The End of the Journey or Is it Just the Beginning?

Created with Nokia Smart CamI was trying to remember what life was like before it got turned upside down some 18 months ago. If I’m honest the start of the journey was more like 5 years ago; my husband summed it up only last night, we had a little dude shaped hole in our lives that needed filling. This has now been filled by the liveliest, funniest little boy I’ve ever known and he’s all ours – stubborn streaks, mannerisms picked up from us (we are big believers in nurture over nature), and the cutest smile ever .

But my goodness it was a very hard journey and continues to be going forwards but I am putting the latter part down to there being a toddler in the house. There are lessons I have learnt and hand on heart if ‘We Are Family’ hadn’t come onto my radar and the wonderful people I have met it would have been even harder, you are the adopters answer to the NCT and I love it!

Ours was not mainstream adoption, our local authority said they couldn’t help us as we were both white. Through a bit of research and a chance conversation with a family friend that we found another route: Concurrent Planning. The CP process starts with a fostering placement where a young child is placed with a family, this provides security and stability at a crucial stage. CP carers are also approved to be adopters so if the Court decides the placement should move to adoption the baby doesn’t have a further move and the CP carers become the adoptive parents.

I found an email recently from this family friend who said to think carefully before going down the CP route as it was incredibly hard.   She wasn’t wrong. We had approximately 3 months of training to become both foster carers and adopters and then when we had completed the training we were able to complete our adoption paperwork to be approved. The fostering period of CP involves weekly (some time several times weekly) contact meetings with the birth family which we were also prepped for as well as ongoing training throughout the fostering period.

We finally got approved in November 2012 and then the wait began. We were told the call could come at any time. Our new friends from the training were all in the same boat. Slowly over the course of a few months emails arrived from them to say they had a match. Until, finally, our turn came.

It was a Tuesday in March 2013. Our social worker called to say there may be a little boy who needed us. A meeting at the local authority was planned for the Thursday where we would find out more.  My husband and I (with our wonderful social worker) were excited and nervous.

Arriving at the local authority we were surprised (and pleased) to find in the corner ‘the little dude’ all smiling and happy. It was completely overwhelming. We left the meeting elated and went straight to the shops. This little dude was coming to us as we were to become his Foster parents whilst his future was decided.

I walked into work the next day to hand over my job and on the Saturday flew to visit my father for what was to be the last time, he died of cancer 3 weeks into the foster placement. However, our priority had to be the little dude and despite how I felt, we only postponed 1 contact session.

On the Monday we spent the day with the little dude at his emergency foster placement and then on the Tuesday he spent the day with us to see our home for the first time. On the Wednesday we picked him up and drove him back to our home.

Almost immediately the meetings started. Social workers, health visitors, it was relentless. And then contact started. We had to take the little dude twice a week to visit his birth family for their sessions. This meant dropping him off at the contact centre and leaving him for 1½ hours with the social workers and birth parents. We went for coffee. It was without question the most stressful part of the whole process and only became harder as the months passed and our attachment development. It also caused stress for the little dude as he didn’t like to be left. This caused me huge amounts of stress (as I was the one having to take him). We also found a number of sessions were cancelled as the birth parents didn’t turn up.

Overall contact was a positive experience as it gave us a chance to meet the birth family. This should help us to answer any questions further down the line.

The local authority and courts eventually decided that adoption was the plan and we were ‘matched’ with the little dude (we had at this point been looking after him for 6 months). Contact was then reduced and final goodbyes were said to birth family.

Was it too much to believe that we could start to think we could really be his mummy and daddy, it wasn’t and we could begin to concentrate on no longer calling ourselves by our 1st names, keeping a daily account of everything he did, remembering to email our social worker and his social worker if we’d had to give him Calpol, etc., etc. We knew it would happen but had been holding back. For the duration of the fostering we were unable to leave him with anyone else, we had to remain in London but if we did want to leave London we had to leave details in triplicate. So yes, it really was tough.

When we said goodbye to the little dude’s birth family they said ‘Thank you’ – a simple yet powerful phrase and one I will hold dear.

We were now able to put our application in to adopt, and whilst it was rather straightforward it reminded me of being a small child and waiting to see if Father Christmas had come. Eventually in January 2014 the little dude became our son

And as one journey comes to an end another adventure begins; our adventure as a family. Today my son said ‘Daddy is brilliant, Mummy is gorgeous’ and I can honestly say this journey is going to be wonderful.

