Happy New Year! I don’t think there’s ever been a year the world has been so happy to see the back of as 2020 was. It’s been challenging in so many ways for so many of us. But it’s also had some lovely moments and given a lot of us precious time with our immediate family. Time we would never have had had it not been for the virus and lockdown.
The start of a New Year is the start of a clean page. The start of new adventures and it’s often a time of hope and optimism. I’m trying very hard to focus on that at the moment, given we’re in another lockdown.
I think it’s very fitting to kick off the year in the magazine sharing the experience of an adoptee. I’m very grateful to Reanna for being so incredibly honest in sharing her story and thoughts about adoption. The best way for adopters to learn and understand what our children need from us, is to listen to those who’ve been through it.
You can follow Reanna on Instagram @re_theadoptee
My adoption experience
Now 24, I’m in that phase of life where I feel a bit lost. Some friends are announcing engagements and pregnancies. Whilst others, including me, are busy dreaming of the first night out post-covid. “2021 is gonna be the year of living my best life” is what we’re all saying, and whilst we are all united in wishing for a better year than what we’ve had to endure in 2020, our “best lives” widely differ.
Some hope for love and romance in the New Year. Some are hoping to achieve a career goal. Others, like myself, and I suspect numerous other 20-somethings, are just going-with-the-flow (whatever that means).
I take on this attitude every year, and never make New Year’s resolutions. It’s not because I’m a negative Nancy. I do have dreams and ambitions and wishes. But I learned early on that life cannot ever be planned. So when you put pressure on yourself to achieve the world and more, or you compare yourself endlessly to other people and think about all the things you should be doing at a certain age, you’re wasting your life away. Tomorrow is never promised.
I’ve learnt that living your best life isn’t an event, or a certain point of your life that you reach once you’ve achieved all you set out to and met all the expectations of the life cycle. So much of my life has been full of uncertainty and chaos. That’s meant I’ve spent much of my time in ‘survival mode’, just trying to make it through each day to the next.
Now, although I may feel slightly lost and anxious about my future, I’ve learnt to not only ‘survive’ each day, but to live each day and accept whatever circumstances I may be in, as my best life.
My early years
I was adopted at seven, nearly eight years old. Prior to that I spent a year in foster care. The word ‘traumatic’ sums up my life best, and my experiences certainly haven’t meant I am now living my best life.
I remember so much of my early years, which included being exposed to lots of domestic violence, alcoholism, instability and poverty. My young birth mother was a loving, beautiful soul who had a traumatic life of her own. She unfortunately struggled to provide for her children.
Having three children by the age I am now must have been so difficult. Caring for them as a single mum with little money, whilst also trying to grow up herself. She didn’t really help herself however, having a bad drinking problem and regularly becoming violent. The final straw for children’s services was her doing time in prison whilst pregnant. She was sent to prison for a violent assault. A horrific, gory, violent assault that I witnessed as a four or five-year-old little girl.
After years of having no fixed address and moving from counties to cities to refuges, children’s services felt it best that myself and my two younger siblings were separated from her care. Myself and my brother went into foster care and were later adopted together. My sister went to live with her biological dad.
My year in foster care was just as, if not more traumatic than my early life. Although I had no real faith or religious beliefs, for some reason I used to make my storage boxes into an ‘altar’. I placed a couple of ornament keepsakes from my biological family on top. Kneeling down, I’d pray to God to ‘help me and save me’.
I felt unwanted and not liked by my carers because they’d told me multiple times they only cared for babies. Missing my mum terribly caused a deep depression which meant I took out my pain, anger and loneliness on myself. It eventually led me to engage in self-destructive behaviours.
One day, my foster carers sat me down and told me they’d found me a forever mummy and daddy. I remember LITERALLY thanking God.
I had a really successful, happy and loving adoption. It wasn’t long after moving in with my forever mummy and daddy that I started calling them mum and dad. After a history of bed wetting, I never wet the bed at my new home – can you believe it?! It really was a miracle.
I still thank God to this day for my life now and for ‘helping and saving me’. Adoption has been the best thing to ever happen to me. But also the hardest thing to ever happen to me.
Being adopted is a traumatic experience in itself and I have come to realise the lack of recognition for this. Adoption is glorified – rightly so in most cases. However, we fail to remember (or perhaps we choose to ignore) the aftermath of a traumatic childhood. And how great an impact this will have on a person’s life. Adoption is wonderful, and quite literally – in my case at least – saves a child. However, many forget the personal challenges that lie ahead.
I struggle with identity on a daily basis, often totally conflicted about the kind of person I am. My character, wondering why I like certain things and hate others, questioning myself because I’ve not had someone ‘like me’ to look at. I have severe abandonment anxiety and struggle with my personal relationships and friendships due to the multiple significant losses in my life and subsequent sense of rejection.
I suffer with body dysmorphia, orthorexia and have regular body image crises due to my lack of self-worth and identity. My severe depression, PTSD and anxiety have led to me self harming for years. It’s also led panic attacks and two suicide attempts.
I suffered in every area of my life, particularly during my education days. Going through school is hard enough for any young person, let alone as an adoptee or a young person in care. I hid my identity due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. I felt so alone because no one ever speaks about adoption or foster care.
I could literally write a whole book on what I struggle with due to childhood trauma, and this is my motivation behind starting my Instagram page. I’m now in a position where I feel able and ready to share my story in the hope of educating others and spreading awareness of what we go through.
I was shocked to notice a lack of adoptee voices within the adoption world and this has also provided me with even more motivation to speak up and speak out for us. My main dream is to create something I wish I had growing up. Like a friend almost that just ‘gets it’. Because the feeling of loneliness as an adoptee is the most painful feeling in the world that leaves you in total isolation and fear.
I want there to be more resources for adoptees and looked after children, because so often we can be mistaken for the ‘naughty kid’ or the ‘shy one’. Actually, we’re the strongest people you’ll ever come across, who just happen to have gone through sh*t we find hard to come to terms with.
So, when I look to the year ahead, I think about the kind of person I want to be and the life I want to live. As usual, I won’t be making specific plans and I won’t be setting goals with rigid timeframes, because from experience I’ve learnt that our lives are always unpredictable.
All we can do is be true to ourselves. Speak and live our truths and show kindness and love. In the past, my life has literally changed in an instant. Now I try to always live in the beauty of the moment and take it as it is.
I wish I’d never had to go through half of what I’ve experienced. However, I’ve made peace with the fact it has made me who I am today: an extremely strong individual with a purpose. Before finally starting AUUK, I felt trapped in the shadows and full of fear to share my story. But now I feel ready to take centre stage and speak up for everyone without a voice.
I won’t be asking God to ‘save me’ this time, but I’ll ask for confidence to continue igniting my fires of passion to make a difference through speaking and living my truth on Adoption United UK. Because this journey is what “living my best life” is for me.