Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reunion Revolution

My son has reached that excellent talking stage where his brain often supplies sentences that have their own logic but are off-beat enough to have me in stitches.  For example:

OB: (handing me an empty plastic cup) Here ya go.  Drink for ya.
Me:  Oooh, thank you.  Do you want some?
OB: Me not like that drink.
Me: Oh really?  What is it?
OB: Errmmmm . . . . ummmmm . . . dog poo!

Or, during a potty training conversation:

Me: Let's try to keep these big boy pants dry.  What do you need to do to keep them dry?
OB: Take it off!

See what I mean?  There's a logic to it!

So it was a great pleasure to take him with me to a friend's birthday garden party today and show him off to a whole new group of people.  And he was a big hit!  No strange behaviour, no standing out from the crowd.  He played happily with a huge gang of kids he'd never seen before in a strange garden and totally fitted in.  I was very proud of him.

And while I understand that there's something important about keeping your own identity when you become a parent, I have to say that having him with me has revolutionised my social experiences.  The birthday girl was an old friend from university.  We don't see each other very often, although we are good friends, but she does keep in touch with a lot of other people from uni.  The only time I see most of these people is when we meet up for an occasional birthday, wedding or other celebration. 

For the longest time I have had nothing much to say at these reunions. No husband, no kids, same job for years and years, while others seem to come with some exciting new life event to tell us about practically every year.  This time, I was the one with all the stories to tell and I don't mind saying, it felt good to describe over and over again how I became a parent and have everybody cooing over my son.  It felt good to have 'come of age' and achieved even one of the life milestones that others seem to practically stumble over without even trying.

I had wanted to look good at the party today.  I had wanted to be thinner, glamorous and deceptively young-looking.  I didn't manage any of that.  In fact I had to rush out to the sales this morning to buy a new dress so that at least I could be wearing something that fit me and wasn't leggings.  But actually it didn't matter.  Nobody was looking at me.  And I was fine with it!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On becoming speed aware

Yes, I admit it, I was caught speeding back in May and faced with a choice between 3 points on my newly-issued and wonderfully clean license, or attending the dreaded speed awareness course - four hours of my life I would never get back!

Of course, like most other people, I dutifully went online and forked out the £72 for the speed awareness course. It might be more expensive than the £60 fine, but it's got to be cheaper than admitting to your insurance company that you've been a naughty girl.

Back in early June, August 27th seemed a really, really long way away, so after transitioning NB, moving house and going on a three-week holiday, it came as somewhat of a shock to come home and realise that I had only a few days to sort out babysitters for a full afternoon!  Anyway, thanks to some very kind and understanding friends (one of whom had been on the same course not that long ago so was very sympathetic!) I managed to get organised and turn up at the place on time and with a borrowed copy of the latest edition of the Highway Code in my handbag.

As it happens, the training was at the same place as I did my adoption training, which felt a bit strange, but at least it ensured that I arrived on time with minimum fuss (and no u-turns!).  It did not, however, ensure that I arrived in a good frame of mind.

You see, like most people, I don't consider myself a habitual speeder.  Most of my journeys are pootling affairs around town, and many are less than 3 miles.  I now tell my insurance company that I do less than 6000 miles per year, which is a big change from my first years in work when I regularly drove upto 400 miles per week commuting around the place.  Back in those days I guess I was as speedy and dangerous as many other young drivers.  Before I was 20 I had been in two major accidents that had seen four cars written off, although thankfully nobody was seriously injured.  But I never got caught speeding during those crazy days, careering round in a succession of barely roadworthy cars.

So I will admit that I felt a bit resentful that all of a sudden, as a fairly sedate driver with 23 years behind the wheel, I had been caught over the limit by some automated system and sent, like a naughty school child, on mandatory retraining.  I'm not saying it wasn't a fair cop - it totally was and I knew exactly when and where I had done it as soon as I saw the letter on the doormat - it's just that I couldn't help feeling that the time of our law enforcement officials could perhaps be better spent than collecting gangs of middle-aged women (for that's who was mainly there) into stuffy training centres to hector them about what bad drivers they are.

