A picture which paints a thousand words

I read my son’s medical file for the first time this week. It was seeing, in an X-ray, the evidence of a fractured finger and not knowing how it had come about, that persuaded Contact visit me that this was another avenue I had to explore in pursuit of the facts about J’s early years. I have written about that X-ray here. Thankfully, the process of gaining access to his file was reassuringly straightforward: I simply wrote to our GPs’ Practice Manager to ask to see it, and a week later, I was sitting in an office with the file in front of me.

At home, in the cupboard under the stairs, I have copies of very many documents from J’s Social Services file, waiting for J to be ready to read them. We also have a letter written for him by Cafcass’s Guardian ad Litem, appointed by the Children’s Court at the time of his adoption. The letter summarises what J’s Guardian learned during the process of reading his files and meeting his birthmother. I’ve always thought that J might want to read all these when he reached his teens, but now I wonder whether he might in fact put it off until much later. Many adoptees only decide to seek out information about their birth parents, and meet them, when they are well into their 30s. J already knows a good deal about his birthmother, and about his early years because we have talked about them, but perhaps for the time being, reading for himself the details of his neglect and abandonment might feel like a step too far.

In fact, J’s medical file did reveal some new information, although there was no mention at all of the broken finger or of anything similar. For the first time, J was able to see a copy of his hospital Discharge notes, which tell how he was treated upon his premature birth at 33 weeks for neonatal abstinence syndrome, possible sepsis, jaundice requiring phototherapy, and renal tract dilation. The notes also describe the steps the hospital took to provide ‘maternal reassurance’, including providing his birthmother with an apnoea alarm, specifically because J’s older brother had died at home of SIDS at 6 weeks.

The Discharge notes conclude with the following words:

Because of the previous problems we asked social services if they wanted to become involved but after reviewing the situation they felt that this was not necessary.

I don’t know if the hospital or the authorities in general could have known that J would be at very serious risk in the future. I hope that J might one day take some comfort from knowing that at the age of 4 weeks and only a week after having been discharged from the Special Baby Care Unit, he was readmitted to hospital via A and E after his apnoea alarm went off, and he went pale and floppy. His medical file tells how his birth mother shook him, blew in his face and blew into his mouth.

J was loved by his birthmother, but she was unable to care for him for all sorts of reasons, which included her own experience of being parented. The files I have been allowed to see paint a vivid picture of the family from a social and medical perspective.

But it is not in the files but in J’s birthmother’ own words, written to him in annual contact letters, and in occasional photos like the one above, where we have a sense of the real her. It is for this reason that regular written contact continues to be important for our family.

I am linking this post up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #63. This week’s shout out is a blog hop. That means anyone visiting my blog can join in without stepping cyber foot onto The Adoption Social…you can join in via my site, below.

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