Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Contact Letters

How quickly that time of the year comes around and it's time to write the twice annual contact letters again.  The anxiety that creeps in again about what to write and how to write it.  The delaying tactics that I use to avoid writing them.  I avoid, not because I don't want to write to them, not at all. It's because I feel like I have the lives of lots of people in my hands as I share news of the past 6 months and answer questions asked in the replies I've received.

I had a very difficult question to answer this time.  Do we show Katie the letters we receive?  The answer is almost guaranteed to be painful for the reader but I can't lie.  No, we don't read your letters to her...yet....but we will....in time, when she is older.  As much as I would love to simplify ours and Katie's lives and be her Birth Mother, the reality is that I'm not.  How I would love to spare her having to wrap her thoughts and emotions around this whole other family of people whose lives and histories are so very intertwined with her.  But that's like me being protected from some of the harsher realities of my own life.  Those events and experiences have shaped who I am.  They've shaped my choices and the life I have carved out for myself.  I can no more wish away part of Katie's life and heritage than I can my own so I want to ensure that the letters I send are informative but that they are also sent with warmth and kindness and generosity of spirit and responsibility.  What I write now may influence her future relationships with her birth family.  It may influence how the recipients are feeling when they read the letter and afterwards.  I feel responsible for ensuring they know that we are taking care of her and that we love her and that we are not busy bitching about them all the time.  I can't obviously pitch it to them like that as that feels a tad........ direct.  I want to reassure them that we are not dismissing their very existence; that we know they have feelings.  I want to do all that without actually saying all that, if you know what I mean?

Those who know me well will know that I try and take far too much responsibility for everything going on around me.  It's a part of my personality that was developed in my own, quite difficult, childhood.  I do try and control things so that I know what's coming and what to prepare for.  Of course my life has not been like that at all and I've had to learn (albeit reluctantly) to relax a bit on the reigns and let life just happen.  It's inevitable though that I feel responsible for these letters.  The written word is very powerful.  It stays around long after the writer has moved on to other projects.

Those who know me well also know that when I'm trying to be subtle it will take me about 1000 more words to say what I would like to say in one word!  I'm a real bull in a china-shop Taurean at times!  Writing the reply to that question was no exception.  I couldn't just say "No".  It is more of a softer "not yet...." but then I needed to explain why it's a "not yet" so that the reader can understand that there are solid foundations that my reasoning sits upon.  "No we haven't read your letters to Katie but we have shown her the photos you've sent and explained who's in them.  We don't feel that she is ready to face the reality that she is adopted, rather than merely the concept as she currently does.  We are concerned that bringing too much to her at the current time, on top of leaving her pre-school; starting school; and preparing for us to adopt a sibling, might be emotionally too much for her.  Eventually it would be good if she could participate in the letter writing."  I explained that this was our hope.  Of course, she may not want to but she might. I also have to try and explain this in an ordinary, non psychological, non adoptive-parent kind of way.  I'm sure my A'Level English Lit exam was easier to craft!

I don't want to upset the person reading the letter any more than they've already been upset by the circumstances that they are a part of. I don't want to be smug "look what I have and you don't parent".  I am a proud parent.  I am a delighted parent.  I am all the things that parents are supposed to be but I can't rub their noses in it. I can't be cruel.  Writing the letters makes me feel like the cruelest person on earth at times.  There you go....here's a bag of salt to rub into your open wound!

But Katie is my priority in all this.  What's best for Katie?  Of course I don't actually know the answer to that. I don't know how she'll feel about all this when she is older.  Will she embrace it or reject it?  Will she hate me for sharing all this information and anecdotes and stories about her and her life?  Can you see why I put off writing these letters?  I am trying to get it right whilst knowing that I am writing as the person who is bringing up the child that they wanted in their family.  A child I am sure they love but, for a variety of reasons, weren't able to be the parents that she needed and deserved.  Feelings about birth parents aren't always clear cut for an adopter.  We can feel angry about the background of our child and want to protect our children from the harsh realities of that. We are usually parenting the damage caused by that initial parenting, or lack of.   It would be easy to villify them.  In our case I can see the wider issues around their circumstances and why things happened the way they did.  It doesn't change the fact that Katie was at risk but it does make me understanding of why she was at risk.

