Where it all began…
This is a tricky one. A very personal one. One, which needs you to dig deep and accept the past. To some extent, I think this is the hardest part of the whole process. The realisation that as a woman you cannot carry a child is a lot to come to terms with. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t become a mum, I couldn’t make my husband a dad. This burden stayed with me for a very long time.
Often the man’s feelings are brushed over. The focus seems to lie firmly on the woman. How she is coping with it all. Poor her. She can’t have a baby. What about him? He suffered just as much as I did, just in different ways. Less obvious ways. He stayed the strong one doing all he could to hold me together. I felt like there was nowhere to hide when that was all I wanted to do. Close the front door and never leave.
When did I know the time was right? Well personally, the point came when I just couldn’t take any more – emotionally and physically. We’d endured years of IVF and my body was telling me no more drugs, no more injections, no more endless and constant side effects, no more heartache with every loss. It hit me that I wanted a family, not a pregnancy.
We’d always considered the prospect of adoption, especially after each fertility treatment, but for a long time I found myself saying “let’s just try one more cycle”. We did masses of research and tried all sorts of different treatment options, until finally we could say “enough is enough”. After our last treatment, when we’d tried all possible alternatives (within our financial constraints) with no success, it was time to move on. IVF does work for many hopeful parents-to-be. Just not for us.
For some people, the acceptance to move on comes much sooner and actually there are some wonderful people that choose to adopt as their first step to becoming parents. For others, they simply cannot afford another treatment. If you are lucky enough to qualify for NHS funded treatments, the waiting lists are often very lengthy (we were told up to 2 years). Then there is the good old “postcode lottery”, so your health board might not even offer this as an option. Private fertility treatments are excruciatingly expensive, and the pressure of this alone can put a huge strain on a relationship. I can’t bring myself to say how much we spent. This figure is best forgotten.
Personally, I needed to know we had done all we could. I cannot stress enough the need to accept this and put closure on the past. If there is any part of you that thinks “maybe next time it’ll work” “there is still hope”, or even worse – “we’ll apply but keep trying”, then you are definitely not ready. I did have these thoughts for a while. I wasn’t ready for a very long time.
Adoption agencies generally recommend that at least 6 months has passed since your last fertility treatment before you apply. I totally agree with this. Actually, we waited more like a year. I only picked up the phone to our adoption agency when I could do it with a completely clear mind that adoption was the way forward for us. We were both totally committed to giving a child a home in this way. No ifs or buts. No regrets. No looking back.
There were basically two main routes we could consider – private/charity based agencies or our local authority. This may be a bit of a generalisation, but the former tend to have older children or those that are deemed harder to place. Potentially these could be children with physical, mental of developmental issues or larger sibling groups. As we were hoping for a younger child that was as healthy as possible, we applied to our local authority in line with the guidance we were given. I have to be totally honest, after all the years of heartache and waiting, I didn’t think I would be strong enough to take on a child with more challenging needs. Writing that now actually feels really selfish. However, this is the truth of how I felt. If you do adopt a child with some ongoing challenges there are some fantastic support channels out there. I’ll cover these on a later blog.
We also had to face the fact that although we had managed to recover the financial burden of fertility treatments, we were not in a particularly strong long term financial position. We couldn’t afford for me to take more than a year off work. Thankfully, my employer provided a really good adoption leave package. Others are not so fortunate and may only receive statutory adoption pay. If you are self employed, you are not normally even entitled to this. So for us, to have a child that needed additional support for significant health issues, disabilities, behavioural or other complex needs, would have been too challenging. Not just financial, but emotionally. Not feeling confident we could provide the ongoing support they needed, wouldn’t have been fair on them. Or us.
Whilst talking about all things money, some people may be eligible to apply for some financial support through the Adoption Support Fund (ASF). This might also include paying towards things like family therapy sessions or therapeutic parenting training. This either wasn’t available, or wasn’t mentioned to us. I’m not sure which. As this is just my own blog, and I’m not affiliated to any professional bodies, I won’t say anything more about it. I just wanted to mention it in case you hadn’t heard of it either. Leading adoption charity Adoption UK is keen to ensure this financial support channel continues to those who need it.
An alternative to traditional adoption is “foster to adopt”. Something that wasn’t mentioned to us the first time around. It appears this route is considered more openly these days. You become the foster carer in the early stages of the child’s life, with the aim of moving on to becoming their adoptive parent. Currently, a child has to be a minimum of 6 months old before a placement order is granted (the court order authorising a local authority to place a child for adoption). So, unless you do foster to adopt you will never be placed with a child younger than this. Being a little ignorant to this route, I always thought it held a higher risk that the child could be returned to their birth parents. However, until an adoption order is granted and the child is legally yours, there is always this chance whichever route you take. This is a very nervous feeling. We were informed that the average time for an adoption order to be finalised was 4-6 months after your child comes home. This is a long wait. Anything can happen in this time…more about this another day though.
