Last minute jitters

We’re closing in on three years since we were approved to adopt. In the next fortnight we should begin introductions with Little Chick. We might finally be there.

And I’m scared.

Actually, I’m suddenly terrified.

What if I’m not good enough?
What if he doesn’t like us (me)?
What if I cry when I meet him?
What if I don’t stop crying?
What if I can’t sleep?
What if I upset him?
What if I don’t like him?
What if I don’t feel anything?

But these are all about me and introductions will be about so many more people. Most importantly, Little Chick himself.

I think my fears are rooted in letting down Little Chick, in failing him.

But I am also excited. And I’m not used to being excited during the adoption process.

I’m excited to meet Little Chick;
I’m excited to play with him;
I’m excited to read to him;
I’m excited to watch Hey Duggee with him (rather than on my own);
I’m excited to introduce him to friends and family;
I’m excited to sing him to sleep;
I’m excited to walk with him and the dogs;
I’m excited to love him as my son.

National Care Leavers’ Week 2017

Hot on the heels of National Adoption Week, National Care Leavers’ Week is running from October 25th to November 3rd. Receiving far less coverage than National Adoption Week, I would argue that National Care Leavers’ Week needs and deserves more attention, primarily because we all have a role and responsibility as corporate parents. But I guess hormonal teenagers suffering trauma are less media friendly than cute toddlers or adorable sibling groups.

I’m not going to lecture people on what they should be doing, because I’m definitely not doing enough. I’m also not sure what I really could or should be doing.

But two messages filtered through to me from the discussion on social media (because National Care Leavers’ Week doesn’t seem to have gained wider media coverage, or certainly nowhere near the attention National Adoption Week receives).

1. The term ‘care leavers’

It struck me this week that the term is awful. I would hope it’s a misnomer, but I’m not convinced it is. These young people shouldn’t be leaving care. They may be leaving a specific form of care, but they are not (or should not) be cut off from care. We should still care about their outcomes and how they can be positively helped.

Just because a young person reaches their 18th birthday doesn’t mean they can do it on their own. Very few people are – at any age – but care experienced young people may, arguably, be even less prepared.

2. Every Child Leaving Care Matters

Every. Child. Leaving. Care. Matters.

No exceptions.

Children in foster homes can stay until they are 21, while those in residential children’s homes are only given until they are 18. This is clear discrimination. ECLCM is a campaign group, without funding or political affiliations with any other group, formed to stop Government discrimination against children in residential care who want support to 21, the same as those in foster care.

ECLCM ask all those who share their view to support their campaign for equality. It is the least we can do for our children. If you share this view, please sign and share the ECLCM petition.

Connecting with other adopters

The much-used African proverb asserts that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. If we take this to be true, then it is even more essential within adoption. During Stage One of the adoption approval process, prospective adopters are asked to map out their support network. Typically, this starts with close family and friends and extends to wider family, members of the local community, and to friends you see less often but know have parenting experience or skills. As time goes by, it becomes apparent that friends and family are a great start, but more expertise is needed. Some people are fortunate to have friends and families who fully engage with adoption, who gen up on trauma, attachment difficulties, and accept that you will parent therapeutically, even when that seems foreign.

Even before having a child placed with us, we are acutely aware how vital expert support is. This is not to diminish or dismiss the help and support provided by our close friends and families, but they don’t always get it. How could they? We are just getting our heads around the basics after a few years of intensive reading and learning. How could they be well equipped after just a few passing conversations or one morning of training information?

First-hand knowledge and experience seem to be crucial in this instance, but how do you make those necessary connections? Especially when you’re spending so much time completing the approval process, looking for matches, or better preparing yourself for the imminent arrival of a child or children.

Our first connections were people we met through our local authority training, people who were undertaking approval at the same time as us. The training days were intense and our lives were laid bare to strangers: this fostered an intimacy that normally takes years not mere days. We could share our hopes and dreams, but perhaps more importantly, our fears without hesitation or judgement. As people began to be matched this support withered. Those with children needed a new source and different type of support. As the last in our training group to be matched we were left behind.

But we learned quickly that networks evolve and change according to your needs. For us, Twitter has been the greatest support. The anonymity the social network affords you can be its greatest asset, though in time we may encourage meeting up with adopters in ‘real life’. But through Twitter we have been able to have very frank discussions that would not have been possible with local adopters (due to bias) and ‘taken advantage’ of experienced adopters who know more now than we will perhaps ever know. Facebook can offer the same advantages, if you join the right closed groups, but we have removed ourselves from that social platform for security reasons.