I'm afraid I do a good line in stubborn and intractable resentment!  Several people had told me that the course was eye-wateringly boring and I would hate it, and this, added to my prickly annoyance at having to go at all, was guaranteed to have me pretty much determined to get absolutely nothing out of the day at all.

So it is with enormous surprise at myself that I write here that the whole thing was absolutely and unbelievably excellent, pretty much from start to finish.  Yes - I can hardly believe it myself!  The two guys that were running it were like pensioner versions of the Top Gear guys talking about all the muscle cars they've driven and track days they've been on, in between giving really practical and excellent advice about how to avoid some of the more common reasons for accidental speeding.

They didn't hector us, patronise us or lecture us.  They treated us like what we probably were - generally safe drivers who needed to know how not to get caught speeding again.  We learned some very helpful tips for being able to tell what the speed limit was on any road even if we missed the signs, we did hazard awareness, we had a bit of a Highway Code refresher (I hadn't even looked at a copy for over 20 years . . . newsflash - it's changed since then!), we were given helpful suggestions on how to avoid having our speed creep up without us noticing.  All in all, I really felt as though I came away having experienced a useful refresher on my driving technique and staying safe.

It's nearly 23 years since I passed my test.  And that was the old version with no theory test or parallel parking.  Since that time I have driven countless miles and never once updated my training, looked at the Highway Code or in any other way taken steps to ensure that when I am in charge of a machine that could injure or even kill people, I am handling it in the safest way possible. 

As a foster carer I have to go on several mandatory courses including food hygiene and safeguarding every three years.  That's every THREE years.  Yes, I have to go on a course about how to keep accurate records about looked-after children every three years.  But as long as I have up-to-date tax and insurance I can blithely drive those children around even though I may be an atrocious (but lucky) driver. 

I'm not a person who likes to admit that I'm wrong, but I'll say it . . . I was wrong to dismiss this course in advance as patronising claptrap with nothing to teach me.  I'm actually glad I went on it and I think the powers that be could do a lot worse than make a shortened version of it mandatory for all drivers, say, every 10 years.  Don't worry, I'm not entirely a reformed character.  I still think most traffic cameras are basically an attempt by local authorities to raise a bit of extra money, and that still makes me incredibly annoyed.  But as for the speed awareness course, well, I'm converted!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Update from NB

Well, it's now just under two months since I travelled 200 miles with NB to the start of his new life and lots of people in both internet-world and the real world have been asking how he's getting on.  The answer is  . . . really well!

With a significant speech delay, NB always found it hard to express his thoughts and feelings, often resulting in monumental meltdowns that really were a marvel to behold.  We spent time on this and he had managed to learn and say 'happy', 'sad' and 'grumpy' which was a start.  In the first few days of introductions, he started telling me at bedtimes that he was 'sad' which, to be honest, was a bit heartbreaking.  It was so clear that, despite his language issues, he had begun to understand what was coming, and was having all sorts of strong feelings about it.  I don't know whether I was more upset that he was saying that he was 'sad', or that this one word was all he had to express what must have been a maelstrom of emotions roiling about inside him.

Shortly after I left him with his new Mummy, she emailed me to say that he was still saying he was sad, especially at bath and bedtimes, but on that particular day she had noticed him really enjoying his dinner - patting his tummy and saying 'yum yum'.  She remarked that he seemed happy today and he replied, "Happy. Not sad!".

I don't mind saying that my eyes filled with tears when I read that.  It's such a serious thing to be part of the momentous decision to remove a child from his family and then onto a new one, and all I want is for that child to find peace and contentment and love and security in their new home.  So to hear that NB could call himself 'happy' so quickly after the move was balm for my soul - probably even more so for his new Mummy!

I'm not naive enough to imagine that this was the end of NB's journey - far from it - but it was certainly a good start.  Since then I have had several more emails, all with positive tales, mixed with a healthy dose of reality.  The latest news is that NB has now met all of his new family - grandparents, aunty, uncle and cousins - as well as a lot of family friends, and has been an enormous hit with all of them.