Once I've done all that I then have to pick the photograph to accompany the letter.  I have several letters to write.  One family member writes back and I feel we actually have a lovely letter writing relationship.  I am hoping that we might even be able to meet up sometime soon so that I can actually meet a member of Katie's birth family.  I want to reward all that effort and bravery with a lovely picture, but then I start to worry about what might happen to that picture.  I worry even more about the picture that is sent to a recipient who is on Facebook.  I would love to send beautiful and clear pictures but I daren't because I am concerned that they may appear on Facebook and Katie's anonymity be at risk.

Am I overthinking all this or do other adopters have this anxiety around this issue?

All I do know is this is why I'm going on an adoption workshop next week on the subject of.....

.........Contact!!!!

Who knows...I might even have some answers at the end of it!



Useful links: 

BAAF:               What is Contact?







12 comments:

  1. Great post Gem and you write exactly as I feel. We've just had one LB and I found writing to one person (who we had met and liked) easier than writing to the other who we were not allowed to meet. We haven't shown LE hers 'yet' either and don't intend to until she's older. She knows the bare bones of her story but the letters would be a step too far. Her understanding needs to catch up with the adults' agreements. Far too confusing for her at this age. I too find it hard to know what to write... again, there's a certain character on TV who is 'our' character, I haven't written that she likes this character as it feels so personal - but I've been very general saying she likes books and swimming... Who knows the future? We're doing our best and I think you're fab! x

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    1. Thanks Kat. So are you honey! I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who finds this difficult. I am fairly open and give details of what she likes to watch and eat and do etc and her achievements over the past 6 months as I want to provide a sense of her but I then worry that that information might be upsetting for them. xx

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  2. Speaking for the people we write to (well one of them!)love to know EVERYTHING and I know they can quote the letter and tells everyone of LE's achievements which is why I am general(makes sense ??) EG LE loves a certain sport. There are only a few clubs in the area that do this sport for 2-5 yr olds so it wouldn't take much to narrow down her location if they wished so I like to call it an open vagueness! It sounds like you have a good relationship with them so I think they'd be pleased at her progress, not upset. You write really sensitively so I'm sure it doesn't come across as upsetting! Don't worry. You say you haven't met them? I think if that can be arranged then you'll know how to pitch it and you'll all benefit. x

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    1. Blimey I can see your dilemma. Yes I am careful about how I word things and don't give any indication of where she does things. Thankfully Katie does fairly generic stuff like ballet, swimming and gymnastics and there are so many places that she could do that in the county that it would almost be like a needle in a haystack.

      No we haven't met them. We are hoping to meet BGP soon and she is the person who writes back to us and we have a really good relationship I think now via letters. I have broached the concept of meeting up (as she didn't feel she could at the start of it all) and she now says that she feels she might be ready to do that so hopefully we can meet up soon. We've never met either of Katie's BPs though. We have tried a few times with BM but the first time Katie was really ill (the only time she's been that ill ever) and we had to postpone and BM cancelled the second time. I can understand how difficult it must be for her. If I put myself in her place I would feel terrified and intimidated (not that I would want her to feel any of those things). I keep hoping and I've asked her again in the letter to try and write back to us. Will see what happens. xx

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  3. Gem you write so thoughtfully and sensitively, I can't imagine the contact letters you write are any different.

    I don't know of any adoptive families who don't have the same anxieties about contact, and so many of those families no longer have contact for a variety of reasons - in fact we've joined them and my letters last month were the last I'll write until we're all ready to do it again.

    For the last few letters I explained to Mini that I was writing to his birth parents to let him know that he was OK, and asked him if there was anything he wanted me to include. He gave thoughtful, considered responses, and some fairly random info, which I did include. It was when writing this last letter when he decided he didn't want them knowing anything that we (after much thought) decided to stop. Even if you don't read the replies to Katie, does she know you write? Could you ask her to contribute? If you don't feel comfortable sending a photo, could you ask her to draw a self-portrait instead?
    x

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    1. That's a very good idea Vicki. I do want to start involving her but was worried after her reaction to her LSB and the fact that she is already unsettled from that and starting school (not to mention the concept of a new sibling on the horizon). I think within the year we could start involving her more and see how she feels about it all. She'll be able to write a bit more by then and could send her own little card and drawing. I think I will introduce the concept of the contact with her BGP first as that is the person that we have regular replies from. I don't feel she is ready to handle sending info to BM and then not getting a reply. Oh I wish I could protect her from all that. Mind you, BM might be more likely to reply to Katie perhaps? How are you feeling about ending your contact? xxx

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  4. I have read other blogs where the letters have to go families who abused the children before they were put into care and then adopted. I think it's a world of difference when the original family were not able to keep the baby even though they would have liked to be in a position to do so. In a way your situation is much harder because you do care about their feelings as well. It adds another set of feelings into an already complicated equation.

