After meeting with the Mental Health Worker from CAMHS last week, and discussing life story work for Mini, I’ve kinda got to thinking a bit more about we handle life story work in our house.
Ironically, an old colleague who adopted around the same time as us, had only mentioned life story books early last week, and recommended a book by Joy Rees called ‘Life Story Books for Adopted Children – A Family Friendly Approach’. She mentioned that although they had a book for their daughter, they didn’t realise how rubbish the first one was, and it was a couple of years before they got a decent one.
We’ve always been quite happy with Mini’s book. It starts when he moved in, then talks about his background and birth family, and then ends with living with us again. It talks in a language that is appropriate for around 5 year olds and above, and of course as Mini is only just learning to read and only just reached 5, up until now we’ve talked about the photos and explained about his siblings, and read the appropriate bits to him (skipping the bits that we felt were inappropriate, although to be honest, there isn’t much that he shouldn’t know about as long as the language used is age appropriate).
We’ve also used a beautiful photo album that Mini’s foster family put together for him. It has photos right from 3 weeks old, up until a couple of days before we met him. There are photos of all the foster family members, Mini’s first Christmas, first birthday and other significant moments.
Every couple of months (or when Mini has asked for them, or asked questions) we’ve got both books out to look at. We also look at the photos we took when he first moved in with us too…we do this so if he gets upset or sad looking at his birth family, we can show him some happy photos too.
But then I got to thinking about what actually works with Mini – what holds his attention, what he asks more questions about, and what I use to answer those questions….
The NC and I were lucky enough to meet with Mini’s birth mum, the day after we first met him. We’ve got photos of us together, we have memories of meeting her, what she looked like, what she smelled like (!), what she said, the songs she sang to him, her favourite football team, what she wanted us to tell him….those things aren’t in a life story book – the photo is in a frame in Mini’s bedroom and the memories are in our heads, and we share those with Mini. I think they are probably more important to Mini. They are real life. They mean something. We read every possible piece of information about Mini before choosing to proceed with adopting him, we’ve still got all that information, and we’ve memorised every scrap of it – that was part of the process for me – learning everything about this child that I possibly could, because I was trying to make up for what I didn’t have with him…the time, the pregnancy, the genes! And that enables me to answer questions that Mini often surprises me with!
But ultimately, to Mini, his life story is based on a book, a photo album, some loose photos from social services, a large framed picture in his bedroom of us, him and his birth parents, facts from social services and memories. Real memories of a woman who gave my son his life…and by doing so, gave us our life too…
Life story books work for some, but for us it’s not enough…it comes down to the memories we can give our son. Meeting birth mum turned Mini’s life story into a life reality – that one meeting joined his early life, to his life with us.
If you’re on the adoption journey and get the chance to meet your child’s birth family…then I would urge you to do it. I was nervous, I nearly bottled it, and it was unbelievably strange, weird, emotional, false in a way, but I’m so glad I met her. Just being able to tell Mini that we met her is something special, what actually happened in that session is just a bonus, and all helps Mini understand his life…