Alastair and Liam Blog

Alastair and Liam Day 4 - The Last Group

As we made our way along to the office, we were a bit amazed that this is our last week already, and how quickly each of the days have gone and the weeks have passed.  Not that we were expecting it to be a drag (obviously!), but it has gone by in a flash.

We started the day by following on from the talk from the adoptive parents last week, which gave us a chance to discuss some of the things they raised.  Although I don’t think anything they said was a surprise to any of us at this stage in the groups, talking about it more allowed us to raise a few of the specifics which people had been thinking about since the previous week.  Although we went off on quite a few tangents as usual, it was good to get some answers and especially to relate them to a real situation.

We then finally got to see... drum roll please... the Russian DVD!  And yes, I think it was worth the wait!  We were revisiting everything we’ve talked about so far relating to attachment, and this was a really clear illustration of what can happen to kids’ development when attachment is absent from the get go, or even when it’s taken away at a young age.  I was a bit surprised by the film - as I said on the day, I had wrongly been expecting it to be a bit like the Blue Peter appeals in the early 90s, with abandoned kids in the Romanian orphanages.  However, those kids were truly abandoned, whereas the kids we were watching were in a home that, though it might not have been great, had staff looking after them and they had food and toys.  Their basic needs were being met, but there just were not enough people to devote the time the kids needed to build the bonds they needed to develop.

I think that presents a challenge for what we might have to face, but that has not to say it cannot be overcome.  We have talked a lot about attachment in the groups already and how we can and will need to work to build those connections with the kids, but after the Russian DVD we watched a short DVD with a man called Dan Hughes, who seems to know a lot about attachment.  I suspect we will also get to know Dan Hughes a lot more!

After lunch, we had someone else in to talk to us.  We had ‘met’ Tammy before in the video that we watched in the earlier sessions, but she was kind enough to come in to talk to us in person about her experience of being adopted.  Just like the adoptive parents, it has not been plain sailing, and hearing about her situation at school definitely makes you think about all the questions our child might be asked, how we would answer them and how we would need to think about discussing it and being open with them.  I also found it reassuring that one of the main messages from her was not to talk about being adopted all the time.  In the same way that I’ve had reassurance that the adoptive parenting we’ll need to do will be a bit extra on top, it’s nice to hear it from the adopted person’s point of view as well, that it’s not all about adoption, but just being open and honest with your child when needed and how beneficial that can be.  And frankly, if a child we adopt turns out to be as confident and levelheaded as Tammy is, then I think we will feel we have done a really good job.

Having talked a bit about the difficulties of knowing when and how to discuss some of the issues with the kids, we had another quick run-down of some of the after-adoption services that the agency offers.  Again, it is a huge reassurance knowing that there will be people there to help.  Then we had a brief chat about the home study, asking a few immediate but practical questions about what is involved and how we will go about getting it done.

And with that, we were done.  As I said, it has been a very quick few weeks, and the sessions have gone incredibly quickly, especially as mostly we have just been sitting, listening and talking.  I cannot speak for anyone else in the group, but as far as I am concerned, it has been a very enjoyable and useful experience.

There has been a lot to think about - some of it is common sense, some of it has been a learning curve, and some of it had been challenging - though I cannot say I have had my mind changed about very much, perhaps with the exception of contact and the role it may play in the process.

However, as someone who needs to have all the information to hand in order to make a decision, I feel much better informed and more reassured, having talked through some of my concerns.  I certainly do feel like I have ended the process better prepared (better, not fully!), so in that sense the groups have done their job.  But for me it is more than that - I do now feel ready for, and keen to get moving on, the next step.  And that is really quite exciting.

Alastair and Liam Day 3

Another interesting session this week, though the team had their work cut out keeping us engaged in spite of the heat of a Scottish summer!  The main focus of this week was children’s development and behaviour - what we might have to tackle as parents, some of the reasons for that behaviour, and hearing about dealing with it in practice.

Firstly though, we had a look at how we behave and what we do when something upsets us.  Liam was pretty quick to identify himself as a swearer, whilst I straddled being in a huff and going into a panic.  So it seems we may well need to adapt our coping mechanisms just a little when a child comes into the mix!