Once a child is placed with us, we are conscious that we will develop our network organically through the connections made through nursery, school, activities, etc. but it is unclear how appropriate this will be. It may be our responsibility to educate these new contacts on attachment and the impact of trauma so that they can better help us support our Little Chick.

We have made several connections through work, both of us discovering we have colleagues who have adopted or know those who have. These have been handy contacts to have, especially when they signpost you to other connections, including professional support from specialist therapists. It has been our experience that adopters are very generous at sharing their own stories and experiences to help other children, other families. We have also made contacts through attending training events locally and nationally: while attending an event hosted by our local authority, we discovered even more colleagues and mutual friends who had experience of fostering and/or adoption. These are people we may not call on often, if at all, but it’s reassuring to know that there are other people in our daily lives who get it.

Support groups have also been useful for us. As a same sex couple, we have attended an LGBT group for adoptive parents. Likewise, we have made good use of New Family Social forums, through our local authority membership. In time, we will develop this further, considering attending additional support groups and events, such as training and family meet-ups. Locally we have not discovered support groups for just adoptive parents, perhaps because we haven’t been matched yet, and this is something we are considering starting in the future. If we can’t find our tribe, we will make it!

National Adoption Week 2017

Initially, I had planned a long, positive post praising National Adoption Week (16th to 22nd October 2017) and all it stands for. But the more I thought about it the more despondent I became. For some time, we had been looking forward to attending the National Adoption Awards in London, having been invited for nominating our social worker. Being shortlisted for Adoption Social Worker of the Year was a highlight in a difficult year for her – and us – and we all had something to celebrate. However, our excitement was short-lived when she had to withdraw on the advice of our local authority, considering her involvement in an upcoming high-profile case.

And for me, that pretty much summed up our experience of adoption so far. Every positive step is marred by sadness and disappointment. And that is tough to take sometimes, even making us lose sight of why we are doing this. Our own grief occasionally blurs our focus on who really matters, namely the children at the heart of all this, those waiting for forever families. Yes, it is essential to recognise the sterling work undertaken by those involved – including our own social worker who will forever be a winner in our eyes – but we should never forget that we have National Adoption Week for the sake of the children.

National Adoption Week is essential because over 2,000 children, more than half in sibling groups, need to be adopted. The reasons why they are being placed for adoption are many and varied: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, mental health issues, learning difficulties, substance misuse, and, rarely, relinquished. In more cases than not, the birth parents are simply unable to care for their – or any – children.

I guess I’m trying to say that it’s terrible that there even needs to be a National Adoption Week. And beyond that I’m grappling with the need to better inform people of the needs of children awaiting adoption. The abuse, neglect, and trauma they have experienced, and will continue to experience. The photos and videos of cute children only scratch the surface. Most people would want to give a cute wide-eyed child a loving home; it’s in-built.

Like most aspects of adoption, I can identify a problem but can make no headway in finding a solution. Getting exasperated about it but doing nothing doesn’t help anyone, but I feel I need to do this to process my thoughts appropriately so perhaps in the future I can find a solution, or at least be part of the solution. As an approved adopter waiting for a child to be placed with us, I have sworn to champion his needs and be his advocate. And by extension, as a corporate parent, I will be a supporter for all children awaiting adoption. In the long term, I hope that the need for National Adoption Week will diminish.

Adopting sibling groups

This year’s National Adoption Week (16th to 22nd October 2017) focuses on finding the right adopters for sibling groups. Over the past four years we have debated the merits of adopting one, two, or even three siblings at the same time.

When first beginning the adoption process we had an image of adopting one child, probably a preschool aged boy, and perhaps adding to our family later, if that was practical and beneficial to our little one. When we were approved as adopters this was a blanket approval, meaning we could be matched with one or more children, boys or girls, of any age. While we waited, we continued to explore what we could offer a child or children and how well we could meet their specific needs. We soon learned that sibling groups are amongst the hardest to place, that many people are put off by ‘older’ children (4+), that sibling pairs may need to be separated to ensure that one or more is adopted or kept together and their plan changed to long-term fostering. The thought of being separated from our own siblings – at any age, let alone in early childhood – saddened us greatly and we felt more determined to consider sibling pairs. As time passed, we also had to think realistically about whether we could face the adoption process a second time.

