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.