Faulty Connection

20140315_120934From the first day I met our child, I loved them and that love has grown with each day that has passed. Until last week. From out of nowhere, I felt utterly disconnected from them and it freaked me out completely. It made me cry. I never expected to feel anything like that. Sure, I have been frustrated with them, angry even sometimes, but underneath there was always the connection and the love. Suddenly I’m looking at them and for a few minutes I’m thinking “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who you are.” I lost the connection. I’ve heard of that sort of thing happening to people during introductions or within a few weeks of bringing their child home, but after this amount of time with no inkling it was coming? I sat down and looked at our child and was crushed by the apparent vulnerability of our connection. How could I suddenly have that feeling? Where did it come from? Why? It went as quickly as it had come, but it really scared me. I got the connection back fairly quickly, as strong as ever and the love continued to grow as well, but it now seemed somewhat tinged by that awful moment.

So I did some online research to see if I could find out what happened, and whether it’s unusual. The second one first; apparently not. I found lots of anecdotal evidence of this “dis-connecting” experience among birth and adoptive parents, at varying stages of parenthood. Secondly, and to my relief, it seems the cause of it in the majority of “cases” I could find was anxiety or stress and a depletion of energy. I talked it over with my partner and it seems I had been worried prior that I hadn’t been as patient as usual with our child of late, that they were going through a phase of wanting me less and my partner more, and that had impacted me in a way I had not been aware of, on top of which was a difficult and tiring phase at work. So that’s how it played out. It scared me then, but after reading lots of other parents’ stories around this subject, I feel less worried about it now. I hope this helps anyone who has ever experienced a similar feeling. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child in that moment, but that you are anxious, perhaps under a lot of pressure and your emotional gas tank is empty. So, look after yourself, try to recognise the symptoms of anxiety and stress, be kind to yourself in that moment and for moments after and give yourself some time and space to re-fill your tank.”

The long and winding road.

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It seems obvious that for the vast majority there is quite simply an inevitability that you will one day become a parent and indeed a social expectation that will be so right from the very beginning – all those references made to children about their futures as a mother or a father, all those dolls, push chairs and other baby related toys – even those young adults who buck the trend and do not consider themselves all that child focussed may soon find themselves in a relationship where parenting is the next logical step or around their peers who are establishing families which opens up the possibility of the same for them. I am sure we all know people who categorically stated that they would never have children who somehow found themselves swept along with this inevitability and are now proud, loving and totally committed parents. When on that path and the unthinkable happens and a natural pregnancy is not possible and medical intervention fails too, adoption becomes an obvious consideration and hopefully a solution.

However, for gay people all of this could not be further from reality. In the not so distant past acknowledging to ourselves that we are gay was also acknowledging a childless future, particularly for gay men. Lesbians of course had options gay men didn’t and a relatively small number managed to establish families pretty naturally (with the help of a friend and a turkey baster for instance) however if gay men where involved they were usually in the back ground and even if part of a child’s life were outside the nuclear family.

We do a great job of getting on with our child free existence and indeed for many our fun filled, self centered existence apparently has much to be envious of – however not being a parent can often be a huge disappointment that no amount of time and effort dedicated to children of friends and family or substitute children – pets – can truly fill.

As a result my partner and I came to parenthood/adoption by quite a long and convoluted process: growing up thinking that of course we would be fathers, realising we were gay and assuming parenting would never be an option, falling in love and recognising how we both yearned to parent, trying for a birth child with a close friend and failing, discovering later – in our early and late 40’s – that gay people were now able to adopt, feeling it came too late and that we were too old, being full of doubt that we could do it at all, struggling to let go of our great child-free life, but then being inspired by friends who had already taken the step.

The first visit from this new family literally changed our lives. We of course knew they were going through the process and we were aware that they had been approved and later that the children had been placed, we also knew of their need to stay away from extended family and friends until the dust had settled and the family had bonded and the children attached.

We were thrilled for the new Dads and so excited to finally be meeting their sons for the first time, brothers who we had heard so much about who at the age of 2 and 6 being a sibling group and one of them a short way off being considered ‘older’ for adoption could have been close to spending the rest of their lives in care or could have been seperated to give them a better chance of placement. Seeing them in this new family with so much love and with hope for a great future ahead of them had a huge impact on us.

It was a wonderful weekend. They are lovely little boys – beautiful, funny, warm and affectionate. They are great dads – firm, fair and totally loving. They are a great family and a total inspiration.