 

Favourite Dad

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For us falling in love was easy and instant – from the very moment we met our sons. For the boys it of course took longer – they needed to settle, they needed to attach, subconsciously they needed to allow themselves to love again.

They started saying ‘I love you Daddy’ in response to our constant ‘I love yous’ pretty early on in the placement and as pleasing and satisfying as it was, of course we knew that it was just an automatic response and at that stage they were just words. Words that the boys knew were the ‘right’ words and that they could see pleased us, but regardless we were under no illusion that they understood them or indeed that they conveyed true emotions.

However we did feel that it was healthy for them to be using the words and that at some point they would grow into them and feel comfortable saying them because they appreciated their value and meant it.

It has been two years since we became a family and we feel sure that we have now reached that point and that their love is real and unquestioned. Being a family hasn’t always been easy (and no doubt never will be), but we don’t question that they love us both – and I would say in pretty equal measures. Maybe they love us for the different qualities that we bring to their lives, but I’m confident that we are both now acknowledged equally as parents – but that certainly hasn’t always been the case.

From the subject being raised at the ‘We are Family’ support groups I have attended it seems pretty standard for adopted children to have a favourite parent in the early stages, in our house it was very clear who that was and being children they were not shy to state it as a fact.

The first time was the funniest and most honest. I was playing around and did something pleasing to our then 5 year old and proudly stated ‘see that’s why I am the best Daddy in the whole world’ to which the response was a confused look and an emphatic ‘no you are not, Pa is’ (this is their name for my partner).

I had been firmly put in my place.

I am pretty sure I had registered the favouritism prior to this, but having it spelt out so clearly and so heart felt – did take me aback. I am old enough and tough enough for it not to hurt, but there was certainly disappointment that I was not the favourite – or even equal – thankfully the humour of the situation softened the blow. I immediately took stock and realised that as the stay at home parent of course ‘Pa’ was more dominant in their lives and indeed in their eyes more important to them. However, far more relevant was the fact that it showed that a great bond and attachment had already been formed and that they were settling into a family with – in their eyes – a ‘Best Dad in the whole world’ – that may not be me, but it was reassuring and great to know regardless.

Other adopters have stated that they felt jealous with the realisation that they were not the favourite, which I fully understand as I have experienced a similar jealousy. We have a nephew who bonded immediately with the boys – especially the oldest – and they became the center of his attention whenever he was around and vice versa, their playing quite literally pushed me to one side. In the early days this was harder to accept or justify as he was not prominent in their daily lives and it did leave me feeling rejected and replaced. Thankfully after a few hours we were back to being a family and I returned to being needed and the focus of their attention, as time has gone on and I have become more secure in my role as Daddy the jealousy has been replaced with joy for the relationships being built with extended family, but in the early days it was tough.

We put so much in to our parenting and we try so hard for them that when there is anything suggesting you are not doing a great job, its difficult to accept – when it’s your child telling you that you are not as good as your partner it’s especially tough.

I am in awe of you single adopters out there taking on so much alone and I think you have it so much tougher in every respect – except one that is: in your house you are guaranteed to be the favourite. I envy you that.

If you are one of a couple adopting, be prepared as there will be a favourite – and it might not be you.

M

Tomorrow and Forever.

IMG_8668My parents were pretty dysfunctional as I remember and I had a chaotic life. But my wife says I married ‘up’ and with a whole load of therapy, many geographicals and a hefty swig of courage I got over my past and stepped into the shoes of the person I am today.

My parents didn’t come to our wedding, they didn’t even want an invite being sent to the house and believe our son will turn against us later in life. They think it’s unfair of us to adopt a child, hiding behind religion and think we can not adequately parent a family of our own, in our same sex household. Suffice to say we don’t have my parents in our lives and they have never met our son.

But even still, I love them. I have been trying to reconcile these feelings so I can sit with them comfortably. I guess I am in training for when our boy faces his life story and confronts his feelings for his birth mother. I can tell him first hand it’s possible to love your birth parents but there is room to love also the people who make up your family, even if you not connected by blood. The 2 closest people in my life are my wife and son. We have no blood tie but we are connected by an invisible thread that helps us have these super human powers. Like, mind reading, eyes in back of your head and of course being able to read in the dark the same story night after night with zeal. Our boy catches our hearts with a simple smile or gesture. Today he stole my heart, by simply wrapping his fingers around my arm and kissing my hand ( I had knocked it on the table and said ‘ouch’ that sensitivity was his awesome reply.

