Unravelling

It is nearly seven months since we saw the profile of a young boy we knew would be our son.
It is almost four months since we were matched to him.
It is a further three months since we thought he would be placed with us.
And still we don’t know when it will happen. Now we are starting to wonder if it ever will.

I am unravelling.

My mind and body are no longer as one and I am losing confidence in both.

Time is slipping away from me. I no longer know the day, month, year.

Each day stretches out like a swamp before me, that I must wade through to reach peace and safety. But the other side is not in sight and feels further and further away.

I feel sick and tired. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

My physical and mental health are strained. Only my wife and our shared resilience keep me sane. Oh, and the tablets the doctor prescribed. I’m punishing my body for my lack of control; a vicious circle I thought I’d ended for good.

Sleep evades me. I am up for 20 hours each day, but I am not awake. Deep sleep is something I can only dream of, alongside clarity, consensus, and control.

Work has become too much for me. Lacking the alertness I need to deal with people, I don’t trust myself not to say or do something I cannot come back from.

I know with a surety I have never possessed before that I can and will be good enough for our son. If we are ever given the chance.

Occasionally, we are temporarily boosted by snippets of good fortune, promises of news. But they don’t materialise. Our hopes are raised than dashed. It now feels like cruelty rather than mere incompetence.

I am losing faith. In everything and everyone. And that scares me.


Edit (July 2018): Six months on, I have reread this post and I cringe a little. It is melodramatic and jam-packed with the same angst that filled my teenage diaries. But it is still valid. That is how I felt at the time; overwhelmed in the same way that I did in my younger years. The difference now is that I know how to deal with such situations and who to ask to help me deal with such situations. For which I will be eternally grateful. Little Chick has been placed with us for about five months now and the waiting, the frustration, and the anger is (mostly) forgotten. In fact, I have surprised myself by not unravelling since Little Chick has lived with us. I have been stronger than I expected and better than I hoped. Long may it last.

Consumption

In times of uncertainty I consume. For most of the adoption journey, mindful of my health and determined to lose weight, I have avoided filling my face with ‘goodies’. Instead I have carefully and methodically bought things for our future child or children: books, toys, crafts, and more that most children would like. For each item I have mentally calculated who we could gift it to, should the worst happen, and we were not matched. Once we were matched, I could buy more specifically, focusing on the needs and likes of Little Chick. As time has rumbled on and my confidence in him ever being placed with us wanes, my shopping habits have tailed off. But my need to consume has remained and food has filled that need. I am fed up, literally and metaphorically. I have put on over a stone in the past four months. Uncertainty is an explanation but not an excuse. I swore I would never be as big as before I started losing weight and I stand by that.

I’m not writing this to gain your sympathy or even to just have a good moan. I need the accountability. Telling people that I need to and will be better with my diet and exercise is the first step in managing my consumption. It is also the first step on a path to good self-care, something I will need to be better at as an adoptive parent.

Accentuate the positives

Although my mental health dictates that I periodically suffer from low moods, I would describe myself as a generally positive person. Reading back over the posts I realise that anger and melancholy runs through my writing (I have since removed some of these posts out of respect for everyone else involved, particularly Little Chick’s birth family). Although it reflects my mindset at the time of writing, I’m not entirely happy about that.

Yes, our adoption journey to date has been largely frustrating, but it has not been hopeless. Because without hope we would have given up by now. We didn’t decide to adopt to fulfil a need, fill a hole in our relationship. Our life before we started the adoption process was great, fantastic even. We had each other and wanted for nothing. Adoption promised one huge potential positive but there seemed far more possible negatives. It made little sense to pursue adoption and we’re both logical people, the kind who overthink and over analyse, strangers to spontaneity.

But we continued. Because despite the possible pitfalls outweighing the potential rewards, we both felt that we would be great parents, that we could meet a child’s needs.

So, after that rambling preamble, let’s hear some positivity.

