My daughter’s first word was f*ck.
Which might surprise you because I am a Christian
and I am a doctor.
I sat down to write some notes for my youngest daughter’s special needs school entry planning meeting. We have already had one all about her learning needs due to her Down syndrome. This one is about the impact of her early life experiences on schooling.
But you see, the neat medical descriptions are driving me mad. Because they really don’t do the situation justice. I know why we use such phrases, they convey meaning without having to connect to the emotion.
The problem is, I want those who are going to care for her to connect. I don’t simply want them to read a report. I want them to imagine the world through her eyes.
My daughter spent her first 3 years living in a house that was “scary” her word not mine.
She lived with arguments
regular police and social worker visits
her family was hated , aged 2, sat in a buggy, she had things thrown at her in the street.
Her birth family reports say things like “inconsistent parenting” that means sometimes you would do something mischievious and your father would laugh, the next day you could do the same thing and be locked in a dark cupboard.
“Lack of emotional warmth” is so clinical, but those words don’t really convey a child:
who had learnt not to cry when she was hurt .. Because no one would come..
who had learnt not to make eye contact… Because noone really wanted to stop and hear her
a child, who age three, did not know how to laugh
we write and say it so easily.. Those who have studied neglect tell us that it is probably the most profound and pervasive type of abuse.
Shockingly survivors of physical or sexual abuse tend to do better than survivors of severe neglect. Because at least they existed in the eye of their abuser. To be hit or to be hurt apparently is better than to be completely and consistently ignored.
Children who have experienced severe neglect often believe themselves to repugnant and unworthy of love. Because someone treated them as if that was true.
“Loss” those 4 letters do not cut it I am afraid.
Imagine being 3 and in one afternoon losing everything:
your belongings (except for a back pack with a few scruffy toys)
your extended family
the street where you grew up
the crisps you were given if it was a good day
Imagine, if your first journey in a car, was a in police car
imagine if it took you to a place where everything was different
the bedroom looks different and smells different
the food tastes different
in this new home there are strange things such as :
a shower that works
a table to eat food
a lice comb
a bed which has sheets on and “times” like bedtime and mealtime
Clothes that do not smell of urine, faeces or cigarettes.
A house that has routines that you knew nothing about:
Takeaway on Fridays
Hairdressers on Wednesdays
Something called Christmas at the end of December
But there is nothing in this new house which reminds you of the past, no familiar smells, no comforter, no photos.
Imagine 2 years later your new adoptive parents are sitting at a school entry meeting and are told
“but she is with you now, and she has settled well hasn’t she? – surely she is fine.”
This is code for her “loss” and “neglect” and “early childhood trauma” are behind her now.
Dear school, dear interested friends, dear fellow bloggers.
Our daughter is not “fine” we have not “loved her better.”
She does not (yet) believe our forever family is forever. Why would she? We are her 3rd family in two years. She has our name now, she is clean and is wearing clothes that fit. The dark circles have gone and the muscles in her legs have grown strong. She has learnt to walk on uneven ground, she is healthy and strong. She has learnt to sign, and to speak , to potty train , to jump, to recognise numerals and phonics, she had made friends, she loves her siblings. Yesterday, she told me she loved me.
But the memories have not faded, things that scare her include: small dark places, spiders, bruises and suitcases.
She is terrified of being moved again.
I asked her if she wanted to take one of her rabbits to watch her swim, “no” she said quite firmly. Small rabbit lives in a pocket in the car. Big rabbit lives right next to her bed. They need to stay there, like an insurance policy, so that she knows she is coming back to see them again.
In her room she has photo album compiled by social services of her first family. They have written to her once. They say that we will never love her the way they loved her.
And in a way that is true.
I do not love Star the way I love Hannah and Ben. I carried them in my womb, I gave birth to them, I cherished them, I watched them sleep, I was there for their first smile, their first step. The first time I was apart from them I physically hurt. I would, without hesitation lay down my life for them.
But you see, I do not love Hannah and Ben the way I love Star.
I love Star, I love her cheeky smile, because it is a miracle,
I love it when she jumps for joy and laughs from the bottom of her stomach because she is healing and the sound is like music to my ears, or perhaps a better analogy would be the dawn chorus – it is the hope that a new day is dawning.
I will fight, write, protect, persuade and plead for Star, in a way that I would not do for anyone else on planet earth, in that way, I guess I am laying down my life daily….
because she is my daughter, I love her, even if her first word was “f*ck”