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Forgiveness – An Apology to my Birth Mum

I had an eternal belief that ‘I’m sorry’ means nothing. It’s just two words that people used, because there was nothing sufficient to rectify the accompanying mistake it sat in juxtaposition too. I knew this because I had heard I’m sorry more time than I can count, and in varying degrees of sincerity and in a multitude of ways.

The biggest I’m sorry always comes when I’ve been let down. I’m sorry I wasn’t or I couldn’t be there when you needed me. I’m sorry for hurting you, and I’m sorry for making you cry.

 I know that in those moments, it is in the sincerity and tenderness of the apology that there is meaning in the words, but how then can you forgive behaviour that harms you? What right does someone have to your forgiveness when all they say is “I’m sorry”.

This is something I’ve come to think of often as I’ve grown up. I spent a great deal of my life angry at my birth parents. Angry they couldn’t look after me. Angry that I was adopted. Angry that no-one would, in fact that no-one could tell me my story or my history.

Part of growing though has been learning what forgiveness really means.

I may doubt the sincerity that comes with the words I’m sorry, a catchall phrase that covers a multitude of sins. From the incredibly painful ‘I’m sorry I left you alone, I’m sorry I didn’t love you like you deserved, I’m sorry you had to deal with that alone’, to the mundane I’m sorry’s–‘ I’m sorry I ate your chocolate mousse, and I’m sorry I forgot to get you diet coke on my way home.’

I have had to learn to look past the words. After all words are just words, and if we all meant everything we’ve said then I have a lifetime of making up to do.

I needed to capture the meaning in the behaviour behind the apology. I’m sorry means nothing if someone doesn’t change their behaviour. When someone says I’m sorry for not being there when you needed me, then you expect them to be there for you. That doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten that they let you down, but you open up in vulnerability and ask them to be there. So when someone say I’m sorry I wasn’t there but then tries to be there every time, whether you need them or not, you can accept that I’m sorry meant more than just words. That’s forgiveness, allowing yourself and this person to accept a mistake and move on.

When I was in university, somewhere between the ages of 18-22, I’m not really sure how old I was, the timing gets all muddled, I reached out to my birth mother. I painstakingly created a fake Facebook profile. I used my own pictures and my name, but didn’t use my last name. I made sure to hide where I lived and my job and what I was doing. Then I reached out.

I spoke to this woman, and was overwhelmed. I don’t know how I thought this experience would unravel, but it wasn’t how it went. I was overwhelmed with bitterness and anger. I spoke to this woman, my mother, on the phone, and I felt hot waves of anger rolling over my body. Here was this woman who had carried me for nine months, and lost me after 2 and half years, but she didn’t seem contrite enough in my opinion. Why wasn’t she crying? Why wasn’t she begging for my forgiveness? Why was she seemingly so calm on one hand, and on the other it felt like all she had was excuses?

She said she loved me, and she was sorry. She asked if I was okay. She told me how it wasn’t her fault, and that what happened to me was a consequence of many things. Sharing with me some of her childhood, her history and her and past. Why she loved me, but it wasn’t what the social services thought was the right love. She said she was able to care for me but the care system decided it wasn’t in a way I needed.

 I couldn’t accept any of this. Her ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t meet the impossible expectation I had in my head for her. I don’t know where the idea had come from, but I believed she would have spent the last 18 years thinking of what she would say when she had the opportunity. That she would have cards and presents, and letters. She would tell me that after losing her kids she’d turned her life around and fought to get us back, but it was too late. I thought she would owe me a lifetime of explanations of why she wasn’t good enough. I thought she should be making it up to me, desperate and begging for my love and forgiveness.

It’s shameful to admit really, but I felt like she owed me the world, and I decided I would get what I deserved. At the time, I was going through a stage of spending money obsessively. I was in a severe amount of debt, blowing money on food out and takeaways, and clothes and make up and alcohol and cigarettes. Any way in which I could spend money I did it. I told her, I’ve spent my rent money, and I need £200 to pay for food and bills.

This woman, my birth mother, without hesitation went out of her way to get me that money, and still I wasn’t happy. It was just money, sure she sent it, that was her trying to show up for me, but I wanted words, I wanted apologies, and I wanted honesty about what happened. I had this expectation and fantasy of what I wanted. I wanted her to want me, but I didn’t want her. I wanted her to be sorry and to apologise but I didn’t want to know her story. I wasn’t prepared to hear what she had to say. I knew how I felt, I knew what happened to me. Nothing she could say would change that. I didn’t even allow her the opportunity, because I was on a defensive and argumentative attack from the first conversation. She wasn’t my mother, I wanted her apologies but I would never give her my forgiveness.

