Our Adoption Journey

Where it all began…

“Shall we make a wish?” She wondered. “Hmm, good idea” He pondered.

Moving On

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.

Agency Selection

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.

Assessments

Time passed by, important things they must know. To find the right little one, for this family to grow.

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

Dreaming of the perfect child, gazing at the clock. Pacing, yearning, hoping. Tick-Tock-Tock…

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.

Approval Panel

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.

Lots of shopping to do, toys, books and teddies galore. “Come on hurry up let’s buy more!”

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.

The Match

Everyone had agreed and the stars did align. With such caring people, this child would shine!

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.

Meeting the Foster Carer

A meeting with the foster carer was arranged. I hadn’t positioned in my mind how significant this would be. We sat there staring at the women who had cared for our little one as if they were her own. Knowing that they would never be. Knowing that one day they’d care for them no more. What an incredible thing to do. She’d been doing it for many years. Had been involved in many adoptions. Supported many children to return to birth families. What an incredible person. Reuniting families. Bringing new families together. A fellow adoptive mum once said to me – “without foster carers, there would be no us”. This couldn’t be more true.

She knew every tiny detail about our child. She talked lovingly. With joy. Certainty. Protectively. I felt an immediate pressure to get everything right. I couldn’t let her down. I wondered how on earth she did what she did. Worried how she would feel – cope – when the day came to say goodbye.

I kept thinking I hope she liked us. What if we were sitting there and she was thinking that we weren’t right. That we didn’t seem suitable to be parents. What would she do about it? Who would she tell? How would this impact matching panel? Might they say “no” now? Like I always do, I over thought it. But I couldn’t help but question how I could ever do as good a job as her.

Don’t get me wrong, the feeling was also incredible. We were talking about our child. Not just a hypothetical scenario. Not an “if you were approved”. Not an “if you were matched”. We were all these things now. Finally going to be mummy and daddy. But it was strange talking in such detail having never met. I found it a lot to get my head around.

I wrote absolutely everything down. Verbatim. Listened intently as she relayed their daily life together. Likes and dislikes. What caused upset. What to do to provide comfort. I remember paying particular attention to things like bowel movements! I was surprised that they seemingly lived such a normal life – going to singing classes, soft play, playgroups. Just like mother and child. Why wouldn’t they? I don’t know. Did I think they just stayed in 24-7 waiting for us to turn up to take over? They’d even been away on a holiday. Our child had 100% lived a full life there. It’s crazy to look back at these thoughts. At my naivety. But it really hit me that we had a very difficult time ahead. Amongst all the joy, there would be upset for everyone. Separation. My heart was bursting. But my head was whizzing.

I’d bought some sleep-suits and a book to give as gifts. For some reason I felt awkward about this – like I had to ask permission. Fumbling the words “would it be ok if” “are you sure you don’t mind…”. This remarkable lady of course very gladly took them. Our first gifts. The first of many.

We are still in awe at the role foster carers play in bringing families together. They provide love, security and safety. Often to traumatised and vulnerable children at the most difficult of times. A lot of adoption forums focus on the difficulties of separation from birth families. Of course, this is quite right and absolutely true. But there is a whole different separation to prepare for when they leave foster families. Foster carers often take the brunt of uncertainties and fears. Support children as they express their feelings, not just emotionally, but often physically. They may have shown these children the only stability they’ve ever experienced. Of course they are going to be upset to leave them. Will miss them. Foster carers steady them, until we – their adoptive parents – are ready to take over. And it wouldn’t be long before we could do just that.

Thankfully, everything went smoothly at matching panel . We had the same set of nerves as we’d had for approval panel, but uncharacteristically for me, I was actually much more confident. We knew so much more about our child now and already had a strong connection. We were able to talk about them with such certainty that they were “the one”. Because we felt it. Surely, we hadn’t got this far and the match would be rejected. I was right – we were unanimously approved. We were over the moon. At last, all the stars had aligned. Our dreams really were coming true.