Best of all, his Mummy reports that, after a few weeks of 'honeymoon', he has now treated her to several expertly-performed tantrums which have had her turning her face away to hide the laughter (that won't last long!).  Two of the best ones were apparently because she wouldn't let him take the plasticine to bed (a wise move as he eats everything that he takes to bed - even his old cot still has teeth marks in it!).

So, yes, judging from her emails, and the gorgeous photos she has sent, NB is doing pretty well.  His speech is coming along, his self-care skills are developing and his Mummy is exhausted!  All as it should be!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Temporary Siblings

I'm writing today for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out (#WASO) and the theme this week is 'siblings'.  Of course, OB doesn't have any full siblings, either by birth or by adoption.  There is a half-sibling out there somewhere but he's never met her and there's never been any talk of contact so I suppose that'll be something to tackle later if he wants to.

So, what to say about siblings?  Well, despite OB's lack of actual brothers and sisters, siblings are probably going to feature large in his childhood as I continue to foster, bringing temporary 'brothers' and 'sisters' into his life from time to time.

Already, we have had NB.  Actually the boys were too close in age to have really been siblings, but they certainly formed that sort of relationship and, despite my best efforts, NB's departure has left its mark on OB's life.  Only today, when I was moving NB's old cot into the newly-decorated nursery, ready for a new arrival (whenever that might be!), OB asked for his old playmate and wanted to know if he was coming here "next week?".  Yet again I had to gently explain about NB's new mummy.

I have been aware from the beginning that I have quite intentionally brought OB into a moderately unconventional setup.  For a start, there is no Daddy here for him, or any second parent figure, and neither is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.  I did have concerns about deliberately choosing to raise a child in a single-parent family, but I felt that the possible disadvantages of that were outweighed by the advantages of him being able to stay with the person who had cared for him since he was 18 weeks old.  He has male role models in his life - granddad, cousins, friends of all ages - and I know I'll have to be intentional about making sure that he gets what he needs as he gets older.

Added to that, I always knew that I would want to continue fostering, so his whole childhood is likely to be one of welcoming and saying goodbye, welcoming and saying goodbye, over and over and over again - temporary siblings shifting in and out of our lives.  I don't yet know what effect that will have on OB as he is growing up; we will have to cross each bridge as we come to it.

But in the end, I am optimistic.  He and I will be a firmly-planted pair, even if everyone around us seems to come and go; a sort of sea henge standing tirelessly amid the shifting tides.  I know that unconventional doesn't necessarily mean 'bad' and that challenging or difficult doesn't mean 'damaging'.  Like so many of life's choices, these are 'on balance' decisions based on the hope that the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages, the hope that OB, because of his experiences, will carry unique characteristics into his adulthood that will not hinder him but will equip him for some good and perfect work that has been planned in advance for him to do.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Section 20 Shuffle

I saw an article on the Guardian's Social Care Network today, commenting on the decision by Worcestershire council to explore recouping costs of taking children into care under certain circumstances.

Apparently, the 1989 Children Act allows for councils to recoup the cost of accommodating children who have been voluntarily placed into care by their parents, for whatever reason, and Worcs is among several councils who are, or have been, exploring ways of getting parents to pay.

I'm aware that every time an MP or councillor talks about making cuts, or charging people for things, somebody will pop up and say that it would be a complete disaster to save money that way! But those who imagine feckless, lazy parents dumping their kids into care on a Section 20 (voluntary accommodation) while they go on holiday or something really need a reality check.

In my experience, Section 20 is too often used to persuade parents to surrender their children 'voluntarily' while social workers are busy behind the scenes preparing paperwork for court orders to make the whole thing a lot less voluntary and a lot more permanent.  Should we really be charging parents for this, adding insult to injury?

Surely Section 20 should be designed as a last-ditch support for families who have nowhere to turn, but are experiencing temporary difficulties - mental or physical illness, homelessness, financial problems and so on.  Families should be able to turn to social services for support without the fear just asking for help will eventually result in their children being removed on a Section 20 and becoming the subject of a care order soon afterwards.

So, no, families shouldn't be charged for the voluntary accommodation of their children, but at the same time, Section 20 shouldn't be used as a back door way of getting children into care.  The whole thing probably needs something of an overhaul.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

They're so child-friendly over there!

