Reciprocal Contact

When you are in the adoption process, contact with birth family is presented as a vital component in providing your child with a sense of identity. The theory being that your children have a way of finding out information about where they came from. That’s the theory…

Of course that only works if your letters don’t go unanswered, if the birth family respond to the contact in the way that they agreed to. Once in a while at least.

There are many reasons why the reciprocal contact may not happen. The local authority may not have been updated about the whereabouts of the birth parents, so they have no valid address to send the letters to. This means that in order for the letters to be delivered the birth family have to get in contact with social services to either update the information, or collect the letters. As relations between birth families and social services are often very strained due to the nature of their previous interactions (something which I can fully understand) it can mean that our letters are never actually delivered, which in turn means we never get a reply.

Another reason might be that the children’s biological parents might find it too difficult to reply. We are told that they can get support from social services in writing the letters, but given there is likely to be a trust issue between them I don’t know how effective this would be, or to what extent it is actually available.

At some point, when you receive no replies even if your letters are being delivered, you start to wonder why exactly you’re writing them in the first place. Who exactly is benefiting from them? The children certainly aren’t, as no information about their origin has been returned. Do the birth parents benefit? I can’t speak for them, maybe they do take some solace in knowing that the children are safe and developing, but maybe they also find it antagonising. A constant slap in the face reminding them of the children that were removed from them.

Are we benefiting from writing them? Knowing that there is little chance of getting a reply, what do we gain? We know we can say to our children that we tried my best to find out this or that, but failed. Does constant failure to find out information about our children’s past really benefit our relationship with them? Is trying enough?

Time will answer those questions for us, our children are still too young to want to know about their birth family beyond the fact that they have one.

All those things go through my mind each and every time we write a contact letter to our children’s birth family. We have never missed one, and we won’t intentionally do so. We will never be able to answer the question ‘Is trying enough?’ if we don’t try in the first place.

What happened when we got our first reply? Because we did. It happened so quickly after we sent ours off that it must have been posted almost immediately after ours was received. If I’m honest I had dreaded receiving a reply, I had no idea what they might write in the letter, we had heard horror stories of extremely inappropriate content in letters from birth families, but I have to admit the emotions I actually felt whilst reading it surprised me.

The letter was from the birth parent who stood up in court and said he supported the adoption, the biological father that at no point we have ever been asked if we wanted to meet – yet we have been asked several times if we wanted to meet the other parent, the one who point blank refused to engage with social services right from the start.

He directly addressed the children in his letter, whether he consciously ignored the fact we existed, or just found it easier to direct the words to the children he knew rather than the people he has never met I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter either way, as the letters are for the children not us.

As I read the letter I could almost feel how difficult it must have been to even start it. Its tone was almost regretful, but at the same time contained some really nice words of encouragement for our children, telling them not to make the same mistakes that he did. It identified the part of his life where he felt it had started to go wrong and then asked the children not to make the same mistakes.

It was nothing like what I thought a reciprocal letter would be, it contained nothing inappropriate or inflammatory. Reading it even now sends an emotional shiver down my spine and not in a negative way. We have put it somewhere safe, for the children to read when we feel they need to.

I do wonder whether we will ever get another letter back, as it was clear how difficult it was to write, probably harder than the parent thought it would be when he originally agreed to do them. All we can do is write to them at the scheduled time, ask a question or two to give them an opening and wait and see.

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