9 things I would give my sister for Christmas
Would her own name, her own bedroom and a hell of a lot of support around attachment have stopped my sister becoming what they call in the trade “a bad outcome”?
As thoughts turn to Christmas, I don’t know where my sister is – again. Even with all the therapy and mindfulness in the world, I can’t always stop my obsessive thoughts about how she was failed by so many along her journey, including me. (With the caveat that many have helped too, although often after much of the damage had already been done.)
With sensitivity to the fact that this is not my story to tell, and there are minors involved, here are nine things I wish for my sister:
1. Her own name
All the reasons we were given about her name being changed were logical and seemed to add up. We didn’t question it. Now I know from speaking to other adoptees that having your name changed can bring a lot of issues. If it had to be changed, could she have been given a middle name linking her to her first family?
2. Better understanding of attachment
My sister had some time without a primary care giver and I am wholly convinced it did irreparable damage. If we had understood this better we could have tried to support her more appropriately. Instead, we were all raised with the post-war “put up and shut up” model that my parents were comfortable with*.
3. Support at school
My sister had huge issues at school, but was assessed as “on the border” which they rounded down to “doesn’t need support”. If I had a time machine I would get her to take that test again and lose one goddamn point. She needed and deserved so much more than any teacher at any school gave her. She was treated as a “normal” pupil who could and should be expected to adhere to school policy.
Before I got back in my time machine, I would ask her teachers to read the stats around life outcomes for care experienced children who are excluded from school. And ask them to consider that exclusion is another rejection, another confirmation of unworthiness and dispensability.
4. Her own bedroom
Having your own space is important for developing a sense of identity, particularly in adolescence. Our house wasn’t huge and two of my siblings shared a room. This meant when my sister most needed her own space, she literally had none. I cannot add any more here except to say, I was selfish and I should have agreed to a ‘timeshare’ of my room.
5. A relationship with her birth mother
Although originally thought to be unsafe, her birth mother went on to have a large, happy family. I do not know why the ‘rules’ cannot be updated if a birth parent’s situation changes along the line. I believe they would have both benefitted from some form of contact, as is more the norm today.
6. A lifestory book
A lifestory book including photographs is something I would gift all us older adoptees, although I know many younger adoptees would say theirs are a load of rubbish. With more than one home before she came to us, the first few chapters of my sister’s life were blank. Without anything concrete, except a teddy with her original name, it may have felt that these chapters simply did not matter. It doesn’t take long for a traumatised brain to change that sentiment into “I don’t matter”.
7. A friend
As I now have some understanding of attachment I can see why she had difficulty forming and maintaining friendships. And I am ashamed to say we weren’t good friends growing up, particularly not when she most needed one in our early teens.
A good friend can be a lighthouse. If I could, I would gift my sister one good friend to understand her and see her through tough times.
8. A reunion with her birth mother
For reasons I cannot share, their reunion was thwarted and there won’t be another chance.
When the reunion was first mooted, I could have got on a train to chaperone and support her. I didn’t. This makes me feel really shitty. I’m so sorry, sis. At the same time, there is not enough support in the UK for adoptees and care leavers undertaking delicate reunions. I believe the system that separated mother and child has a duty to support them during reunion and beyond.
9. A hug over a hot chocolate
I miss you sis, you crazy fool. Please hang in there wherever you are and don’t you dare go anywhere before I get to say all this to your face over a hot chocolate. (Definitely not a cup of tea; your teas are minging!) x
* Every time I mention my parents in a blog I literally seize up. I have written about the fear before, and it belies my age by about three decades! But I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not excessively compliment my parents in order to sugar-coat some of the challenges. None of my blogs are the whole story so please do not assume anything about my relationship with my family from reading a few blog posts.