A World of Emotions….

Becoming a parent through adoption is a process formed on a bedrock of huge emotions. It can be a challenge to understand and process all the thoughts and feelings. As adopters we carry not only our own emotions but also absorb and carry those of the children with whom we share our lives. 

At the core of adoption is the emotion of grief. Grief is an emotion that we don’t tend to talk about much in society because grief comes from loss and often people don’t know how to talk about the thoughts and feelings associated with loss and grief. For many, these painful emotions are ones that are kept tucked inside us. There is no timeline on grief and we mostly never fully let go of grief without a lot of  internal work. Like love, grief can expand to fill space in the heart and can also shrink into a tiny fragment that stays lodged inside and can suddenly jump up and take control again when triggered. Other people might say unhelpful things like “are you still feeling like that?” or “aren’t you over that yet?” so we keep those feelings to ourselves rather than feel judged. My experience of adoption is that people outside the sphere of adoption cannot comprehend that a baby or young child might have long lasting effects of loss when they can’t even remember the event. Anyone who’s ever tried to repeatedly explain the damage that can happen in-utero or pre-verbal experiences to someone who doesn’t understand the developmental process of babies and children will know that it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.  So we stop talking about it and carry the judgements of others on our shoulders because it’s easier than trying to explain.

Welcoming a child into a family is a happy occasion but with adoption it is both a happy and sad situation intertwined. Loss and hope are woven together because in a ideal world children would be with their birth parents. That fact is something adopters must fully understand. Adoption is a complex process that many, myself included, embark on without really understanding everything that it entails. Many adopters come to adoption through loss. Many experience infertility and miscarriages. From my reading I understand that there can be an emotion from adoptees of feeling like they are second best if they’ve been adopted after the journey of miscarriage and infertility but speaking from my own experience as an adopter that is definitely not the case for us. Often in life we take paths that are different than the one we initially planned but that doesn’t mean the new path is lacking, it’s quite simply a different path. It’s an internal journey of realisation that becoming a parent doesn’t have to mean following the traditional paths. The thing is we have that traditional path embedded into our psyche from birth.  We grow up seeing people who are pregnant and know that that is what we do to start a family. Unless we have grown up in the foster care system in some way or with parents or family members who were adopters for foster cares our society story is that we meet someone and we have a baby. There is also the awareness that has grown more prevalent over the time since I first adopted that society might not offer enough support to birth parents to enable them to stay with their children and that some judgements made within social services are hasty and unfair. I believe there is truth to this. I’ve fought for support over the years since I adopted the children and even as a highly educated person who understands the system I have struggled to get the help we need and I have faced many judgements from within education and other services about my parenting. If I have had these experiences how might someone more vulnerable than I am cope?  As a result I have always felt enormous compassion for the path of the children’s birth parents and I do hope that in time this is something we can address. 
I’ve always tried to keep my blog personal and focussed on our lives and I have asked a lot of questions of my various social workers about the information contained in the files of my children and have ensured I’ve researched their background outside of that system as much as I humanly could to reassure myself of their start in life. It’s something that adopters really must be mindful of and to gain as much information as they possibly can about any children they adopt. The reality is there are miscarriages of justice. I know personally of a friend who that happened to and it shocked me to my core. However not all situations are the same. There are also issues of the legality around adoption and the changing of names. As I’ve lived with my children more and more the awareness of all of the depth involved with adoption is coming to the fore and I’ve always said I will be guided by the children and what they want in relation to birth family. There are a lot of emotions to process constantly and one of the biggest gifts we can give the children we are helping to raise is the gift of honesty and openness. It’s so important to enable them to talk about how they feel without fear of upsetting or worrying us.

I have always felt it in a more spiritual way that I wasn’t meant to become a parent through birth but I knew I could love a child that I hadn’t given birth to. I cannot imagine loving any children more than I love Katie and Pip, whatever route they took to come into my life. I’m very aware though that I did not give birth to them and that I can never and wouldn’t seek to take the place of their birth mother. It’s a complex path however and the complexity is rarely understood in the early days of a new family, it develops and evolves over time as the layers of life as a family made through adoption are explored. These complexities bring their own layer of grief because no parent wants their child to suffer and yet we can’t protect them from some of the emotions they will experience. 
Grief in adoption is a bit like a will-o-the-whisp that flits in and out of family life. Not always fully seen but always on the periphery. As our children visit and revisit their feelings about adoption over the years, we do too. We absorb the anger and confusion that hold hands with grief. We try hard to understand the inner ache that sits inside our children and help them make sense of their lives. We can absorb the feelings as if they were our own. Where possible we bridge the gap between ourselves and birth families. As adopters we are always acutely aware that the children we share had a different start in life and that through often quite complex situations those children needed to grow up in a different environment. As adopters we are aware of just how deep and complicated the emotions may well be for our children as they grow up and try to make sense of their lives. 

In the UK many adopters are supporting their children to understand and manage diagnoses such as FASD, a preventable neurodevelopmental condition that causes a myriad of emotional, behavioural and learning challenges for the children affected. The impact of FASD can be huge both on the children and on their families. Support is limited and lives can be turned upside down as we try and make sense of the inner world of our children and bare the brunt of the challenges it brings. For any parents who are raising children who are neurodiverse or who have other challenges there is an ongoing grief when you see your child struggle and we balance letting go of our hopes for their lives with helping them reach the potential they have. I have struggled at times myself with the anger I feel at the damage inflicted on the children through alcohol yet the compassion and sadness I also feel for the circumstances their birth mother was in. Nothing is ever straight forward with adoption.  