I was an adult for a lot of years before I had children in my life, so the phrases 'child-friendly' and 'family-friendly' didn't particularly figure in my thinking, unless it was to make me think twice about actually eating at that restaurant with the massive play area in the middle of it!  And to be honest, now I come with added kids, I'd still think twice.

However, somewhere along the way, I managed to pick up the idea that child-friendliness is something they do so, so much better 'over there', i.e. on the continent.  Oh yes, apparently, 'the continent' is an absolute haven of family-friendly eateries, shops and play areas, where children are not only welcomed, but catered for as if they were royalty.

I'm not sure where I got this idea from - maybe women's mags and daytime TV - but by the time I came to travel abroad with children in tow, I think I was fully expecting to see women breastfeeding joyfully on every park bench, child-sized tables in every restaurant, and palatial changing stations in every public toilet.

Well, maybe this is the case in areas that regularly cater for tourists, but in the part of Alsace, France, where my family live, the reality is that there is really no higher level of child-friendliness than in the UK, and in some ways, it's a bit worse.

My airport experiences have been mixed - sometimes my local airport is better, and sometimes they do better at my destination.  The supermarket local to my parents' house does not have any trolley that's suitable for twins - a problem when you have two under-3s in tow.  My local Tesco does better than that, even if all their twin trolleys look like they've been hastily recycled from discarded coat hangers.  Changing facilities are as patchy as in the UK.  I've had to change babies on the floor just outside the toilets pretty often and I'm reliably informed that they still have long-drop toilets on trains!

Experiences in eateries are mixed too.  There are some specifically family-orientated restaurants which are great for the kids just like at home, and all the McDonalds here have play areas outside.  But in these places, the kids' meals are just as likely to be chicken nuggets or burgers and chips as they are at home - none of the famed French cuisine here (and I'll come back to that later!).

And if you go to one of the more upmarket restaurants, then you may just find that your toddler is about as welcome as a bluebottle with something dubious on its feet!  In these places, there is often no children's menu available - just the 'set meal' served on a plate so sizzlingly hot that even the waiter is handling it with asbestos gloves.  This week, we visited a local restaurant we've been to many times before where the children's meal was veal (ok, can deal with that - at least it wasn't in nugget form!) and the waiter opened proceedings by rather testily telling us not to let my son touch the picture that was hanging so low on the wall that the table was partially covering it.  I thought, well, if he's upset about OB touching the picture, wait until he sprays his sauce all over it!

Oh, and this week, at a (very good) children's theme park in south-western Germany, I saw a person breast feeding in public for the first time in over 20 years of visiting over here.  And she was using a modesty cover. So there's another fantasy blown out of the water!

I'm not actually saying that it's terrible for children here.  There are some surprising child-friendly ideas that feel like little unexpected pleasures.  For instance, the local Mayor in our village has decreed that all new housing estates must include a small communal play area, and that every new-build house must have two parking spaces on its land (in addition to the drive) so that there is no parking on the pavement, which means that you never have to wheel your double buggy into the road to get around some unhelpfully parked car.  I expect that, as in most of the UK, it depends where you go and what you are doing.  It's not at all bad - I'm just saying that the grass isn't always as green as one might feel led to believe!

And while we're on the subject on things on the continent not being quite what we may have imagined, I need to put to bed the idea, propagated by fancy cooking shows on TV, that France is full of quaint village squares hosting plentiful farmers markets, and all French people cycle down there every morning in the misty dawn light to stock up on knobbly veg and magnificent baguettes for the day ahead, while wearing berets and saying "Oh la la" rather a lot..

My sister has lived here for over 20 years, was married to a Frenchman and has two French children, and I can tell you that what she does in the morning is get into her car and go to work.  And so do most other people.  And then they go to massive supermarkets (which the French invented by the way) at the weekends and buy processed food just like the rest of us.  And maybe a couple of baguettes.

It's not that the French aren't good at food - they are, amazingly so.  There's a law here that restaurants must offer a plat du jour at lunchtime that can't cost more than a certain price.  This means that, in the middle of the day, you can go into a fancy restaurant where you'd easily pay 60 euros a head in the evening, and have a three course meal for around 17 euros, not including drinks.  Good food too, not last night's leftovers, which explains why I was cutting up veal medallions for my son the other day while giving the grumpy waiter glowering looks (and no tip).