  1. The delays mean we can properly plan for Christmas. We did not know whether Little Chick would be with us and, if he was, what would be appropriate. Now we can make concrete plans and focus on others. While not meaning to be, we will be less available to friends and family in the coming months so we can give them our time and attention now.
  2. Little Chick is safe and happy with his foster carer. Christmas can be a magical time, but it can also be quite unsettling, so it’s better that he is somewhere familiar, with people he knows. It also gives his foster carer more time to prepare him for the move, which will hopefully benefit everyone in the long term.
  3. We can take the time to better prepare ourselves for Little Chick’s arrival: cooking more meals for the freezer, deep cleaning each room, making everywhere child friendly. We can continue to read around general adoption issues and areas that we believe will be specific to Little Chick’s needs.
  4. We have spent a lot of time preparing our friends and family, but most of this has been generic in terms of adoption and/or small children. Now we can talk specifically about Little Chick.
  5. While we cannot wait to welcome Little Chick, we recognise that we won’t have much time left to just be a couple. We can take the time to watch box sets together, have lazy duvet days, go out for meals, do grown up stuff. Just be.

Friends and family – The rules

As part of preparing our friends and family for Little Chick’s arrival, we prepared a booklet to help them better understand adoption, the needs of adopted children, and outlining how they can help us. We started this booklet with a list of rules. Some people may raise an eyebrow at this, but we wanted to emphasise the importance of being sensitive to Little Chick’s history and needs, without giving specific details. We are sharing our rules here to benefit Little Chick, us, and any other adoptive families.

We hoped that by reading the booklet they would understand that while we want friends and family to like and love Little Chick and enjoy him in their lives, primarily we have a duty of care for him. Essentially, these rules are in place to give him the best chance of being happy, safe, and reaching his potential.


Funnelling

This is a term used for allowing contact with the minimum number of people possible in the early days of placement. Little Chick needs to know us as his primary carers. He needs to know, even if he doesn’t quite accept or believe it, that we will meet his needs for food, drink, warmth, sleep, love, attention, and stimulation.

In real terms, this means that it might be several weeks, or even months, before he is ready to meet new people. We appreciate that this is hard for you, but we must be led by Little Chick and his readiness. In the early stages, for the first six to twelve months, we also ask that if Little Chick needs something, even if it’s something seemingly small like tying a shoelace, you send him to us. This will reinforce our role as primary carers and help strengthen his attachment to us.

We understand, from Little Chick’s foster carer, that he can build healthy attachments, which is great news for everyone. He also really likes cuddles and there will be plenty of opportunities once he is secure with us and happy with you.

Visiting

As we said, you will not be able to see Little Chick immediately. We know this may seem a little alien, especially since many of you may have seen other family members in hospital just hours after their arrival. We have devised a plan of when we think Little Chick will be ready to meet people; this ranges from after a few weeks to a few months. However, this will be led by how well Little Chick has settled and when he seems ready. While you are waiting to meet him, we will update you with photos, videos, cards, and pictures.

Birth Family

You may be curious about Little Chick’s birth family and the circumstances that led to him being taken into care. Although this is understandable, we will be limiting the information we share, partly because of confidentiality agreements but primarily because it is Little Chick’s information to share (or not).

Little Chick’s birth parents planned his birth: he was wanted, and he was loved. Unfortunately, his birth parents were unable to properly care for any children and were not able to give Little Chick all that he needs and deserves: therefore, he was taken into care.

Please do not speak negatively about Little Chick’s birth family. This will be a complicated relationship for him and will require support through life story work with us and his social worker. While we are caught up in the excitement of a new addition to our family it is easy to forget that adoption is essentially a story of loss. Little Chick, his birth family, and his foster carer will be feeling this loss now and we need to be empathetic towards that.

Questions and Life Story

Leading on from Little Chick’s birth family, it is understandable that you will have questions about Little Chick and why he has been put up for adoption. This is not information for us to share. It is Little Chick’s story and it will be up to him to share it when, or if, he feels ready. Later, there may be times when we do share some details of Little Chick’s life story, but this will only be because it is in his best interests for you to know something.

All you need to know is that his birth parents were unable to properly care for any children and were not able to give Little Chick all that he needs and deserves. Essentially, this is the case for all children who enter the care system.

When he is older, if Little Chick does have any questions about his birth parents and life story please acknowledge these but say that you will write them down for us so that we can answer them or find out the answer.

