Ann Morris reflects upon her new book Adopting: Real Life Stories and describes the honest and often moving stories of people touched by adoption whose contributions form the book.
Nothing pulls at the united heart of Britain like a lost or abandoned child. Recent government legislation to offer a haven and a home to Syrian and other orphans wandering aimlessly through the Calais camps is passed with speed. The outrage over the Syrian crisis reached its passionate peak when a picture of the limp, lifeless body of a little Syrian boy on a beach was splashed across every world news outlet in September.
So why I always wonder do we give so little time to our own lost, abandoned, neglected and abused children: 93,000 of them in care in the UK at any one time?
Some will ricochet between care and their birth families for most of their childhood, some will remain in foster care or children’s homes until they are adults and only a few, approximately 6,000 a year, will be adopted according to statistics.
They are not always easy these parentless children: the happy clappy adverts of little girls on swings and tousle headed boys playing football put out by adoption agencies can be confusing. Of course they are as bright and funny and complicated as any other child. Of course we want them to be happy, all most of us want for ourselves and for our children is a happy life. But to be truly happy, most of us mortals need to feel secure and genuinely loved, warts and all. It’s the hidden warts, the untold traumas faced by any child in care that can be the problem: unpicking their past, striving for a better future, these children often need special love, more understanding, extra care – whether they found themselves abandoned on a Calais beach, or in an slummy little flat in Leeds, Glasgow, London or Cardiff.
And out there, amongst the great British public, are families who take them on. Adoptive families come in all shapes and sizes – single mums and dads and couples of every religious, sexual and cultural hue – some with children and many without. They open their hearts, their homes, their lives to these children permanently. They hold fast and create a family as wonderful and as messy as any other.
In my book, Adopting, they tell their stories – the highs, the lows, things to know whether you are thinking of adopting or have adopted a toddler, a teenager, one child or three. It’s the good times and the bad times, the funny and sad times. It’s not a text book, it’s an honesty box of 70 real life stories.
Children come sometimes with deep unanswered questions, from the simple ‘”Why didn’t mummy want me?’, to the more complicated, ‘Why did dad beat me up until I was senseless?’.
And there is the conundrum; some children, most I think, like people everywhere, somehow sort it out for themselves sooner or later and overcome the unbearable. But there are those that don’t.
The book also includes stories of adoptees like this little boy:
“It used to upset me that I didn’t come out of my mum’s tummy, but she’d hug me and say it didn’t change anything. Mum always says it doesn’t really matter how we get to earth; what’s important is that we find the people we love.”
And this older girl:
“When I was little, I’d imagine another me on the other side of the world wishing for my life. I’d always think I should be the other girl without the family; that I should be the one wishing for one. And I’d always feel bad because I felt I had what someone else should have, not what I deserved. I still don’t feel like I deserve this family yet.”
Parenting is exhausting, unending and challenging. Add the complication of abandoned and abused to your child’s emotional make up and you escalate the demands.
Clara writes about her son who came to her having been starved and abandoned. He was confused, abusive, scared and violent to himself and others but slowly he changed:
“He has grown to be so caring patient insightful and loving that I have to keep pinching myself. He has moved on from a life where he only felt safe if he lashed out at everyone or ran away to a completely new way of being, feeling, behaving.”
Adopting isn’t easy but it does work – in the vast majority of cases it works very well.
Ann Morris is a journalist, magazine editor and media consultant living in London. She is the author of several books. Adopting: Real Life Stories has been co-published with Adoption UK, which is a registered charity that aims to provide information, support and advice for prospective and existing adoptive parents and long-term foster carers.