I’ve just finished listening to the podcast ‘Two Good Mums’. I found it incredibly moving and they are the living vision I’ve always held in my heart. It is about an adoptive mum who initiates direct contact with her children’s birth mum. Initially, this is just via email and later grows to encompass contact between the children and birth mum and eventually the extended birth family. It’s amazing to have proof that this can work. The vast majority of the time when I speak to friends, social workers or other adopters, I get worried and fearful responses.
I’ve written about my intentions around this before due to Angel expressing that she would like to meet her birth family but when we finally presented it to her as a possibility, she wasn’t sure. So we suggested we put it aside for another year as we didn’t want her to get stressed thinking about it. Having listened to the podcast I think, even if Angel isn't ready, maybe we should set up a Zoom call with myself, hubby and birth mum. It could make a big difference if we have taken some of our anxieties out of the equation before Angel meets her, whenever that may be. It will also lead to easy correspondence around things that only birth mum can answer around family history. At the orthodontist just last week they asked if there was any family history of not enough room for big teeth to come in. I said, I didn’t think so, as somehow it felt too loaded to say Angel is adopted with her sitting in the dentist's chair. These things make me sad and being able to get the answer easily would help.
I’m galvanised because we have just had contact month, so I have written to birth mum, dad, and older sister who lives with birth grandmother (birth families are often very complex!). I have a great relationship with Angel's birth mum via letterbox. For anyone who doesn't know, letterbox contact is the standard set up for adopted children. You agree a month when you send letters to relatives and vice versa and these are sent via a post box service looked after by the post adoption team. They read all the letters for any inappropriate content and then send them on, so we never have each other's addresses. Of course not all adoptive and birth parents correspond but the letters for us, have always been honest and heartfelt. I think to understand that, we need to go back to our only meeting…..
It is day six of introductions to Angel. We are staying in a caravan park a few miles from where she lives with her foster carers and have been spending time with her every day. Today is break day and we are going to meet her birth mother. The social workers have hired a room in a library with two entrances. Apparently, it’s important that we arrive and leave via separate entrances. We arrive first and are seated on plastic and metal chairs at a small institutional table with two social workers. The room is enormous and this is the only table, clearly put out for this sole purpose.
Birth mum enters the room, flanked by two social workers, ‘Who are they?’ she barks, indicating our two social workers. There is an immense wave of energy. She is angry. It's the strangest thing; I can feel right through her anger to the hurt and despair and all the complicated layers in between and although she is scary, I am not scared.
She sits down heavily and her keys bang jarringly as they land on the table. One of the social workers on our side asks her some questions, some of which she ignores and some of which she answers, mainly with one word. The social worker asks if she would like to ask anything, ‘I don’t want to know anything, don’t you understand!’ She pushes her chair back aggressively and walks to the window. The social worker says, ‘I know this is really hard for you.’ ‘No you don’t, you have no bloody idea, you’re doing my head in. No one understands and as for you,’ she looks disparagingly at the other social worker on our team, ‘I never want to hear from you again!’
Her social workers abort the meeting and she is ushered out. Whoosh, all the energy is sucked out of the room.
It felt like I was literally inhabiting her body and emotions and I want to shout, ‘I understand!’ But it is too late, she is gone. I break down, crying. The social worker tries to console me, ‘Don’t worry, it wasn't anything to do with you’ and I think, are you mad? I know it’s not us, I’m not crying for me, I’m crying for HER! For her enormous loss, for the courage it took to come here, for the pain of being confronted by well meaning but emotionally illiterate or immune social workers purporting to understand something they clearly don’t. I feel my fury mix with hers and I feel what hope did she have? A young woman who had a difficult childhood who ended up having her first three kids taken away. Monitored, assessed, judged, found wanting. I know she wasn’t perfect, I just feel that had she been supported in the right way, the outcome may have been different.
And I am the beneficiary of that failing.
This is even harder than I thought.
I think of our experiences dealing with social services during the adoption process, which is a story for another day, but suffice to say it was horrific and I don't use that word lightly. Hell, I felt like burning their building down at one point and I’m a well-adjusted, well-supported, middle aged white woman!
We think the meeting is over but then her social worker comes back. Birth mum will answer some more questions if we want. ‘I don’t want her to do anything she doesn’t want to, but if she is able to, we would like that,’ I say.
Her social worker goes out, comes back; asks if one of the social workers on our side can leave and that the other doesn’t say anything and lets birth mum's social worker lead. Too bloody right, I think. It is agreed.
I steel myself. Birth mum pushes through the swing doors.. I see now how small she is, not much taller than my 5.2inches. She sits down, she cries. I cry, can’t hold it back any more and we are fused together in our collective grief.
When you get to adoption, you usually know something about loss. I know there are a few people who adopt a child after having a few of their own but most of us got here by a road littered with losses. Discovering infertilities after years of longing or miscarriages, facing up to not having a genetic child, which is a double loss. I found letting go of having my partner's child as big a loss as not having my own. Then most people, if not all, will try fertility treatment, donor sperm, donor eggs, both! Usually multiple failed attempts of one type or another and then, and only then, do you arrive at adoption. I’m aware I’m talking for straight hetrosexual couples here as single adopters and single sex couples will have a different journey, which I am sure is as difficult.
They make you wait six months before you can apply to adopt since your last fertility treatment to give you a chance to come to terms with your loss. It’s a long six months when you have been waiting years to have a baby and you know the adoption process is going to take another year, at best. I get it but by that stage I was so hellbent on having a baby I don’t think I had the headspace to grieve.
Birth mum is ready to talk now. She tells us that as a child she was good at football, rounders and paintballing and explains Angel’s middle name. She asks how long we have had her and we explain we only met her on Monday. Hubby says, ‘She’s eating well, loves bananas and is a lively happy little girl.’ ‘She still likes the word ‘no’ then,’ birth mum answers, and we all laugh.
Me - Is there anything you want Angel to know?
Birth Mum - Tell her that I’m off the drugs now and that we all miss her and talk about her still. Keep her away from her dad as his family are still into drugs. Take care of her and keep her safe.
Me - I’ve only known her five-days but I already love her. We will love her up. She is perfect and beautiful.
Birth Mum - Thank you.
I loved that. Not sure why? Maybe her acknowledging Angel came from her so I was paying her a compliment in complementing Angel. It was somehow reassuring and touching.
It’s suggested we take a photo and we decide birth mum should go in the middle. Our shoulders brush. It feels like Angel, like I can feel the genetic connection.
I say, ‘You're little like me,’ and we both laugh.
Then the meeting is over and we are ushered out of our separate doors but as we move away, we look at each other and somehow inextricably find ourselves moving together. We hug, like, really hug and we are both crying and she whispers in my ear, ‘Love her, love her,’ and I say, ‘I will, I do, I’m sorry. Stay strong, make sure you take care of yourself and don’t let them take any more children away from you.’ We are hugging and sobbing and both of us say, ‘Thank you,’ and then we part.
I wish I had said how brave I thought she was and fierce and that I hoped Angel would grow up to be that kind of woman. I felt a huge amount of respect that she had come and borne the pain of meeting us. I was honoured to have met her and thankful that I could carry that positive image into our daughter's life with us, rather than a case file. I felt very clear that one day we would be friends.
When I look at the picture now I see our blotched faces from crying and how squashed together we are, bonded by love and loss.