Kirsty and Adam’s Story – Part 2 – Adam
Kirsty and Adam adopted a sister and brother through CCS Adoption a few years ago. Here, Adam shares his experience of what that has been like for him – the good, the bad and everything in between. And in Part 1 you can read, Kirsty, his wife’s side of the same story.
What brought you to adoption and can you remember when you decided to adopt?
My wife and I had been trying to conceive naturally but were unsuccessful so turned to fertility treatment. Unfortunately, this was also unsuccessful. We had been preparing for it not to work and for some time we’d talked about the possibility of adopting. Once our fertility journey came to an end we were in a way relieved as it had been emotionally draining, invasive and fairly traumatic and we, therefore, felt some sense of things finally being in our control with deciding on adoption and that we were on what felt like a one-way road to parenthood.
Why did you choose CCS Adoption?
We had started researching online and had seen advice to visit a number of agencies as we would get a feel for which one felt like the right fit for us. We first came across CCS and decided to attend an Information Event. We both are usually quite measured in our decision making and like to be able to make an informed decision but something about CCS just felt right for us so, rightly or wrongly, we ignored the advice and went with CCS without contacting any other agencies. We’re pleased to say we don’t regret it!
How did you find the assessment process and training?
It was a busy time trying to go through a lot of paperwork, appointments, training and gaining voluntary childcare experience alongside both of us working full-time. It also was a deeply emotional process in positive and negative ways. Our social worker was amazing and she really made us feel comfortable. The process delves into lots of personal stuff and we reflected a lot on our upbringing, our relationship and our friends and family relationships. We enjoyed this and it cemented our connection with each other and our family. At times we had to talk about difficult memories from the past and negotiate our way through future implications with a wider family. We look back now on that time as a great positive; a time to prepare and really think deeply about what was to come, thinking about our family now, it prepared us as much as possible for being our children’s parents.
Can you remember hearing about and then meeting your children for the first time?
How could I forget! Other adopters talked to us about a gut feeling you’ll have when family finding and we definitely experienced this. We considered a number of children within the category we were looking – a brother and a sister aged 0-5. When we came across our two children we had a strong feeling from the beginning. When it came time to meet them we were offered what was called a ‘glimpse meeting’ where we would get a chance to observe them in a playgroup without them meeting us. This was really special and emotional – they were 1.5 and 2.5 yrs old and they looked so tiny compared to the pictures. Seeing them in the flesh was a really profound moment for us and we got a real sense for the first time that this was our future family.
When we went down to where they were living in foster care for their transition to us, and for them to meet us for the first time, it was an incredible experience. They were so excited to meet us as they had received a picture book all about us and a video and a soft toy.
What were the early days like?
It’s been several years since our two came to us and I still don’t find it easy talking about the early days. The first couple of weeks were amazing and my wife and I were thinking…’this isn’t as hard as we thought it was going to be’, and ‘we were just made to be a family’. We later grew to realise this is known as the ‘honeymoon period’. Then things started to go downhill. Then we reached the bottom of the hill and things went underground. Then things went so far underground it was like we were in that bit of the earth where the volcanoes are born! Our daughter especially regressed massively and she spent all day every day in and out of screaming tantrums and violent outbursts. We cried most nights and felt extremely isolated because, despite all our family and friends wanting to help, whenever we had someone come into the equation our daughter felt more anxious and things got worse. At times it felt like life was never going to get better and that she would always be too traumatised by her experiences to ever fully recover. At times, I feel sad to say, I wanted it to all go away, for her to go away even.
Can you tell us a bit about your children?
We adopted two children. A brother and a sister who are full birth siblings and didn’t have any other siblings. Our son was 2 and our daughter was just 3 years old when they moved to us.
My son was only weeks old when sadly he was admitted to the hospital as a shaken baby and had non-accidental, life-threatening injuries. He was lucky to survive and was taken straight into foster care after being released from the hospital. He is now fully recovered although he has a shunt fitted which was a result of the swelling to his brain. He was in good quality foster care (1 placement) before moving to us. Now he has fully recovered from his injuries and he is a healthy, happy boy and the funniest kid I know! He has enthusiasm for everything but especially sea creatures and superheroes. He’s getting obsessed with sketching and, between you and me, he’s terrible at it but he’s so enthusiastic to show you that you can’t help telling him that each one is his best one yet!
My daughter went to live with her birth grandma when her brother got physically harmed by their birth parents. She had been severely neglected up until this point spending hours on end strapped in a pushchair unattended. After some time with birth grandma, it was decided that this was not the best place for her either and she moved into the same foster care placement as her brother. Due to the past neglect and trauma of moving to various primary carers, she has been the most challenging to parent by far. She needed us all of the time (and I mean every waking minute, and often not the waking minutes) but yet she spent most of the first year demanding our attention and pushing us away at the same time. This was incredibly painful for us as parents as we wanted to love her but a lot of the time in the beginning we didn’t feel like we did or ever would and that was soul-destroying. Now, several years on, she’s got her challenges of course, but she’s grown into this amazing little person. She’s full of character. She’s caring and affectionate and she loves her brother, mum and me more than we could ever wish and we love her too.