We realised that up until this point our thoughts on adoption had been all about us satisfying our desire/need to parent, suddenly that all changed and we were now discussing being able to do what our friends had done and give children a loving home and a far greater chance of a happy, productive and positive future. Of course its not selfless, we get to satisfy ourselves at the same time – the desire to parent was as strong as ever, but the new perspective put the negatives we had been focusing on and the fears we were concerned about into perspective. The difficulties we knew we would be facing and the ‘sacrifices’ we thought we would be making would be minimal compared to what we could bring to children in need of parents, in need of a home, in need of a future.

We immediately started the process, it was over five years ago and being before the recent changes in the system it was a slow and laborious experience that took almost three years from the initial enquiry to placement. At the time that seemed quite painful, but on reflection we can see that it really gave us time to consider and to reconsider (over and over) just what we were doing and what we would be taking on. It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride and the ups were of course great and exciting, but these were offset by many negatives that we had to work through and the slow process allowed us to do exactly that and most importantly without the pressure that rushing through the process may have added.

The length of time it took also brought us to two wonderful and very special little boys who are our sons, had the process been any quicker it could have resulted in us not being in the right place at the right time for what we see as a perfect match and that now feels unthinkable. Of course I realise that had we been matched earlier with other children they would no doubt now feel like the perfect match, but that is immaterial as we are a family that was ‘meant to be’ and NOTHING else is even remotely relevant.

Things are not perfect – of course not – and we know that we still have much to learn, as parents and indeed as a family. However, we never question the decision we made on any level and realise that all the steps that led us to where we are now add something to us being the parents and the family that we are.

People come to adoption from many, many angles, but amazingly we all end up at the same point – as parents of a child or children that we love with all our hearts and that we could never imagine life without.

Does it matter how we got here? On the journey I guess it feels like it does matter – especially if it’s a difficult one, but once we reach the destination then I think maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

We are all where we are and surely that is exactly where we are meant to be.

Interview with a blogger: The Quirky Parent.

F and L on beach

We Are Family asked the questions and The Quirky Parent answered!

Q) Why did you choose adoption, and why international?
A) When I was heavily pregnant with my son and slobbed on the sofa one evening, I accidentally caught a programme on the TV about Chinese orphanages that cared for children given up as a result of the one child policy. There and then I said to myself, I am not going to create my second child from scratch. I am going to adopt one of those children. I never ever let go of that feeling and determination. I have sometimes wondered if it was because I was flooded with ‘maternal’ pregnancy hormones at the time I watched it!

Q) From start to finish of process – i.e. (bringing your child home) – how long did it take?
A) Three years, from the very first interview to being handed our child when she was 10 ½ months old. It now takes six or seven years to adopt from China because most babies, I believe, are being adopted within the country – which is so much better. When we left China with our daughter, it felt like an act of love but also a wrench, taking her away from her country, culture and language. But at the time, I don’t think there was a better option for her.

Q) How did you find the assessment process?
A) We found the home study relaxed, enjoyable and thought-provoking due to our supportive and insightful social worker. There was something almost therapeutic about being asked to think and talk about your childhood, your relationship, your attitudes, your social networks and everything else it covers! There was a mountain of bureaucracy at the Chinese end, but it was a well-trodden and straightforward path.

Q) How do you think it could be improved?
A) Our particular adoption panel was scarey and intimidating with some slightly aggressive questioning – worse than any job interview I’ve ever had, worse than being in the boardroom on The Apprentice! I didn’t feel this approach was appropriate and I’m sure it doesn’t get the most open or useful answers from people.

Q) What has been the biggest surprise?
A) How incredibly well-matched my daughter and I are. This will sound a bit bonkers but it was as if there was some sort of magic at work! They say that in the ‘matching room’ in China they match the babies and parents – bizarrely – by which baby looks most like the father! I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that my daughter and I are incredibly similar in lots of ways. This gives our relationship an ease and an extra-special something.

Q) What advice would you give to prospective adopters?
A) Having adopted a baby, I think in many ways my adoption journey (so far!) has possibly been smoother than if I had adopted an older child, so I don’t feel in a position to give advice. But one of the adoption books I read before we adopted was The Primal Wound and this paragraph from it is something I always try to keep it in my head:
“The adoptive mother sees what looks like a normal baby, a baby who in many ways is normal, and later sees a laughing, happy toddler and she can’t believe that this baby is aching inside. But if she is really alert, if she is truly attuned to her child, she will notice the sadness, the pain, the fear. And in noticing, she will be better able to help the child to allow her to love her, and for her to love her in return.”

Q) The best thing about being a Mum?
A) Exploring the world with your children and seeing it afresh through their eyes. And feeling their hand in yours as you walk along.

