Early Days with We are Family

The end of the old year is near. Time to look back. For me at another extraordinary year. In no small part due to We are Family, the post adoption support group, that came to life in the summer of 2013.

Six months ago most of us didn’t know each other, and some had just met their children. Now, half a year since we started, We are Family counts 30 families, that is nearly one hundred individuals. At a Christmas gathering for our families, there was a palpable sense of belonging, of merry banter between new friends and excited kids. As the parent, who organised this put it: ‘the first party in We are Family’. What a prospect!
May the future hold many more parties. And families.

So … who are we? We are Family is a local group, although some people have been willing to travel quite far to meet us, either at the playgroup or in the parent support group.

Right now we parents are gay, lesbian, straight, single and couples. Our children come from a multitude of backgrounds, as do we, their parents. At least 15 nations are represented amongst us all. In other words, the group mirrors the diverse London that our children will grow up in.

As a playgroup we started meeting weekly in a local park in the sunny summer of 2013. With autumn approaching I asked a genial and unusually diverse playgroup if we could join them – indoors, to which they agreed with open arms. The playgroup is for under fives only. Nonetheless it seemed a logical progress from our days in the park, since the older adoptive kids were in school or nursery during the day.

Once inside, the playgroup grew and we now are quite a contingency. Around a third our families use it on a monthly basis. Here, a gentle sense of support and supervision rules the sessions. No strict rules are enforced, although all parents are being made aware of how the place works.

One of the real strengths of being a part of an existing playgroup is that adopters can mingle with biological mothers, fathers, grandparents and carers.  Fathers, biological or adoptive, feel welcome too. We blend in, and take part. The group may not be visible to the outsider, but there is an informal arrangement with the people running the club, who will lead new adopters to us. Breaking into the world of playgroups can be daunting with a newly placed son or daughter. The presence of other adopters at the playgroup eases the transition in to this strange new world of toddlerdom.

At the playgroup, conversations are naturally splintered as we chase around after our children, and there may be subjects that we adoptive parents may not feel comfortable discussing in a public space. To this end we initiated the fortnightly Parent Support Group. A generously spirited and very community minded shop owner lit the spark and gave us free run of her shop one evening every other week. Here too hot tea and biscuits play a central role, as do a couple of deep sofas. There is no agenda for the evening, but a topic or two may soon dominate. This is not a strategic group, nor it is therapeutic, although there is a distinct therapeutic edge. These evenings are meant to provide a confidential space in which to reflect on adoptive parenthood and to share experiences – good and bad. We can talk short hand about contact, adoption orders, final hearings, tummy mummies. People nod in recognition, and laugh and cry along with you. Because they get it.

It is the hope that the post adoption support provided by We are Family will breathe longevity, as we encounter and re-encounter the big questions in the adoptions stories, while our kids and we grow up.

There is something powerful, empowering even, of being amongst other adopters and their children. Several parents have commented on their joy at forging friendships they hope to last a lifetime. It is not so much to do with the group’s activities, as it is with bringing people together who share something deep and different to the majority of the people they are surrounded by.

It is a tall order to want to begin and sustain such a group. But the steady growth and exceedingly positive feedback over the past six months gives me hope. That there is a need for our group, and that we will continue to grow well into the future.

Over the past couple of months something extraordinary has started to happen: it would seem that a core energy has started to emerge within the group. People are getting to know each other, and it is heart warming to witness the mutual support. As is the way newcomers are welcomed in.

The internet has played a small part in this. A closed mailing list and internet group has begun to carry support and congratulations on big and small news. It is my hope that this too will continue to grow in the New Year.

On the horizon are some big questions of the more administrative and official kind that will need to be addressed head on. But more on that some other time …

One thing is clear: We love our children. Parental love may not have happened overnight, but we have grown into it. Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of this aspect of parenthood either. Now I can’t imagine life without my son. His smell, touch and sound. I want to give him the best care I am capable of on his path in life. And I know I do this better when I feel contained. We are Family certainly helps me in that way. And I hope we do the same for others.

We are Family are unashamedly parent focused. We support the parents, to support our children.  We do not offer advice. But support. Through being there.

Bring on 2014!

Happy New Year young and old.

Sarah, Charlie’s mum

The Ride of our Life

How we came to adopt

With the advance of 40, with time ticking over, settling the issue of becoming a parent (or not) gained importance.

What did we want? How far were we prepared to go? We were keen for parenthood and adopting was something my husband and I had separately considered. In the end, adopting felt the most right (although we had to follow the tried and tested path before allowing ourselves this conclusion).

The Assessment Process

How does one describe this experience!? We went in knowing full well that there would be lots of probing questions. Our view of this process was that the more upfront and authentic we were, the easier it would be for a suitable match to be determined. It was also an opportunity to confirm this was what we really wanted… and that we were suited to adopting. It was intense, but worthwhile.

A year after our first assessment visit, days before we were due to attend panel for approval as prospective adopters; we received notification of a possible match. Oh my!!! We were excited and petrified all at the same time – here was this adorable little face peering at us from the page, and as we looked into her eyes and were caught up by her contagious smile we thought… why not?

Another 2 months on and we were approved as a match for this dear little girl. She was just over 2 years old and 2 weeks later Samantha has her first night of forever.

Woo Hoo!! We were ready for this… or were we!?

Our “new” life…

As much as we thought we were prepared, as any new parent I’ve met will say… nothing can prepare you for the reality of parenthood.

Overlay this with factors such as the sell we did to promote our ability and desire to both parent and adopt, the unexpected speed at which a match was identified and the whirlwind of making a decision to proceed without having met Samantha.

I think we were to some extent, numb with shock. It was surreal… we had ‘fought’ for this and now our dream of parenthood was becoming a reality.

The transition period was traumatic for all involved. Additionally this was a huge life change for my husband and I; from being a couple of our mid 40s, free to do as we pleased, to having this dependent little person, a grieving stranger who was also entering the “terrible two’s”.

Samantha seemed to do everything to extreme – inconsolable tantrums that sometimes lasted for 90 minutes, there were aggressive behaviours and behaviour that seemed to say – “I am bad” (was this angry little person truly who she was?)

I was triggered and reacted in a way I didn’t predict. This was not the parent I wanted to be. Meanwhile, due to unforeseen circumstances, the support network we had built prior to Samantha’s placement;  crumbled. My husband and I felt we couldn’t complain about how tough we were finding it; after all we had decided to go the adoption path knowing it may well be full of challenges. We had said we could do it!

Thankfully I had set up regular group therapy as I went through the assessment process, so i had a forum to express how I felt which helped me to learn my reaction was common, also for birth parents. Another saving grace was the friendship that was developing with another adoptive couple we had met during our pre-adoption workshop; we were meeting weekly with out toddlers. this was massively helpful and our friendship continues to be so. It must be noted that was help from all directions – once we put our hands up!

Eighteen months on from that first forever night… we are at last feeling somewhat in control of our lives. I am learning to juggle being a mum, a wife and to be me. I have relaxed my expectations so I am not so harsh on myself – I now realise this will be a lifelong learning process as we go through all the various developmental stages.

As we became more attuned to Samantha’s needs rather than focussing on our fears, she too relaxed. We are no longer pushed away, she gives hugs like no-one we’ve ever known – they are the best! She continues to be expressive, but now we get it and love her for it.

Our Samantha is an absolute delight! She has snuck her way right into our hearts and we are as proud as can be of how she is evolving to make her mark in our little family. We feel incredibly blessed!