She could not do that, because she was only capable of sharing her story. Her truth. One which I steamrolled and ignored and rejected, because I thought my pain and trauma was more than hers.

It’s now been several years since I’ve spoken to her. I completely shut down communication when I didn’t get the apology I thought I was owed, but in reality, I’ve learnt over the last few years, that there were two people at fault in that relationship.

She wasn’t right to hurt me, or lose me or leave me, and I was just a child and a victim. However I was spiteful and vindictive when I reached out again, and set an impossible standard for her to meet. I pushed her, and fought her, and gave her no space to speak or talk or share what she needed too.

If one day she is ready – or even if I find a way for myself to be ready, I would like to hear her story, this time with less judgement and expectation, but just with open ears. I may not agree, but this time I’d like to give her the honesty of hearing, not using.

Until then, I owe her my own I’m sorry, and with genuine depth of feeling I am sorry for using her, and hurting her a second time.

I want to ask for her forgiveness. I also promise that if we do ever talk again, my actions will reflect this apology, because if there is one thing I’ve learnt, forgiveness isn’t letting go of the past or mistakes we make. It is instead, hearing that someone cares and wants the opportunity to show that, not that they can take away what happened, but just the want an opportunity to move forward.

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Happy Adoption Day!

The other day I woke up to a text from my mum – 21 years!

In my half-asleep state, I was so confused – I’m not 21! It wasn’t my birthday … then I remembered, my adoption anniversary! My parents are currently away on holiday, and this text was my mum and dad’s reminder that it was our special day.

Kind of like a birthday but not

My adoption, for the most part, is something I am so grateful for, there aren’t enough words to convey how my family make me feel. However, this reminder of my adoption anniversary often brings up some unwanted feelings of bitterness as well as feelings of love and happiness.

Sometimes it makes me question if there is something wrong with me? Is there validity in feeling both happy and sad? Am I right to be both be grateful and angry? Why does this feel so confusing? Am I actually happy? Should I be sad?

Why am I angry?

Adoption, however balanced, is presented as a fix – my parents took me in and hoped that with enough love they could fix the horrible history I had experienced. It is only as I have got older I’ve realised that, this history isn’t something that needed to be fixed. It was a part of who I am. Not that it defines me, or that it is something to escape, but simply a fact. I like the colour green, I love red velvet cake, and my birth parents were disadvantaged people, poorly placed to parent. Facts. Neither good or bad, just simply facts.

Why then does this make me angry? Is it the assumption that I should celebrate the loss of all of this? Surely the fact that I have my family now, and my friends, and my job, surely that is enough to be happy about? I suppose the anger is that we celebrate the coming together of my family and me, but we never acknowledge the loss I went through to get there.

I’ve said it often enough, it doesn’t matter what background you’re coming from, whether you are pre or post the children’s act, the loss of family for whatever reason is a haemorrhage that cannot be stunted by love.

 After all, we don’t say to parents who’ve lost children that they should simply forget.

We don’t say to people whose parents pass away, to simply move on with their lives.

 We encourage mourning, we say to celebrate the lives of the people we once knew.

So how do I celebrate the lives of people who hurt me? Whilst not hurting those who seek to nurture and love me?

It’s simple – when looking for answers as to who I am, or why I am the way that I am, seek to discover those with me. Know that it doesn’t make me any less yours, to welcome the parts from my past we are all ashamed of.

My birth father was a horrendous man – a criminal. In and out of prison, with numerous crimes to his names, least of all assault. He was violent and dangerous. On the one hand, I get irate at myself regularly because I don’t want to be like this man – I hate that the very essence of my being comes from someone I would describe as a monster. I do know however I need to understand who he was. I need to ask these questions. Being adopted shouldn’t mean closing the door on the difficult, morose and horrible – but rather a chance to investigate, understand and learn.

It is through my parents’ kindness, patience and love that I have become who I am. I would hope they are proud of how I’ve turned out. I am stubborn, abrasive and hard-shelled, but I am also kind and compassionate and empathetic. I have learnt through the lessons of my past how to look beyond the shell of a person and come to know them for who they are, and how they want to be, and not just the cursory image they display.

