Earlier this year I had a great privilege to facilitate an arts and science exhibition called Tomorrow's Child (www.tomorrowschildexhibition.com) in Parliament which brought together 60 award winning artists and leading scientists. It was a response to the UK's only cross-party children's manifesto '1001 Critical Days; the importance of the conception to age 2 period. This week has seen its third year anniversary.
By the time a child is reaching toddlerhood an incredible plethora of human development has taken place which sets the scene and forecast for relationship capacity throughout their ages. Working creatively is to get into the world of a child, to be curious, to explore and to capture the essence of relationships - babies are born to be in relationship with us.
During the course of preparation and execution of the exhibition in Parliament one of the artists in particular whose art work moved me and whom had an extraordinary talent and capacity to convey his lived experience through photography, was Richard Ansett. I'd like to introduce you to him and in his words - his experience of adoption.
I am a 50-year-old man who was adopted as a baby by amazing parents, I have had a great upbringing and a great life. Issues that might be perceived as negative associated with my adoption like dislocation have been directed towards my career and my relationship to photography, as a need to examine and compare my life to others and which has led to great personal achievements.
Further, my own need to make some sense of my place has led to a 12-year relationship with the Samaritan organisation and a parallel interest in counselling and therapeutic education to understand myself and through this process hopefully support and be of use to others.
I am in a successful loving relationship and we have a dog and a cat. It would be difficult to find a decent argument against the adoption process as anything other than a positive one, but every coin has an opposite side and it is easy to allow the incredible positives to eclipse the reality, that a child is in need of rescue from what is ostensibly the trauma of loss and abandonment of which there are inevitable consequences.
I have come from a generation with relatively few rights to seek out the information that could assist in my understanding of self and I must accept many gaps in the story of my early life. I have some understanding now that my earliest experience has challenged my sense of self on an existential level.
There is a preoccupation with the concept of nature or nurture. I can never know what parts of my character development are from an engagement with the world or genetically inherited. I feel like an experiment in a Petri dish but with no 'control' to compare myself to.
Does my father sit the way I do? Does he care about the same things I do? I recall with sadness that the closest I have come to contact with my biological mother was through the handwriting of her testimonial in my original file, knowing that this might be the closest I may ever be to her because of a policy that protected the rights of the parents above the need of the child.
Those children since my experience have better access to information and in many cases some form of contact with their birth parents and further recent legislation reducing the assessment period to 6 months has gone a long way to encourage people to even consider being a non-genetic parent. Whilst the focus has been on making the adoption experience a more palatable one for the adults, irrespective of the love, care and security offered to the child, there is a moment (certainly in my early adolescence) when there was an unconscious expression of intense feelings associated with abandonment projected towards the very people that care the most.
The moment of separation from the primary caregiver that gives rise to these early latent feelings should be acknowledged as an irreconcilable mark on the psyche regardless of any adult reasoning. Whether it be a conscious memory or a pre-verbal experience I have come to believe that, whilst traumatic, is not something to attempt to 'mend' but rather I feel the resulting response should be considered as an essential and inevitable part of the building block of each unique adopted personality.
To better empathise we must accept that there will be an awakening and connection to complex feelings that relate directly to a perceived sense of loss that should be recognized and worked with. The great gift of offering a new home and life to a baby or child should not mask these truths and we should not be afraid to prepare potential parents for this reality and offer support for those that need it.
In fact, it could be argued that the more loving and supportive the environment the increased likelihood of an attempt by the child to reject it. We must embrace this phase as an inevitability of the adoption experience and allow the child to form a unique relationship to the special person they are as an equal and valued member of society; to love themselves, accept love and be able to offer it to others regardless of the risks.
Shared experiences from those like Richard who have been generous enough to impart their wisdom of lived reality, particularly for us that have not had this experience. As a society we hope to continue learning better ways to improve the dignity of the human experience.
Adoption legislation and practise has come far since Richard was a child being adopted and thanks to Ministers in Government such as Tim Loughton MP and Edward Timpson MP, who have sought to improve the lives of so many children in our society who seek to find a loving family to call their own we continue to grow the circumstances that make an enriching and nurturing experience in the first 1001 days of a child's life.
Richard so powerfully highlights the separation processes and their psychological impact that can be experienced early and later in life. Adoptive parents and those putting children up for adoption all have stories of their journey to tell. We may not always understand the reasoning behind their stories, but as a society we can continue to increase our understanding by listening with a non-judgemental approach and imagine what support we would want from our community if we were ever faced with this scenario in our own lives.