My son makes me a better human being. He centres me. Through our painting and colouring sessions I can engage in the raw material of life, be it with stick people and lopsided cats and snowmen depictions.  I feel the world is a better place, my son is part of the next generation and we are proud as punch of him. To open your heart, to be vulnerable is a courageous thing and completely worth its weight in gold. My parents can’t accept me for who I love today but I know my wife and son will love me tomorrow and forever.

Waiting it out

Two years ago I became Mum to an adorable, charming child who I can’t imagine life without but still no adoption order. The delay? She has undiagnosed complex needs, and I need financial support to ensure she gets the support she so deserves. I am pursuing the placing authority and they are ducking and diving from the reality that she is not the problem free child they conjured up in the initial profile; and that her two years in their care and the previous eight unknown months in utero have caused her trauma and impacted her emotions, behaviours and ability to ‘fit in’. ‘She is very affectionate and hardly cries making her a pleasant friendly toddler’, they said. ‘Is that usual?’ I said. ‘That shows she doesn’t have attachment problems’, they said. Alarm bells rang in my head and continued to ring when this ‘pleasant’ behaviour continued after placement. Yes she was affectionate, hugging and kissing anyone who responded to her wanting to sit on their laps and being picked up, including strangers in parks and shops. And yes she hardly cried, even when she fell over or touched a hot plate straight out the oven, for the first few weeks she only cried when we had to leave a playground or when I found her sitting up silently rocking in her bed in the dark. The placing authority felt she was settling well and ‘I was an inexperienced neurotic new mum’. (Ok…they didn’t say neurotic). So two years on despite her wonderful progress I have found love is not enough to make up for her previous losses and that long term I have to plan for what could be years if not a life time of therapy and support to enable her to function better in social environments which is basically everywhere outside our front door. I now accept the fact that I have to dig in and fight our corner even though I have doubts every day whether waiting is the right thing to do. Maybe if I sign the papers tomorrow, everything will suddenly become right; the complex needs will disappear; I will go back to full time work/income; she will simply sail happily through the school years; she will start to communicate without hitting and scratching and I will be able to sleep for eight hours straight! Much of our time together my daughter is a bright, articulate and caring quite ordinary child who happens to process some information slower than others yet desperately wants to understand the world she inhabits. However she needs more help than I can give her which is so hard for a former teacher and all round know it all to accept. I feel that I am now rarely that patient and calm mum I and others thought I would be, recently resorting to feeding my daughter lollies for breakfast just to be able have a shower without her having a meltdown. Naively I didn’t expect that getting post adoption support would be so hard, but I also didn’t expect to love my daughter so deeply that putting life on hold to get that support, would be an easy if not frustrating choice. Single mum of one brilliant little girl.

We are family is 1! – an update

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These days it is a year ago that We are Family saw the light of day.

We were a few parents who met on the grass in our local park with our young ones. Every week, or trying to. A year on and our local group now count 55+ families. If our members choose to we can meet once or twice a week – with or without our children. And we can stay in touch in between via the Interweb.

The last six months has seen a real growth spurt: we now run four local groups in and around London; and there are more in the pipeline. All four existing groups offer playgroups and social gatherings. Presently, the Hackney/Islington group is only one offering a Parent Support Group.

In total approximately 140 WAF families use our services as much or as little as they wish. We are still a very diverse bunch of young and older, reflecting the community in which we live and that our children will grow up. While the majority of our members are families, we are welcoming an increasing number of prospective adopters.

In north London, we continue to have a good working relationship with the North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium (NLAFC). Since the beginning of the New Year we have been meeting regularly, and we have now settled on meeting quarterly. We have established a dedicated working group consisting of two social workers and two adoptive parents, though other SWs or parents may join our meetings as and when necessary. This group has been set up in recognition that we cannot do our work efficiently on our own. So far we have found this arrangement very worthwhile. And it is definitely a two-way thing.

Current collaboration in the WAF/NLAFC working group focus on a number of issues in Post Adoption Support (PAS), mainly recruitment and training. The recruiting part is straight-forward: The SWs help spread the word, so that new families can join us. The training bit is more complicated and multifaceted. We parents bring up the kind of training we would like to see and discuss how to focus existing support evenings (as SW are present these evening have a different flavour to our Parent Support Evening). Like all London Adoption Consortia, NLAFC covers a large area, too large for all their adoptive families regularly to make it to our local meetings, therefore this working group are now considering where to set up further WAF groups. We have been speaking with adopters and SWs in another NLAFC local authority (LA) to further this idea. In the autumn we will visit and speak at more LAs.

