A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME.

Just to set out credentials here, I’m not an academic, I’m not a behavioural psychologist, I’m not an expert in genetics, I’m not an etymologist (however, I do however know the real meaning of the word semantics, as opposed to its common use meaning. Good for me).

So, I’m a Dad. I’m a Parent. I’m a Father. I’m a Guardian. I’m a Carer. I’m an Educator. I’m a Counsellor. I’m a Philosopher. I’m a Taxi-Driver. I’m a Nurse. I’m a Playmate. I’m a Guide, literally a Girl Guide. I’m any number of words that describe taking care of someone unable to take care of themselves (for the time being), nourishing someone in body and mind and helping them grow, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

Is there a word that sums up all of these roles? I’m sticking with what she calls me, because to her, that’s what Da-Da means.

Now, we are told there are any number of ways someone in my situation becomes a Da-Da. And all of these ways have equal merit. Except they don’t, no matter what our social workers told us to tell our daughter. Previous blog authors and commentators are right; let’s face facts – there’s something diminishing in being an adopter, whether it’s not being the “real” father – not having become a Da-Da directly through sexual congress with my wife – or whether it’s having to spend a lot of time writing dutifully on behalf of my daughter to her “real” mother, who hasn’t written back to her “real” daughter in three years.

Right? Wrong; there’s nothing diminishing about it at all in my eyes and in the eyes of almost everyone I know who has become a Da-Da through adoption.

I’m truly weary of being preached at by people who in theory should know better, of adoption apologists, of adoption guilt-vendors. I already know somewhat intuitively and also from practical experience that denying a part of someone’s history or genetic make-up is not a positive-impact exercise on any time- or development-spectrum, thanks.

I also know about nuance – I know what it means and I know what it actually means. Maybe my daughter doesn’t right now – she’s getting there, slowly but surely under our Guidance, Parenting, Taxi-Driving, Teaching, Caring – but adults ought to know, to varying degrees possibly, but at least get the gist.

Who’s the Daddy? I am. And so is someone else. So what.

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Feeling a Fraud

In retrospect it’s easy to see that it was probably just self doubt, but at the time it felt like something so much bigger, something so much more significant.

We were new parents and loving (mostly) everything that entailed, we were totally smitten with our two sons and relished every moment we spent together.

It had been a long and at times very difficult process to get us to where we were and we were delighted and relieved in equal measures to finally be the family we set out to be some three years earlier.

We were in our early and late 40’s and new parents to two brothers almost 5&6 years old and we were embracing the role wholeheartedly and from the moment they woke to the moment they went off to sleep we were there for their every needs.

We were active in their school and would ferry the boys around for various after school activities almost every night of the week. We engaged more with friends who had children, encouraging friendships amongst the little ones and had play dates with school friends and big birthday parties with kids and parents in attendance.

Yet, regardless of all of this we didn’t truly believe in ourselves, didn’t truly believe in the fact that we were indeed parents. We knew the reality – that we had children and that we were now a family. We knew that we loved our sons unconditionally and immediately couldn’t imagine life without them – yet we felt a bit…fraudulent.

We hadn’t gone through the 9 months of pregnancy, the wonder of birth, the sleepless nights, the caring for a being so helpless that the need for your attention and your love 24\7 outshone everything else – literally everything else.

Being school age meant that after the initial few weeks of settling in, we packed them off every day and made them somebody else’s responsibility – and we have to confess to a certain relief each and every time we did so. It was proving to be so much harder than we ever could have imagined and on many levels we were struggling and we figured that IF ‘real parents’ had the same struggles they would be so much more adept in dealing with them.

We got on with it all, we walked the walk, we talked the talk and we smiled our way through it, yet looking back I realise just how much we felt that we were bluffing.

Now with five years of experience behind us we realise that bluffing is not unique to adoptive parents at all, in fact probably ALL new parents start out bluffing – because in fact nothing can truly prepare us for being a parent.

However, I think the feeling of being a fraud is possibly unique to us adopters and I can see that it takes a while for us to shrug it off.

