Monday, 12 March 2012

The Trappings of Success

I just this minute got home after going to a book signing by Lisa Faulkner, a regular re-tweeter of my blog and an adoptive mum. We chatted (very briefly) about how we need more positive stories out there about adoption. My blogs are always overwhelmingly positive, but that's because they reflect my experience from the approval process down to the children we now have. I want my blog to be honest, too, because it's not all plain sailing. Going from being a carefree couple with no responsibilities to being mums of two in a matter of days knocked us for six. So this blog is about how a trapped finger helped our little girl, who didn't like me very much, see me as her mummy.

One of the scariest aspects of adoption is worrying if your children will like you, never mind love you. If you've read any of my other blog posts you'll know that our love for each other as a family is now overwhelmingly strong. But it wasn't always so. We have a boy and a girl and whilst in foster care our son was the one social workers had concerns over. He was in therapy and displayed some fairly bad behaviour. Our girl was happy, attached to her carers and a seemingly easy child. All the work pre-placement was around how our son would cope with adoption and how we would cope with him. Well, from day one that boy fitted right in. It's like the tension and anxiety he was carrying around with him just lifted from his shoulders. He was warm, funny, loving and happy to be loved by us. We felt very attached to each other fairly quickly and surprised everyone, especially the professionals. Our happy little girl, however, was having a more difficult time. 

She loved her foster home and had been there for 3 years, more or less. She was too young to understand why she was leaving this happy home. Her tears in the car on the day she came to live with us still tug at my heart when I think about it. She developed a nasty case of shingles from the stress of it all and we spent many hours at the doctors and the hospital. All the while our son was getting stuck in at school, making friends and happily forming a secure attachment to us both. Our girl was really struggling with me. I’m the main carer and took a year off on adoption leave so it was me that had to say no to things. She found this very hard. One day she looked me in the eye as she threw a finger puppet we were making on the floor. I asked her to pick it up. 'No', she said. I asked her if she would pick it up if her foster mum asked her and she said yes, I would. I had to go to the sink and look out the window because I was so close to tears. She would push me away at bedtime and wipe off any kiss I gave her. She was a tough nut to crack but I had to persevere.

Then one day, something terrible happened and it changed everything. It was Halloween. Our boy was a reluctant vampire and our girl was the cutest witch with the greenest face you’ll ever see. We were on our way to a party when I closed the front door behind me. Our girl just stood still with her hand on the doorframe, not making a sound. I told her to come along and get in the car but her face looked so pained. That’s when I saw that the entire tip of her finger was shut in the front door, which was now locked. I panicked as I tried to get the keys and dropped them on the floor. Eventually, with shaky hands I opened the door and her finger was bright white and flat as a pancake. After the initial silence of shock she now began to scream with all her might. I was terrified. What had I done? This might sound dramatic for a trapped finger but as we were struggling to get on I thought this was going to make things worse.

I called another mum who was also going to the party and she offered to take our son while I took our girl to the walk in centre to see if it needed treatment. Thankfully, they said it would just be sore but nothing was broken and she would be fine with a spoonful or two of the pink stuff. We went home, the two of us, and she cried and cried on my knee. I held her so tightly for an hour or more until she felt calmer and it had stopped hurting and just as I asked her if she would still like to go the party, it was as if something somewhere just clicked. Between us, it just clicked. Even though I was the meanie who trapped her finger I was also the one who took her to see a nurse, hugged her and stayed with her until she felt better. I can remember the exact moment when she looked at me as if to say, ‘Okay. You’re all right. You can be my mum.’ We shared a smile and went to the party. She stuck close by me until the party games started and even then she kept checking I was still there. It felt brilliant.

So, is this a positive story? I think so. It certainly had a happy ending. I wouldn’t recommend causing your children any sort of harm to get them to love you but that trapped finger changed everything for us. I’m also a lot more careful when I go out the door these days. 

As for Lisa Faulkner, she does wonders for the image of adoption by speaking about it in her new book as well as in interviews. She’s right. Positive stories about people’s experiences are so important for people thinking about going through adoption. I think it’s fantastic that someone in the public eye is so open about their own experiences. Her book’s pretty marvellous, too.