Social Media Sharing

We know many friends and family use social media, especially Facebook, to stay in contact with each other. However, we have made a conscious decision to remove ourselves from Facebook to ensure some privacy, as we feel it could be easy for birth parents to find us online even with the limited information they are given.

We are not expecting you to remove yourself from Facebook, as we appreciate it is a great way of keeping in touch, but we would ask that you don’t upload photos of Little Chick to your pages or timelines. We know that your privacy settings are likely to be set up to prevent non-friends from viewing posts and photos, but to prevent this from happening, even if accidentally, it is much easier to ask you not to post photos. It would be very easy for his birth parents to use this information to track him down and many adopted children would be at real risk if their location was discovered. Additionally, we need to be sensitive to Little Chick’s birth parents’ emotional needs. We will, of course, share photos with you and encourage you to share with us but this would be directly and in a more controlled way, via email or postal mail, rather than social media.

Good news/bad news

Today we received some good news. News we have been waiting weeks, months, years to hear.

But we also received bad news. Unexpected news. Unsettling news. Upsetting news.

And this has been our overriding experience of adoption so far. The good news is rare and short-lived. The bad news is seemingly endless and, frankly, it grinds you down.

So, today I have lots of feelings.

I feel shattered, physically and emotionally.

I feel like our adoption journey has been one disappointment after another.

I feel like every time we make progress it is countered by a new obstacle.

I feel like every good opportunity, emotion, or experience has been taken from us.

I feel like every step has been a battle and we’re losing the war.

I feel like we are being drained of our good will and hope.

I feel angry – again – but don’t know who to be angry at – again.

I feel like I am tired of adoption before we even meet our child.

I feel cheated of pleasure and robbed of joy.

I feel sick of it all.

The waiting game

I’m the kind of person that gets antsy waiting for a bus. So, waiting to be matched with a child has been tough. Initially I reasoned that I couldn’t justify being miffed before nine months, in line with pregnancy. Then I told myself that nothing was likely to happen this side of Christmas. That took me to twelve months. Deep down I really believed we would be matched by then. Social workers proclaimed we would be. They hadn’t reckoned for the reduced number of placement orders considering the new ruling by Sir James Munby. Or an upsurge in people wanting to adopt. Potentially all good news for waiting children but a bit rubbish for us.

Then 18 months passed. Soon our two-year review was scheduled. We knew we would be asked what we could do to make ourselves more ‘competitive’. But, honestly, we were doing the lot.

  • We were gaining more childcare experience, across a range of ages;
  • We were attending classes, workshops, and studying online to improve our knowledge about key issues;
  • We were preparing our home to be ready for a child or children to move in;
  • We were networking with other prospective adopters, adopters, foster carers, and professionals, both online and in person.

The only thing going against us was our weight. Until this was remedied, we were put on hold with our approving agency and family finding was effectively suspended.

We entered our third year of waiting since approval. We began viewing profiles of children who weren’t even conceived when we started the process. We could not actively pursue links but could respond if other agencies showed interest in us, using Link Maker.

30 months since approval the LA acknowledged that we had lost enough weight and made systemic changes that will benefit us and our future children. We recommenced family finding and waited once more.

We are an exceptional case. Fewer people are being matched almost immediately after approval but not many go beyond two years. Perhaps this is because some give up at this point or are politely encouraged by their approving agency to reconsider. Fortunately, we had the full support of our local authority, even if we did feel like we were made to jump through hoops constantly occasionally.

How have we survived the wait?

We have been fortunate to have each other. When one of us was down the other dragged her up. On the rare occasion we did have a wobble at the same time, we could always turn to our social worker.

Our social worker is fab. She really is. We have always viewed adoption as a team effort and our social worker is the third key member. I could gush about our social worker all day, but I will save that for another post.

We have kept busy. We have tried to read, watch, and learn as much as we can in the time available to us. We have read books that seemingly have little relevance now but may just make life a bit easier once we have children.

We have told people that it’s tough. We’ve tried not to moan too much as we know it’s relative and we are at least fortunate not to face this challenge on the back of trying to conceive. If you are struggling with the wait please talk to other people who understand, i.e. other adopters and prospective adopters. More than anything, being honest and transparent with our social worker and support network has kept us sane.

In the meantime, we continue waiting…

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.

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.