We then watched a video about some of the behavioural issues which children from problematic backgrounds might exhibit, and the reasons for them.  The video was quite hard-hitting and we did have a bit of a discussion about how realistic or ‘extreme’ it might be.  That’s something that I’ve personally struggled with a bit up to now; having heard so much about the early experiences of the children and what they have been through, and the resulting issues with their emotions, development and behaviour, it all seems a bit doom and gloom.  Although I completely understand the need for us to be fully aware of what’s involved in becoming an adoptive parent, there’s a danger of over-thinking and blaming any bad behaviour on adoption.

So for me it was a very useful discussion, hearing from Alex and Leasa about some of the children they have placed and that the vast majority of potential problems can be manageable - with a bit of help and support, including the after-adoption support from Scottish Adoption.  It was reassuring to hear that most of our job will simply be being parents, and facing the same parenting problems that our friends do - and getting help and advice on that from them.  There will be a bit more parenting on top of that that is about having an adopted child, and we might have to do that in a different way which some people might question, but a lot of what we talked about in the groups (and will talk about more in the home study) will give us the confidence in doing it and standing up for our way.

We may, however, have to have some discussions about ‘our way’.  After lunch we did an exercise to establish what our ‘house rules’ would be.  Liam and I are pretty like-minded and although we agreed on most things, a few of the potential scenarios we were faced with caused some heated debate!  And sadly I’m perhaps not as liberal as I might have thought!  But the point was that no matter what our rules are, we need to be able to apply them consistently and act as a team to do so.

That point was reinforced by the final part of the day, which was hearing from a family who adopted a little boy last year.  They talked us through their process, from the groups and the home study to their matching and introductions, but most importantly how they have found the time since their son came to them.  They were the first to admit it’s not been without some difficulties, but it was great to hear all the positive things that come with it, and how they have gained from their son and what he has gained from them.  Understandably there’s a lot of discussion in the groups about the potential negatives of adoptions, but first and foremost they are just parents and clearly love being just that.  It was a nice way to end the day, with a positive feeling about how much everyone can benefit from taking this step.

Alastair and Liam Day 2

We talked about four main themes in this week’s group - a child’s development, gains and losses, identity and contact.

After some brief introductions to Colin and Vickie, we spent a lot of time talking about a child’s development.  That was interesting for me as I personally don’t have as much experience in dealing with children as perhaps some of the other people in the group do.  Although, of course, development differs from child to child, the issue with adoption is the possible delays which might result from the child’s situation of neglect or trauma, and how these might need to be addressed.  Mostly importantly, we focussed on attachment and the needs cycle, and how it will be important at all stages of our child’s development - but particularly early on - to build the attachment bonds and be seen as the primary care giver.  Although it seems obvious, it’s really clear what a difference that can make (even though we didn’t have the Russian DVD to make the point!).

We did a short exercise looking at gains and losses in adoption, thinking about how all parties involved may feel about the process.  Although it’s fair to say that adopters and the children have most to gain, it was useful to consider the feelings of the birth parents as well.  Even though they may experience a lot of loss, there are some potential gains for them too.

Some of the questions and discussions around gains and losses merged into talking about contact, and in the afternoon we talked more about the different kinds of contact and why it’s useful to all parties in the process.  We watched another DVD with some of the kids from last week talking about their experiences of contact.  In the same way that I found it noticeable last week about how the kids were just curious about their stories and filling in some of the gaps, I got a very similar message from this week’s DVD.  Contact, when done correctly and encouraged, appears to be very beneficial for all involved - it helps the adopted child feel informed, and also offers some reassurance to the birth parent which may help ease some of their feelings of loss.  Contact was something I had not thought a great deal about, but instinctively felt a bit hesitant about; however, everything we saw and heard has made me realise that it’s probably very worthwhile in most cases.

Finally, we briefly discussed identity, and how that also develops as a child grows older.  The two main things we talked about were the importance of keeping the child’s name, and how to talk to them about adoption and being adopted.  I also found it really useful to be able to discuss this in the context of being a same-sex couple, and asking Colin and Vickie about their experiences of whether birth parents or children have different views on same-sex couples, or have found it any more or less difficult to talk about adoption with their children.  And it was reassuring to hear that there don’t appear to be any additional difficulties.

