Contact arrangements between the adopted child and their birth family are set by the Court at the point of adoption.
From what I understand, there are two types of 'contact.' Direct contact arranges for the child to meet members of their birth family in person at a frequency and for a period of time set down by the Court. In practice this tends to be with siblings, who may or may not be in care or adopted elsewhere and occasionally members of the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc.
Much more common is letterbox contact. Essentially this means letters providing updates on each party are exchanged at agreed intervals, using the Adoption Agency as an intermediary to pass the messages, thereby ensuring their anonymity.
In the case of both our children we have letterbox contact.
So, at regular points, we send letters to our Adoption Agency from whence they are dispersed to anyone on the list of birth family contacts for each of the children.
Writing the letters is always, for me at least, a difficult task. It's an emotional job in itself, looking back over the previous period and seeing how your child has developed, how they have grown and what they have experienced.
We attempt to create a letter that celebrates our child's progress, yet remains sufficiently anonymous not to identify their location. Perhaps more difficult is creating narrative that both retains an appropriate detachment, so as not to suggest a misplaced intimacy for the birth family who no longer have any link to our child, but also is not so clinical as to appear heartless. We recognise every time we write these letters that their mere arrival must be a reminder of loss not only for the birth parents, but also their wider family.
So we end up writing letters that are factual, hopefully friendly but lacking in warmth and, if I'm honest, I fear are somewhat anodyne.
Perhaps sadder are the letters that come the other way. Not only from birth parents, but also from wider family members. Often written in the warm style of a family card or as if they have been written to maintain contact during an extended separation, they use language and terminology that I see becoming increasingly alien to our children. The names by which the family members refer to themselves, the terms with which they address the children, are no longer applicable, they have no substance and ultimately no meaning currently for our son and daughter.
Indeed, our daughter is too young to be interested in, or indeed understand at all, the correspondence that arrives. Our son, being older and also remembering more about his birth family, wants nothing to do with the letters. We tell him when they arrive, he shrugs and says "I'm not interested," and that's the end of the conversation.
We therefore put the letters, cards and notes away dutifully in the children's individual memory boxes, saving them for the day when perhaps they do want to know more. When that day comes, as I feel inevitably it must, they will be there waiting. Whether the family terminology will mean any more to our children at that stage I don't know, but at least they can never say we hid anything from them.
Our son is old enough to engage in the process of writing the letters. He's a strong reader and therefore for both of the last two letters I have asked him to read what we have written and edit it as he feels appropriate.
That experience has been really interesting. The first time he was very clear, he wanted to edit very large parts of the update out. So much so that the letter effectively became worthless in terms of saying anything useful about his life, interests and development.
"I don't want them to know anything about me, they're not my family any more," he said firmly when we began to debate whether some of the redacted information should actually be included. It took some debate, but we eventually came to a conclusion with which we were both comfortable.
More recently we have been through the process again. This time he engaged with editing in a totally different way. He removed some parts that he felt told them too much about how he felt, he seemed to think this was giving away too much personal information. But he then added in much more information. Affirmative, positive, factual information. The fact that he has been picked to play for the village football team, that he sang with the school choir at an old people's home at Christmas, that he has been invited to various birthday parties. It was almost as though he wanted to prove that he was successful and popular. I'm tempted to say 'despite the past' at the end of that last sentence, but that would be putting words in our son's mouth. The intent though, I feel at least was clear.
I normally try and put a funny anecdote in each of these posts to lighten them. I don't have one for letterbox though. In some ways it's a chore, in others it's uplifting and most of all I find it just a bit sad. I'm glad we do it. I'm glad we receive responses, I want to ensure our children know their history and equally know that we never kept anything from them.
I'm also, if I'm totally honest, relieved they don't see it as an important part of their new life. It happens. It's there. And one day they might look at it, but I suspect that won't happen for a very long time.