An Adoption Journey Retrospective
Looking back at the journal entries I wrote over a decade ago, while in the depths of the adoption journey. The first of a two part series.
21st October 2006
Over the last few years we have been trying to start a family — spectacularly unsuccessfully it turns out due to a complicated-sounding fault in my genetic makeup. We threw science at the problem in the form of IVF, and after a couple of years, many thousands of pounds, far too many drugs, an attempt that very nearly worked, and more stress than is probably healthy we decided to do something we talked about before we got married.
We are going to adopt children.
At the moment we are about two-thirds of the way through the adoption process — we have had background checks done on our life, family, and friends, criminal records checks, and various visits from social workers. Over the next month we will be going on several preparation courses, and then early next year our life will be changed forever — we will (hopefully) become parents — very probably of more than one child.
It is both scary and exciting at the same time. Our house will no longer be the big old empty house that we battle with — it will be the big old noisy, untidy, but ultimately happy house. I confidently predict that any concept of spare time will vanish — all of our energies will be poured into giving our adopted children the best second chance we possibly can.
And there you have the reason for me stepping back from the various activities that have filled my spare time thus far. Hopefully, those who have used the code I have churned out will have the same sentiments as the Douglas Adams book — “So long, and thanks for all the code”…
Of course — this blog will continue — it will just begin to cover the various adventures of becoming a parent. It’s going to be an awfully big adventure.
The Adoption Process Continues
15th January 2007
This post is being written in response to my being mentioned on a friend’s blog today. I have often agonised over writing about our involvement in the adoption process for fear (quite an irrational fear no doubt) that writing about this subject might reflect unfavourably upon us with the social services team that will be researching us as “adoptive parents”.
After thinking about it, and thinking about it some more — in a manner that Pooh bear may have done — I figure there can be no harm in helping inform others of the various machinations of the adoption process and reflecting on our experiences of it. Here goes…
After spending several years attempting to start a family of our own, and throwing a significant amount of money at several IVF attempts — one of which nearly worked — we found ourselves eating dinner one night about a year ago, reflecting on the last failed attempt.
The discussion broke some kind of water between us — the IVF had failed several weeks previously, and while propping each other up, we had not talked about “what to do next” — probably because we both knew what the other was going to suggest, and fearing the reaction a little. Although we had talked about “adoption” before getting married, would considering it as a realistic path now be seen as acknowledgement of failure?
We talked. We cried. We talked some more. We cried some more. Over the following days, we both came to terms with our decision a little more and started finding out what routes were available. You may think us a little closeted in our thinking, but we never considered investigating overseas adoption. In our view, there are probably millions of children all over the world who badly need a second chance and what better place to start than at home?
A few weeks later we found ourselves taking a day off work, and attending an informal meeting run by the local Adoption Services department of the government. We sat, watched a video, were talked through the process towards adoption, and were invited to ask questions. I’m guessing this first step is a “weeding the wheat from the chaff” exercise. I remember being intensely annoyed by a chap who asked pointed questions about the percentages of babies coming into the welfare system, and the chances of “getting” one of them. Why a baby? What had the older children done wrong?
The continued path we have been guided on by Adoption Services has been one of learning, of enlightenment, sometimes of despair, and also of foresight and anticipation.
We have prepared our life history, our family history, submitted friends and relations as character references — who may be interviewed — and we have attended an “Adoption Preparation Course” (4 days in a classroom learning of the horrors that may await, and the tools to deal with them). You get the distinct feeling while “in the thick of it” that you are continually being tested — can you deal with it — and we have no doubts that this is a good thing.
Most of our family and friends who were “in on it” didn’t think it was fair — that we had to jump through so many hoops while so many people out there can “just have children” (I am deliberately being diplomatic here — more than one friend has put the situation of young mothers across rather more colourfully than I might wish to).
After explaining to people that all these measures are to try and make sure that the children will not be failed again, and to arm you with everything possible to help you in looking after them, they usually see the light. The children in the care system are not there by accident. They are quite often scarred by their early experiences, and the effects may not show up for years — if ever. There may often be developmental, social and attachment issues that you as “adoptive parents” will need to help them deal with.
You will also need to educate your own family and close friends to help the children. They did not appear by magic — they had a family before. Many members of that family will still exist. They will not disappear. That family is as much a part of the child (whether you like it or not) as your family might wish to be.
After coming through the process this far, our next step is the run-in towards the “Review Panel”. This consists of the adoption services compiling an official report on us as people, and our suitability as adoptive parents. This will be presented (along with us should we wish to attend) to a panel of perhaps 12 people covering all aspects of society — doctors, magistrates, police, adoptees, adopters, social services, psychologists… you get the picture. Following that meeting, the decision will be made — we will be informed if we are allowed to adopt a child (or more than one child).
The over-riding feeling at this point is that the process is accelerating. We are perhaps a year in, and after months of wondering “what do we do next”, finally the gears, staff and resources of government feel like they are gathering behind us — to support us. It’s taken a long time, and we have no idea how far we have left to go until we make an uneasy trip home from a foster carer with little people in the back of the car.
Here’s a strange thought to end on for today — the children we adopt are probably already being cared for by a foster carer. I wonder who they are, where they are from, why they are there, and what they might think of us.
13th February 2007
We have now been en-route towards adopting a child for longer than several friends who became pregnant during that time and have now had those children.