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    1. You're totally right. The scenario that you describe is far more negatively emotive than the situation we have. It clarifies feelings far more clearly. It may well be a situation we have to face with our second child. I think I ultimately want to make things as right as possible for Katie. The mother lioness thing I guess. I want to protect her and make her life as smooth as possible but am aware that I might not always be able to do that. There is also the fear at the back of the mind that one day Katie might choose to reject us in favour of her birth family and I feel that this way I won't give her reason to or anyone else reason to encourage it (should that situation occur). Oh this parenting lark is tough at times!! LOL xx

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  5. Great post. Our intros start next week so we're nowhere near doing our first LB, but I'm dreading it already. I've asked for no photos due to Facebook, social media etc. Gem, is it just you that writes the letters or does your husband get involved too?

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    1. Hiya Sezz. Congratulations firstly on your match and I am excited for your intros next week. How are you feeling about it all? I know I was a mixture of panic and excitement and anxiety about how it would all go.

      We do send pictures and that does come up quite a lot in LB contact. We are careful about the photos we select. We are careful not to send pictures that might show where we live or where Katie goes to school etc. I look for photo opportunities both for LB photos that are nice but wouldn't give away too much information if the picture ended up on FB. FB is a real concern amongst adopters and we have had pictures put on FB and had to deal with that. I do tend to write the letters that we send but I write them from both of us. My husband reads them and adds any comments he wants to make. He helps me choose the pictures but the reality is that I'm at home and have more time to do things like this. It's such a balance between giving information and keeping the doors of communication open but protecting Katie's anonymity as well. It is an area that concerns many adopters and it's an issue that is widely discussed. I want to include Katie more in the process so she knows more about it but am also worried about what emotions that might lead to for her. Do ask your SW for advice and support on writing the letters. You should be given some templates to work from. I'm going on a workshop next week on this very subject so will share any information that I gain.

      Good luck next week. Can't wait to hear how it all goes. *big excited smile* xx

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  6. Hi Gem

    Thanks for writing this post, its a subject that is of great interest to me. I guess I sit on both sides of the fence on this issue. I am a student social worker, with a specific interest in fostering and adoption.
    When I was a teenager, my best friend fell pregnant, and, after a lot of input from child protection due to her mental health issues, her daughter was eventually removed from her care, and adopted. As Godparent, I have letterbox contact with the child every six months.
    The way that you talk about carefully wording your letters, and writing them with such attention and concern for the reader is excellent. Giving up a child to adoption is, as I'm sure you know from your training and experience, the most difficult, heart-breaking, life-shattering experience for the birth family. Certainly in our family case, there is not a day that goes by when that little girl is not thought of, prayed for and missed. Speaking from my experience as a godparent, every snippet of information that can be given is like manna from heaven, hungrily eaten up by the entire family. My goddaugher was adopted, yes, but this by no means, means that she was not loved and valued and treasured. Her mother was ill, all other members of the family were unfit or unable to care for her, and at the time I was a teenager myself. Its so refreshing to hear about an adoptive parent who understands this- the term birth family can often be seen as a sort of swear word in circles of adopters. Studying social work has enabled me to see that, there but for the grace of God, go I- thank God that when I had my children, I was in a better position than my friend, and was able to parent them.
    Enjoy your little girl, she sounds adorable :)
    Anna xx

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    1. Hi Anna. Thank you for your reply. It must have been so difficult for you over the years. It really highlights that adoption is very often not black and white but (without sounding like a very popular book at the moment) many shades of grey. It impacts on so many lives, not all of them immediately obvious. I imagine that your experiences have helped shape your choice of career and I hope that those experiences help shape the Social Worker you become and the empathy you are able to bring to the situations and families you encounter. With best wishes, Gem xx

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