We mustn’t forget happiness when we talk about emotions. As a family we have had many happy times. I want the children to grow up with positive memories of their childhoods and to be able to do all the things regular families do. Days out, family holidays, family rituals around special holidays and birthdays and food. All the things people do in families. These things are so important to help balance out some of the heavier emotions and they make life more fun and meaningful. When Katie was younger we were out all the time doing things. Pip has missed out on some of that due to the pandemic and the impact on Katie of disengaging from school. His own needs at times around separation anxiety have become far more pronounced and our lives have felt heavier over the past few years and I’m trying to work out how I can bring some of those lighter, more fun emotions back into our lives. Anyone with a teenager knows though that it isn’t quite as simplistic as that. A teenager who is feeling depressed isn’t something that a few days out can cure. There are many elements that need to be put in place first so we can bring some of the lighter emotions back into our lives. I hold onto hope that we can achieve that. It won’t be through lack of trying I can tell you that much.
Life is very dualistic and it isn’t just one thing or another. We are all shades of light and dark and grey and the world is too. We cannot protect our children from the experience of life. I cannot beat myself up over the circumstances that lead to my children being adopted. I can only support them to explore their own feelings and honour them and let them guide us as a family to the best of my ability.  Naively I have felt like I wanted to protect and cushion the children from everything else that can go wrong in life after their complicated start in life yet I was unable to protect them from divorce and everything else that surrounds that. Divorce is something a huge amount of families go through but I have carried the weight of my decisions around with me and felt like I was a failure for not being able to offer the children a wonderful, perfect, happy childhood. We have had a lot of emotions to manage and the only gift I can offer them is my openness to explore emotions and to try and offer as much stability as I humanly can. I am constantly learning to acknowledge, explore and shake off emotions that hold me back in life. I have revisited my own childhood repeatedly in order to heal wounds that lie embedded inside. The children are my greatest teachers in life. They have forced me to explore so many different emotions I have been carrying with me throughout my life. In order to learn how best to be their parent I have had to unlearn most of what I learned in my own childhood and adult life around how we parent children who carry trauma inside. I’ve had to deeply explore my own trauma in order to do so whilst simultaneously trying to offer myself up as a parent. I’ll be honest and say I’ve beaten myself up repeatedly over this. There are wounds I carry that I thought I had dealt with that I’m now revisiting on a much deeper level than I have ever done before however I can say that the process of doing so has opened me up as a parent too and I try to be as emotionally available and honest to help and model that for the children too. 
This is just a snapshot of some of the emotions involved in adoption that sit alongside all the normal emotions we experience on a daily basis. What I’ve learned from my own experiences and that of other adopters is that our families seem to experience those feelings in a much bigger way than other families. We experience the highs and lows far more dramatically. A really positive day can tip over and become very challenging when we are parenting children who struggle with regulation. I call myself the Fun Police. I am hypervigilant to extremes of emotions these days. If I hear fun escalating too much I have to find a way to calm things down again because I know from way too much experience that one minute we might have fun and laughter but literally a moment later that will end in screaming and crying and me feeling like a referee trying to help everyone find a way through how they are feeling. Over the years that has impacted my own ability to have fun because I can rarely allow myself to get caught up in the moment. I always have one foot firmly on the ground reaching down to pull everyone else up to safety again. As I write those last two sentences I can feel a huge feeling of sadness wash over me. I cannot lie and say I brush off all of these challenges with a smile and with no impact on myself. The impact on me has been huge. I am managing the biggest emotions you can imagine on a minute by minute basis. I no longer sleep deeply because I can be woken up at any time by someone (often Katie) having an anxiety attack. I cannot relax during meals because an argument related to a sensory experience someone is having with someone else is kicking off. Often I allow everyone to eat separately for all our sakes. I’ve let go of the concept of family mealtimes as a result. There is very little in my day that feels like my choice. 

It’s important I acknowledge all of my own feelings so that I can constantly manage them and ask them what they are telling me and try and be the best version of myself each day. Like anyone my best varies from day to day. When I’m stressed I can fall into freeze mode and feel inadequate. I have ways to manage that now because I’m aware of it. Currently the children and I have had little break from each other for 2 years. That’s just not helpful for any of us. The pandemic has caused so much lasting emotional damage that I’m trying so hard to fix.  I go to my part-time job for respite and to remind myself of who I am.  I feel immense anger and frustration at the circumstances and the lack of support, even with the Adoption Support Fund. ASF is very prescriptive about what it will and won’t fund. Often the support we need most desperately isn’t covered and it takes an age to get anything arranged. We are at the start of services engaging with us, some via ASF and some that are medical. There is no magic funding wand that will get my children back into school however. The therapist we had found for Pip sadly went on long term sick leave before we could start so now we start the application to ASF again to fund someone else. CAMHS have offered me some hope in their developmental trauma team and their team locally is so lovely but they cannot meet the needs of all the families who are referred to them. We now have a glimmer of hope for Katie with her EHCP and the possibility of a place at a specialist school. It’s like it’s constantly almost Christmas but the presents change daily and I never know if the day will actually arrive and if the gift is what we really wanted. This is the reality of adoption and parenting developmental trauma and multiple neurodiverse diagnoses. I get up every day ready to do my best but I do wonder how good my best is. I face the lack of understanding that surrounds me and I spend huge amounts of my energy fighting a system that is underfunded and not fit for purpose, whilst trying to explain to people around me why I’m doing things and also trying to help the children. It’s no wonder I’ve developed chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. 
Having just written that Pip has sprinted into my room, laughing and pretending to be a dog because he’s just traded for a mythic in the Roblox game he is playing. He’s picked up my belt and kindly told me that it’s small and I’m very tiny (Katie would point out how fat I am) . Suddenly I’m laughing and having a moment of fun and that is a lovely moment to stop writing. 


Popular Posts