Unique Experiences....

When I was training to be a counsellor one of the things we talked about was the unique experience of our clients.  Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else's shoes whilst keeping one of your feet firmly on solid ground and not being overtaken by your clients experiences.  We all have our own experiences and our own reactions and emotions as part of those experiences.  No two experiences are the same and it is not possible to totally share someone else's experience.  Given the same set of circumstances you might respond and react very differently and the impact of those responses will impact upon you in a very different way.  Your character and resilience and early experiences will shape how you react to experiences.  This is very obvious with adoption.   No two children will react and behave in the same way to a particular set of circumstances.  As an adopter it is not possible to have any guarantees as to how your child may react during their life to their experiences before adoption and subsequently once they become part of your family (obviously the same is true of birth children).

Recently I received a tweet in response to my post "Deciding to Adopt".  In that post I talked about the 10 miscarriages we experienced before becoming parents to Katie through adoption.  The tweet I received said that Katie was actually my 11th choice and the tweeter wondered how that might make Katie feel.  I felt incensed to receive such a message.  "Katie is certainly not my 11th choice" I inwardly raged.  Katie is everything to me.  She is an amazing young lady and I couldn't imagine my life without her now.  I see my journey through infertility as the path that led me towards being her mum.  The tweeter has a point though.  Will Katie see it that way in the future?  Will Katie feel that the only reason we adopted her was because we couldn't have a birth child.  That is a tough question to answer and I can only give my experience as a reply because Katie will have her own feelings on the subject.

When we started to try for a family we didn't question how we would become parents.  We just tried to get pregnant.  I only knew one adopted person at that point so adopting wasn't really on our radar.  We then found ourselves on a medical treadmill of trying to sort out the reason as to why I kept miscarrying.  Somewhere along the way that treadmill took over the desire to be a parent and it became a problem to solve.  I suspect we both lost our way a bit during that time because the need to not give in took over.  Deciding to become a parent through adoption was a much more considered journey for both of us.  We questioned our desire and ability to be parents in far more depth.

When you start the journey towards becoming an adoptive parent you will hear and read and absorb a lot of information about adoption and the children who need to be adopted.  There are blogs written by Adoptive Parents; Adoptees; Birth Parents and Agencies.  Each one detailing the writers own unique experience and their resulting thoughts and feelings.  It is easy to get confused as you read so many stories of extremes.  I churned inwardly for about 48 hours after receiving the tweet I mentioned above.  I worried.  I read some of the links the tweeter sent me.  I spent a lot of time thinking and feeling some very big and quite scary emotions.  But then a feeling washed over me.  It reminded me a bit of the scene in "Good Will Hunting" when the psychiatrist Sean has the following conversation with Will after Sean had a sleepless night thinking about things that Will said to him:

"Sean: Thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me... fell into a deep peaceful sleep, and haven't thought about you since. Do you know what occurred to me? 
Will: No. 
Sean: You're just a kid, you don't have the faintest idea what you're talkin' about.  
Will: Why thank you.  
Sean: It's all right. You've never been out of Boston.  
Will: Nope.
Sean: So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you... I don't see an intelligent, confident man... I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you're a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my fucking life apart. You're an orphan right?
[Will nods]
Sean: You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally... I don't give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you, I can't read in some fuckin' book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that do you sport? You're terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief."

This scene encapsulates perfectly the assumptions that people make about each other.  The tweeter made an assumption about my life based on their own feelings and attacked me based on those feelings and assumptions.  Those weren't my feelings or my experiences for that matter (and I'm not comparing the tweeter to Will Hunting here in any way shape or form - I was just using the scene as a metaphor).  Once I came to that realisation I felt much more comfortable and able to have a dialogue with the tweeter with my fears and anger put to one side and (hopefully) based on mutual respect and understanding that we come from very different perspectives on the whole issue of adoption.  I could have easily just blocked the tweeter (and I was tempted as I have enough stress in my life as it is without seeking out any more) but I felt that there was a valid experience to be heard.  It doesn't mean it will be my experience or Katie's experience though.

