Adoption and Foster Care are needed because, for a variety of reasons, a parent is unable to provide the home life that all children need in order to grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults. The birth parents may recognise this and make the decision to place their child for adoption or, in the majority of cases in the UK, a Local Authority makes the decision that the child is at risk of emotional or physical harm or neglect. This is all extremely emotive and, for some people, the system can leave a legacy of as much trauma as it protects the child from.
When a child is adopted they legally become part of the family of their adoptive parents. Legally they no longer have any family ties to their birth family. That's actually quite a big thing and there are implications that last a lifetime. I can genuinely understand adoptees who are seeking to redress this legal situation. As adoptive parents we endeavour to keep contact with our child's birth family as best as we can. That isn't always easy. In our case we only receive replies to our letter from Katie's birth Grandmother. Yet, as Katie grows up, the severing of the legal ties with her birth family may cause her significant upset. It may not. We don't know yet how this will impact on her. I am sure each and every adoptee has their own views and feelings on the subject.
As adopters we have to be aware of so many things. We have to constantly strive to see the bigger picture. We see and try to preempt that picture to support and love the children that we adopt and love. We walk a fine line between wanting to support and encourage the contact between our child and their birth family and seeing and being therapeutic parent to the damage that the child may have already suffered, often without agency support. Birth parents don't have to constantly be aware of how their child may feel at Christmas or on their child's birthday because of the impact of adoption. We have to walk a fine line between offering a balanced and happy family life with all the usual family activities and love and an awareness of whether this might be a day that is also sad for our child because of their birth family. We do all that with awareness and for the best of our child, as the majority of parents do.
But what about our emotions as adopters? We are just ordinary folk with ordinary emotions. In fact, those emotions are so important if we are going to bond with our children and help them develop into emotionally healthy adults. Adopters have a sort of shorthand with one another where a lot goes unsaid. We know that our children have experienced things that they shouldn't have. We know that our family is built on loss. We know that we will probably have to go to personal emotional lengths that people entering parenthood generally don't anticipate.
When adopters meet each other there is a lot of deep understanding that is experienced on a psychological and emotional level. We share an understanding about our lives as parents and the possible circumstances involved. We don't need to spend time explaining it to each other. We might discuss issues such as contact or behavioural difficulties we are parenting. We rarely talk about our children's background other than pertinent points. There is a shared understanding that this information is our child's story and belongs to them. It is not for general or public discussion. When we celebrate the matching of a new child it is with a knowledge that there is a trauma and loss attached. There is a reason why our child needed to be adopted.
On public forums. such as Facebook and Twitter people might see conversations between adopters and not know that there is this shorthand of speech. They might view our conversations as having a lack of awareness about how the adoptee might feel in the future. This is not the case. We don't need to go into details with each other about our children. There is an understanding between us that we can focus on the here and now without bringing up the whys and wherefores but that it is there. We carry it with us all the time. It is part of our unspoken language. To an outsider they might consider that we don't show enough respect to our children's roots but this is not the case.
So am I allowed to feel excited that Katie is soon to have a brother? Is Katie allowed to feel the emotions that a regular child would feel at becoming an older sister? Yes, I think we can. Katie is too young to understand the implications at the current time but, as a 5 year old, she is excited that she is going to be like a lot of her friends and have a sibling living at home with her. She will also feel a lot of other emotions as the time approaches and eventually arrives. We will be prepared for her to feel jealous and try and reassure her that she is loved as much as she always has been. We will try and be prepared for Katie to feel a whole heap of emotions about her own losses that she is too young to understand but may be expressed by her behaviour. We feel/hope that she is ready to handle having a sibling.
I will also admit that I am excited about the prospect of having a baby. This is a door that I closed a long time ago in my heart and I now need to open that door again. It is actually important that I be allowed to feel these emotions because they will help my bonding with my son. I need to be excited about buying a bottle steriliser and a new stroller (which I've had picked for ages I will admit) and all the other paraphernalia we are going to need. I need to engage all the emotions that a regular mum will feel when preparing for a new child. I need to anticipate holding my son for the first time. It is important that I am emotionally ready to welcome a new child into our home for all our sakes. So, yes, I'm going to be excited. I'm going to encourage Katie to be excited. I am giving us both a sense of normality.
But believe me when I say I am fully aware of the bigger picture and all the fine lines.