Introductions

So, all the boxes had been ticked. The day had finally come to meet. Quite frankly, I was a total mess. In a whirl of mixed emotions. Not sure if I was coming or going. I had that peculiar butterfly feeling in my stomach – like I was about to sit an exam.

Introductions begin to start the transition from foster home to forever home. This stage is planned to fine detail with the wellbeing of the child at the forefront throughout. Depending on the age of your child and how smoothly (or not) the transition is going, this stage typically lasts 1-2 weeks. You steadily build up more and more contact everyday as you grow and learn together.

We pulled up outside the house, hearts pumping at double speed. I was terrified it wouldn’t be how I’d imagined. How I’d dreamt it would be. That I’d reach out to my child and they’d scream and turn away. The pressure I felt was huge. It had taken me 10 years to get to this point.  It was the most significant event, probably of my whole life. This was it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were greeted with the biggest smile which melted our hearts forever. I genuinely think despite being young there was some recognition from the transition photos and voice recordings we’d put together. These things are recommended by social workers for very good reasons. They clearly work.

Our experiences of our separate foster carers was fantastic (I’ll talk more about adopting for the second time in later posts). Very humbling. But I think it’s fair to say that initially, it can feel a little awkward. They open their doors to you. Welcome you in to their home. But I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of uncertainty. Really silly and inconsequential things. Like where to sit. When to make a cup of tea. When to tidy up toys or make us all lunch. Not wanting to step in or take over. Waiting for the nod to provide comfort when the child – our child – started to cry. Holding back for fear of offending. Or getting it wrong.

The thing that surprised me most, was the amount of immediate close contact we got. Even on that first meet (which was around 2 hours long), we got endless hugs and kisses. Imagine that. I squeezed them so tight, totally lost in the moment. Oblivious to the endless clicking of photos capturing these priceless moments. Moments that now sit very proudly on display above our fireplace.

I hadn’t expected this level of interaction at all. I even gave a bottle, which was surreal -although I panicked I was doing it wrong and felt stupid when I couldn’t wind afterwards! I must mention that this scenario doesn’t happen for everyone. Your involvement will depend on things like age and degree of trauma they have experienced. They may not be so warm and welcoming. We were warned that we may not get any physical contact at all for a few days. You must prepare yourself for this. Pretty heart breaking after such a long wait, but you must be guided by the experts. Slow and steady is the best way forward.

Our introductions went really smoothly, but we were utterly drained – physically and emotionally. There were very early starts to be there before waking up. To be the first person they saw. Late nights to put them to bed and to stay to ensure they’d settled. A really key moment was when the foster carer brought our child to our home. They stayed close by for the first time for reassurance. But this was a really big deal – carrying our little one over the threshold. In to their forever home. In to the home where we would build memories to last a lifetime.

All in all, introductions lasted a week. I couldn’t decide if this was too long. Or not long enough. Were we really ready? We still had so much to learn. What I did know is that every day that went by, the dropping back got harder and harder. Having to say goodbye every night. Longing for the hours to pass quickly so we could return. Our love was instant and grew rapidly every day. It sounds such a cliché, but it really was love at first sight. It totally and utterly took my breath away. I’d never felt ]anything like it before. Ever. It was as if all the sadness we’d experienced washed away in that moment. That moment we saw them, held them, for the first time. Those big beautiful eyes. That cheeky smile. Those chubby legs. Those giggles. They mended my broken heart. Gave us hope for the future. Made all our dreams come true. It was nothing short of a miracle. We knew, without question, that we were going to do everything in our power to love, care and protect this precious gift. Forever.

Coming Home

Then their treasure came home. What a beautiful grin. Settle in, snuggle down, let the fun begin…

“Coming Home Day”. What an incredible moment for everybody involved. But you do need a seriously big supply of tissues. We were desperate to have our little one home; however, we were mindful this could be the last time we were all together. At least for a very long time. It is not always possible, or appropriate, to have direct contact with foster carers. Going forward it may just be letter updates and photos. All circumstances are different. Individual.

