’.
The sensitivity is astounding. It was weird as even after the snacks she said she was still hungry and wanted me to get more food. I knew she wasn’t really hungry but didn’t get that it was something deeper about needing me to nourish her to fill a void she was feeling inside.
At the end of bath she is being tricksy about getting out (faffing, splashing, generally not doing what I ask) and I can see she wants to make a big mess. I say to her with a smile on my face ‘No need to prove how bad you are by making a massive mess in the bathroom just because you’re feeling bad inside’ and we both laugh. She knows I know what is going on in her head and can call it without judgement and so the need to act out dissipates.
We talk some more in bed and she still refuses to believe that it isn't her fault that her birth mum and dad couldn’t keep her. In the end I get quite angry on her behalf.
Me -You know what Angel, you were just a baby and taken away directly from the hospital. Your Mum had already had three kids taken away, which is why they were worried about her being able to look after you and although they visited you every day at the foster family, it was decided that they couldn’t care for you safely. You didn’t let them down, they let you down! And actually you have a right to be very angry about that! I’m not saying it’s their fault as they had a very tough upbringing and weren’t really equipped to be looking after a baby but it’s definitely completely and utterly not your fault!
She still isn’t buying it or able to shift the feeling that she is bad and to blame. It's late but I have an idea…
Me - Shall we get out of bed right now and go and beat up the punch bag in the garden in our pyjamas in the dark?!’
Angel - Yes!
She is really excited. We hit and punch and kick it and I shout ‘harder’ and throw in some rude words like ‘like stupid people upsetting my Angel’ and after about 5 mins, exhilarated and laughing, we stop. Finally she sleeps.
Dad usually takes her to school but she asks if I can.
Me - Only if we shout ‘I believe in myself, I am fantastic’ so loud that people can hear us whilst we are driving.
Angel - No way
But she laughs. This is an affirmation she knows well as I introduced it as part of a dragon school game I created when she was 6 but more on that later. I am really proud she isn't being difficult as when she’s feeling bad this is often what happens and the fact that she can be having all these big feelings, sit with them, go to school and navigate her day without having a meltdown is real progression.
I have to say it was me shouting the loudest and she isn’t really able to say the affirmations herself today but she laughs a lot at me. I whispered in her ear, ‘I believe in myself, I am fantastic’ one more time as she goes in the school gates to lock in something good alongside all her negative self-chatter.
I nab the Senco to let her know what is going on and promptly burst into tears. It’s a lot when you do all that holding and of course it triggers off all your own deeper feelings too. I firmly believe that I was always meant to be Angel’s mum as I also understand a thing or two about feeling rejected, having had a dad who buggered off when I was 7 never to be seen or heard from for 15 years. So, I get how she feels but it’s also heart breaking to hear how bad she feels about herself when she is this incredible, empathic, emotionally intelligent, force of nature. Literally, she is the most awesome person I know. Anyway, as I always say to Angel it’s good to have a cry sometimes and I practice what I preach. I call Mum and cry, talk to hubby and cry and only then feel ready for whatever will unfold next.