The other thing to point out is that the ratio of adopters to children waiting to be placed can vary significantly. It appears to be cyclical. Luckily for us, our call (in early 2012) just happened to be at a time when our local authority were short of prospective adopters and had a high number of children waiting to be adopted. Three years later, this situation was completely reversed and there were very few children being granted placement orders.
At this time, additional steps were introduced where social workers needed to broaden their searches to find any appropriate birth relatives for the child to stay with. Regrettably, this didn’t always prove to be the best route for the child. I remember reading accounts of children going back and forth in to care and between different birth family members, as placements sadly broke down. This potentially led to further instabilities for these already vulnerable children, meaning they were then older and more unsettled when adoption was finally deemed the right option. It also meant that prospective adopters at that time were warned that they were in for a very long wait.
Once I had put in the initial call, we were fairly quickly allocated a social worker and our adoption training with fellow applicants was scheduled in (this order has changed since then).
The training was thorough and informative. But intense and hard hitting. It focused on the reasons why children needed a home through adoption. We had to consider all sorts of awful scenarios. As hopeful parents-to-be, these were really tough to hear. The bottom line is that you have to be prepared that your future child will have experienced trauma of some kind. According to Adoption UK, three quarters of children who are adopted come from a background of abuse or neglect and are taken in to care from unsafe situations. This could be in the form of intentional or non intentional neglect through to different forms of abuse. Examples of these are just too distressing to type. The situation where a child is willingly taken in to care – relinquished – is rare. Inevitably, there will also have been some conflict between birth families and social services. Your future child may have memories of these days, even if they were very young. They may react negatively in some way. Now, or in the future.
I don’t want this to sound all doom and gloom. Sorry if it does. This is the honesty part though. Children may have very troubling life stories. One day you will have to share it with them. The days before you were their parent. This is hugely important for their identity. Regrettably, you may not fully know how they have been affected for years to come. What I will say, is that the adoption training definitely helped us decide we were ready to proceed. Some people do stop at this stage and don’t progress. It’s so much better to step back at this point, for everyone involved, rather than later down the line.
It’s important to set the right levels of expectations. Generally, if you apply to adopt, you will become a parent. No more will it, won’t it work. Will we, won’t we, face a child free future. Of course, there are no guarantees. There are obviously occasions when adoption ends up not being the route to grow a family. But, the percentage of people that apply to adopt and don’t get approved is low. It is rare that you get to approval or matching panel and they say “no”. That placements breakdown. Keeping these possibilities low is part of your social workers job. Bear this is mind if you are currently feeling a bit frustrated with any element of the process.
In relation to the assessments themselves, we’d heard they were long and intrusive. Allow some perspective here. The role of a social worker is to make absolutely certain that you are ready, competent and capability to look after a child. They have the highest level of responsibility in their hands. So this should mean they ask tricky probing questions. Guide you to reflect on the past. Look at thought provoking subjects and make you analyse different skill sets. This was all absolutely fine with us. I would be lying if I didn’t say that on occasion it felt a little tedious in parts. But we knew why. It stirred up a lot of emotions and brought things to the surface for me that I had buried deep down. Not really wanting to raise. It’s safe to say I got through a lot of tissues! Be patient and always have in mind that the professionals have you and your future child’s best interests at heart. Believe in yourself. Believe in them.
The “homework” is time consuming and sometimes a little repetitive – I think we wrote about 15,000 words! We did however genuinely enjoy it. It was actually very therapeutic. Comforting. Above anything else, it made us realise just how strong we had become as a couple. How lucky we were to have amazing supporting networks of family and friends. Ultimately it was a really great feeling to hear that we were being put forward as prospective adopters. Finally, we were going to become parents. For the first time in a very long time, I had a renewed sense of hope and optimism. I allowed myself to look to the future and after all the years of pain, this was very welcome.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the need for references from any past significant relationships. I did not like this at all. I had to contact my ex and ask for his help in making me a mum now, however many years later. I understand the reasoning behind it and it does make sense. The process needs to be this thorough. It quite rightly should be. Social workers must confirm that previous relationships didn’t end due to any children’s safeguarding issues. It was all absolutely fine and not as bad as I thought. It just wasn’t my favourite part.