France is surprisingly full of
this sort of thing!
And I'm sure the farmers' markets in the quaint village squares exist, just like in England, and some people go regularly to them, just like in England.  But, just like in England, most French people seem to live a life that doesn't leave as much time for touching up courgettes for half an hour in the mornings as we might imagine.

The supermarket aisles here are crammed with enough processed food to make a bad-food junkie like myself positively dance with glee.  There are whole aisles dedicated to variously-shaped salted snacks in packets.  There are bags in the freezer department that contain indeterminately-coloured ice-cube-type objects that, when poured out and re-heated, turn into spaghetti bolognaise or some other processed delight.  A great idea that - I'll be looking out for it at home!  And the cereals . . . it's like the breakfast food companies are in league with the dentists.  I've never seen so many packets with 'choco-' written on the front of them!

Ah well, at least one 'Year in Provence' image holds true - that of the extremely laid-back tradesman.  This time last year, while I was visiting, we experienced a hailstorm so severe that it cracked car windshields, dented some cars beyond repair, ripped holes in my parents' mosquito screens and ruined some of their metal window shutters.  Since then, they have been negotiating with insurance companies and tradesmen to get the repairs done.  The car was finally sorted at the back end of last year.  The screens and shutters remain mangled and replacements may or may not be available 'sometime in August'!

Anyway, I've decided that if I really want child-friendliness for our next holiday then, judging from how they organise things at IKEA, we should head off to Sweden!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Balance

I really feel that I should follow up on my last post where I said 'a few things'.  I was feeling pretty conflicted when I wrote that and since then I've had time to simmer down a little and reflect.  It's not that I've changed my opinions really, but I've had chance to put a few things in order in my head.

One of the things I said was that 'on balance' I believe that my son is better off with me.  I know that sounds harsh and would perhaps offend birth parents, and some in the adoptee community who feel the loss and rejection of being abandoned or removed from their birth family very deeply, but that's why I included the words 'on balance'.

No human life runs perfectly.  Some people seem to have all the luck but, in reality, all of our lives are full of decisions between various options, and often the best we can achieve is an 'on balance' best.  Adoptees are not unique in this respect.  None of us can choose the circumstances of our birth or early years; in fact we will have been alive for many years before we can have a real effect on the direction our lives will take.  As a result, we are all living with the consequences of decisions that were taken on our behalf before we were in a position to have any say on the matter.

Neither are we born as 'clean slates' as I read somewhere recently.  We are all born with a genetic heritage, the effects of which cannot be fully quantified, but are certain to include certain physical characteristics as well as, possibly, hereditary conditions, or predispositions to certain conditions.  None of that is within our control. 

Genetic factors, environmental factors, personalities, family circumstances . . . these are just some of the things that work together to make each individual's life unique.  Even if two people have shared some of the same life experiences, there is no reason to believe that the consquences of these experiences will have played out the same way in both of their lives.  Two people can respond quite differently to virtually identical experiences.

This is why I cringe when I hear someone say something like, "You can't understand unless you have experienced [x/y/z]".    Firstly, this sentence crushes conversation and discussion rather like the infamous debate-ending Nazi analogy of Godwin's law.  It denies the other person in the conversation any rights whatsoever to engage with the topic at hand, assuming that unless they have direct personal experience of the exact circumstances under discussion, they can have nothing of relevance to contribute.  In my experience, the "You can't understand . . . " card is usually played when the speaker is not getting the sort of sympathetic response they were looking for, and in that context simply closes down the conversation, leaving the speaker free to carry on feeling or thinking whatever they want, closed to any advice, direction or input that does not chime with their emotional state at that time.