I realise then, it isn’t just about celebrating where I am now, but the journey to getting there. The people who have chosen to share their lives with me? I will continue to love unconditionally, and acknowledging my past hasn’t made me love them any less. Indeed, they love me unconditionally. I need to talk about my adoption, I need to write about who I am. This has only spurred them to love and support me more. It’s allowed us to communicate better, as things I am too ashamed or scared to tell them I can write about. It allows me to articulate my sadness and anger without directing blame.

So when we celebrate 21 years, it shouldn’t be a celebration of 21 years of being adopted, but 21 years of love. 21 years of discovering, 21 years of communicating, learning and understanding. 21 years of support.

Thanks for 21 years. Here’s to 21 more.

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Adoption: Depression and the Whole Crazy Thing

TW: Self-harm and abuse

This is the blog post I’ve been most hesitant to write. I preach about self-love and acceptance. It’s hard to admit that there are parts of myself I dislike and struggle with managing. Mental health issues aren’t uniquely an adopted person’s issue, but many adopted people will struggle with mental health. My mental health is an issue that has at time spiralled out of control. Luckily now, I can recognise my triggers and implement care for myself that can cushion a low.

Whilst not all adoptees will struggle with mental health, studies have shown that adoptees are more likely to suffer addictions (to drugs and alcohol) compared to non-adoptees. It is estimated that 40% of adoptee children suffer from attachment issues, and between 5% and 17% of adoptees received counselling and/or spent time in mental health and residential care facilities (1.5/2.5 times the rate for non-adopted peers).

Research done in 2007 showed that looked after children (LAC) suffered behavioural disorders at a rate of 39%, against 4% in not looked after children. PTSD was at a rate of 2% versus 0.1% and anxiety disorders at a rate of 9% versus 1%.
It’s clear, there is an unparalleled link then between mental health and adoption.

As not just an adoptee, but an adoptee from a volatile, dysfunctional and disruptive background it is perhaps inconceivable that I wouldn’t suffer from mental health-related issues. A mixture of neglect, abuse, and a genetic predisposing due to a family history of mental health disorders, makes for a likelihood of suffering some form of mental health issues.

In my teenage years, I was incredibly difficult. My parents would be the biggest vocalisers of this – I was angry, defiant, and abusive. I was filled with hate. Working out what parts were due or triggered by poor mental health and what were parts of being a teenager seemed near impossible.

There were times where I wouldn’t leave my room, I couldn’t wash or clean, I barely slept or slept for days at a time. I would either not eat, or binge and gorge on food until I physically couldn’t eat anymore. There were physical acts of abuse, where I would need external pain to reflect the hurt I felt on the inside. Times where I would scratch at my skin until I had cuts and marks that would be a physical manifestation of the pain I felt inside. I don’t want to sound like I am advocating but self-harm was cathartic, and at the time seemed the only plausible way of dealing with a complete and total self-hatred. The physical act of punishing myself was the only way I could cope. It was at this point I knew I needed help.

I went to the Doctor’s and broke down in tears. I need help for all this behaviour – phrases were thrown around, of anxiety and depression. I explained how I was never happy, inside felt like a black hole where I was just sad, and I felt numb to anything positive. I didn’t find joy in anything. I started taking anti-depressants and for the hundredth time sought therapy and counselling to talk about my feelings, my past and just talk about myself.

It took time, but a lot of my self-punishing behaviour abated (or so I thought) and I believed I was fixed and that there were no more issues. I decided that I was better, this was merely a blip and now I had talked to someone, all my issues had gone away.
I don’t think I realised any of this behaviour could be due to my adoption, or my mental health until I had a serious relationship. My ex-partner was routinely abusive to me, he would push me about, hit me, choke me. He often smashed things like my phone or laptop. He tried to put me on a diet to lose weight, isolated me from friends and family. I saw all of this behaviour as completely normal – I didn’t speak to anyone about it, and when I did tell my parents, I quickly retracted the statement. After all the way he treated me was my fault – if we argued I would rile him up until he lost his temper if he told me what to eat or what to wear, or how to do my hair – it was because he loved me. Plus sometimes when he got aggressive – I would fight back, and I believed that this was normal – that people who loved each other, hurt each other. It was because someone made you so emotional, you couldn’t contain it.