In many ways now we love her more because of how challenging she has been (and sometimes still is!) as it’s given us a real sense of pride to see what we’ve come through together and what she’s growing into.
Has there been anything that surprised you?
I wouldn’t say anything surprised me in a big way but one thing that comes to mind is the digging up of stuff from your past that you thought wasn’t a thing. Our social worker worked through all our past significant relationships and life moments and one that took me by surprise was the passing of my grandad when I was just 8 yrs old. My parents had taken the decision to have me and my brother stay with our cousins instead of attending grandad’s funeral. I had held a bit of bitterness about this but hadn’t really thought much of it. Revisiting it brought me to talk about it with my parents and they were able to share with me some memories of my reaction at the time and, most importantly, the fact that they found the decision difficult and did what they thought was best for me and my brother at the time. Hearing my mum say this actually made it all ok – they just did what they thought was best. It was kind of profound because it not only made me realise I’d buried all these feelings a bit but also made me reflect on the decisions I would have to make as a parent. So I guess one thing that surprised me was the unearthing of issues I hadn’t even realised were issues. It was good to process these things and to talk with family about them too.
Do your children have contact with their birth family and what impact does it have on them?
Yes, we have letterbox contact once per year with their birth mum, birth dad and birth grandma. Birth mum is the only one to have engaged with this so far. We had training on this during Stage 2. We have always been open to contact with birth parents. In the first couple of years, our children found it hard to hear and talk about their life story and engage in letters but we have persisted and now we feel it has been normalised for them. We would relate it to the bereavement of a loved one – the more you talk about it, the easier it gets. Our children regularly ask us questions about their birth family and we feel proud of this, that they feel so open and safe to do so. I would say too that it’s helped us as parents to repeat their story and share letters as it was quite traumatising for us also to think about and talk to them about what had happened to them. It’s been a therapeutic process for us as much as it has for them.
What is family life like now?
We are now a few years down the line and, whilst things have steadily become easier over the last 2-3 years, I would say it is only the last 6 months or so where I feel I can say I am truly consistently enjoying family life. That’s not to say it’s not been enjoyable before but there’s always been an edginess about daily life when your children are always so close to tantrums or ‘meltdowns’. Now it feels like my children are happy, they feel safe, trust us and their teachers and friends at school. We have lots of proud parent moments now and we get emotional in positive ways more so than negative. We also feel like our children’s bond with grandparents and wider family and friends is there now too and it feels like we hoped it would be prior to becoming parents. I guess I’ve reached some kind of peace about family life and the truth is I now have these amazing moments where I feel a kind of warm happy feeling inside that seemed to not be there for the first 2-3 years.
What have been the best and hardest bits of adoption for you?
For me, by far the hardest part has been the impact it has had on my mental health at times. We had been warned about this beforehand – about secondary trauma, compassion fatigue and post-placement depression. I’m naturally an optimist, level-headed and pragmatic person. When your child is so unsettled, dysregulated and ultimately not happy for so much of the time it’s heart-breaking. During the most difficult periods, we have needed each other as a couple, our family and friends and also CCS, all of which have been so important in helping us through the dark moments.
The best bit has been the progress I see in my children and the bond that deepens between us. When I stop and think about what things were like in the beginning compared to how they are now I feel so proud. My life is infinitely better being a parent. I haven’t got everything right (nobody can/does) but I’ve done a lot of good that I can see the benefit of in my children and I feel privileged to be living it! I also laugh more too. Kids definitely make your life more fun!
What has been your friends’ and families’ involvement in your adoption journey?
Both our parents have been amazing! It hasn’t been easy for them as our two were their first grandchildren and it wasn’t perhaps what they dreamed of in the early days. The bond took a long time to grow but now they have such an amazing relationship. Our friends and wider family have also been great and really supportive as well as understanding that we needed time to be as a family before adding new relationships and venturing out into the wider world again.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about adopting?
Be honest with yourself and learn to be honest out loud with everyone in your support network and everyone at CCS. Every adoptive parent will have moments they just aren’t coping and that feels really scary – admitting to others that you can’t cope and that you feel you’re not sure how much longer you can keep going. It’s liberating saying you can’t cope because you’re being honest with yourself and with other people. And that vulnerability becomes a strength because you become good at asking for help and people become better at knowing what you need. When you’re not coping it doesn’t feel temporary at the time but it is. Knowing that I couldn’t cope at times is the reason I now know I can cope – because I got through those difficult moments and I can do it again when they come in the future.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself these last few years and I’m a better person for it. There must be easier ways to better yourself but what you get with doing it this way is you help some little people get better too and that’s worth every bit of hardship there is!