This week I kept busy writing our contact letters, one addressed to Ben’s birth parents and one to his brother.

This is only our second letter. The first one I wrote was when Ben just turned 1, after 7 months he had been placed with us. I cannot believe it was already one year ago! I could have talked about Ben for hours, I’d have so much to say, however, it took me a long time to write those letters. I spent hours staring at the monitor, and couldn’t come up with the right words.

This year happened pretty much the same: how do you describe your son to some strangers? I didn’t want the letters to be just a list of what Ben did or didn’t. I wanted them to explain who Ben is, to describe all these little things that make him the special boy he is.

Words got drowned in the usual worries: I need to protect my child’s identity, I need to be vague on places and names, and I need to be selective on the details I reveal. My thoughts wandered in unfamiliar territories: what is appropriate to put in these letters, what Ben would like them to know, what is expected I share of our lives.

At times I imagine Ben asking about his birth family, asking about where is coming from, about all these gaps in his personal history. Sometimes I like to believe I could just give him all those letters written and received through the years and say: here you can find all the answers, dear! But that’s just a dream, it’s what social services lead you to believe. Letterbox is an open door to the future, we were told. These letters don’t seem to me to give any answer; they just add to the list of unanswered questions.

Writing contact letters makes you think…

I tried to understand why Ben’s birth mum&dad didn’t answer at our first letter. If it was me the mum of that little boy taken away from me, I would wait all year around for that letter to arrive, the letter that tells me my son is doing fine. Take paper and pen and write an answer, well, that would be all another matter. I suppose that every letter brings back memories of loss, failure, pain, and shame. I don’t think I would be able to do it either!

I play in my mind the day in which Ben will ask questions about where he’s coming from. I think at all the answers I won’t be able to give him: birth mum favourite song, the colour of her eyes, her childhood; birth dad favourite football team, the age he started shaving, and how tall he is.
I don’t blame them for not answering at our letters, but I wonder how Ben will manage growing up with all these information missing about his birth parents.

I take for granted many aspects of my upbringing, all the information that for me are common knowledge and are embedded in my memory: my mum favourite food is pasta and she likes to dance, my dad loves to paint and he makes his own jam. How different would I be without knowing this?

The contact letters to his brother Harvey are altogether a different story. Harvey’s family only agreed to exchange letters once a year, no face to face contact, and no pictures exchanged. So far we received one letter, as planned. It was an impersonal half a page of he likes/he doesn’t like. All there was to describe him was “a cheeky smile” that, more often than not, every 4 years old boy has anyway!

I think at all the questions Ben, and surely Harvey, might have one day: does my brother look like me? Why can’t I meet him? Can I see a picture of him? Where does he go to school?

I found it difficult to answer questions of which I don’t know the answers myself. It’s hard to give my son a sense of self and identity when the information available are patchy, confused and frequently incomplete. I have worries of Ben inviting a friend for a sleepover, just to realise halfway through the night that the friend in question is his brother, who he met secretly via Facebook. Am I equipped to deal with these sort of scenarios? I think I’m not, and the endless knowledge and skills I need to properly parent my son is frightening.

So, every year I sit at my computer and write letters to birth mum&dad and Ben’s brother. I write the letters I would like to receive, the letters that might offer some of the answers Ben will need one day. I write for my son and for myself, but also for them because, whether we want it or not, our stories are, and always will, connected and intertwined.

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