Q) The hardest thing about being a mum?
A) Trying to keep your head above water in the constant whirlwind of parenting, work, house stuff, school stuff, rest-of-life stuff. Now is perhaps the hardest stage for me: I have a teenager (let’s not even go there!) and my daughter, now eight, seems to be at an age where the ‘grief’ and complicated feelings surrounding her adoption and birth parents seem to be intensifying.

Q) Your happiest moment?
A) Cliché, but holding my son for very the first time, holding my daughter for the very first time. Although the lead-up to each couldn’t have been more different, both times I entered a little, soft, blurry, muffled bubble of pure happiness.

Q) The saddest time that shook your world?
A) My dad dying unexpectedly and unecessarily. He was a tricky man and we had a complicated relationship. The death of a parent is such a jolt anyway, forcing you to face your mortality and grope around for meaning in life.

Q) If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
A) Feel the fear and do it anyway. I wish I’d had the courage then to act on good ideas and opportunities more instead of taking the ‘safe’ option.

Q) The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?
A) Find your passion in life and follow it. That’ll go a huge way to making you happy.

Q) The philosophy that underpins your life?
A) Don’t follow the crowd – unless the crowd is going the way you definitely want to go.

Reasons to be Cheerful: (Whose Tummy?)

photo-3Apart from the beautiful early blooming daffodils, I have another big reason to be cheerful this week – the confirmation that our son has just been accepted into the school of our choice. A school where I am pretty certain he is going to be happy, inspired, challenged, educated and stimulated, and which he is certainly ready for.

How do I know this? Let me rewind to an earlier visit to said school where my wife is complaining about the possibility of maybe having to join in with the activities and would prefer to be in an artisan coffee shop, and I am just praying he likes the look of it… We go into his new classroom and he immediately picks up a Gruffalo book and wants to take his shoes off.

I feel this is going well.

Later on he discovers the home corner and we don’t read anything into him putting the baby in the microwave repeatedly. He is happy – the classroom is divided into different play zones and our boy discovered that there is a shop, with all the pretend grocery paraphernalia you can throw a stick at. He is in make believe Narnia.

We sit at the little table all together making biscuits with play dough and are joined by 2 existing children who are 4 years old and who seem confident, happy, self assured and content in their endeavours. We start making chit chat and then one of the boys unexpectedly asks – “so which of your tummies did he come out of?” Both of us look at each other and mouth ‘Oh’ We are not sure if our son heard the question, so I redirect it to him, with which he was able to reply that he came out of his birth mum’s tummy and gave her name. We were joyous that the first direct question about where our son started his life seemed to be resolved quite happily and he took it all in his stride.

We spoke with the teacher and commented on what happened and we also congratulated the staff on their teaching prowess. The kids were creative, polite and continually able to find stimulus, comfort and a friendly smile. We were encouraged by our son’s behaviour and really hope he enjoys this new chapter when he starts later in the year.

Later on, we joked about it. Never in a million years were we expecting questions from the kids! But it makes sense and I guess that old addage about whatever you need to learn, you lean at kindergarten is true!

Scotch Eggs

WAF LOGO DEC 14We are sitting having dinner and both our sons are excited because a friend from school is with us, conversation jumps around and one of them makes reference to ‘Mummy’ at which point the friend says ‘you have two Dad’s because your mummy is dead’, ‘no she isn’t they reply in unison’ and then go on to give two slightly different explanations as to her whereabouts.

We are of course very open about their past and talk about birth Mummy and Daddy as being part of their lives, even though we have no photo’s of them and have had no letter box contact from either of them since the boys were placed with us two years ago. They mention very little about their time before Care and although we never push, we do try to make it clear that they can always be open and talk about anything. We feel that it is not actually a reluctance to do so, but mostly because both the boys were very young when they were taken away – just 2 and 3 years old – and have few clear memories. In fact they actually spent longer with their foster parents than with their birth parents and they both talk openly about their life there.

Also, they were with an older sibling in the foster placement and we do feel that some of the little that the boys have shared about life in their original family is probably ‘borrowed memory’ from their sister who was 6 when they were taken from their parents. She was of course far more aware of the reality of their situation than our boys could have been, especially our youngest and she no doubt has very vivid memories that she would have shared with the boys.

Our oldest seems quite ‘unemotional’ about his birth parents, but to be honest he is a very ‘matter of fact’ little boy and hugely pragmatic, so it’s not so surprising. His brother on the other hand is the complete opposite and is clearly hurt and confused about his past, as a consequence he has little time for his birth parents and clearly has a lot of resentment towards them. On being shown an old birthday card sent from them for his 3rd birthday – that we had stumbled upon in a box of ‘mementoes’ that had arrived with them – he declared ‘they are nasty people, I don’t like them’ and threw the card to the floor.

