We took it for granted that we would have a family easily, so my first miscarriage was such a shock – as if someone had knocked me flat with a baseball bat. We were devastated. Over the next five years there were two more, and after the third came the medical investigations. IVF was recommended as our best option. Of course by this time, I had read up on it, on what the process was, on the chances of my being successful. I had my doubts.
At this point my husband and I were already considering adoption somewhere in our heads. I guess we were considering all our options. We wanted to share our lives with little ones, to be a family. In due course, IVF was unsuccessful, and I decided I didn’t want to carry on with further treatment, with the full support of my husband. So we gave ourselves some time to lick our (rather deep) wounds, spent some time taking care of ourselves and only then did we look at adoption properly.
The decision to adopt wasn’t easy. My childhood wasn’t brilliant, and I had worked with kids from backgrounds that may be similar to the child or children we might adopt. These experiences made me more interested, yet more cautious, somehow.
Making the Call
“This was a big moment – it signified that we really were making a commitment to ourselves and to an unknown child or children”
But after a lot of soul searching, we made the phone call to Scottish Adoption. This was a big moment – it signified that we really were making a commitment to ourselves and to an unknown child or children; committing to what we knew would be a long process before one or two strangers come to be part of our family. It was so exciting and very scary. On the phone, I had a short chat with a worker and we made an appointment to visit Scottish Adoption and talk to someone properly. She was great – we chatted through why we wanted to adopt, and told her a wee bit about our background, and came away having signed up for a “ Preparation group”.
A few months later (there was a bit of a waiting list at this point), and the first day of prep group was upon us – how daunting it was! Even though we knew the other five couples there were in the same boat, I somehow felt very vulnerable. But that changed quickly and as we got to know each other the group began to feel very supportive. We covered such a lot of ground, including looking at the losses that everyone involved in the adoption process may go through – ourselves, the child and their birth parents; exploring some early child development which was significant to children that need adopted; we looked at attachment, and how it is affected by poor parenting and also at some of the experiences that children may have had before they came to be in need of adoption. Oh, and we drank lots of tea and coffee and ate lots of biscuits. None of the prep group work was intrusive, none of us had to give out any information that we might be uncomfortable with. It was often emotional, sometimes surprising, sometimes funny. Every session ended on a positive note. At the end there was a piece of paper to fill in to indicate whether you wanted to go on to home study. As if we needed to be asked!
I know that there is a preconception that home study is tough going – long and supposedly intrusive. It wasn’t like that at all to us. We enjoyed getting to talk about ourselves once a fortnight for a couple of hours – it’s not often that you get that opportunity! Home study with our social worker gave us a chance to reflect on what we could offer to a child, and importantly, who we could turn to in our own circle of family and friends if we needed support. We talked about what my husband and I brought to our relationship and how our backgrounds and experiences (the happy and the not so happy) could contribute to our ability to be parents. I began to think that every parent-to-be should talk to someone about these things! At this point we asked friends and family to be referees for us and they were happy to do so.
Only towards the end of home study did we begin to look at what kind of child we might like to adopt. We knew we wanted two (and our social worker thought we could cope with two at once), and we knew we wanted children that we could really ‘bond’ with. We thought that would be children under primary school age, but we thought we might consider kids in early primary. We knew what issues we might cope with, and what we might not deal so well with. Our social worker compiled a report based on what we talked about and decided we were ready for ‘Approval Panel’.
Nerve-racking Approval Panel
Approval Panel was the next really nerve-racking point in the process, but thankfully it went well. It’s funny – although we knew that we would not be at the panel unless our social worker thought we were good enough, those doubts were there anyway – ‘What if they say no?’ Perhaps that was because of our own previous losses. As I write this, I’m suddenly equating our ‘What if’ thoughts, to the difficulties some adoptive children have in believing they will always be part of their new family. Even though everything points to the contrary, they often think,‘what if I have to move again?’
The panel (social workers, a medical adviser and an adoptive parent) asked us questions based on the report our social worker had compiled – there were no ‘surprise’ questions. Finding we were approved was a very emotional moment, for now we really could move on to the life changing part!
Matching and Running!
It took us a while to be matched with our kids. The wait is really tough. We had come through a long process that had taken a year from our initial phone call, and now we were just waiting – waiting for all of the talking to turn into real children, for us to become a family. I took up running at this point – I needed to do something to deal with all the emotions I was feeling; anticipation, nerves, a wee bit of fear, excitement – and running gave me a chance to mull over all of the practicalities of getting ready to be a parent (I still run now, over two years later!). During this time there were potential matches that turned out not to be for us, and although we were quite emotional about these at the time, it was for the best. ‘Matching’ is a two way process. Our social worker told us that we had to make these decisions with our heads and our hearts, and she was right.
Finally, she presented us with the details of two siblings, with some reservations, because one was older than we’d anticipated. But their details (and those of the older child in particular) really spoke to us, in a way I hadn’t expected. We were discovering that the details of older children convey more of their personalities and interests, obviously because they have had time develop these, but it made us think more and more positively about adopting an older child. So we asked to find out more about these two kids – an almost nine-year old girl and a four-year old boy (two from a family of four siblings, who sadly couldn’t find a family together and who were fostered separately). The more we read, the more we wanted to know even more.
