Life Stories - Turning Pages
We’ve just celebrated our Family Day. The day upon which we celebrate our becoming a family. It coincides with our writing Contact letters to our children’s birth families.
That concentration on the past. On birth families. On bringing our children home. On a shared experience of history and rebirth. Inevitably it leads us all to think about the past. To consider heritage.
Today, it led to our daughter asking to see her Life Story Book.
Last year we participated in an article about the subject of Life Story Books for the Guardian. You can read the article here.
For the uninitiated, a Life Story Book is an age appropriate document, rather like a scrap book. Prepared soon after a child has been adopted, designed to help them understand their story. It explains their heritage. It provides them with an explanation. It gives them their life story to date.
We are extraordinarily lucky with our Adoption Agency. Their adoption support work is exemplary and has been recognized as such time and again.
For both our children we have Life Story Books. Both in hard copy and also electronically. The electronic version has enabled us to add to them, and to alter them. To make the terminology reflect the reality, not binding us to the terms and descriptions created at the time of adoption. We don’t of course change the story, just the names. We refer to our children’s birth families by their Christian names for example.
Our son looks at his often. For him it appears to be affirming. It reminds him of the journey. It reminds him too of that which he chooses to forget.
Looking through the book he will happily read the first section referring to his and other children’s adoption. He likes the comparisons drawn with historical and fictional characters who were also adopted. Paddington. Mowgli. Harry Potter. Most of all Luke Skywalker.
He then reaches the part of the book that describes his birth family. With a well practiced move he expertly pulls those pages together between his thumb and forefinger. Flipping the group of pages over in one move he shakes his head sadly and says “I don’t want to know about them.”
Then he moves on.
To the part of the book that describes his life ongoing.
He asks questions about the foster parents who cared for him. He laughs at the early pictures. He smiles at the photos of pets, current and past. He either laughs or scowls a little at the photos of his sister at the point of our bringing her home. His reaction being entirely dependent upon the proximity of their latest scrap to his reviewing the book.
In the early days our son would approach his Life Story Book with some apprehension. Treating it like a scary fairy tale. A physical representation of the memories he found so hard to bear.
We went through a period around a year after his adoption where he wanted to look at the book often. He looked to it for reassurance. Then, aged five, we would read it to him. He’d cuddle in and find affirmation and comfort in the story.
Pulling the pages referring to his birth family together and turning them over in one swift, angry movement.
Now aged nine he looks at it very occasionally. Reminding me to update it. Reading it himself.
Still gathering those pages with the story and photos of his birth family together. Adeptly turning them over together twixt thumb and forefinger. Another physical manifestation. One of compartmentalizing that painful past. Turning the page and moving on each time the Life Story Book is reviewed.
Sitting down with our daughter for the first time this week with her Life Story Book was an entirely different experience.
She was interested. Inquisitive. Following the story of her brief stay with her birth parents with some interest, much more engaged with the photos of her more recognizable, toddler self with foster parents. Laughing at the photos of early life with us.
Her only confusion came with the description of the complex web of her birth family. Birth grandparents, birth parents, their siblings, half siblings, other children. Quickly bored she moved on. Her narcissistic nature searching out more familiar images of self.
More interestingly was her reaction to my offer to keep the book out on the family bookshelf. Where it was accessible. Where she could look at it again if she wished.
“No,” she answered, “I’ve seen it now. You can put it away.”
I couldn’t have wished for a more affirming reaction to her sense of security in our family.
A friend asked the other day why we made information about their histories accessible for the children. “Aren’t you tempted to just let them forget the past?” She queried.
My answer was ‘No’.
In being same sex parents we are different to other adopters in that it is clear the children cannot be ours biologically. Even if we wanted to pretend birth families didn’t exist it would impossible to do so.
Much more importantly, we want to ensure our children know everything. That they never wonder about their past or their heritage. That when they reach maturity they never look back and feel information was kept from them. That they know their story.
Holding that information. Knowing it is their own. Controlling with whom it is shared. Understanding its implications. All this will, we hope, allow them to make informed decisions whether to seek out their birth families. Aware fully of what they may find.