It wasn’t until I went to university and moved away from home that I realised the relationship had become my new self-harm. I had believed myself so unworthy of love, that I had wanted to be with someone who hurt me. I had sought in my partner the very same destructive and harmful behaviour that had put me into care, and got me adopted in the first place. It blew my mind that I had let this dysfunctional relationship – with wrongs on both sides – become the bar at which I set how I wanted to be treated.

I was really lucky because at university I got some new support. I started life story work. I sought to get access to my history and to start making peace with my adoption. I knew that through a process of accessing my history I would be able to understand myself better. I hoped that this would give me the tools I needed to start to love myself.

I’d like to say I got better and walked away from my relationship, but in reality, I stayed until he left me – which triggered great feelings of loathing and despair in myself. I remember lying awake at nights unable to sleep, struggling to breath – I used to stock up my anti-depressants and I’d take 30/40 pills in one night thinking that it would give me enough of a hit to calm me down. Still, I persevered, and although it wasn’t an easy road, I came to a path of love and self-acceptance. I surrounded myself by friends who invested in me. Who cried when I needed to cry, who laughed when I needed to laugh. Friends who weren’t afraid to point out when I was engaging in risky behaviours to hurt myself. People who learnt when I needed space, and at times I needed more love.

I still have mental health problems. It’s a chemical issue, and not something I believe I’ll ever be cured of, but time has taught me how to live with it. I know my triggers, and I see harmful behaviours and I know what is needed not to engage with it.

Most importantly now, I love myself. I accept myself. I can list up my flaws and problems and say this is who I am, good and bad. I’m so lucky because I still have my friends, who are with me every step of the way. I have my parents, who are so attuned to my triggers and emotions, they force me, even on days where I feel like I can’t even get out of bed, just to get up and sit with them.

These people show me that no matter what I’m dealing with in my head I am okay. I now won’t accept the love that isn’t good for me. I seek to be around those who can hear all the dark and ugly traumas, but this doesn’t perturb them and in fact, they love me as much as I love myself. The biggest kindness I show myself though is to continue talking about what I’ve been through and what I struggle with. Every time I share my story, or part of what I’ve been through, and put myself through, I heal a little bit more.

I would like to say here – it’s a difficult road, there have been many setbacks, and it’s not perfect – I’m not perfect. I just hope that by sharing my story, someone else may read it and know that they’re not alone. You aren’t the only one to struggle. Taking the first step is so hard, and every time thing goes wrong you will feel like you’ve failed. You haven’t. The path to loving yourself is a long one.

I am no longer accepting the love that isn’t good to me because I can live without it. My mental health is not a weakness. My adoption may have caused me great pain, but I am living through it.

P.S. Thank you to my friends and family who have been there in the darkest of times. It takes a lot to be there, and I appreciate you every single day. I love you.

Dating as an adoptee? How modern dating can be made worse!

Dating

Dating, for anyone, can be one of the most draining experiences on the planet. It is a process of trying to be your most authentic self, whilst ensuring that someone – usually someone you like – isn’t put off, and that you’re funny, and witty, flirty and charming.

Late nights, where you are kept up with butterflies, as you send endless texts back and forth, and casually you feel like you’re already getting to know this person. Although it’s just words on a screen. If you get past the first step of maintaining charming and engaging conversation, there is the meeting. Drinks, dinner, coffee, a walk, whatever it is, the hope that all the conversation and interest and chemistry that came so naturally through messages, continues and indeed grows as you spend time together. Things often go well, and you fall into a routine of dates, and drinks and weekends with this person. Sometimes, thing go horribly wrong and we all have a friend with a bad date story! Trust me, I could write a book on all the dates that didn’t work out. Some because the chemistry was non-existent, some because I didn’t get on with the person, and some because that date was purely so awful, it serves only as a punchline to stories I tell my happily coupled up friends, as to why they should be so glad they’re not single.

None of these thing however are particularly exclusive to being an adoptee, this is in part the reality of modern dating, Meaningless encounters that become funny anecdotes, and intense crushes that are usually harder to swallow.

Dating as an adoptee means that whomever I date, I carry the baggage of my abandonment and rejection with me. When there’s no chemistry it doesn’t feel like a rejection, but when you like someone, really like someone and it doesn’t work out, you are instantly thrown back to the child who wasn’t good enough.

