Friday, March 15, 2013

The Contact Conundrum

It's Friday, so it must be Weekly Adoption Shout Out time!  And this week we have a theme: contact.  A bit of a thorny subject for me, if I'm honest.

You see, as far as OB goes, I have worn multiple hats, and with these different hats on, my feelings about contact with his birth family veer wildly from one extreme to the other.

OB first came to me when he was only 4 months old.  For the first period of his placement with me, I was purely a foster carer.  I not only took him to contacts with his birth mother, but also supervised some of those contacts and even arranged extra contacts at special times, such as buying his first shoes.  As the plan for him was rehabilitation with birth family, we worked together to make that become a reality.  I supported Mum, helped her draw up lists of routines and meal plans, and collaborated with her over Christmas and birthday times.

When the rehabilitation broke down after just a few weeks, and OB came back into my care, things gradually began to change.  Birth relatives came and went, and I organised and supervised contacts with a few different people.  In the end, when it became clear that there was nobody in OB's family who was able to take him, then I approached the social worker about adopting him myself.

From the moment I broached that subject, I gradually began to lose my foster carer's hat, and take on my mummy's hat.  Contacts with birth family were reduced and then brought to a close with final contacts arranged.  OB only saw his birth mother twice after he came back into my care.  I felt as though I was part of a process of closure, cutting off those birth family links one by one.  As I write, OB has not seen or had any kind of contact with anybody in his birth family for over 8 months.

The past year has been a strange limbo land where I know that I will be OB's mummy, and he even calls me by that name, but none of it is actually real until some judge says it is.  That day will come soon, and OB will formally leave his birth family behind and become my family.  And yet on that same day, we will enter into a bizarre reconnection with that same family, through the letterbox contact agreement.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I signed the agreement.  So, just as OB is about to become my son, I have, once again, to begin to consider a family that has lost theirs.  Such mixed feelings.

Honestly, if it was up to my emotions alone, I'd never mention or refer to OB's 'other family' again.  Every fibre of my being wants to gather him to me, hold him tight, and pretend that the way it is now is the way it's always been.  But all the wishing in the world won't make that true.  And it's not about my emotions; it's about what OB needs now and will need as he grows older.  After all, a big part of being a Mum is about being able to put your own wishes and feelings aside for your child's benefit, playing with them even though you are tired, cooking healthy meals even though you'd rather have burgers, and telling them gently about their birth family even though you'd rather never think about them again.

I know that we all want to know where we've come from.  I know that all children go through a phase of being fascinated about their early childhoods.  I know that OB will probably be no different to any other child, and he will be told the truth about it.  Unlike many other adopters, I not only met his birth mother, but got to know her quite well.  I will be able to tell him truthfully that he was loved - we all need to know that we have been loved.

All that, I am fine with.  But letterbox contact is another thing entirely.  I feel extremely conflicted about it, and I really resent the fact that, just at this moment, just as OB and I become a family, I'm required to consider the needs of his birth family.

For instance, when we will write the letters?  Apparently a lot of people do that in September.  That seems fine with me.  But then, if the birth family delay picking it up, and then delay in replying, the reply might come too close to Christmas.  Wouldn't it be better to do it in July?  It has to be a neutral time of year, not near birthday or Christmas.  Nothing identifying written in the letter. And so on, and so on.

And the whole time we're having this conversation, I'm raging inwardly at the intrusion of it all.

Well, I suppose I'd better get used to it!  If I think signing the contact agreement is painful, then what am I going to do when it comes to letter-writing time?!

Yet, as unpleasant as I might be finding it, my main objections to the letterbox contact are on OB's behalf.  He is too young to have any say in what this contact will consist of, or whether it will even happen.  I will write to his birth family on his behalf, telling them things about him, and it will be some years before he is able to have any say in what they are told, and what is left out.

I have family members that I am estranged from and, believe me, I'd be pretty annoyed if I found out that somebody was writing to them on my behalf and telling them all about me!  I know that the collective wisdom states that this contact is a Good Thing, and I will dutifully do as I'm told, because that's what I do, but at the same time I can't help feeling that a process that doesn't involve the child, that the child hasn't even consented to, doesn't really make me feel as though we are putting the child at the heart of things.

Anyway, ours will be in September.  My brain still works on an academic calendar after all these years, so I thought it would make it easier to remember.  What a fool I was!  There's no chance of me forgetting - I'm already stressing about what I'll write and it's only March!

8 comments:

  1. Writing letterbox really never bothered me *too* much, I came to resent it more over time, and became disappointed at the lack of replies, but the main reason for stopping was Mini's request. He decided he didn't want his birth family knowing about him.

    I do think it's important that we try to keep a line of communication open between our children and their birth parents, and I wouldn't ever want to stand in the way of that...but when the child is old enough to verbalise his/her feelings, then it's more important to support those feelings. I hope we'll be able to re-establish letterbox when Mini is older.

    Thanks for linking this up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

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    1. I think it's key what you say - that Mini decided for himself that he didn't want his birth family knowing about him. We absolutely need to listen to our children over things like this. Was he sorry that previous letters had been written? Or did he not mind about that? My instinct is that I'd rather have an opt-in than an opt-out - do nothing, but make sure that OB knows it's available in the future if he wants it. After all, it's easy to write a letter that fills in a few years at once, but impossible to unwrite what you've already written.

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  2. Hiya Becky, I don't often feel moved to comment on blogs - but this one 'got me' somehow. Here is my suggestion based on zero knowledge and experience!!! What I would do is try to treat it as one of those family-update Christmas card type things. Very top-line summary. If I were you I would ask (me!) a coupld of close friends to do the same for one of their children to give you ideas about what to possibly include and just get a few peeople to pray with you before, during and proof-read afterwards. It's just another 'first' Beck and you will be fantastic x

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    1. Thanks Collette :) I love your encouragement, as always xx I'll get back to you in September for sure!

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  3. ah I havent even written about letter writing - it will be weird for me too when the time comes - and yes mixed feelings - but it might help with either piecing some of those pieces in the jigsaw or even bringing closure if it doesnt work out well and at least it wont be another let down on our part for our children.

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  4. I've mostly just got on with sending letters but over the years, I've found it harder to motivate myself. The children are always disappointed there is no reply and in a recent conversation with their LA they were not able to inform me if the letter has even been collected. So I do understand however, the reason that always gets me to sit and do it is I want the boys to know that we kept to our side of the bargain.

    Thanks for linking up with The Weekly Adoption Shout Out.

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  5. It's great to hear some honest discussion on contact, we struggled through our first letterbox contact and the response we received was that birth mum was 'heartbroken' because we hadn't sent photos ( this was agreed in the letterbox contract that we wouldn't send any due to previous issues) it was a very upsetting time and in no way beneficial to the children, but we will continue to engage in it because as you have said despite our feelings we are told that it's in the best interests of the children. Good luck with your first letter!

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    1. Hi Genie - oh it's so difficult isn't it?! I was adamant from the beginning that there would be no photographs as OB's family live quite close to me and I wanted to preserve his anonymity as much as I could. Thankfully all the social workers agreed with me, but this doesn't necessarily mean that his birth family will have realistic expectations.

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