In this month's PAC-UK guest blog adoptee Danielle provides a side by side account of her adoption and reunion experience. A huge thank you from all at PAC-UK to Danielle for sharing her personal journey in this guest blog.
My adoption experience
I was born in July 1996.
My first encounter of foster care was when I was just 11 days old. This was an emergency placement and lasted just 24 hours. When I was four months old I was placed in the same foster home as my older sister.
For the first year social services tried on several occasions to keep me with my birth family but they just couldn’t understand the potential risks.
They tried with various family members, but it just didn’t work out as they lived too close to my birth family, and social services didn’t feel confident that wider family members would abide and report any concerns if the rules were not being followed.
Social services gave my birth mother another chance when I was 8 months old. I was removed from my foster placement and placed in a mother and baby unit, but that didn't last very long as my birth mother didn't like being told what to do, and left before the assessment period was over.
I remained in foster care for around 3 years, until my older sister and I moved in with my adoptive family in 1999. My sister remained with me for 1 year, but left due to concerns about her behaviour potentially putting me at risk.
Eventually, after nearly 5 years of being in my adoptive placement, I was officially adopted. Since being placed with my adoptive parents I have always been resistant towards them as they were not my parents.
Adoption for me has always felt like a secret. A secret I didn’t feel comfortable talking about, as I believed adoption was a bad thing.
I always felt there was something wrong with me. I was angry growing up because I believed my adoptive parents had prevented me to being with my birth parents and sent my sister away, even though I now know this is not the case.
When you know no information about your birth family growing up you imagine and invent a whole lot of things, and blame the ones which are close and love you, because all you want is to be with your birth family, and can’t comprehend why you can’t live with your family when your other five siblings can.
Throughout my life, I've felt angry at different points for various reasons. There is always a sense of abandonment, like a hole in my heart, and that hole in my heart has a lot of pain.
Being adopted and growing up affected me. I felt different compared to other children, and school affected me as well. I found school hard, and even harder when I reached secondary school because in primary school children are innocent. Some teachers were not that pleasant, and actually made the situation worse, they were not sensitive and respectful to my situation.
Throughout my school life, I've heard pupils say to me "your parents must have not loved you, you must have done something wrong for you being sent away, nobody will want to be with you, no wonder you are alone". When I was at school this really hurt, could any of this be true? As I didn't know anything about my family background I didn't know what to think.
Teachers didn't help as they were the ones who openly said in front of the whole class that I was adopted. I would have liked to have kept it a secret until I was ready to tell people. I feel that there is still a long way to go until adoption is accepted and everyone is treated equally and with respect.
The willingness and determination of wanting to see my birth family became stronger as I got older, particularly when I was 14-15 years old. The more I wished for it, the more I thought about it, and it was a bit addictive, a wish which had to be fulfilled.
The main reason for wanting to see my birth parents was to figure out who I was as they were my flesh and blood, and I thought the answers to all my questions could come from them.
My desire to meet my birth parents arises from conviction and belief that I will discover a bond with another person/s that I otherwise felt was missing from my life.
There is a dilemma in this. The physical bond with another person, and the emotional bond. The physical bond is the fact that my birth mother gave birth to me and this is a scientific fact, while the emotional bond this is something that not always works in a birth family for a whole set of different and complicated reasons. For me the physical and the emotional bond interlink and go together, you can’t separate the two.
Throughout my whole life I felt confused about who I was and where I belonged. I felt like I was floating in the middle of things and didn’t ‘fit’ anywhere.
When you are an adopted child and growing up into a young person you feel that you are different, and that something is wrong with you, almost like you have a disease, and you worry that anyone you tell will run away from you, and won’t like you.
Being adopted is like you have two brains. One brain which is like everybody else's and a second brain which is unique, where you subconsciously think about your birth family, your past and your heritage but also a place where your brain thinks of strategies to deal with past trauma. This is a coping mechanism of how to survive and one which remains with you.
You also think to yourself things like who am I, where do I belong, did nobody love me and want me, without actually thinking about it at a deeper level, you just do it automatically. Sometimes as an adopted young person you feel unwanted because of your past history, and if you were wanted you wouldn't be in the situation that you are today.
Of course, every adopted child would have liked and loved to be with their birth family and siblings, but often it's not possible due to safety concerns. Social services don't just take children away from their birth families for no reason. For a child to be taken out of the family there must be significant evidence that the child will be in danger or has been abused or neglected.
Throughout my life, I have always seen adoption as a negative thing, but now I'm understanding things better.
I’m able to view adoption as a positive aspect and am finding it easier, and accepting who I am as an adopted person. I’m starting to not see adoption as a bad thing anymore.
I would not have got through all of this if it wasn’t for the help of an amazing social worker who devoted her time and energy to support and encourage me.
This eventually led to me becoming an adoption ambassador via the ambassador programme (an organisation for young adopted people between the ages of 16-25 to talk about adoption issues but also a way to promote change).
In a way, the ambassador program is also therapeutic and helps you overcome your issues in an environment which is safe as everyone is in a similar position.
Danielle | January 2020
My reunion experience
I started my reunion journey in 2014.
I spent one year meeting different members of my birth family. First my birth mother and her family, then I went to see my 3 younger sisters who were in foster care, and last of all my birth father and his family. The only family members which I didn’t see was my older sister, and my two younger brothers who are adopted.
When I started the reunion process I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen not long down the line. I had no support from anyone outside of my family, and that was hard, because if I had someone to talk to I could have understood things better, but also maybe I could have done things differently.
