We got an interesting phone call from our daughter Rachel the other day. I don’t often blog about Rachel as we don’t see that much of her, but she came to us aged four and a half as her seventh placement including a disrupted adoption. We adopted her when she was 8 and she’s now nearly 22 living in Auckland with her boyfriend and ably supported by her boyfriend’s mother.
Anyway, two of Rachel’s five birth siblings are just about to come out to NZ from UK for a holiday with Rachel. This will be the first time she’s seen them in over eleven years. She had also just read on our blog the news of J leaving us, and these two events encouraged her to look back over her childhood and reread her life story book we made soon after her adoption.
Rachel said “I can still remember leaving Tracey’s you know. I can remember seeing my toys all packed into a bag and waiting, feeling sad to go with the social worker.” This parting happened when Rachel was four. What is amazing is that as a child and teenager Rachel had no recollection at all of this parting – it was so traumatic that she had blocked it out totally and instead believed we had stolen her from a home where she’d been happy. It is also interesting that it is Tracey’s name (Tracey was the teenage daughter of the house) she remembers rather than that of the adoptive parents.
Rachel then said “How come I have so much information about my childhood and my brother and sisters say they haven’t any?” I could only say then that it depended on how much each set of adoptive parents supported the idea of life story books.
We believe passionately that every child has a right to have as many memories of their past as possible and made Rachel a life story book using a photo album with those sticky kind of pages. If you opened it from one end it was her story written at a five year old’s level (with pictures she'd drawn and lots of photos) and from the other end it was the important bits I'd cut from the many reports on her and her family arranged chronologically.
We found it relatively easy when Rachel was first with us, to ask her social worker to get photos of her birth parents (OK these had to be taken with a telephoto lens without their permission but at least we got one) and of her previous foster carers. It was a little harder with the failed adoptive parents as they wouldn’t talk to the social worker, but I wrote them a carefully thought out letter telling them what Rachel remembered most fondly of her time with them and they sent Rachel a birthday card including a few photos. Their social worker kindly gave us a copy of the photo of them she had in their file.
The earliest photo we could find of Rachel herself was when she was two and a half years old and advertised in an adoption magazine, so we used a baby photo from a magazine and said she would have looked as beautiful as that baby.
The hardest stuff to read (for me at least – allegations by the children in childish language) and information that Rachel might not want to share with everyone we put in an envelope attached to the back of the book.
Rachel said she feels a bit ashamed of her history and wonders whether or not to discuss it with her visiting brother and sister.
I feel passionately here too. Their history is nothing for them to be ashamed of - it is a badge of courage that they have survived it and are now productive members of society. How could anyone feel anything but admiration for a little boy aged four who had the courage to tell his teachers that his bruises were due to his father hitting him, and for a four year old girl who tried to give baby Rachel the mothering she hadn’t even had herself!
I hope Rachel’s story can give hope to other foster and adoptive parents that life story books really matter and that years after the event memories can return and events be interpreted in a more realistic light.