We now feel like fully fledged parents and we know that our sons are 100% ours – regardless of being born to others, but in those early days the ghosts of their birth parents were always with us as indeed were those of the established (and oh so accomplished) foster parents where the boys spent almost three years.

We felt we could never really compete with the history of either of those and that we possibly never would. We felt we were somehow just ‘standing in’ – not their real parents at all.

Looking back now, it seems unthinkable that we doubted our role. Amazingly from day one the boys simply knew us as their new parents, and of course they fully relied on us as their parents – as we were the ones putting clothes on the back, food on the table and a roof over their heads. It may well have taken a little while for them to emotionally attach, but I don’t feel that got in the way of their understanding of our role in their lives right from the very start.

They were open to us nurturing them every step of the way, we were their security, we were the one’s putting them first and reassuring them that we would always be here for them and that we would be protecting them no matter what.

So regardless of how fraudulent we felt and regardless of the fact that it took time for our sons to fully attach to us, in their eyes we were the real thing right from the very start.

Reassurance, reassurance reassurance.

‘That’s the name of the game in the early days. Reassurance.’ said the social worker on the phone. ‘Just reassure him that everything will be ok. As much a you possibly can.’
The nice reassuring lady was the social worker on call. Not our assessing social worker, nor my son’s social worker. Just the one around in the week after our son moved in.
It was August. London was wonderful calm, and the weather was good. A perfect time to start a family. If ever there was one. I was nervous, scared and happy. And many, many other things.
Reassure we did. Him as much as ourselves. Every time he cried. Or even might cry. At the very sight of a lower lip starting to wobble.
‘Oh, darling. It’s ok. It’s ok.’
I’d rush to him and pick him up. Gently bobbing him on my hip. Hushing him, Shsshing him.
‘There, there. It’s ok. Everything is going to be ok.’
In truth I think I was a little scared of his tears.
As the weeks turned into months, I felt reassured myself that I could settle him. That he would let me. That my bosom was a place of safety and comfort. I put pride in being able to stop his tears. Only… he was a quick learner. He read me. I could stop his tears quickly, because that’s what I wanted.
Except that one night…. when three hours after we had successfully put him down for the night, he woke up crying. This time, neither I nor my husband could settle him. He cried for a solid three and a half hours. Solidly. Ebbs and flow but tears throughout. Sometimes sobbing, sometime just silent tears, sometimes loud and angry. Wailing, screaming, sobbing. Snot and tears running into one around his O-shaped mouth.
We call the NHS helpline, and as we could find no outwards sign of illness or pain, we got rushed through the system, and at 2am we drove to the hospital, where they had made us an emergency appoint. We were all in distress.
The tears stopped the moment we activated the entrance doors at the hospital. The glass doors slid to the sides, and we stepped through, holding a silent and mesmerised baby. They gave him a bit of paracetamol and we left. He fell a sleep on the way home and we transferred him to his cot without him waking. For the first time since he moved in six weeks earlier he slept for more than 90mins in one stretch.
I have never been in doubt that this outburst was existential. That was the episode when it finally dawned on him that this was it: he understood he was going to be staying with us. Foster family gone. Replaced by smiling middle-aged amateurs.
I now also believe that’s where the tears that I has so successfully stopped for weeks flooded out. I hadn’t left him much space for waterworks. So he kept it in – most of the time.
Over time I slowly learned to accept his screams and tears. To gently squeeze him like a lemon till he was all cried dry. Letting him how that it is ok to cry and let it all out. Till he was done crying. Not when I was done listening. I brace myself, and stick it out. Because the return is so wonderful. It is like torrential rain followed by sunshine. And the sunshine lasts if he is allowed to let it ALL out. It is simply the most effective, and quickest way for him to shed whatever is really bothering him. All he needs from me is me being there. And staying there till the storm has passed.
I’m no longer so sure that what he needed was reassurance, as much as acknowledgment (something I needed too). Acknowledgment that it was a scary and crazy period for us all. And that there was huge loss involved.
I’m no longer a fan of reassurance. All it is saying is ‘I can’t deal with how you are feeling right now. I want you to go to normal.’
Reassurance is a little like telling someone who has just lost a loved one that it is all going to be ok.
No, it’s not. Everything has changed. And nothing will ever be the same. Ever. Again.

