Adoption is our family’s big secret. It’s not because we’re embarrassed about it (far from it, I am very proud of what my children have achieved); no, we don’t tell people very often because it’s our children’s story to tell. My husband and I want the children to have the choice of who knows what about their past, and, at the moment, the children are too young to decide. So, we say nothing (most of the time) because you can always tell someone later but you can’t untell them. The problem is that ‘most of the time’. It isn’t only the children’s story; it’s my story and my husband’s story too. Obviously, there are the big moments of revelation. Publishing a book entitled ‘Living with Infertility’ gave a pretty big hint.
There are little moments too. When one of the children casually mentioned the pets that their foster carers had, I desperately wanted to shout to every passing playground mum ‘I am a good mum, I took them out of care, I didn’t put them into care!’ That, I think, is the nub. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m a bad mum (not that I think everyone whose children go into care is a bad mum, just that I worry that’s what people will think of me). When the children do things – which I obviously don’t want to specify! – that seem to me to be signs of early trauma, I desperately want to shout ‘it wasn’t me! I never hurt them!’ Then there’s the impact on me. I haven’t been a mum for as long as most people assume. When my children were born, I was still working and had no idea that they existed. So, I am less experienced than most (maybe even all) the mums of my children’s friends. I have massive gaps in my knowledge of my children’s early days and medical history. I frequently find myself watching for signs of Adoption-Related-Problems. When I’m worried about my children (and, come on, all parents worry), I always wonder: is this a child thing, or is this an adopted child thing? Then there’s the other mummy. My children think about their birth mother sometimes. We talk about her sometimes. I think about her a lot. I think of my children as a sacred trust at times; she (sort of) gave them into my keeping; I have duty to her. Other times I resent the scars she gave to my children. Other times I feel guilty about the wonderful moments (learning to ride a bike, first trip abroad, eating ice creams by the sea, and so many more) that I get to share with these children, and she doesn’t. To understand who I am now, you have to know about the adoption. Which is why, even though I worry that it isn’t the best thing for my children, sometimes I tell my friends about it. One day the children will be older and I’ll be able to talk to them about all this, and I won’t have to guess what they might want. But, until then, deciding who to tell our secret to will be something that worries me and induces incredible guilt and panic. But, in a way, that’s OK. Guilt and panic are two of the things that make me a mum, just like all the other mums! I’m not so different, after all!