It’s a dilemma all adoptive parents face. How do you talk to your child about their family history?
But when the time comes for Lisa Jackson to tell her adopted daughter Jessica the story of where she came from, she’ll know exactly what to say.
The 44-year-old former advertising sales manager from South Yorkshire was adopted herself as a baby – an experience she says has enriched her life immeasurably and inspired her own decision to adopt.
“More than anyone, I’ll be able to empathise and explain how and why we became a family,” she says.
Lisa is supporting Yorkshire & Humber Adoption Consortium’s new pioneering ‘Being Family’ campaign to raise awareness of adoption and encourage more prospective parents to come forward.
Q. When did you first understand you were adopted?
A. I was adoptd at six weeks old. Mum and dad started to explain about it as a bedtime story. They’d begin “once upon a time there was a mummy and daddy who couldn’t have a baby” and end with “the mummy and daddy did get a baby and do you know who that baby was?” At first my parents would tell me it was me, then as I grew older I would shout my name.
When I got to nine I began to realise what that meant. I began to understand where babies come from and realised I hadn’t been born in my mummy’s tummy.
Q. Why were you adopted?
A. I would ask my mum and dad questions from time to time and they always answered them honestly and appropriately. They would tell me “your mummy wasn’t married and didn’t have anyone to help look after you.” They explained she loved me and wanted me to be with a mummy and daddy that could look after me and keep me safe and secure.
Mum and dad discussed everything over a long period so there were no surprises. They explained and I accepted that my birth mum had sex before marriage and society in the late Sixties frowned upon single mothers.
Q. What were your adoptive family like?
A. I honestly don’t know. Unlike today, it wasn’t seen as important to supply detailed information to adoptive parents in the Sixties. Today social workers supply as much information as possible on the child you adopt, from their background to their likes and dislikes.
Q. How did you feel growing up?
A. Adoption has always been openly discussed in my family. I grew up with an adopted older brother. I would describe my childhood as normal, I feel I’ve been extremely fortunate and blessed. I have been supported, guided and loved by my adopted family.
I’m a great believer in fate and believe things happen for a reason. I’ve never had an issue with my identity.
Q. Have you ever made contact with your birth parents?
A. My mum and dad openly encouraged me to find my birth mother and told me they would support me in doing this. My mum would often say: “If I was you I would want to know” and I would reply: “Why? I’m very happy with the parents I’ve got.” My mum would say “but don’t you want to know about your medical history, maybe your birth mother wanted to keep you and her parents made her give you away.”
I think my birth mother is an amazingly strong woman. She could have aborted me but didn’t. By giving me away she gave me a wonderful life. I’m not sure where she is now. She could be married with a family of her own and they might not know about me. Or on the other hand she may have left messages at key places to make it easy for me to trace her. Either way there’s lots of ifs, buts and maybes.
Q. Why didn’t you have children of your own and why did you decide to adopt?
A. My partner Jim and I had always considered adoption as a way of becoming a family as my partner had a vasectomy before we met. We did contact a consultant prior to our adoption application, to discuss whether his vasectomy could be reversed, and were advised that IVF would be our best option as there was also my age to consider. Then I discovered I had fibroids and would need surgery to remove them if we wished to pursue IVF. So we decided not to pursue fertility treatment and to pursue adopting as we had previously discussed. I always knew I’d adopt, as a young adult years before I’d met my partner, it was something I wanted to do.
Q. What support do you get as an adoptive parent?
A. Throughout the whole process our social worker was a pillar of strength. She was always there for us. She made us feel we were the only couple she was assessing, when in fact we weren’t. She was dedicated to making us parents and worked hard to ensure our dream of becoming a family came true. She would say she was only doing her job and often said we did all the hard work but we know we couldn’t have done it without her help, support and guidance.
Once your child has been placed the support from your social workers and reviewing officer is first-rate. You are visited weekly initially, to ensure everybody is adjusting to family life. The meetings gradually start to reduce. In no time at all we found ourselves making an application to the courts and meeting the judge at our adoption celebration. From this day on you are left to get on with family life. At first it feels strange not having your social workers visiting as they become such a big part of your life. However, support, advice and help are only a phone call away whenever needed.
Q. Do you worry about not having any knowledge of your daughter’s history?
A. No not really, my daughter has far more information on her adoption than I have. And that has never stopped me reaching my full potential in life. In an ideal world it would be handy to have a full medical history of your birth parents’ family. I’m unaware of any potential hereditary illness for myself, but again, that hasn’t caused any problems.
Q. Did you love your adopted child instantly?
A. After meeting your child for the first time you gradually build up rapport as foster carers detach and you attach. We found this the most difficult part of the process. You are virtually living at the foster carer’s house.
It is also very frustrating as all you want is to take your baby home and start your family life. Not only that but you have to deal with your emotions which go from excitement to doubting yourself. Was love instant? Yes and no, I didn’t start to feel like she was our baby until she came home with us as she didn’t smell like my baby. While at the foster carer’s house she smelt like their baby. The morning we went to pick our daughter up to bring her home for the first time I was actually sick. You find yourself doubting yourself. All of a sudden you realise your life is going to change and will never be the same again. Nothing can prepare you for that moment. I often think of that day and smile. Life without her now isn’t worth thinking about.