But why can’t you let it go?

 Adoption, idealistically, is often packaged as something that can mend and repair any trauma. That enough love, care and compassion, you can fix the pain of a disturbed childhood. That the correct environment and proper parenting, like a magic wand, will take away all the pain and hurt, and you will be happy, and the loss of your family is manageable because you now have a family who love you.

The reality of this is often all too different. My adoption is like a balloon, and I carry it everywhere. Some days the balloon is light, there are no triggers and it’s not something that is actively on my mind. I don’t notice it, floating along beside me. Other days the balloon is heavy, and feels like I am dragging it on the floor like a ball and chain. It gets caught on branches, and snags and tears, because triggers and reminders are everywhere.

The reality is it can seep into every aspect of my life, in some areas more than others. Nowhere is my adoption more apparent than when I’m dating. It’s hard to say when I noticed it, but it seeps into every aspect of dating – from first dates and being asked about your family? What was your childhood like? To further along the line, where there may be a break up, and the rejection ricochets me back to a forlorn four year old who wasn’t ever good enough. If not a break up, there’s the fact that like most adoptees I need more reassurance that I’m loved. I can be demanding and exhausting, and this isn’t true just of romantic relationships but ask any number of my friends and family. I can be volatile, I can be down on myself and need constant reassurance that I am loved and that I am good enough.

Let’s start with a date?

Let’s start with a date – a first date, nerves, and excitement! Butterflies, and you’re just hoping that they’re as good-looking as you thought they were, and hopefully they’re funny. You hope they like you. You go for drinks and conversation is flowing – tell me about your family they ask?

Shit.

This is when the panic sets in. What do I say? Do I tell them the truth? I’m adopted. In some cases this has caused derision, the follow up questions of why I’m adopted, what happened? Stories that I don’t necessarily want to tell. Especially not so early on meeting someone. If I avoid the questions, people look at me like I have something to hide, and yet it seems inconceivable to tell someone on a first date about my history. They might think I’m damaged. Broken goods. I think it about myself a lot of the time, so how could I blame them if they did.

So what if I lie? What if I tell them about my family now, and just omit being adopted? I don’t tell them any of my past, only that I love my parents, and yes I have siblings, and one time my Labrador knocked me over and I was winded for three hours. Delightful anecdotes that anyone would laugh at. What happens though if things go further than a first date?

They might eventually find out I lied, or at least hid the truth. Then what is this relationship, that has no good foundation because you lied from the offset. It makes me seem untrustworthy, and deceptive. It can drive people away because you didn’t give them the full information on who you were from the start. You deprived them of the right to make a decision, fully informed of what they were going into.

Let’s say despite all this things go okay, you’re happy and you’re settled. What about the first sign of conflict? The first big fight – you’re always convinced someone is going to leave. In fact sometimes you’re so sure of it, your behaviour pushes them away. You badger them, saying do you love me? Why do you love? Are you going to leave me? When you leave me I will be … This constant emotional bullying from me, is draining on a partner. It’s not something many people can live with.

There is an inherent irony in dating and being adopted. Adoptees demand so much of their partners, because they were deprived of the fundamental love, support, and bonding that most people form. As a result their partners often receive half-baked connections, partners who aren’t trusting, who push them away, who are demanding and fussy and needy and draining. Adoptees know this behaviour is exhausting and damaging, but they can’t stop themselves. How do you fight the ingrained beliefs formed in your childhood?

But take responsibility for your actions …

I know that at some point I have to accept that my past is my past, and I recognise how it impacts myself, and I can do my best to change my behaviours. I recognise when I push people away. I know that I demand more reassurance. How can I expect someone to accept these behaviours though?

I have to show them how to deal with it and hope that this person I care so deeply for feels the same way as I do. I can teach them why raised voices scare me, and show them why when I’m being hard on myself, I just need reminding of things I have achieved. It’s a lot to ask of any individual though. Why would anyone sign up to date an adoptee?

In doing all of these things you make it hard for those dating you to express their disappointment. When they hurt and they’re mad, they second guess themselves for fear of hurting you or reminding you of a pain you’ve already felt. How can someone who feels a weight of cushioning you, protecting you and sheltering you, feel fully comfortable in a relationship with you. To have an equal partner is often too much to ask from an adoptee, and yet somehow we all hope that these dating dilemmas solve themselves and we go on to form lasting, loving relationships.