One major result that has come from this WAF/NLAFC working group is that NLAFC has opened their training to all WAF members in their area, whether or not they adopted through one of their LAs. September will see our first collaboration on training as we have scheduled a workshop on quotidian therapeutic parenting with Sally Donovan. An event we are particularly excited by the prospect of!

Moreover two of our parents are now training for adoption parenting course, Adoption Changes. The aim is for them to deliver training along side the SWs.

In May, two of our mothers spoke at the newly formed London Adoption Showcase at Somerset House. The response and support from floor, including existing partners was very encouraging. This meeting lead to new collaborations and new ventures – more on that another time, suffice to say that we are hoping to replicate WAF/NLAFC in other London consortia, as we are very interested in working on this level. In fact, this month we have been to speak with the South London Adoption Consortium and the East London Adoption Consortium. Both are keen to support us and similar initiatives.

Recently, we have started the process of becoming a charity. To this end we have formed We are Family HQ, which has members from existing groups. First move is getting a constitution. Truth be told we are a bunch of enthusiastic parents. So this part of the learning curve is extra steep! It is clear that we need to think realistically about how best to grow, so we remain in close contact with our members and their wishes.

Once again, we would like to stress that we are not in competition to PAS offered by other institutions and organisations; we just feel there could be much more peer-to-peer and user-led PAS in London, as indeed all over the UK. Too many adopters are still much too lonely on this life-changing path that is adoptive parenting.

We are celebrating our first anniversary with a big summer picnic for all our members.

Thank you to all our families. For being there. For being part of this.

And thank you to all of you out there, who have helped and talked and tweeted with us over the past year. It is more appreciated than we could ever express, and it’s been our absolutely pleasure!

 

 

Useless Blog #4: Ramblings on The Lovely Daughter

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I spend a lot of time thinking about The Lovely Daughter. What shocks me is that I cannot remember how it felt not to have her in our lives. I mean, I can remember what it felt like not having my two front teeth wholly attached to my jawbone (painful after the fact but just really, really surprising in the immediate moment), I can remember what it felt like not to have our dog (the postman – not sexist language; he happens to actually be a man – could come to the front door without the walls in the hallway rattling from the reverberations of the barking insanity) and I can remember what it felt like not to live next door to the three man-teen Hoxton beardos – a DJ, a golf pro and a kite-surfing champion – (we could watch Breaking Bad without questioning whether we actually lived in the same house as Jesse), but I cannot remember what it felt like not to have The Lovely Daughter running around with her FIVE (count them!) Peppa Pigs , bouncing off the walls and leaving a trail of strawberry yoghurt, a stunned, lightly salted dog, and two weary but happy parents. And that’s a good thing. Or early-onset dementia. She managed to blow up our TV a few weeks ago. I could have sworn that she was listening intently to my home-school physics lesson – you know the one, where I explained that two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen and integrated electronic circuitry don’t good bed-fellows make – but now that I think about it, I didn’t see her taking notes at the time and she did leave my laminated handouts in her potty, so perhaps she didn’t really take it all in. Still, our fault for leaving the dog’s water bowl on the floor in the kitchen, only fifty feet and a flight of stairs away from the television, I suppose. The other day she regressed for fun and went back to bottom-shuffling down the garden path. She turned to look at me with this beaming smile on her face and my heart exploded with love. Not literally – that would have made writing this slightly more tricky – but at that point I do remember thinking that she could water all our electrical appliances every day and still have an infinite number of brownie points in the bank. The Lovely Daughter is a great negotiator; I do that for a living and used to think I was pretty good at it, but it seems she has been secretly watching the CASS Business School “Principles and Tactics for Negotiating for Value” tutorials on You Tube (via the new TV we had to buy which has built-in internet access – every cloud…) while clearly I’ve not updated my strategy skillbase for a while, as she seems to confuse me into agreeing to pretty much anything she wants. Read six more stories before bedtime? I know you are tired, Daddy, and you’ve read to me for an hour already, but if I don’t remind myself what happens to Sam and his green eggs once more, I don’t think I will be able to sleep past 5.30 tomorrow morning. Or yes I know I haven’t eaten my raw carrots and hummus, Daddy, but if I don’t have that Peppa Pig ice-cream now, it’s unlikely that I will be able to get into my pyjamas for at least another four hours, you know, in time for you to play in that online poker tournament you haven’t told Mummy about. Pretty refined strategies for a two-year old. The Lovely Daughter – I hope I never forget the way she is now.