We have tried to reassure them that they are good people who were just unable to look after them, but we have been armed with such little information, and are aware that there may be things that need acknowledging and dealing with that we have no idea about.

So back to the dinner table.

Our youngest’s explanation as to where mummy is starts with ‘she is not here, she couldn’t look after us’ however his brother declares ‘she is in prison’!

‘No she is not’ I correct. To which they BOTH responded ‘yes she is’.

I thought for a moment and remembering them both sharing the experience of being taken away in a police car and going to the police station, I bring this up and say that maybe they thought she was taken to prison, but in fact she was not.

To which both said ‘no, she had to go to prison’ and the oldest continued ‘she tried to give me away and the police said that was very bad and that she had to go to prison’, his brother finished ‘yes, she didn’t want him, she wanted to give him to somebody else’.

Unsurprisingly, my partner and I were somewhat thrown by this and questioned them further. We are now pretty sure that there is certainly truth in what they were revealing and although we are not as yet sure that she was convicted and sentenced, we are now pretty convinced that Mum was at the very least arrested for ‘trying to give away one of her children’ – our oldest son.

We knew that the information we had been given was a bit vague and somewhat sketchy, but we hadn’t really considered that such huge and important information could be missing.

Over the two years we have been together there have been a number of small surprises and revelations from their past, but until now nothing any more revealing than the time we were walking around a supermarket and our oldest became quite animated and with a look of total glee declares ‘Wow these are my absolute favourite’ and proceeds to pick up a pack of Scotch Eggs – something his new vegetarian parents had clearly been depriving him off.

That was about a year ago and although we loved our wonderful sons with all our heart, had been together for a year and we had assumed that we knew them quite well it made us realise how we still had so much to learn about them. The revelation at the dinner table has displayed JUST how much that could be.

A Journey to Parenthood #1

wpid-20141211_190229.jpgHaving adopted through choice (i.e. not infertility (that we know of)) is not something that we talk about any more. It just doesn’t feel appropriate to casually mention to our newfound adopter friends who we appreciate so much, and I have got tired of explaining to others anyway. My partner and I discussed adopting fairly early on in our relationship and talked about how much we would like to do it. We are not religious but I guess we suffer from that middle class, privileged background angst that can drive you in a similar direction. Our adoption assessment was straightforward (our lives were labelled ‘perfect’) and we were matched quickly with our darling boy who was 1 at the time. We adored him from the first photo viewing, when we met him it was all confirmed in our mind. He was meant to be ours. After a short introduction he came home with us and to all intents and purposes seemed to settle really well. My partner was able to take several weeks off work so we got through the first month daze together and learnt how to care for our boy. Then reality hit. The cliquee playgroups, the assumptions I was the nanny, the loneliness, the ‘I just have to get through to the weekend’ mentality and then finally the ground breaking realisation that it was unlikely we were ever going to be a ‘normal’ family. Our son was young but I was his third mother following a neglectful start and a not really adequate foster placement. He was confused, disorientated, grieving and expressed his anger at me freely and relentlessly. We had read the books but nothing could have prepared us for it. Now nearly two years in I am out of the fog and feel I can review and improve my parenting, and rationalise and even avoid the anger outbursts. We chose this path and I’m so glad, I love my boy with my whole heart but the realisation that I deserved empathy and was desperately in need of it so that I could start to empathically parent was what saved us. To all those who’ve shared a kind or understanding word with me, I am so grateful!

Steps

20130330_110732That all-important conversation that resulted in our stopping the use of contraception. Our wonderfully spontaneous and abandoned sex life which gradually, gradually morphed into something organised, timed and goal-oriented ! Those scores of expensive ovulation and pregnancy test devices : who’d have known that plastic sticks could be capable of ruling your life and bringing forth such anticipation and deflation ? (One that told us the right story even got gift-wrapped and given to my partner on his birthday……) The absolute faith and certainty in beginning IVF treatments. The abject misery and devastation of each failure. The renewed belief and confidence in success that came with a holistic, natural medicine course. The several pregnancies that couldn’t get past 4 weeks. The hope and hopelessness; the optimism and despair; the expectation and anguish; the longing and tears; the excitement and the grieving. Seven years of these painful steps. Steps that led us to the door of our adoption agency upon which we knocked firmly. Steps that I now, frankly, rejoice in. For if we hadn’t taken them we would never have met and loved our beautiful, comical, clever 3 year old daughter who brings such sunshine to our lives and to those of our extended families. I don’t say this lightly, I mean it from the bottom of my heart, and only you other adoptive parents will believe and understand me : I feel lucky not to have had our own birth child.