Here’s to being loved, unconditionally. We all deserve it.

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Love and Loss: The notion of two sets of parents

Social Media has sparked a revolution amongst adoptees. Armed with the internet and social media, a simple click of a button can send a message that will make far-reaching and long impacting waves. This increased access amongst birth families has led to an array of problems, particular amongst vulnerable teenagers who are being inundated with exhaustive emotions at an already emotionally strenuous times.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been positives. Many, many adoptions aren’t born from negative or tumultuous experiences, and the opportunity for reconciliation presented to women who were encouraged and some forced, to give up their children simply for being unwed, for example, has allowed mothers who were denied their right to parent the opportunity to investigate and indeed often create lasting bonds that had previously been all but denied.

As an adoptee, I have previously mentioned the difficulties of reconciling having two families, and the complications of how family can be made up. Nothing however, comes close to the guilt and difficulty that comes from trying to understand parentage. I want to firstly say, this post is entirely personal to me, and doesn’t reflect on how other adoptees should see their parentage. I am just grateful to have a voice, because my story is and will always be difficult to tell. As it is for difficult for many adoptees to voice their struggles.

My Parents …

One of the things I remember hearing growing up was how lucky I was to be adopted, how lucky I was that my parents wanted me. That I had a nice home, and after such an awful start in life I should be so grateful to have such a good family now.

I remember hearing this – and aged six, or ten or fourteen, I had no idea how to articulate how I felt, but now I feel I have means and capacity to say something.

I love my Mum and Dad, they’ve given me everything they could, and more. My parents would do anything to support me. When I was ill my mum would sit up and make sure I was okay, my dad would drive me to dance practice. When I left for university my whole family dropped me off, and when I graduated I moved back home, because I would always be welcome. No-one will ever be more grateful to my parents than me. They chose to adopt because they had the opportunity to take someone who was down and out, that they had buckets of unconditional love to share with.

My parents did exactly that, took in my sister and I, and did everything right. By that I mean they got so much wrong as every parent does … but they loved us both with a ferocity that defies the belief that blood is thicker than water. When other people’s parents sought to tear us down, or saw our troubled background as reasons to exclude us, my mother was there fighting with love to show we were just children.

How then, do I explain the sense of loss I feel, when I talk about parents or losing parents. It’s true that in my eyes, my Mum and Dad are my only PARENTS, but what about my biological parents? Because I do have them, and I did lose them, and this loss is something I am both acutely aware of and often seek to hide.  

I know for some adoptees it’s their biological parents, others just call them their parents, for some they are simply surrogates. For me, they are my birth parents.

One of the hardest things I believe I face in life is acknowledging the love my Parents have for me against the simple yet inextricable reality that is biology. I know of adoptees who lost their parents due to financial situations, age or health. People whose parents weren’t abusive, or neglectful, and carried so much love for their children and just weren’t able to provide them everything they wanted too. These children love their biological parents, and often pine after, long for and idolise them, and often in the future seek out contact.

That isn’t my story – and yet, unfathomably, I still feel the loss of my parents. As I mentioned, I grew up hearing how lucky I was to be adopted, and how blessed I am to have such generous and loving parents, and I am, blessed. However, the idea that loss and luck are mutually exclusive ideas and you can only have one and not the other doesn’t sit well with me.

My birth mothers story isn’t mine to tell, and in truth, I don’t think I could tell it. From what I can piece together she was young, 23 or so when she had me, and by the age of 24 a mother of four biological children and stepmother to another four. Key to my upbringing was a lifestyle of instability, and although I was very young, violence, physical and emotional abuse, misuse of alcohol and drugs all played a part in chaotic and unsafe lifestyle, that created an unstable and disconnected environment for the first four and half years of my life. 

However, what no-one ever tells you is that a birth mother will always be a parent, whether she is able or even capable of parenting her child. The loss of any child, is not a loss that will disappear overnight, and even those who cannot parent fairly feel this loss deeply and continuously.

This loss is all the more acute for adopted children. In some cases I find that people assume when you come from a tumultuous background, there is a greater assumption that you shouldn’t, even couldn’t miss your birth parents … but how is it possible? Biologically they created you, and for some period of time they parented (in my case to limited capacities) you. The lack of appropriate parenting does not remove the bonds created.