“She’s not my real mum you know…”

It was said so casually – a matter-of-fact statement that temporarily stopped the room. It was just me and my youngest daughter visiting my mum; the eldest and her dad having stayed in London. This was our first visit to nanny’s without them – I’d made the most of enjoying this new, relaxed dynamic where, for a few short days, I wasn’t trying to keep both a 10 and 5 year-old happy, in this quiet, ‘tick-tock of a clock’ environment so different to the harum scarum 90-mile an hour pace and noise of our home.

Mum’s brother, who has slipped effortlessly into surrogate granddad role since my dad died, misses a beat or two as he’s told this. His eyes flicker from my daughter, to her pointing finger and, finally, who’s at the end of it – me.

“Yes, I know all about that, love,” he says gently. “But she is, isn’t she? Because she’s the one taking care of you.”

I breathe again, my daughter nods and goes back to combing what’s left of his hair.

And I could kiss him – this 80-year-old who’s never experienced anything to do with adoption before – was put on the spot, Paxman-style, and came up with an election winner.

And, believe me, I wasn’t hurt – it wasn’t the first time I’d heard her say this. She’d referred to her ‘real mum’ a few weeks earlier, when she told me she didn’t want to call her by our usual expression, ‘tummy mummy’, anymore. I said that was fair enough – but maybe she could call her by her first name – or ‘birth mum’, instead? And then I explained that, although I hadn’t given birth to her, and couldn’t do anything to change that, in every other way I was, and always would be, her ‘real mum’ and she was my beloved daughter.

I know this pleased her but I also now think that, for her, it’s only half the point. She needs to say it – her ‘real’, actual mum, who’s DNA she shares, and who she already fantasises about coming to her next birthday party – exists. I wonder if saying it out loud is her way of keeping that truth – her birth mum’s existence, out there, somewhere – part of our family narrative? Or that she needs me to be able to hear it, and to show I can deal with it, ‘hold’ it for her, as part of feeling secure and safe – after all, if I can’t handle this truth, then how is she meant to, now, or in the future?

It somehow reminds me of a film I’ve not seen since I was a kid but which left a huge impression on me. It’s an old Hollywood noir, with a world-weary gumshoe detective tasked with investigating the supposed death of a beautiful young woman called Laura. He has nothing to go on but a haunting portrait of her and various reminiscences of her character by many different people in her life. He becomes obsessed and enthralled – who is the real Laura and why are there so many wildly at odds contradictions in the reports of what she was like? She is, essentially, the main character, yet she never makes an appearance or speaks for herself – until, that is, the very end, when it’s suddenly revealed she’s not dead after all and she and the besotted detective finally meet. I’ve no recollection of where – if anywhere – their relationship goes after that. What on earth happened next….?

My daughter is lucky, in some ways, that we have tons of photos of birth mum at various stages of her life. In fact, recently, when I bought each of my daughters a lovely photo frame, within a nano-second my youngest has flipped through appropriately-sized photos and selected and dexterously fitted the most hauntingly beautiful one of her birth mum. She put it in pride of place on her bedside shelf. And, if you want the truth, I was temporarily poleaxed to find a photo of all of us, that used to be propped up in that same space, discarded, having slipped, unnoticed, beneath her bed. Now, whenever I say goodnight to my daughter, my eyes often wander to her ‘Laura’, in that photo frame, gazing back at me enigmatically.

My daughter is also fortunate that there are years’ worth of ‘birth mum’ reminiscences we can ask for from close, supportive, birth family members we have regular contact with. For now, at least, they amply fulfill the birth family connection my daughter so obviously needs.

I wish we’d had the opportunity to meet birth mum before our daughter came to us – but it just didn’t materialise. I wish I could help her know that she really does share her birth mum’s smile, and her eyes – which she does, but, like her, I only know this from looking at photographs.

But one thing I do know – when and if, at some point in the future, my daughter seeks out her ‘Laura’, I am determined to be at her side, and loving her and supporting her every step of the way. Because that’s what a ‘real mum’ does.