Another tough part for me, was completing the “Pro-forma for Matching” where you have a list of characteristics relating to family history, medical conditions, past experiences and anticipated functioning. You have to tick “would accept” “would not accept” or “would discuss”. I felt very uncomfortable about this, like it was a selection process. We were saying “yes” or “no” to a child we’d never met. Knew absolutely nothing about. If you haven’t encountered this yet, try not to feel like I did. It’s not bad to say “no”. It’s far better to be honest. It won’t be frowned upon or impact on you being approved. I felt we should be saying “yes” to everything to stand the best chance. To stop us from being rejected! It doesn’t work like that at all though. If you don’t think you can face explaining a certain situation about their life story, or dealing with significant health or behavioural issues, there will be someone that can.
Overall, the process to this point was smooth and our social worker really connected with us which helped. We found her very supportive and she fully prepared us for the next stage, approval panel…..
The Waiting Game
I’m often asked –“how long did it take?” Obviously, this differs case by case. From the time I picked up the phone to our little one coming home, was 12 months. Not long at all. Not really that different to a pregnancy. But at the time, going through all these stages, it often felt like an eternity.
After assessments, it was very tempting to go full steam ahead and get “baby ready” but of course a) you don’t know if you’ll even be approved and b) what age your child will be if you are. Very different to preparing for a new-born. A reminder you are not on a “normal” path to parenthood. Panel do need you to be well prepared though in case of a quick match, so it’s a hard balance to get right. You do have to start the preparation process to a degree. I had pretty much waited 10 years to be a mum. I was desperate to buy cute outfits and to finally walk into the likes of Mothercare with a real purpose. I needed to be just a little more patient for this.
I did masses of research and read all sorts of adoption guidance books. Generally, I learnt a lot from these. But I must be honest; some of them really made we worry. Reading peoples accounts of their difficulties with attachments and having to deal with signs of trauma made me question if we had taken the right path. What if we couldn’t provide a child with all they needed? I knew deep down we could, but I got myself a bit worked up. It was time for a break from it all. From the intensity. I didn’t need much convincing when my husband suggested a holiday. Our last one just the two of us.
Within a few days of arriving somewhere warm and sunny, I could feel the worries lifting from my shoulders. It ended up being the most relaxed holiday we’d had in years. This time we weren’t running away from all the disappointments. Despite all that was in front of us, we had a new sense of calm. Especially me. A belief, even if still a little cautious, that we would soon be parents. Finally starting to let go of anxieties I’d carried for so long.
All prospective adopters attend an approval panel where a group of carefully selected people, all with experience and expertise in adoption, decide if you should be recommended to adopt. Unfortunately, proposed panel dates often get “bumped”. Sometimes at very short notice. Sometimes even on the day. This frustratingly happened to us. Even more frustratingly it was due to incomplete paperwork. Quite commonplace I believe.
Social workers have large caseloads. They are stretched and have to juggle all sorts of very difficult situations. It was a real blow for us though. We tried our best to be patient. Our time would come. I’m not really an “everything happens for a reason” person – the awful things we’d experienced on our journey to parenthood, sucked. No other way to say it. The truth however, is that if we hadn’t experienced that delay, we would not have the wonderful daughter we have today. I just can’t imagine that. Writing it made me shiver. The timings would not have worked out. Her profile would have been given to someone else. I would not have been her mum. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wish I’d had more faith that it would all work out.
Sometimes matching panels need to take your slot – placement of children is quite rightly a higher priority. Still hard though. You build yourself up to this significant milestone. Unfortunately, as panel dates are often infrequent, it can be months until you get another date. More waiting.
I was unbelievably nervous about panel day. Thinking I would totally mess it up by saying the wrong thing. This was the biggest moment of our lives to date. Our future lay in their hands. What if they said “no”? This was our last chance to become parents. There was no other way in which I could become a mum. It was all down to this day. People we’d never met, holding the key to the rest of our lives.
Walking in was a little daunting. I was surprised at how many there were – probably 12. It was however very relaxed, and they were very welcoming. We’d been fully prepped by our social worker so there was nothing too challenging. Questions were focused around the type of parents we wanted to be, why we thought adoption was for us, how we would deal with introductions and the settling in period.
My worry wasn’t justified and thankfully, we had a unanimous “yes”. Our dream to become “Mummy and Daddy” was finally becoming a reality. This was a fantastic feeling. It was hard not to get too carried away. There was still a long road (and lots of paperwork) ahead. All verbal recommendations must be ratified by an Agency Decision Maker (ADM). On average his takes around 2 weeks. Roll call the “what if they say no?” question again! It can happen, but it is unusual for positive recommendations to be overturned.