I don’t long for my birth mother, I have reached out to her once, and found the experience both wanting and frustrating. I don’t feel like she offers anything to me, that I keenly want in my life. That doesn’t make me feel my loss any less. I had a mother who I was taken away from – rightly so I believe, but nonetheless I was removed. The result was me struggling to ever trust any adult, and I’m so aware that the bond I had formed, however unbalanced and unsafe, was considered not enough. I was not enough to be a better parent, and no amount of love makes you safe.

Even knowing all these facts, being told I am lucky, and knowing how much I love my parents, I am still aware of this loss. I carry it with me, it is a part of who I am, and it’s what makes me resilient. I am so independent, I often find myself pushing people away and deciding I don’t need help or support. I love to rely on myself, and am so proud of all the things I have achieved on my own.

This has had a knock on effect with my Parents, it cannot have been easy parenting someone who was prepared at any moment for them to be taken away and to lose another set of parents… again. Loss like that becomes ingrained into you, and whilst I wouldn’t say it defines who I am, it’s a loss that is a defining characteristic. I love my Parents, but that doesn’t mean I feel my loss any less. I suppose I am in a way of sorts, stuck between knowing something wasn’t good for me, but acknowledging how painful that loss was.

I think a lot of people don’t realise how the loss can transpire, and no matter how bad my parents were, and how little I feel they are my parents, the truth is, that loss is always there, niggling at the back of my mind. Made worse by people saying that loss is luck, and that you should be grateful and glad, and thankful.

Advice to my younger self: A letter on love

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Maybe I could have learnt not to wear socks and sandals sooner

There are times at night where I lie in bed, and the lyrics of a song, or the end of a book will remind me how lucky I am to be alive. I might be crying because the song sings of heartbreak, or smiling because the couple fell in love, but these moments are when I realise how important and valid emotions are. As I lie there, I often think about how much I’ve been through, and I think ‘wow’ how resilient I am. Even after everything the worlds thrown at me I still put my all into what I can, I still try and find love, I still cultivate friendships and relationships, I still have a passion for the world. Don’t get me wrong I still have days where I want to stay in bed and cry, where I think today is too hard, and that nothing is worth my time and effort. More often than not I’m very hard on myself, I don’t feel satisfied with what I’ve achieved and I definitely am not my own biggest cheerleader, but the self-love I afford myself now is greater than any love I ever allowed myself as a child.

When I was a child I was convinced I was unlovable. How could I not be, my parents couldn’t love me, they cared so little they weren’t even able to try and parent me properly. Then I was adopted, and following my adoption my parents had two children of their own … why wasn’t I enough? Well I wasn’t their blood, they’re clearly disappointed and wanted their own children to love. The thought I was unlovable is something I’ve definitely carried with me as an adult, and even now I know I need to be kinder to myself and accept the love I deserve, instead of allowing those who don’t care to hurt me.

If I could meet my younger self now, I would want her, NO, I would need her to know that she is both loved and worthy of love. I wish I had realised this soon, because instead of seeking love in painful places I would have realised that it was all around me, if only I had realised love has a thousand different languages. It’s in my parents making doctors’ appointments, and friends sending a text. In a colleagues mug of tea, and my sisters arms thrown around me for just a second. I am so loved and I wish I had known sooner, that would be in my letter to my younger self.

Letter to my younger self

Dear Dawn,

Hiya! I know right now you’re not treating yourself with kindness but, I want you to know that you are loved! Not only are you loved by so many people, more than that, you are worthy of this love. You deserve to be loved. You may not realise it right now, but as you grow you’re going to cultivate friendships and relationships that shape you and in all of these experiences you’re going to learn about yourself, but the best thing you can learn is you are truly worth love.

You shouldn’t see it as a flaw to hold something back of yourself, and you should also know it’s not a flaw to give someone all of your love unconditionally. Sure there are people who are going to hurt you, friends who are going to disappoint you and boys who are going to break you heart, people will take advantage of you, but that’s part of life, and doesn’t make you stupid or mean you shouldn’t trust or love. People will see how generous and kind you are, and use that to their own advantage, but that’s not as bad as you not seeing how generous and kind you are. Your ability to love is one of your greatest gifts, you are a kind and loyal friend, and you should never feel ashamed for caring about those people in your life. There is so much power in your ability to be knocked back, let down, hurt and left over and over and yet still love and care. It just goes to show how caring you are.