Liam and I discussed various things when we got home, because I think after getting our heads round the first session this second week has been really good at starting to go into the details of the process and making us challenge a few of our assumptions.  We certainly felt a lot better informed, particularly on the gains and losses and about contact, and how we need to be open-minded to those things going forwards.  Personally, I left feeling quite motivated - although I know this will be a challenge in many ways, I think I am starting to feel a bit more prepared!

Alastair and Liam Day 1

Hi, I’m Alastair, and I’m attending the June/July prep group with my better half, Liam.  I’d read a couple of the other prep group blogs on the website and found them both interesting and useful, so I thought I would volunteer to write up our experiences of the our group (although I ended up being volunteered rather than volunteering, but I promise to put some effort in nonetheless!).

We attended Scottish Adoption’s LGBT night at the beginning of March, and had an initial interview with Vickie at the end of March, which all seems quite a long time ago.  Probably because of that, the group kind of crept up on us, and as we’d both had quite busy weeks leading up to it we hadn’t discussed it much either.   So as we drove along to the office we were a little bit nervous and worried about how unprepared we were.

Once we were all there Alex introduced himself and Leasa and Naomi, who in one way or another will all be taking us through the next few weeks.  Then the first task of the day was introductions, and thankfully rather than the usual awful experience of having to introduce yourself, we spent a bit of time chatting to someone else in the room and finding out a bit about them to tell the group.  I spoke to Michael, but we very quickly started talking about the nitty gritty of childcare rather than any of the basics, so I probably didn’t do a very good job of telling the group all about Michael!  On the other hand, I was very impressed by the amount of information Liam had managed to get from James - it must have been a quick-fire twenty questions!

Our next exercise was more creative, and we were asked to draw out two houses - one for our childhood and one for our life now, along with the things about those two houses and lives that are important to us.  There were quite a few typical Scottish childhoods (and one from New York just to make things more exciting), but they were all quite different because of the small memories and stories that people added in (along with lots of pets!).  And the same was true of our current houses - Liam and I divided the labour between us with him doing the outside of our flat and me the inside, though I’m not sure my floor plan gave much of an insight into our lives.  But there was a serious point, which was that our childhoods have all had an impact on our adult lives - either because we wanted to copy over aspects of our childhood, or avoid the bits we didn’t like.  But either way we all have memories and stories, but some of the children who are being placed for adoption don’t have some of that back story, and that will affect them in different ways too.

Before lunch we got into groups and read some profiles of children who have been adopted. All of them were a bit upsetting, and showed how complicated some of the cases are - both in terms of the experiences of the children, the reactions of the families, and also some of the unanswered questions about their situations.  Talking through them was useful as it raised lots of questions which were useful to discuss as a group - about the type of support some of the children might need, contact with birth families, and some of the legal issues.

After lunch we spent an hour talking about the process and what happens after the prep groups.  We knew a little about it already, but it was still useful to spell it out in a bit more detail.  There’s so much information and terms that isn’t quite coming together yet, but it was a good opportunity to ask questions and hear what other people’s questions were too.

As we were running out of time, we spent the last hour of the day watching and talking about a DVD in which some children who were adopted through the agency a few years ago talked about their feelings about adoption, and how they talk about it with their friends and contact with their birth parents.  One of the most interesting things for me was that not many of them were very interested in meeting their birth parents, but all of them wanted to know more about them.  Having done the exercise earlier in the day, it just seemed that the kids wanted to be able to fill the gaps in their understanding of where they had come from, and why they had been adopted.

At the end of the day, as we had had to skip a couple of parts of the afternoon, Alex handed out some extra information to take home, and someone said ‘there’s a folder for every family’.  That caught me off guard a little bit; I’ll talk about us as a couple, and although I’ve imagined it, I’ve never thought of, or had the need to, talk about us as a family.  When we drove along in the morning, Liam said ‘maybe this is the first day of the rest of our lives’ and I was my usual dismissive, sensible self and said ‘no, that was when we went to the event’.  But perhaps he was right.