The truth was, it didn’t matter one of my referees had said we enjoyed a night out together drinking a fair bit of wine – that was my support and release channel. That I didn’t have a textbook answer to sleep training – no new mum does. That I had no real idea how I would cope if my child rejected me or one day screamed “you’re not my real mum” – I still don’t. I have come to realise that they weren’t looking for perfection. At the time I thought they were. I put a lot of extra pressure on myself as I tried to be “perfect”. What the panel had in us, was belief. They believed we could provide a safe, secure and loving home. Could competently work through the challenges we would face. It was time for me to believe in us too.
Time to Prepare
Once we had the official approval, we got on with the real preparations. Collating pictures of ourselves and our immediate family for memory and transition books and aids. There are some fantastic resources out there. Toys, teddies and books that can record your voice messages. We did a video for our second child. I walked around our house talking to teddy bears and reading stories to toys – I looked like I was doing an audition for a CBeebies presenter! I absolutely loved it and there is no doubt that these things significantly helped with recognition and familiarisation in the lead up to introductions.
It was really lovely for our families to start playing a key part. To make them feel more involved. Although they met our social worker, a lot of the assessment process was just about us. Generally, I think it’s hard for family to feel part of it all until this point. Part of this was down to us though. Well me really. Not wanting to get their hopes up. Not wanting to give them extra stress. Not wanting to let them down (again) if we weren’t approved. We should have given them far more credit. They have been incredibly supportive throughout our adoption journey.
We got on with decorating too. Giving our spare room an overhaul to become our child’s bedroom. It’s funny how at this point, I had firmly put the years of heartache and disappointment to the back of my mind. I hardly thought about the losses or feelings of despair. The emptiness. There was so much to do and so much to focus on. I got brochures from all the baby and child stores and spent my evenings circling things we’d need. Writing list upon list of what we needed to buy.
I chose cute animal prints for the nursery. I’ll never forget catching a glimpse of all the bedding and blankets dancing around in the wind on the washing line. My felt melted. A priceless memory. Those things were for our child. Our son or daughter. It probably sounds a bit cheesy, but I felt like I already loved them. I was going to be a mum. Hopefully very soon.
And then, only about two weeks after approval confirmation, it happened – the call. A possible link. A potential match. A child to make me a mum. My husband a dad. And yep I totally freaked out!
You see, we had been thrown a huge curve ball. We’d actually been approved for siblings. From the outset we were absolutely clear about this. It would be hard with two, but we could do it. The call we got, was for just one. What! Panic! We’d spent the best part of 8 months preparing for two. What were they thinking? Had they not read our report? We couldn’t change our plans now after all this time.
But it all became clear. The circumstances and history of this little one was as good as it could possibly be. That’s all I’m prepared to say I’m afraid. I’ll never say more. I’m a firm believer that it is our children’s story to share as and when – if – they want to. This is one of the reasons I keep myself faceless online. My children are too young to sit down and ask if they are ok with me doing all this. Sharing our story in this way. If I stay faceless, I’m hoping to not only protect their identity, but also their feelings.
Once we were over the initial shock, things seemed to move very quickly. An appointment to come and see us was made for the next day. A child needed a forever home and ours could be the one. We were given basic information in case we decided not to progress, or if the child’s family finding social worker decided we weren’t suitable. Some are faced with being considered alongside other prospective adopters, who may be chosen over them. I hadn’t considered this was even a possibility. I just assumed that once you had a link that was it. After such a long wait and knowing enough to want that child to be yours, it must be a real wrench if you weren’t taken forward. Really hard to deal with. Yet another set back on the rocky road to parenthood through adoption.
What we didn’t initially see, was a photo. The experts try to avoid people being blindsided by cuteness before knowing more about the life history. In theory, it needs to be a head over heart decision. For me, I think you need that initial reaction. That love at first sight moment. I think it’s powerful. It’s what makes you know they are the “one”.
When it was time for our photo reveal, I was so nervous and hid behind my hands unable to look. What if I felt absolutely nothing? No connection, no emotion. But oh boy, I did get that heart stopping, overwhelming feeling of joy. I said to my husband – “they look like you, they have your eyes”. This was the point our lives magnificently changed forever.
The next step was to see full details in the Child’s Adoption Report (CAR). Brace yourself if you have this to come; it can contain some upsetting details. Conversely, there may be big gaps in the child’s history. Either birth parents don’t know details or, they choose not to disclose it. There are often many unknowns. I lost track of the number of times the Medical Advisor said to us – “we can’t be sure of the possible long-term effects of that, but we have to make you aware”.
I don’t want this to sound flippant, but the unknowns never really concerned me. With birth children, you never know what medical conditions they may get. If they’ll suffer with mental health issues. I took the view it’s just part of being a parent and I was confident we would deal with whatever we were faced with. Together.
Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait for matching panel and again we were unanimously approved. We were over the moon. At last, all the stars had aligned. Our dreams really were coming true.
More updates on what happened next to follow soon……..