The adoption system is a part of our culture.  Adoption, in various forms, has been a part of our society for as long as humans have been around I would imagine.  If a parent is unable to care for their child, for whatever reason, then (I feel) it can only be a good thing for that child to be placed within a loving family.  I was watching Les Miserables the other evening and struck by how Fontaine leaves her daughter, Cosette, in the car of the unscrupulous Inn Keeper and his wife because she is forced to find work to support her child.  Legalised adoption enables children to be cared for with parents who have been vetted and deemed suitable (one would most certainly hope although this isn't always going to be the case as no system is infallible).  Obviously this same system finds some birth parents unsuitable to retain custody of their child and there is a great subjectiveness within this system that I do not feel qualified to write about.  There are some who are calling for adoptions to be allowed to be overturned and for an adoptee to be legally repatriated with their birth name and all the legal rights that entails, if they so wish.  This is an interesting debate and I can empathise with the feelings and reasons involved but I am also aware that not every adopted child will want to do that.  Those feelings and desires will be based on each adoptees own experiences.  It's also worth acknowledging that feelings change as the years pass by.  I do not have contact with my birth family and I have experienced a great many feelings over the years before arriving at the acceptance that I currently have.  I have enough years under my belt to see a bigger picture - what I call the "10 Year Review" where you can look back and see how things interconnect and lead you to a certain point.  I can see the challenges that my experiences have brought and the things I have achieved as a result of those experiences.  I felt able to be an adoptive parent because of some of the sadness and pain I have experienced.  I no longer see my life in black of white but embrace the many shades of grey (in a very non-Christian Grey sort of way!).

As an adopter, it would be so useful to be able to sit down and really talk about the various layers of adoption with adoptees and birth parents.  To hear each others feelings without being angry or judgemental with each other or trying to invalidate each others experiences.  To set aside the need to be right but allow the ability to just come together and share experiences. To be able to really listen and learn from each other and to, hopefully, benefit the children that are coming through the care system and being placed within adoptive homes.  What an experience that could be!

I would be really interested to know if that is happening within the UK and, if so, what the results have been?


  1. I've been sitting here trying to figure out how to respond to this without sounding like an attack. So, just bear with me, and know that I'm not trying to do that.

    The tweet you received is pretty much spot on. You tried - ten times - to have a baby. Your own, biological baby, which of course was important to you because if not, why would you keep trying, right? But for an adoptee such as myself, it pretty much sums up where we land on the scale of importance.

    I have no doubt you love your daughter with all your heart. But I fear that for her to grow up hearing the stories of mum's trials and tribulations with infertility might cause her to feel like the consolation prize. If you had carried one or more babies to term, would you have adopted her anyway? My *guess* is no, because your dreams of parenthood would have been fulfilled through the natural way of the universe. Who, then, would have adopted her? Who would she be now? A girl with a different name living in a different home with different parents and living a different life than the one she has now, than she would have had if not adopted at all.

    You tried 10 times because biology matters. You decided to adopt only when your own biology failed. This is a reality that many adoptees live with every day...that we were somebody's 2nd (or 11th) choice, the consolation, the plan B. And loving and wonderful adoptive parents aside, it still hurts and makes us question our value as human beings. I just hope you will be prepared to help your daughter deal with these feelings, *should* she also have them.

  2. Hi Lillie. Thank you for replying. I want to thank you for taking the time to post and to reply generally with a few points. Obviously it's difficult not to feel defensive particularly when you feel misunderstood. I do want to highlight a few points.

    Firstly I do not talk to Katie about my miscarriages. It isn't something that we discuss with her. I wouldn't put all that on her because it is a part of our lives that is personal between my husband and I. We chose to adopt. We could have remained child-free but we chose Katie.

    Secondly I cannot say what might have happened had we had a birth child. It's a moot point really. I am a very spiritual person and I believe that those experiences led us to Katie. Katie is not a replacement for anyone. She is her own person.