The Diagnosis

It’s been one week since my son was diagnosed at St Thomas’ with ASD (Autism), ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and major emotional regulation difficulties.  He was diagnosed by a panel consisting of a Paediatrician, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist who spent 3 hours assessing him.  They were thorough, professional and understanding.  

I came out of the feedback in shock, it was not what I was expecting to hear from them, though of course I suspected it all.  Four years of having been continuously told it was our parenting and attachment that were really the issues doesn’t give you a lot of hope in being understood.  They did understand.  Engaging him with the assessments was a challenge they told me, the motivators changed from moment to moment.  Not only is he easily distracted, he is very interested in what he is distracted by.  And of course he just does not understand people and how they communicate.  They could see how on the edge he was at any given moment, a coke bottle on the brink of fizzing over.

I had to get my son home.  We surprisingly managed without incident considering what he’d just been put through. We walked through the door and I cried.  For the first couple of days they were tears of devastation.  It’s a paradox but although I know we’ve done everything we could have I did really want someone to say, ‘just try this new thing and it will all be ok’ (a magic cure), ‘give him some Ritalin and he’ll cope’ (I would try it!), ‘turn your parenting around and he’ll be better’ (we have, things got a little better), ‘try some therapy, he’ll engage’ (we have, he hasn’t).  What they actually said was ‘you have turned your world upside down for this child, but you can’t do that for him forever.’  They think his problems will be lifelong and are mostly influenced by his genetics.  So that’s Developmental Trauma out of the window, at least partially.

Others’ reactions to the diagnosis have also been difficult.  People immediately questioning it’s accuracy, whether we’re convinced, ‘was it really that thorough?’  The people who’ve been the most supportive and helpful on our journey have effectively been congratulating us on finally achieving some recognition of our difficulties as a family.  They mean well but they have missed the pain that comes with the confirmation.

Some have pointed out that he is still the same child as before.  Well of course he is but we must now shift our expectations and rethink everything.  We are worried for his future, and ours.  I have hope, mostly based on the relationship my husband and I have managed to build with him through sheer perseverance despite his difficulties and the lack of support.  I do believe that with the right support (that we will continue to fight so hard for) our love for him will mean that he finds his way.  That love now has to guide us through some difficult choices.

Somebody Else’s Child.

We have been given somebody else’s child!

That fact is astonishing.

We have been given what has to be the most valuable gift one could ever receive, the gift of a human being – a life.

A life to raise with our values, our ideals.

I think sometimes the magnitude of this act is lost in the fact that there are no benefactors and that it is generally understood that in fact the gift has actually been taken away from others.

Also I think it is often perceived that the children are the ones receiving, after all they are getting the parents that they don’t have, a family to be part of, they are getting a life that is hopefully full of love and full of hope.

But that is not a gift – surely that should just simply be a given for all children.

However it is truly a gift to us the adopters and it is immense.

We are receiving the gift of somebody else’s child, the gift of becoming parents, parents of a child we love and cherish as our own.

The gift of somebody else’s child who we watch develop and mature and who are the sons or daughters we have always wanted.

Somebody else’s child who calls us Daddy or Mummy.

A child who becomes our child. No… who IS our child from the moment we meet.

We must never lose sight of just how incredible that is.

My Summer of WAF

 

 

 

​There have been plenty of highs and lows for all of us over the last months and years but sometimes it’s nice to dwell on the good stuff.

So here’s some of mine.

 

I want to thank We Are Family for building such an incredibly supportive network of adoptive parents because I am blown away by the families I now have in my life.
Over the course of this summer I have been away on no less than three amazing holidays, all with families I have met through WAF.
Actually I’m forgetting one! There was another glorious weekend camping in the English countryside with two more WAF families.

Our children have played and swum together.

They have eaten and argued together.

They have swapped toys, clothes and stories together (some of which have been extremely helpful to my daughter in understanding her own story).
And we their parents have shared a million thoughts, concerns, experiences and glasses of wine, and become closer and closer.