When I started to visit my birth parents my anger levels intensified. I was not just angry, but also very confused, sad and frightened. I felt the world was against me, and that everyone hated me. It was a journey I was not expecting, as I thought my birth parents would have changed throughout the years, I thought they would have been interested and loved me as they hadn’t been part of my life for 15 years.
The reunion was an emotionally stressful and exhausting journey for me, and one which I hadn’t anticipated at all. It was a rollercoaster of emotions and one where I felt angry at everyone, and didn’t want to believe the situation my birth parents were in. I thought that visiting my birth family would sort out my problems regarding being adopted but it didn’t.
Before meeting my birth family I had visions of what I thought they would be like, but it was an illusion and a fantasy, and not the reality that presented itself. Fantasy and reality are two different things, reality we just have to accept, even though it's very hard and another journey in itself.
The reunion was worse than I could ever have imagined, it was a very painful experience. I had waited 15 years for this day to come. No one in my birth family welcomed me with open arms as they said they would, and they didn’t accept me for who I was. They wanted me to be someone who I wasn't.
A lot of family members from my birth mothers family didn't want me to be around. They considered me to be an outsider to the family. Also, certain members didn't like me as I looked like my birth father and they associated me with him. Just because my birth father made bad decisions doesn't mean I should be blamed, I’m not responsible for his actions.
My birth mother only wanted to see me when it suited her, and didn’t welcome me as her daughter which she hadn’t seen since 1999. My birth family kept comparing me to my 3 younger sisters, but you can’t compare people as we are all individual people, we have all experienced different traumatic events, and also have had different families and upbringings.
My experience visiting my 3 sisters at their foster home was also very stressful. I didn’t feel welcomed by their foster carer, I wasn’t comfortable. Most of the time was spent discussing the foster carer and her family. It felt like the foster carer didn’t encourage conversation between me and my sisters. Only one of my sisters actually spoke to me, but even then I didn't feel comfortable and couldn't wait to leave.
Some people are affected by trauma more than others, and in different ways. For me, trauma affected my speech, the ability to make friends, and talk to people who I don't know. The trauma remained and followed me. It made me a frightened and anxious person, where I find certain aspects of communication hard.
I met my birth father in 2015. I met him with an outreach social worker from PAC-UK. When I walked into the room they were both there. I sat down and from the moment I saw him I didn't feel comfortable. My birth father and the outreach social worker talked for an hour, she asked me if I wanted to talk or ask any questions, but I was in shock and didn’t feel comfortable being in the same room with him, so I shook my head, I couldn't even say no. When I first saw my birth father I just froze. This was my reaction to somatic memory. When he left I felt a sigh of relief, but my body still felt numb.
My birth father didn't accept me for who I was. He wanted me to be like my 3 younger sisters, and because I wasn't he questioned whether I was his daughter. He wanted me to prove I was his daughter with a DNA test, which I refused. Whenever I saw my birth father I was very quiet, and didn’t talk that much. He found it hard to cope with that, and thought it was abnormal.
The main reasons I didn't talk was I felt scared, frightened, and in a mode where I just shut down and froze due to his actions and words.
The time spent with my birth father was hard. He may have bought me expensive gifts, but that doesn't buy love or missed years in a person's life, that’s the easy way to deal with a person, to bribe them with gifts.
All I wanted from my birth family was to get to know them, spend time with them, and have a decent relationship with them throughout the coming years, because that’s all I thought about throughout my life.
My birth parents used words like “I want you back, you are part of this family”, and “I want you to live with me”. They use these words but they don’t think of the real meaning and implications of the words. They are words which don't mean anything, because if they did they would have shown emotion, and I didn't see any at all. Emotion is something that my birth mother struggles with due to her learning disabilities, she was very cold towards me, and as a mother I was expecting something different.
My birth mother on several occasions kept insisting that I change my adopted surname to my birth surname. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be associated with my birth father at all, even though when I was growing up I did want to change it, as it was the only thing I had left of my birth family. I had used my birth surname until I was 8 so it was part of me, that was my identity, and that was taken away from me.
Throughout this journey, I have been rejected as an adult by the people who are meant to be my parents, and I have to admit rejection really hurts even more now this time round, as I’m physically experiencing it and remembering it. Once was hard enough as a baby, but twice as an adult, that was a turmoil moment for me, and this pain has remained with me.
When adoptees go through reunification, it is a very hard and difficult journey, full of emotions, and quite often can end up in disappointment and tears. For this reason, it was a very poignant moment for me.
After all of this, what I have learned is that I'm not like my birth family at all. I may share the same genetic characteristics like blood group, chromosomes and physical appearance but that is all. The person I am today is all down to nurture and not nature.
My past experiences have made me the person I am today. I am a strong, determined and tough person, and nothing will get in my way to fulfil my full potential. My history is not who I am, it is just a small part of who I am, and being adopted doesn’t define who I am, I am much more than that.
I want to end by saying your wellbeing is important, so try and be positive, and keep strong. Even though things may not seem they are going well, things can quickly change and turn out well in the end. It is important to fully accept yourself as a person, and every little step which you take is a victory.
Be kind to yourself, and focus on how far you’ve come, and not on your past events. As Virginia Satir once said:
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day for growth”
This just shows that hugs are powerful, and can change a person’s day, especially for those who have endured trauma.
Danielle | January 2020
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This blog is the eleventh of our monthly 'guest blogger' platform which we started in 2019. We would love to hear from adoptees, birth parents (and relatives), adoptive parents/carers, special guardians and professionals who are interested in taking part in future blogs. If this interests you please email email@example.com.