The goodbye was more emotional than we could ever have imagined. Understandably the foster carer was very upset. If I’m honest, it was really tough. I kept saying “should we give you more time?” “do you want another cuddle?” In that moment, I felt like we were breaking up a family rather than creating one. It was so hard to find the right words, but I’ll never forget the last thing my husband said to her as we walked away … “I promise I’ll make you proud”. And I knew deep down that he – we – would.

We drove away in tears, not quite sure how we would get over it. Couldn’t get our heads around how hard it had been. Despite the brave faces, there was genuine pain and this was hard to take in.

I was worried about the impact. The effects of separation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong. After about a week of living in a wonderful blissful bubble altogether in our forever home, we were knocked sideways. The penny dropped that things were different. Where was that nice lady? Where had she gone? …she’s not coming back is she?

The eye contact stopped. Physically turning away when we walked in the room. There were no smiles or giggles. Some physical symptoms too. Our beautiful bundle of joy was suffering loss. Trying to process it in their own way. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. I cried every night. Felt guilty that we were the cause of all this upset. That we’d taken them from her happy place. From the safety and security they were used to.

Generally, looked after children don’t go straight from unsafe or neglectful situations directly to adoptive parents. Foster carers have lovingly cared for them in between. Often for long periods of time. Of course this was going to be difficult. If I’m honest, very foolishly, we weren’t prepared for it. People used to say to us how “lucky” we were that they were so young and would have no memories. This was clearly not the case at all.

While you’re going through it, it’s hard to see that this is in fact an important part of the attachment process. We needed to fix it. Nobody else. Just us, as mummy and daddy. And we did. Slowly and steadily we built up trust. Let our little one grieve their loss. Attachments form in different ways. Take different periods of time. You must be patient and not push it. Showing loss is a good sign. It shows they have the ability to attach. But, it is really hard to watch.

After this difficult time had passed, things didn’t take long to settle. We were thrown headfirst in to being parents and all it brings. I was generally really nervous. Scared of doing the wrong thing. Making the wrong decision. But I think any new mum feels this way. We had the added angle of trying to stick to foster home routines. Not wanting to change anything for fear of upset and insecurity. This did make us pretty inflexible. But it is the right advice, Even if you feel that something different would work better for all of you. Don’t be hasty to change. It is hard to get the balance right.

I kept going back over all the copious notes I’d made in the meeting with the foster carer. We kept a detailed daily diary, probably for about 4 months. We recorded absolutely everything. All the basics like eating, sleeping and toileting, to moods and behaviours. If we were having a bad day, we’d look back to try and work out why. Reviewed the pages of good days and tried different things the next. It might sound a little “OTT”, but this totally worked for us. When the day finally came that I felt in control, the day that I decided I didn’t need the diary anymore. This was a good day. I had finally gained the confidence that I could do this. I was becoming a mum. And it felt awesome.

Technically, this isn’t the end of our adoption journey – it will be with us forever. But it is the point in the road at which we became parents. I can’t express how amazing it still feels writing that word. Adoption made us a mummy and daddy. Yes, it was challenging. Yes, it was frustrating at times. But hand on heart and without any hesitation, it was the best thing we ever did.

I can’t find the words to express the deep love I have found. The sense of completeness I feel. I never really questioned if I would ever love them as “my own”. I wouldn’t have applied to adopt if I felt that way. You see, I can’t remember a time in my whole adult life when I didn’t dream of being a mum. I have always had a really strong maternal pull. That made it even more heartbreaking when I couldn’t become one. But to not become one at all, well, that was just not an option.

Of course, I have no real idea if the love I feel is the same as people feel for children they’ve had through birth. But I cannot imagine that it is any stronger than the love I feel for mine. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to love them any more than I do.

Thank you adoption for all you have done for me – for all of us. …”families come together in many ways, how truly splendid we all say”.

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