    I popped over to your blog and read your open letter about adoption. I will say that I agreed with much of what you wrote and feel that we have already taken on board much of what you write about. I spent many years working with teens with a multitude of problems so understand about accepting an individual as they are. I don't expect Katie to fulfil any of my dreams. I'm capable of doing that for myself. I hope I can help her with hers though. I have written here frequently about my support for maintaining contact and enabling links with Katie's birth family and I hope to do everything in my power to support Katie through her life, wherever that leads. She already knows she can see her birth family, if that's what everyone wants, when she is older. We are open with herand answer her questions. We are honest but understanding and empathic about the circumstances that led to her adoption. I regularly write to several members of her birth family and fought for her Birth Mother to have more contact than was suggested. I know I will do everything I can for her.

    I have allowed myself to write more and justify my position. Not that I need to but because if Katie ever reads this she will see my response and know that I have done exactly what I've written here.

    I hope that clarifies a few things for you

  3. Even though we have not even gone to panel yet I was still thinking about this when I read it last night. It occurred to me that I am not the first woman my husband dated or "got serious about" he was engaged before and that ended before he met me. Based on the idea of "if you are not the first option someone takes" that makes you 2nd best, 3rd best or even 11th best then I "should" feel like I am at least 2nd best or even 3rd or 4th best since he had at least two other girlfriends prior to the one he got engaged to. However, I do not feel (and am not) 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc best at all. I am THE best.

    I think (if I am ever faced with our adopted child in the future) if I am asked by him/her why am I (in that case it would be 6th best since we had 3 x IVF and 2 x FET) I would liken it to the only similar thing I have in my personal experience and say that people often know that they really WANT something ie want to get married, want to have a child etc but often they do not know what is the best way for them to go about it. The only thing they can do is try whichever ways are the first ones available to them. It is then up to God if they (for marriage) find the right person or (for a child) get pregnant and carry a baby to full term because God knows what is best. Sometimes, when people want something and they try the best that they can to attain it they get it wrong and they either meet the wrong person (or a few wrong people)or they find that they either cannot get pregnant or cannot carry a baby to term etc an at which point they either try a different option or a different person in order to achieve their dream.

    In our particular case God did not want us to have a baby that was born to us but instead he wanted us to have a child born to someone else and that was the VERY best for us and you (adopted child) are the very best for us. If we had known what God wanted from the very beginning then the very first thing we would have done is adopted you.

    1. I don't think that dating to find a mate is a good analogy AT ALL! Does that mean that if it doesn't work out with the first child you adopt you are going to break up with them and keep adopting other children until you find The One? Adoptees have enough abandonment issues with out you adding that one.

    2. I can see where you're coming from Beegirl and I can also see that Greta is trying to empathise in a way that she can relate to. I think in order for us all to communicate with each other effectively we will need to accept each others frame of reference and experiences and understand that someone else cannot fully feel our feelings and experiences. We have to articulate them in a way that enables others to understand how we are feeling. That needs to come from a place of respect and not anger. As soon as anger jumps in and joins the conversation, the conversation is effectively over with no-one able to hear one another. If we could all put the anger and fear to one side and speak with our hearts then maybe more would be accomplished. xxx

  4. Thank you for writing this post! It highlights something which as a potential adoptivr parent I had worried about. We knew before we married I might not be able to have children and talked about adoption. We decided to try for a baby anyway but for personal reasons chose to put a limit on that (one year trying, no fertility treatments) as I knew I couldn't face that route. We were astonished I fell pregnant so easily but pregnancy and recovery was very hard for me and my family. We are now looking into adoption in the future. This is not because we can't have biological children but because we choose not to take that route again. Had my pregnancy been easier we might not be looking into adoption right now, I can't lie about that. But I also can't say for sure that we wouldn't have either because adoption is something I thought about long before even meeting my husband. I can't say what would have happened had things been different, because they aren't: this is our experience. But I do worry about how it will be experienced by others... Will it been seen as us choosing it only because we feel another pregnancy would be unwise for us? In reality that is the truth, it wasn't our first choice. But do we allow this to stop us giving our hearts and homes to an adoptee? A lot of people cone to adoption after either struggling to conceive/carry to term or after having kids of their own and feeling they want to expand their family through adoption. It might not be perfect and the ideal for children who have already faced leaving their birth family, but without these people where would we be? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I have thoughts on them based on my experience and I love that this is what you focussed on in this post!


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