Stop hurting yourself. You will spend a lot of time worrying about who you are. Am I smart enough? Pretty enough? Skinny enough? Do I make people laugh? Am I kind? Was I too honest? Did I give too much? Am I selfish? You are human, and nothing you ever do will be perfect, but be kind to yourself. It doesn’t matter whether your hair is long or short, if you have piercings or tattoos, and how much you weigh isn’t who you are. Who you are is in the loyalty you show to your friends, in the generosity you share with strangers, and above all, it’s who you are inside.

You are beautiful. You have so many qualities you should be proud of. You’re honest, you’re passionate, and you’re kind. Start to show this kindness to yourself. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing what you think you should change so others love you, start loving yourself. Realising that loving who you are will make you stronger, and you don’t need to fix a certain box to be loved. Just look at all those people around you, friends who make you laugh, family who come when you need them, all those people around you who love and support you. Ignore those people who will tell you that boys only like long hair and slender girls. Those people who will say you aren’t funny enough, or rich enough, you don’t like the right music, or you’re not happy enough to be their friend. Don’t worry about it, you will find plenty of people who care about you. You have some great friends now, and your future holds even better ones. You don’t need the approval of those who seek to tear you down when you support and love yourself.

Finally, my last piece of advice, stop pushing people away. You’ve always done everything alone, and you often allow people to come into your life, but never allow them to love you or care for you. Let people help you without needing to ask. Allow peoples loving words and kindness and don’t fire back, or assume they’re lying. When someone tells you they love your cheeks, and your smile and your eyes, know that it’s because they love your cheeks, your smile and your eyes, and not because they have to say something nice. Know this because you should love those things about yourself, make sure every day to tell yourself something that you like.

Above all, keep going.

You’re doing great.

With love

Dawn

How time has flown

Who has any brothers or sisters?

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Family … what makes it?

I love my family, but it is incredibly complicated. Simple questions such as how many siblings do you have – leave me feeling like I am lying when I answer only 2. In some ways, I realise that it’s not just those of us who are adopted who have this complication – especially now there are so many ways of creating, making and blending families. Full siblings, half-siblings, genetically related, legally related, there are so many complexities and a myriad of ways to make up a family now.

Why then do I struggle so much? Who is my family? My parents – who adopted myself and my younger sister when I was 4 ½ – my mum and dad, absolutely no biological connection at all, but I look somewhat like them – not noticeably different. I have my full blood sister who looks identical to me. Then there is my parents birth children, born 8 and 10 years respectively after I was adopted, I am closer to them than anyone in the world, fiercely protective, and so full of love – something that biology can’t change, that is my family.

But what about the other side? My birth mother? My birth father? My birth mother had 2 children prior to having me, and my birth father had 4, so that’s 6 half siblings I share DNA and history with? Then earlier this year I discovered that my father had 2 more children from a previous relationship when he was much younger. So now I have 8 half birth sibling and one full blood sibling … then there was another baby in our home – that could have been my fathers, I’m not sure and I don’t think I will ever know. So that makes 9 half-siblings, one full-blood sibling, and two adopted sibling, two mums and two dads … that’s a lot to contend with.

I know that my mum is fiercely protective of me, she doesn’t like it when I call my birth parents my mum and dad, this isn’t from a place of jealousy or resentment just that the love she has for me is so strong that I think she baulks at the idea of the woman who carried me but was unable to care for me being afforded the same title that she has earned through endless nights of looking after me, loving me and caring for me when no one else would or even could. I understand and empathise with how she feels, no one will ever compare to her, when I’m poorly or have my heart broken or just need advice she is the first person, I go too. I can’t, however, reconcile that for me she is my mum, but I have another one.

Then my siblings – so endlessly complicated, I have 6 siblings I haven’t seen since I was a child, 1 sister from who I am estranged and 3 siblings I know almost nothing about – I’m not even fully sure they exist or are related to me. So perhaps when people ask me how many siblings I have and I say 2, partly I do so to avoid the complexities of explaining my family tree, but also it’s what feels right for me.

Brothers, sisters, full siblings, half-siblings, genetically related, legally related. The complexities, and innumerable options of ways to make-up a family. All I know is I love mine, and they forgive my mistakes, love my flaws, and support me indefinitely. My family, they know who they are.