What a thing! Together We really Are a Family…. a proper family.
So if you’re struggling and need someone to listen to you.
if you want to talk to other people who know what it’s like.
Or if you just haven’t got round to it yet, I urge you to make use of this wonderful resource by attending a parent group or other activity to form these bonds because It’s a wonderful thing! And we should all feel very proud of what we are creating.

Thank you so much We Are Family.

The First Time

I never thought I could love you more than when I first saw you sitting in the school room working hard on your literacy. I then took you on an aeroplane and realised there was even more love to give!

When I found your profile you were 5 years old and I fell in love instantly  they say you know when you find the one, but to be honest I didn’t believe them. I then had to fight for nearly a year to persuade your social worker that I was perfect for you making you 6 and a half before I finally got to meet you. I would lie if I didn’t say that your age worried me to begin with. Worried that I would have missed out on so much. In the weeks leading up to that meeting I struggled with these thoughts: I would never get to rock you asleep; never hear your first words; never change your nappy (maybe I should have rejoiced in this!) never take you to school for the first time; not be there when you first swam a stroke. If I thought about all the firsts I would missed I would have become overwhelmed and maybe started to wonder if I was doing the right thing. Then a very wise lady reminded me that there would always be things I had missed, but there was so much more that we could do together.

We have been together 10 months now and I have been thinking of writing this for some time; our firsts are coming thick and fast now so it’s now or never! Of course I got to rock you asleep, of course I got to bath you, of course I got feed you as you regressed and let me. Then we had a first birthday together; A first Christmas together; first New Year together; First Easter Egg hunt with your cousins and my first Mother’s Day.

Then I got to experience so many firsts: The joy and pride you showed when you swam your first stroke, was only beaten by my own joy. The excitement when you mastered a backward roll and then a handspring; when you first learnt to ride your bike to school. Then there are the small ones that bring me so much joy: Your first bus trip, your first train trip, your first boat trip. Getting your first passport.

The ones that surprise me: When you came back from swimming with my best friend – beyond excited – about “that thing that moved us and we had to hold on”. You were laughing so much with your arms and legs all over the place, knocking things off the side but I was still totally confused! Then i was reliably informed there was a wave machine. It had never occurred to me you had never felt or seen a wave! The following weekend we went camping; your first holiday and they joy you expressed (even for a compost toilet!) You helped set everything up, searched for wood, built your first fire, toasted your first marshmallow or smarshmellow as you call it. I may not have heard your first word, but I have your smarshmellows, skirils (squirrels ) startcastic (sarcastic) and menember (remember) which I will treasure for ever. I will never forget your amazement when your first came across seaweed and walked in the sea with wellies. We spent hours touching it, smelling it and squishing it all for the first time and then second time the following day. You were 7 years old, but lapped it up like a woman having the first glass of wine at a weekend or a toddler tasting chocolate for the first time.

I am a traveller and adventurer and thought my ruck sack would have to be hung up. But the first thing you told me was that a “real mum would get you a passport & take you on loads of holidays”. So after 3 camping trips and a caravan holiday in the U.K. and many stop overs at friends around England to check you can cope with nights away from your bed (and you did amazingly), I bit the bullet and am now taking you on your first aeroplane and overseas holiday. They even let you see the cockpit and you felt honoured. So now as you sit next to me on your first flight, staring out the window – stunned at the sight of clouds and the feeling in your tummy. You told me you are a “10 out of 10” and that’s before you get to swim in your first outside pool in the sun, feel hot sand through your toes for your first time, build your first foreign sand castle, swim in the sea with your snorkel for the first time (that you have been practising with in the bath). These are all the things you are excited about, not forgetting your first buffet breakfast where I have agreed you can have whatever you want!

If I didn’t know it before, Miss AAK, I am totally honoured to share my travelling life with you for the first time. Anyone out there who is worried about missing out on all those firsts – create your own. Yes, I cried when we took off and you squealed with joy! I may not be the first person you ever called mummy, but it really doesn’t matter!