Jane and Peter talk about adopting an older brother and sister.
Why did you decide to adopt?
After two miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF treatment, we considered adoption because we wanted to add to our family and we felt we had a lot of love to give. At that time though, it just seemed like too much of a big leap to make. We’d been trying for a baby for four years and we needed a break.
About 18 months later, we were at my husband’s sister’s house. She had four grown-up adopted children and two birth children who were then teenagers. Each of them had recently sent their mum a mother’s day card, and each had written a heart-warming message inside that expressed their great affection for their mum. That was the turning point for me. I knew life had been hard at times for my sister-in-law’s family but they had come through it and the cards were proof that adoption could be another way to create a loving family. It was shortly after that that I made the first call to a local adoption agency. From then on, I never felt any doubt that this was what I wanted to do. It took my husband Peter, a little longer. He needed a face-to-face conversation with the social worker before he felt really engaged with the idea of adoption but like me, he never had any doubts after that and around 18 months later, two delightful children, a boy and a girl, then aged five and six, joined our family.
How did you find the assessment process?
The assessment process sometimes felt very intrusive but we both felt it was a positive experience. It was a chance to reflect on our lives and learn more about ourselves and each other.
Was it different from how you were expecting?
Yes, I didn’t expect it to help us become more rounded as individuals and stronger as a couple. I also didn’t expect to develop such a good relationship with our social worker. The fact that we did, really paid off when we needed support in the early days after the children had been placed with us.
How did you find the training?
We enjoyed the adoption training. It was a chance to meet other people, many of whom had had similar experiences to us. We were also bound together by a shared hope and a potential future that none of us could ever imagine.
One couple dropped out after our first session which had been about the realities of parenting a vulnerable child. Hearing and reading about some of the traumas that these children had faced and the resulting impact was daunting. Fortunately, an adoptive dad speaking at a subsequent training day reassured us that although his son had several issues, he was still a child so like so many other children and that he didn’t have ‘Delayed Development’ stamped on his forehead!
We made some good friends on the adoption training course and as more of us had children placed with us, our support network and the children’s friendship group grew. Ten years later, we are still in touch with two of these families and I know for sure that family life would have been a lot more challenging had we not been able to support each other over the years.
How did you find attending the adoption panel?
There was a lot of focus on attending the Panel and becoming approved to adopt however this was the stage that, thanks to the confidence of our social worker and our manager, we didn’t worry about too much until the day. The thought of being under the spotlight was a bit nerve-racking but all the panel members were so welcoming, we felt supported rather than tested.
Can you tell us about finding your children?
For us, this was the hardest part. We followed our instincts and didn’t allow ourselves to feel any pressure to say yes to the first children that were suggested to us by our social worker. Reading these children’s profiles was upsetting but the experience helped us to adjust to the reality of what we were about to do.
Finally, after a year, we found our children during an exchange event. Ten other couples also registered their interest in our children that day but having seen their photo and talked to their social worker, we both had a strong feeling that they were going to be our children. After lots of discussion and reading of profiles and two further interviews, our social worker rang my husband with the good news. I had asked her not to call me at work because I didn’t think I could cope with the disappointment if we were turned down. But of course, my husband rang me straight away and squeaked out the words…”We’ve got them, they’re ours!” After lots more squeaking from both of us, I put the phone down and burst out of my office as though I had just scored a penalty for England!
And what was it like meeting your children for the first time?
During the drive to the foster carer’s house to meet our children for the first time, I don’t think either of us could speak (or even squeak!). There were no words to communicate what we were feeling as we pulled up outside the house, walked up the garden path and saw the foster dad opening the front door to reveal two little people, our children, looking out at us. First, I saw my daughter’s beautiful face, hair bundled on top of her head, eyes wary but meeting mine with a little smile on her lips; I let out a quiet little gasp. Then I looked at our son beside her, he was beaming and bouncing up and down, saying “Come and see my room!” Then off he went, with his sister almost attached to him. After a nod from the foster mum, we followed and that was that. They might have been living with someone else, but they were already our children.
How did it feel when your children arrived and how have you grown as a family?
We knew it was important that the children had a good routine so before they arrived we planned each day of our first two weeks together, right up until they were due to start school. Fortunately, the forecast was good so we spent a lot of time in the park, having picnics, flying kites and following the children over-protectively around as they rode their bikes or played on the swings and slides.
When we took the children swimming at the local pool, it soon became apparent that it was the first time they had ever been in a pool; they went crazy. “It’s like a great big bath!” We were so worried about them drowning in all the excitement but it was a privilege to be able to give them this new experience. This is the wonder of being an adoptive parent.
Having our days built around activities, meals, quiet times, etc. was key. There were lots of ups and downs, and we felt so tired at times but our planning paid off and we felt we were organised and on top of things. The real test for me came first when Peter went back to work. I was so worried about being on my own with the children both at home, I packed a picnic and we walked him to work, and then took a long time to walk home, via the park. I stretched out the walk home until we just had a few hours in the house before Peter got home from work!
My second test came when, just three weeks after the children arrived, and a week after they joined their new school, Peter was away on a course for two nights. My usual ‘iron a shirt at the last minute’ approach was not going to work so, I had two lunch boxes in the fridge and two sets of uniforms ready by the beds, and the table laid for breakfast before I went to bed on both nights. And just to be sure I was up at six to get myself ready before the children were up.
How do you work through discussing your children’s experiences and memories before you?
Before we met the children, we were given two A4 folders, a pink one and a blue one. The ten or so pages inside with the huge font told each of their life stories, including the reasons why they couldn’t remain with their birth family, details about the care they received from their foster family and a few details about us, their forever family. We were also lucky enough to be given a lot of photos that their birth mother had taken. I put together a more light-hearted photo book for each of the children using the photos and some of the text from the life story. We also added photos that the foster carer had taken and that we had taken during the first year that the children lived with us. We gave the photo books to the children on their adoption day. We had a celebration lunch after we visited the judge in court and we were joined by the children’s social worker and our social worker. The children’s social worker was able to talk to the children about the early photos and their birth families. Since then, our daughter has looked at her photo book so often that the cover has worn away. Our son is just not interested in his, he only wants to live in the day and look forward.
What advice would you give to your younger self regarding adoption?
Imagine your feelings are protected by a tough Teflon coating. You will have lots of very happy times with the children but there will also be times when they will tell you they hate you, that you are not their mum or dad, and that they hate this house. When they say these things, when they are angry and throwing things down the stairs at you, imagine they are wearing a sign on their front that says “I’m hurting”. It will help you to focus on doing the best for them and not take things quite so personally.
Is there any advice you can give to someone thinking of adopting?
Read “No Matter What” by Sally Donovan. This book is so close to our experiences, it was such a comfort to read. Don’t listen to the people who advise against adoption because they know someone who had a terrible time and it ruined their life. Do as much research as you can, and talk to adoption advisers and lots of people with first-hand experience with adoption. Be cautious and wait for the children who you instinctively feel are a good match. I know now that this is so much more important to the success of your family than basing the choice on age.
As advised in adoption training, Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy (PACE) really do work. For example, my son was protesting about tidying his room. Such protests usually would lead to a full-on tantrum and the throwing of items at the nearest parent. I told him I would help him but still he protested so I picked up a toy from the floor and pretended it was so heavy that I needed his help to lift it. He joined in the game and we laughed as we very slowly (because everything was so heavy!) tidied his room. It is such a happy memory.