I thought I got away with it this year. I thought contact would be easier. It was, to write my letters. Then wham! Six page letter back from Birth Mum to me, four page letter to Angel, 30 photos of what looks like a lovely, large family unit: birth mum, fiancé, two baby sisters, one older sister, grandma, 4 cats, 2 dogs. Even grandma has a dog. Talk of happy holidays with them all in Cornwall. Angel here with us, desperate for siblings. I picture that home, can see how happy Angel could have been in it, the siblings she is missing, the extra pets she wants. Next time she says she feels she’s ‘in the wrong family’, it will be harder to contradict.
I sob. I never considered I would look at a picture of another family and feel the only thing missing from it was my daughter. I didn’t know it would be this hard to bear.
Hubby looks at the photos briefly and throws them down on the table. ‘I’m not reading the letters’, he declares, ‘that's enough.’ I know he will in time but I get it. I get why adopted parents never write, why they want to lock it all away and never look at it but I also think denying something doesn’t make it go away and denying our children’s past is denying a part of them. If we can’t square it with ourselves, what hope for them?
It’s funny as having met Birth Mum, my most heartfelt desire was that she get herself together and go on and be happy. In the early days, I found it incredibly painful writing to her every year knowing that her loss had been my gain and as our friendship grew, I contacted Post Box and asked if we could swap pictures. I felt if I had been in her shoes, I would want to know what my daughter looked like and by golly, is our daughter beautiful. I wanted to share that with her.
I knew from her letters that she was getting her life together and that she was in a stable relationship so when she wrote to say she had a baby girl and was keeping it, I cried with happiness. I sent her a card saying, ‘All was well in the world’, now she had a child she could keep.’
She acknowledged that it might be hard for us to tell Angel and trusted that we would figure out how best to handle the news. We took our time but eventually told Angel and her reaction was that she wanted to meet the baby. We had to explain that this wasn't possible but may be possible later. When the second baby came along 18 months later, we went through a similar process but it felt harder. Before there had just been one and now there were two, together in this other family and her desperation for a sibling intensified…
‘Please mummy, adopt another child, there are so many children out there who need a good home’.
Me - I can’t.
Angel - Yes you can, you just don’t want to. Please, I don’t want to be the only one, I want someone for my top bunk.
Secretly, I admired her astuteness. She was right, we could adopt another child if we wanted and had even discussed it but came to the conclusion we couldn’t adopt another child just so Angel had a sibling to live with. Neither of us had the energy to go through the process, never mind the first 18 months when they really need you to be present all the time. Then the ongoing additional task of therapeutic parenting. Maybe if I was ten years younger (I’m 53) but you can’t say that to a kid who is already worried about you dying.
It was around this time I looked into the possibility of contact with Angel’s other adopted twin siblings and this has been incredibly enriching and successful for us all but that is a story for another day.
Back to contact. So Birth Mum two has two daughters, a fiance she is marrying next year and a healthy ongoing relationship with her mother and her 15 year old daughter who is under her mother’s care. Oh and did I mention, she has 4 cats and 2 dogs? This suddenly feels like Angel’s dream home, the one she was meant to be in and that is hard to hold.
Hubby - Well you called it on. All these long letters and pictures. It’s too much.
Me - It’s only once a year and even if we didn’t exchange letters and pictures, it doesn't mean it's not there!
They say ignorance is bliss and I get it. I wish we could pretend that Angel was our birth baby, I wish she had grown in my tummy, I wish there wasn’t a whole other family out there (in fact two!) but there is and it’s messy and painful and hard.
Really though, I look at those pictures and letters and for the first time feel I might lose her to the allure of this other family. I don’t know why I feel that this year, having never felt it before. Maybe because Angel is getting older? Someone said that parenting is like a successive series of losses so maybe it’s the sense of a pending separation as she enters her teen years. It’s ironic, as I’m mainly desperate for more space and time.
Actually if I probe a little deeper, I realise the idea of losing Angel triggers off a cacophony of previous losses. The babies I imagined but didn’t have. The miscarriage.
I am thankful as without those losses, I wouldn’t have found Angel, who I know with absolute certainty was meant for me but it doesn't make the previous losses any less. I’ve been so busy bringing up Angel there wasn't any room to look at this before.
I am floored. I’ve always felt I needed support around contact but never done anything about it. My Mum does some research. I apply for the adoption support fund. I have a session with a therapist and a ‘parenting adopted children’ course coming. The cavalry is coming.
I haven’t read the letter to Angel yet or showed her the pictures but can look at it myself now without crying. It took six reads. Like a wound you need to keep cleaning out before it can begin to heal. I have gone through the pictures and found individual pictures of all her family members rather than sharing pictures of them all together. I have read the letter and know which bits to leave out as four pages will be too much. For now though, I put it back in the drawer. We all need a pause before the next wave.