We both have siblings and have fond childhood memories of shared experiences – trips to the seaside, Christmas mornings, playing in the garden. These are accompanied by recollections of squabbles and fights (verbal and physical), often remembered with equal warmth. In adoption terms, we considered what it meant to have someone else with shared experiences. There are positives regarding identity. But there is also a shared history, likely including neglect, possibly trauma and abuse. Eventually we reasoned that the positives balanced the negatives and began actively considering sibling pairs.

Suddenly, a local authority asked us if we would consider three siblings. Our first response was expletive ridden. Our later, reasoned response was we would consider it but no promises. We spoke with friends and family, we sought the advice of people who had already adopted three siblings together (I will be forever indebted to these people for their kindness, generosity, and wisdom). Shortly after we attended a Coram Adoption Activity Day, meeting a delightful trio we were already linked with through Link Maker. Honestly, we were mesmerised and infatuated. We reasoned that it was doable, if we had a firm handle on the logistics. We couldn’t adopt just any three, but we could make it work with these three.

But soon we remembered what it was like sharing our parents’ attention and sometimes feeling jealous or left out. We listened to people reasoning that you only have two hands and two knees and someone will inevitably miss out. As the middle child of three, my wife sometimes had a tricky relationship with her siblings (though they are the best of friends in adulthood). The nagging doubts grew. Would we be ‘good enough’ for three? What if we let them down?

Then we saw the profile of a single child at a family finding event hosted by our approving local authority. As soon as we saw him, we both knew we would be his forever family. Since then we have been matched with the little boy and await introductions. It is a fantastic match, unanimously agreed and approved. His birth parents – who are unable to care for any child – are young enough that he may be joined by a sibling in the future. But those three siblings will always have a special place in our hearts. Some family will be very lucky to welcome them into their home and their lives.

It may seem counter-intuitive for me to write about deciding not to adopt siblings in a week when national focus is on the needs of sibling groups awaiting adoption. In the end, the decision was made based on the best match – and surely that needs to be key to all family finding. We are superbly placed to meet our little one’s needs in a way that we wouldn’t for other children. Adopting siblings at the same time, especially three or more, requires a very special type of person and I tip my hat to them.

Considering adopters on Mental Health Awareness Day

Reading adopters’ tweets and blogs, I am struck by how resilient adopters need to be. Problems such as inappropriate, insufficient, or incorrect medical diagnoses, well-meaning but utterly useless schools, and child on parent violence are regular, if not daily, occurrences for many of the adopters we follow online or know in ‘real life’. On top of this, they may also have to battle with secondary trauma as their children try to rebuild their shaky foundations. After a while, this must grind you down and affect your mental health.

We have found the adoptive process very challenging. I have a history of mental illness and still have my ups and downs. This was discussed, in detail, during the initial stages and at approval panel. The local authority needed to be sure that adoption wouldn’t break me nor would my mental mishaps break a small person in my care. While I appreciate that adoption isn’t easy or straightforward our experiences have still been unusual and particularly trying. After registering interest and hearing about the new streamlined process, we pictured a straight line to having a child placed with us. Instead it has been a twisty-turvy maze, sometimes even going back on ourselves. But the finish line – or should that be the start line? – is now in sight. At every review or panel, we have been commended for our resilience. That is not me blowing my own trumpet; I wouldn’t usually even admit that I had a trumpet. Rather, I want to highlight how adopters (even prospective adopters like ourselves) must take care of their mental health, because it is constantly challenged. And they also need other people checking they’re OK too.

I know it’s typical that only people with problems or extraordinary situations will share their experiences. Even if that is the case, there are a lot of adopters out there needing support. Even if it’s just a hug and a cuppa. I am especially mindful of single adopters. My wife is my rock and I would not be here today without her. We are a team and have only been able to persevere as a team. When I’ve felt low or despondent and considered withdrawing from the whole process, she has encouraged me. When she’s felt frazzled and fed up, I’ve given her a wee lift. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is alone and faces an onslaught of physical and verbal violence each day to keep going. For these people self-care can be seen as indulgent because there are a million and one other things that need doing but it is essential. I always remember the analogy of an aeroplane crashing: you need to secure your own mask before you can help anyone else. This isn’t me telling them what they probably already know, or at least that’s not what I intended: it’s a plea that once Mental Health Awareness Day is over and no longer the trending hashtag on Twitter don’t forget about the people who might need you to ask if everything is alright and maybe just listen.

Why we decided to adopt

Reading other adoption blogs, I noted that many people begin with ‘their story’, laying out their reasons to adopt and the path they have so far trod. Many people arrive at the decision to adopt following years of heartache trying to conceive. I read these accounts with compassion but no real understanding. Only because we have been waiting for so long to be matched (close to three years since approval) do we now have even the tiniest insight. The fluctuating optimism, the almost clockwork-like disappointment, the intensifying expectation of both ourselves and others.