The kids’ social worker and her line manager came to visit us at home (our house has never, ever been so tidy!). Our social worker, who had been our assessor before we were approved as adopters, was to became our strongest ally from here on and was there to make sure we got all the information we needed. After all the social workers left, we went for a walk, and went over everything that was said over and over again, knowing that we had already made a commitment to these two kids in our heads and our hearts. A few days later the news came back that the childrens’ social worker wanted to proceed with the match. Hooray!!!
We went to ‘Matching Panel’ not long after that, the set up of which was pretty similar to Approval Panel, except it was within the placing local authority with social and other workers there on behalf of the children. The panel were keen that our children keep in touch with their two siblings (and so were we) and the match was unanimously approved. We had lunch with the children’s foster carers, and shed tears over pictures and stories of our children. A week later we were back to make plans for meeting our kids and working up to taking them home.
“The moment when we knocked on the door of our daughter’s foster home and this little girl opened it will forever be etched into our minds”
This part was so surreal. We cleared the decks and took ourselves off to meet the kids. The moment when we knocked on the door of our daughter’s foster home and this little girl opened it will forever be etched into our minds. She looked so different from photographs, and yet it was her – and so lovely. Our son-to-be was so over-excited, he barely sat still and his foster carer kept apologising for him. Our daughter-to-be was very quiet, just watching and taking it all in.
We took them out and asked them to ‘practise’ calling us mum and dad straight away – starting as we meant to go on, and we chatted about what food we all liked and didn’t like. One of the first questions our daughter asked us was “Do you two fighted?” (sic), which was a poignant moment – she obviously had some fears about her new life, but we were quick to reassure her that we sometimes disagreed about things, but would never ever hit or hurt each other. Our wee boy was a little out of control – but of course he was out of control – nothing was in his control at all!
As the days went by, we all became more comfortable with each other. We had a fun week of visits to different places – and took lots and lots of photos. These have become so precious to us. They came for an overnight stay in their new rooms and then finally, the day came when we were to pick them up and take them home forever.
Taking the Children Home!
It was a shock to the system for all of us when they finally came home. Life changed forever, as we got on with the practicalities of being a parent to two children that we had written information about but very little practical experience of. In any spare time I found I made lists and lists – what to feed them, what activities we could do, what we needed to buy for them. Everything I found out, I wrote down. We enrolled our daughter in a local school (but were lucky enough to have an extended Easter break with her before she had to start), and we tried very hard to stay at home and in the garden so that it was just the four of us. We fended off a couple of well meaning friends (our closest friends knew to give us space). Our social worker popped in every so often, but although I felt tired and slightly frazzled, everything was going well. We had a honeymoon period, as expected, where the kids were as good as they could possibly be (and so, I suppose, were we). We read lots of books on adoption and attachment in bed at night, even though I’d read them all before, and generally we tried very hard to be great parents! We were exhausted, all of us. ‘Family film nights’ gave us a chance to relax together.
Things settle down – but they take time. Both children had night terrors or nightmares for a long time, and still do if there’s any sense of unsettledness. I learned that I could sleep when the kids were in bed and that they would still be there in the morning! A sense of humour is essential to parenting our kids – for example, their responses to any event was way over the top at first (whether that was excitement at a present or denial of a wrongdoing), but they have become calmer and we talk through appropriate responses to them, or laugh about it!
There is a definite sense of ‘reparenting’ our wee boy, now six. He has gone through the emotional stages of a much younger child with us, from tantrums (he’d never had them before he came to us, but they’re an essential part of development) to ‘playing’ at being a baby. It really helps to know that he’s just revisiting the baby stages he never got to have. He was quite angry for a while. He couldn’t remember his birth parents and didn’t want to be taken from his foster carers. But although he likes to try and be in control, he’s becoming such a happy, contended and clever wee boy who loves us to bits and he pushes boundaries in much the same way as all his friends. We’re discovering that as well as love, consistency, empathy and all those other therapeutic parenting essentials, strong (but generally kind) boundaries are also necessary. Holly van Gulden said in a workshop that I attended at Scottish Adoption that children who push boundaries are actually trying to find them and needing to find them.
Our daughter, now almost eleven (wow, I can’t believe that), had learned to cope with life in her birth home remarkably well. But she came to us very over-compliant and absolutely terrified of any hint of trouble. She had no opinion of her own and her get-up-and-go had got up and gone. She also had some eating issues – although not as bad as some I’ve read about. She was incredibly behind at school. All of these have improved hugely, although they’ve not disappeared and we’re still finding things out about her that are legacies of life with her birth family. She desperately wanted a new family and a new life and we hope that she has what she dreamed of (although sadly, we can’t provide the dog, horses, or skiing holidays!). It has been so rewarding to adopt an older child and to begin to see her real personality shine through now she’s in a loving and stable home.
We got our adoption order nine months after they came to live with us. It was a special day, especially for our daughter – I think she began to feel that everything would be all right after that day. Mind you, they were our children long before a piece of paper said that they were!
Such Joy and Happiness!
I can’t express the joy that our two kids give us. Some days it’s a quiet glow inside that I’m barely aware of (while I’m repeating ‘wash your hands when you’ve been to the toilet’, for the fifth time that day) and some days I feel so happy for myself , my husband and for them that it has me in tears. I cry at every achievement. I admire how much they’ve come on, how much they’ve achieved for themselves, how much they’re thriving. I love them to bits. We’d do anything for them, because they’re our kids.