Adoption is complex. Situations rarely straightforward. One thing that struck me throughout our adoption journey was just how much was outside of our control.
Often our future lay firmly in the hands of people we’d never met. Decisions made from words in lengthy reports. Strangers at panel who could make or break our dreams.
Another factor out of our hands was the future path birth parents would take. Birth mothers could completely turn their lives around. Begin to offer the safety and security their children need. Or, they could repeatably find themselves in similar situations.
Multiple pregnancies are not uncommon. This statement is not judgemental. I’m certainly not stereotyping. But the chances are often high. Social workers raise this with prospective adopters from the outset.
I still find this concept difficult to comprehend. That my children might have birth siblings they may never meet or, that one day we may be asked to consider welcoming into our family too.
@wemadeawishadoptionmagazine was faced with this very situation. This is how Suzy and her husband approached it…
Is there a right time for a sibling?
“I always thought I’d be a mum of two. I’ve got an older sister and I can’t imagine my life without her. I’ve learned so much from her and she’s shaped my life in so many ways.
When we started our adoption journey, we knew we weren’t cut out to parent a sibling group straight away. I take my hat off to anyone who does. I couldn’t get my head round how we’d meet each child’s individual needs as well as developing a bond and getting to know them.
We were approved for a single child, but thought we’d adopt again when the time was right. In my head the best scenario would be if a full sibling came along. It’s funny how reality turns out to be very different from how you imagine.
The week after I’d returned to work from adoption leave, I got an email from our social worker. Birth mum had turned up at hospital 35 weeks pregnant. The plan was for adoption. Her circumstances hadn’t changed. Our social worker wanted to know if we’d like to be considered. I’d often played over in my mind how I’d feel if a sibling came along. Eldest is birth mother’s sixth child so we knew it was always possible.
Eldest had started nursery about a month before I went back to work. She was really struggling to adjust to being there. Drop offs were very stressful. She was fine once we left, but leaving her in tears was just awful.
I was also finding being back at work very hard. Not only was I having to try and remember how to do my job, but the upset of nursery drop offs meant I often ended up in tears as I drove to work.
My gut reaction was that the timing was completely wrong. I was struggling massively. Eldest was struggling too. It felt too much to put a new-born baby into the mix (at that stage, the plan was fostering to adopt).
But my heart wanted to say yes. I wanted eldest to grow up with a sibling. They’d be able to support each other in a way I couldn’t because of their birth connection. Saying “no” was making a conscious decision that eldest wouldn’t grow up with a birth sibling. That felt wrong.
I was also worried what our social worker would say if we said no. What our friends and family would think. On paper it was the perfect way to complete our family. A young baby who was our daughter’s full sibling.
But that’s the thing. Just because something is right on paper, doesn’t mean it will be in real life. The most important thing was eldest’s welfare. She was our priority especially as she was struggling. Bringing a sibling into the mix felt like it would make those struggles worse. Our bond with her was still developing and it was just the wrong time.
My biggest concern about saying no was whether eldest would agree (when she was older) that we’d made the right decision. It was a huge responsibility. It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. My husband tends to be black and white about things. He knew it was the wrong time and said so from the start. I spent a long time trying to convince myself we could make it work, even though I knew deep down it just wasn’t right for us as a family.
I actually made myself ill agonising over it. This made me realise I needed to follow my first instinct. It just wasn’t right for our daughter. For us all. Once I’d let myself accept that, it felt like a weight had been lifted.
I was so nervous telling our social worker. I was worried she’d try and convince us to change our minds. She’d always had faith in us. In our parenting abilities. It felt like we were letting her down too.
As usual though, she was brilliant. So reassuring. She accepted our decision without question. That made me feel a lot better. I knew we’d made the right decision for us as a family. I needed her to see that too.
It took me a long time to come to terms with what had happened. I felt guilty and, to a certain extent, I think I always will. Not because we made the wrong decision. We didn’t. Seeing how much our daughter thrived the second year she was home showed us she needed that time with us on her own. But I will always feel guilty that the decision meant she wouldn’t grow up with that sibling.
We spent the next few years enjoying being a family of three. A lot of people said to me that saying no then didn’t mean we couldn’t adopt in the future. For a long time, I didn’t believe that. The more time we spent as a three, the more it felt that was how things were meant to be. I couldn’t imagine having another child and being able to love them as much as I loved eldest.
Then, at the start of 2018 I got an email from our social worker completely out of the blue. It was just over three years after eldest came home. I had a feeling before I opened it – birth mum was pregnant again.
We’d asked our social worker to let us know if there was another pregnancy. At that stage, it wasn’t necessarily because we wanted to be considered if adoption was the plan. We just wanted to know so that we could feed it into eldest’s life story work.
As soon as I read the email, everything felt right. Previously, birth mum had disclosed her pregnancies late. This time there was a few months until she was due, so we’d have some time. Eldest was very happy and settled and although she was starting school later in the year, the timing felt right.
My husband was less sure – we had a lot to talk about. The biggest positive was eldest would be able to grow up with a sibling. That would be a massive thing for her. She has two big cousins who she adores, we knew she’d be in her element being an older sister.
Our biggest concerns were money and our ages. We hadn’t planned on adding to our family, so had spent a lot of money on our house and garden. That meant we had no savings and some manageable debt. My husband was 54, I was 45. He was worried he was too old for such a young baby.
In the end, the concerns weren’t enough to say no. We were both in relatively good health and not having much money didn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to give a sibling a loving and stable home.
Once the decision was made, we both knew it was the right one. I couldn’t believe that after thinking for so long we’d always be a three, we were going to have a young baby.
We said from the start that we wouldn’t do fostering to adopt. Birth mum’s circumstances hadn’t changed, but there was always the chance she would turn things around during the assessment and court proceedings. We felt it wouldn’t be fair on eldest if there was a chance baby wouldn’t stay with us long term. However small the possibility was.
Youngest has been with us for about eighteen months now. Seeing her and eldest together has shown that both decisions we made about siblings were the right ones. They are so happy together (most of the time!). The love they have for one another melts my heart. If we’d said yes to the other sibling, youngest would never have come into our lives. That’s an anxious thought. This is how we were destined to become a family of four. This is how it was meant to be.”
This is such an honest account of a difficult circumstance. It can feel like an impossible situation – how will you ever know what to do? Suzy takes a sensible approach. Shows caution. Assesses pros and cons. Follows her instinct.
Adoption needs you to keep an open mind. There will be twists and turns. Just when you think you are happy and complete; the phone could ring with news a sibling is on its way.
Of course, wherever possible birth siblings should be together. We all understand why. Every step should be taken to investigate if it’s feasible. But I use the word “be” not “stay” very purposefully for this situation.
For me, you are not breaking up a family if it’s never actually been together. A very important point I want to make. It’s not the same as splitting up siblings that have shared part of their lives, but are then adopted separately. This is different. A topic for another blog perhaps.
Adopting future siblings will be discussed during assessments and panel, but you are not expected to commit to doing this. You might express good intentions, but you won’t know if it’s right until you are faced with the reality. Suzy’s guest blog shows just this.
The change in dynamic could be detrimental for everyone. If it’s not right – at that time, or any other – that’s ok. Work through it step by step. If your hearts and heads draw to this conclusion, that’s your answer. It’s a difficult decision – but it’s not a guilt to carry.
What I do know, what I believe to be important, is that birth siblings should always be part of life stories. Should always be remembered. If they can’t be together, then they can safely nestle in hearts and minds. Forever.
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