Secondly, it's a sentence that plays on the cult of individualistic, experience-based thinking that seems to hold sway in just about every arena, where a person's own feelings on an issue that they are strongly invested in may not be challenged in any way.  While individuals' experiences are to be listened to seriously, they are not the only, or necessarily the best, forms of information on any given subject.  There is a reason why policies for dealing with terrorists and kidnappers are formulated by those who are not actually experiencing those crises - nobody in their right mind would ever say "We do not negotiate with terrorists" if it was their child who was in danger.  In that situation, burdened with a strong emotional reaction, the long-term benefits of refusing to negotiate with terrorists would be completely forgotten, seeming irrelevant and cruel.  In some circumstances, we need to step away from the maelstrom of emotion, and make decisions based on wider principles - 'on balance' decisions.

It simply isn't possible to have walked in everyone's shoes and sometimes that level of empathy is not what's really needed anyway.  Why does everybody need to be 'understood' all the time?  Am I not able to give a convincing description of my feelings, experiences and opinions that can be easily absorbed by another person, regardless of whether they have experienced the same situation in their own life?  Surely, we can push our ability to communicate complex ideas and thoughts beyond a basic emotional outpouring?  If we speak effectively and listen carefully, then we ought to be able to communicate even the most profound ideas and experiences without relying on pure emotional empathy.

So, let's just say that I will never know what "it" was like for you, and you'll never know what "it" was like for me, regardless of what we are talking about . . . and then move on, shall we?

Because I fully accept that I will never know what it is like for my son to have been neglected, abandoned and then adopted.  But I hope to be able to give him something more valuable than my ability to 'understand'.  I hope to give him the ability to look at his circumstances, difficult as they may have been, and then to choose to walk past them.  I don't expect this to be an easy journey, but I believe it to be a possible one.

Every single one of us lives a life that begins with a raft of circumstances that we have had no control over.  We can live the rest of our lives in the shadow of that, or in acknowledgement of it.  As a Christian, I believe in an omnipotent God.  I often hear people asking why a "so-called good God" could allow various 'bad' things to happen.  I don't really have the answer to this question - personally I think that if I was able to understand everything that went on in God's mind, then he wouldn't really be all that much of a deity!  Certainly, God doesn't promise us that bad things will never happen.  What he does promise us is that the consequences of those bad things are fleeting in the context of eternity; that although there may be weeping now, joy comes with the morning.  In short, he offers us a choice to live a life that is not governed and shadowed by the 'bad things' and their consequences.

My son's abandonment and adoption are a part of his life, but the consequences of those things do not need to rule his life.  Would it have been better if he had been born into a family that could love him, care for him and keep him safe?  Yes.  But that didn't happen.  Plenty of people's 'perfect' lives are thwarted by situations outside of their control.  You can only work with what you've got. 

On balance, considering where we started, things are turning out pretty well for him so far - humanly-speaking, that is.  Eternally speaking?  Well, that really will be his choice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Where I say a few things...

This week I have read a cry from the heart from an adoptive mother who regularly receives abusive messages on her blog; I have read of another adoptive mother who feels uncomfortable when somebody says that her adopted son is lucky to have her; I have read comments under an online newspaper article about adoption accusing social services and adopters of being 'baby snatchers' and claiming that social workers get big fat bonuses every time a child is placed for adoption; I have read an adoptee blog where the writer, despite saying they had a happy adoption, states that they'd rather have been aborted as it would have saved a lifetime of pain and suffering.

And, like many other people, I have watched with horror as the tragic story of Daniel Pelka has unfolded on the national news.

I have so many thoughts going around in my head that I can hardly get them ordered enough to write them down coherently.  There are things I will not say because I don't actually want to upset people, and things I dare not say for fear of what might come back at me!  But I will say this . . . .

1.  Adoption is NOT about fulfilling the needs of adopters as some believe it to be.  Adopters know that.  People who spend time around the 'other side' of social services, working with birth families, and dealing with children in foster care, know that.  By the time a child comes into care, there will usually have been months, or even years of support offered to the birth family in an attempt to keep them together.  Even if this doesn't work and the child comes into foster care, they still have to pursue every avenue for rehabilitation.  My son was in foster care with me for 8 months and then he was rehabilitated to his birth mother.  It was only when that rehabilitation failed after less than a month that adoption was considered.  Adoption really does feel like a last resort.