Adoption has always been our first choice. Neither of us have ever felt the need or desire to be pregnant or have birth children, perhaps because that didn’t fit into our earliest understanding of being lesbians. But as we’ve grown older and closer as a couple, we realise that we have so much to give. We truly believe that we can give a child what they need and have previously gone without. If you’re thinking, we are heroes and adoption is entirely altruistic – STOP! We absolutely are in this for what we get out of it! A lovely little person (or persons – more on this later) to share our lives with.

Nearly four years on from first registering our interest with our local authority I decided to look over our approval paperwork to see if our thoughts had changed. Reading the notes we made – official records and unofficial scribbles – it is clear that our thoughts haven’t so much changed as evolved. Those notes seem far more optimistic than I ever remember being, but somewhat naïve. There is acknowledgement of possible issues – attachment, possible medical issues including FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders), and CPV (Child on Parent Violence) – without genuine understanding of these or how they will impact our lives and the lives of our nearest and dearest. Since then we have learned that, while important, love is not enough. We have spent the time waiting better preparing ourselves as therapeutic parents and equipping ourselves with knowledge, skills, and experiences.

Although we’re four years in, we are still at the very beginning of our adoption ‘journey’ (that phrase is irritatingly overused but I’m also struggling for an adequate alternative). We hope, because we do still have hope (heaps of it), that we will be sharing Christmas with a little person who will come to see us as his forever family. We will keep you posted.

What’s in a name?

I have started a blog numerous times. Each time the same obstacle has blocked my way – the name. Juliet’s assertion “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” downplays the importance. But in adoption names mean a lot. Names are tied in with identity and myriad issues concerning the self.

My wife and I have been tweeting for a few years now, using the handle @mrsreedwarbler. On the one hand, that username was selected rather hastily, as we felt pressured to adopt a pseudonym before sending our thoughts into cyberspace. On the other hand, it works pretty well:

  • We are a same sex couple – some might call us a pair of birds – who enjoy ornithology;
  • The reed warbler is a plainish bird that is normally heard rather than seen;
  • It winters in Africa (that might just be wishful thinking).

However, there is one potential problem with the name. Reed warblers enjoy a symbiotic relationship with cuckoos, failing to distinguish between their eggs and other birds’ and caring for them equally. This is the aspect of adoption that we wanted to share and embrace. Unfortunately, some would view the relationship as parasitic, calling cuckoos cunning and opportunistic. My worry is that, by extension, people will think we view birth parents in this way. We absolutely do not.

The relationship with birth parents is complicated, which I will no doubt explore in detail at a later point. But without birth parents we wouldn’t have our little ones. And we must acknowledge their loss, because it seems that loss is at the very heart of adoption (sounds like another blog post…).

I guess this post serves as a disclaimer of sorts, an acknowledgement that the name might be clumsy and misguided but well-meaning. Having navigated the adoption process for almost four years I feel that we have experiences to share, which we hope will benefit others. We have benefited from others’ kindness and generosity as we have prepared to be adoptive parents and we hope that we can share the skills, knowledge, and experience we have gained with others. Equally, through attending courses, reading books and blogs, and through communicating online via websites and through social media we have extended and developed our support network. We hope to offer this to other adopters who may not have the opportunities to attend such courses or who haven’t yet encountered the amazing people we have been fortunate enough to meet.

Welcome to my blog (and apologies in advance)

Currently, we are matched with a young boy, who we will fondly refer to as Little Chick. It will be several weeks before introductions can officially begin, during which time I need to keep myself busy, to keep myself sane. After saying “I must write a blog so our friends and family ‘get it’ and so we can help other prospective adopters” for far too long, I am finally committing pen to paper, so to speak.

I apologise that there will be a flurry of posts in the first few weeks as I do all I can to, erm, not think about adoption. I also apologise that after that I may be so loved up and cocooned that I forget all about this blog. Similarly, I apologise that some of these posts reflect on events and experiences that probably should have been recorded immediately and not reported later with bias and the benefit of hindsight. Look, I’ll just say sorry now and then I’m pretty much covered.

Once Little Chick is placed with us, I will blog about this: the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Although I will record my thoughts at the time, I may not always post them in real time, for confidentiality reasons. Thank you for reading this far and I hope that someone finds some benefit from something I write.