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Tiegan: my contact story

Hello, I’m Tiegan, a nineteen-year-old adoptee who’s lived with my two mums since I was adopted age four, after two years in foster care. When I was adopted, I was granted once yearly letterbox contact with my nana Pats and Gramps, who are my grandparents on my birth mum’s side. At first the arrangement was that we’d only receive letters and cards, but my mums felt photos would be important for all of us, so they spoke with the contact worker, and from then on we had an exchange of photos every year.

For me, my experience of contact has been very open and led by me, within reason, which I am grateful for. Every October I would get really excited to receive the letters and photos, and whenever we wrote back, I could participate however I wanted to. They were seen as my letters, so I would sometimes write my own thing, draw pictures, ask questions or just give my approval to something my mums had already written.  Over the years, at around nine and seventeen, I also got a couple of letters from my mum, telling me a bit about her and giving me more information on my family so I knew some basics.

This openness in contact is something I’ve seen the benefits of, and it’s given me moments and relationships I may have otherwise not had.

Lots of adoptees I know haven’t had very good contact and lots have jumbled experiences that have been quite traumatic. I’ve heard stories of adopters not sharing that birth parents have been writing until the adoptees are 16 or 17, and then presenting them with a pile of letters.

Meeting nana Pats and Gramps Face to Face

We eventually thought about meeting my grandparents face to face, when I was sixteen years old due to health issues they were both facing. We learned that nana Pats had had a heart attack and my gramps was, and still is, deteriorating with Parkinson’s. To make the most of the time available, we discussed it with my contact coordinator, who told us it was our decision, and eventually came along as support. When I met them, it felt like it had only been a week since I’d seen them last. Because of the contact we’d had over the years, it all felt so natural. We exchanged numbers to keep in touch and we’ve met a few times since. We don’t always do much, sometimes I’ll watch tv with them, occasionally commenting and making conversation – the sort of thing you do with your grandparents! Just being with them is the important part.

I have also learnt a lot from them about my family, lots of stories and just about who they are. Some of this would have been too complicated to explain on paper, so if I hadn’t met them, I’d have never known. My nana Pats said she could never fully tell how interested in the letters I was. Despite us trying to convey that I was interested, she never got it, so she didn’t write as much as she may have done had she known. I also learned that over the years, she had been passing on all the updates from the letters to my mum, which mum apparently found really helpful as she could keep up to date with what was going on in my life. In hindsight, we realise we could have met sooner and have made even more memoires. At the time, though, we just didn’t know this was an option available to us until we asked.

Meeting my mum, dad and sisters

Meeting my grandparents started a bit of a domino effect to me meeting more of my birth family. Soon after, my mum wrote me a letter saying that she would always be around if we wanted to meet. I had been wanting this for as long as I could remember, and the following year when she was over from Ireland, we met up. It was really lovely to finally meet her, and again it felt so natural, with everything just clicking into place. This was also a chance for me to get to meet my younger sisters which was great as they went into care soon after. I now feel like I’ve got my mum back, and we’re in regular touch by phone – updating each other about what’s happening in our lives, or just chatting. It has also meant that I have been able to learn about family members who I knew little about, as well as learning a lot about her.

My older sister and I had both wanted contact for a few years, and she’d tried to search me out in the past but had had no success – she even wrote me a letter but had no idea where to send it. When she finally went to see my nana Pats, her number was passed on to me, in case I wanted to get in touch.  I was so excited that I could finally make contact and reached out immediately. My nana Pats was a bridge for the two of us that before was missing. We now message occasionally on text and have got to know each other. This has worked out really well. Because my sister suffers from anxiety this makes things easier.  It’s currently the best form of contact for us both, though this may change in the future.

Contact with my mum has also acted like the bridge to other family members. When my dad got a phone for the first time in a decade, my mum messaged and asked whether I’d like his number. I checked with my mums and then said yes pretty much immediately. I had always wanted to meet him – it was something I’d thought about a lot in childhood and had always hoped he would get in touch. So far, because of Covid, we’ve only been able to talk digitally via text, phone and video calls, but being in contact this way has actually worked really well as it’s meant we can ask lots of questions and say what we are both thinking without any pressure. We both agreed that had we met in a more conventional way, and had a two or three-hour meeting from nothing, we wouldn’t have felt relaxed or got a proper conversation out of it.  We did our first call on the PS4 in case we needed a distraction, but in the end, we didn’t – the chat just flowed. Gaming is a fun hobby we can do together – it’s good to have an activity where both of us can participate and make lots of memories. Even my grandma said hi once during one of our videocalls. Sadly, though, my granddad passed a few years ago so I missed out on meeting him again and being able to tell him that I’m okay and that I love him too. It was a shock when my mum told me. I hadn’t even seen a photo of him at that point. It makes you realise time does not stop for adoption or contact. From knowing no more than names of his family last year I have now seen pictures, heard stories and so much information about them all, more than I could have ever imagined: Their experiences of being a military family, my dad’s life, my ways as a baby and the interests my dad has, as we share so many. I have also learnt so much from my dad.

I’m grateful to have my birth family back in my life and be able to ask the questions I’ve needed answers to.

When my nana Pats passed away recently, I met lots more of my family at her funeral. My past and family now don’t have so many questions around them and, for them I am no longer just someone out there who they could pass on the street – I am now a person they know. Even though two years with my nana Pats does not feel enough, I feel so grateful I got some time with her. I’m also thankful that I’ve had the same contact worker for thirteen years. She was always around for questions or thoughts we might have. We also kept in touch with my foster parents via text message, so we can check in and meet up regularly. We saw this as so important and they are still parents to me. It would have been strange if they had disappeared suddenly as they were there for such an important part of my life when I really needed extra care. There are so many memories to share and they like seeing me going through life.

Overall all these developments have been amazing where it all feels like one big family with lots of stories being told and lots of love.