2.  Except in very rare cases where there has been a total failure of duty, children are NOT taken into care 'for no reason' as so many claim.  It seems that every man and his dog has heard of somebody whose children were taken into care 'for no reason'.  There is always a 'reason' even if, on investigation, that reason later turns out to be unfounded.  Usually, children are taken into care when, despite the intervention and support of professional services, abuse or neglect continues and situations do not improve.  I have met birth parents who find it hard to come to terms with the reasons why their child was taken into care, perhaps because of denial, or a real lack of understanding, but there have always been reasons. Adoptive parents get all the info - they know exactly what happened to their children before they had them, and sometimes it's devastating, chilling reading.  Believe me, there are reasons.

3. My son IS lucky to have me as a mother.  There, I'm saying it.  And here's what I'm not saying:  I'm not saying that he's lucky to have been adopted;  I'm not saying that he's lucky to have suffered neglect and abandonment;  I'm not saying that he's lucky that he'll grow up with two identities and probably spend the rest of his life trying to sort that out in his head.  I'm saying that I'm a pretty decent mother and I'm going to do everything I can to give my son the best life possible.  Any kid is lucky to have a parent that will do that.  I'm not ashamed that I adopted my son.  I spent a lot of time around his birth mother and got to know her and her circumstances pretty well, and I can safely say that, with things as they were, on balance, my son is better off with me.  I'm not going to say why, because his story is not mine to share, but I'm the one that knows what actually went on, so the opinions of those who don't aren't really going to hold much sway with me.

4.  Anecdotal evidence does NOT form the sum total of human knowledge on any given subject.  Adoptees and adopters have powerful stories that should be shared and listened to, but they are not universally applicable, i.e. just because one adoptee feels a certain way about x/y/z, it does not mean that other adoptees will feel the same.  As a child of divorced parents, I cannot presume to speak on the behalf of all children of divorced parents, or know what they all need, or know what they all feel.  I only know what I felt, what I needed. I have read a fair few comments by adoptees who say that their adoption has ruined their life.  Maybe it did, maybe it didn't . . . maybe adoption actually saved your life.  We'll never know, because we won't know what life you would have lived without the adoption.  But even if adoption did ruin some people's lives, that doesn't make adoption as a whole a bad thing.  The care system is about rescuing children from harm . . . genuine physical and emotional harm  . . . the sort of harm that can kill a child.  It isn't perfect, but it's what we have right now.  Adoption may be hard to deal with, but it is a lot easier to deal with than what has happened to Daniel Pelka.  In the vast majority of cases, adoption is what happens at the end of a story of neglect, abuse, abandonment and trauma.  Is it really the adoption that is so damaging, or is it everything that went before?  Yes, we need to hear from individual adopters and adoptees, but we also need to get our hands on properly carried out research that does actually give us a viewpoint on adoption that has applicability and validity.  I'd like to see more of that on the internet and in newspapers, and fewer sensationalist, anecdotal, biased stories, usually featuring b-list celebs, touting some heavily biased and inaccurate view on adoption.  Well, I can always dream!

5.  Adoption today is NOT the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago.  The heartbreaking stories we hear so often of adoptees not knowing their status until they became adults, struggling to find their birth families, being denied information, are unlikely to be repeated when our adopted children reach adulthood.  Adoptions in the UK are no longer secrets.  Long gone are the days when children of unwed mothers would be handed over at birth with barely a word and then go on to be raised in a new family as if that birth mother had never existed.  As adoptive parents today, we are embracing children who have usually been forcibly removed from their familes via a protracted legal process because of ongoing and intractable problems of abuse and neglect.  We are telling them that they are adopted from the start, showing them photos of their birth families and keeping in annual contact with all kinds of birth relatives as well as looking for the right time and the right words to explain to them why they couldn't stay with their birth families anymore.  Many adopters facilitate in-person contacts with birth siblings, and support their adopted children in tracking down their birth families when they are old enough.  A lot of what went on with adoption in the past was badly-handled and poorly thought out, but things today are very different (at least, we're making different mistakes!), so please, newspapers, magazines, TV stations, etc. before you publish your heartstring-tugging adoption stories, or badly-informed opinion pieces, just take a little time to find out about modern adoption.  You might be surprised at what you discover.