Painting on a Smile
For the average parent, their child’s first birthday is a joyous occasion. You get to celebrate with them, open presents, eat cake and party food, and play games. More importantly you get to have friends and family join in the festivities because that’s just what is done.
Unfortunately, I am not an average Mum. I had to celebrate my first son’s birthday in a Social Services office knowing that our days together were numbered. I brought in a few decorations, a tiny cake and a painted on a smile, but it was not the first birthday I’d dreamed of, more the nightmare version. Holding the painful knowledge that my son’s bond with me was long gone and I was only acting ‘Mum’ now. I expect the celebrations he had with his foster carers will have meant more to him, given him a bigger smile, because his bond had shifted to them. I had been replaced before his first birthday.
Sadly, with my second son, it pains me to admit that I don’t even remember if I celebrated with him. And the fact that I don’t remember is horrific in itself and says so much about what forced adoption takes from birth families.
Over the past few weeks, I have been incredibly emotional for no apparent reason. Eventually I made a vague connection that it was something to do with Ava, the child I got to keep. Still I couldn’t understand why I felt so low, on edge and upset, even as I knew it was getting worse. I was upset too about Ava’s first birthday, which was coming up, but surely that was a good thing? Then, when Peggy and I spoke about doing this blog and I pondered what to write, I had the sudden realisation that I’m feeling so horrible because of my previous experience of first birthdays with the boys. Ava’s first birthday was triggering the demon ghosts of birthdays past.
I’ve been dreaming of making Ava’s first birthday as perfect as possible. I haven’t done this before outside of a Social Services office, without being watched and judged. I honestly think I still act like someone is, so I’m constantly waiting to be told I’m not doing things right. I’ve realised the person watching and judging me now, is me!
I’ve been ugly crying, multiple times a day, because again I’ve never done this properly before! And I feel like I’ve done nothing but fail all year despite the fact that I know my daughter is happy and thriving as best she can with her medical conditions. I cry every single time someone tells me that I am a good Mum because I still have a lot of deep-rooted trauma from my experiences with Social Services, and it’s manifesting into this cloud of anxiety that surrounds Ava turning one. Both of the boys’ first birthdays came with the knowledge that I didn’t have much time left with them. And now, even though Social Services are no longer involved in our lives, my traumatised brain is preparing to lose Ava.
The scars of my experiences with Social Services are healing but still itch. I wonder if I will ever feel that I have the right to be a Mum, or whether I will always feel like a fraud. I know it will take a lot of work, but I hope I get there before Ava’s childhood has gone past. I fought so hard to get here, and yet I may still miss it all if I’m trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and fear that history will repeat itself and I am destined to forever feel loss.
Ava’s first birthday will be the best I can make it, and nothing less will do. Despite a global pandemic, I am determined to make it special for her yet, at the same time, I’m putting a relentless pressure on myself. But I will paint on a smile while I hold my daughter for dear life as she turns one and my heart teeters on the edge with sad expectations of future misery; born from the trauma of forced adoption.