By the time children arrive in our family, we will have been dragged down by the social services for perhaps three times the amount of time it takes a “normal” family to go from conceiving to “having” children.
Yes, I am annoyed. It’s not a reflection on the people we know who now have children — we think the world of all of them — we’re just annoyed that the “powers that be” seem to be sat on their collective asses, and have been for months.
If they read this, I’d love to know what they do all day. How long does it take to send us a report to fill out? How many weeks to put something in an envelope?
3rd September 2007
As a part of the marathon-like journey towards adopting children, we both had to get full medicals from our doctors today. Having never had a medical in my life before, I will admit to a certain amount of trepidation before walking to the health centre this afternoon.
Here’s what I learned while being prodded, poked, measured, weighed and so on I weigh 90 kilograms.
I stand 190cm tall.
My tonsils work perfectly.
The iris in each eye works perfectly.
I consume about 20 units of alcohol a week on average (which is fine).
My back is straight.
My pulse is 70 beats a minute.
My blood pressure is normal (I forget the numbers).
My blood sugar level is normal.
I have no traces of sugar or blood in my urine (this is good apparently).
Both of my knees respond to being hit by a rubber hammer in an entirely predictable manner.
Both elbows respond in a similarly “normal” manner to being hit with said rubber hammer.
I have no discernable lumps or bumps in my abdomen (as prodded by the doctor).
I have no lumps in my armpits or my neck (apparently this is good).
I don’t recall any more of the tests performed, but there were many, many more. In some ways, I was a little disappointed when he looked up while ticking an entire page of tick-boxes, and said I was a fit young lad and had no discernable problems at all.
I asked if doing medical examinations was the most boring job in the universe, and got as close as you might from a doctor to a “you have no idea”. We then had quite an entertaining chat about the dream that one day somebody will arrive for a medical and have all manner of complex problems the like of which medical science has never seen — but that never happens.
People who are going for a medical never have anything wrong with them.
The medical cost over £80 ($160). Ouch.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was the died blonde hair, frosty reception lady who spoke down her nose at me in a very “royal” manner when I went to pay afterwards. Is there some kind of rule for working as the receptionist at the doctors — that you must be supremely neat, tidy, clean, bossy, and nosey?
The Eve of the Adoption Review Panel
27th September 2007
We go up in front of the adoption review panel tomorrow morning — to get the final rubber stamp on us being able to adopt children. If they approve us, we move straight on to “matching” (in this case, matching means “matching us with children”).
The last few weeks have been spent in a state of paranoia. The bedrooms are rewired, redecorated, and recarpeted. We now have smoke detectors on both upstairs and downstairs landings. We have a solid wooden fence around the pond. We have fire extinguishers in both the car and the kitchen. We have a fire blanket in the kitchen now. Cupboard fasteners. Fridge door fasteners. You name it — we have now done it.
The entire effort is to convince a panel of people with various backgrounds (doctor, psychologist, educator, councillor, magistrate, police, social worker, independent social worker, etc..) that quite apart from having no health issues, no skeletons in our closet, and no obvious problems as a couple, our house is more prepared for the arrival of children than any family who have their own children.
Somehow the fun is being taken out of it all. A friend remarked to us the other day that it doesn’t pay to perhaps go as far as we are being forced to because there is a certain value in a child learning why we shout “No!” in a panicked tone (god knows I heard it enough when I was young).
We still have all the really hard lessons left to learn. When we are finally matched with children, we have to start learning how to be parents. How to make good snap judgements. How to live with those judgements. How to trust each other without question. How to have confidence in the children — to not overprotect them. To learn when to stop them, and when to let them make their mistakes.
For the past two years, we have been on a journey of theory, books, videos, courses, interviews, meetings and study. Finally, we are approaching the exciting bit — the life-changing bit. The beginning of our family.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow morning.
Approved to Adopt Children
28th September 2007
After two years of soul searching, reading, studying, attending courses, and having every nook and cranny of our professional, social and personal lives investigated by the authorities, we found ourselves sat in Aylesbury county hall earlier today, waiting to face an enormous panel of social workers, police, psychologists, educators, health workers, doctors, and civil servants so that they could deliver their judgement on our being allowed to adopt children.
Following a half-hour wait in a side room while “our” social worker fielded questions about us (the panel had received the reports about us several weeks previously), we were invited in to meet them.
Everybody in the room took turns to introduce themselves — they seemed professional, friendly and overwhelmingly positive. It wasn’t a firing squad.
We had been forewarned of the type of question that may be asked, so had thought long and hard about our answers. Predictably, the chair of the meeting addressed each of us in turn — “how do you see your life-changing if several children are placed with you?”
We must have said something right because after being shepherded back out of the room, it was only a couple of minutes before the chair and our social worker came back out to meet us.
“We are more than pleased to approve you for the adoption of up to three children”.
Relief. Total and utter relief. After two years we can finally relax and move on the next part of our life. That’s a story for another day though. Today we just want to collapse in a heap.
I just want to say a huge thank you for the various well-wishers and all those out there rooting for us over the last many months. Your support was appreciated more than you will ever know.
I think it’s high time I put the kettle on and made a very British cup of tea.
An Awfully Big Adventure
30th September 2007
After spending the best part of the last two years climbing a seemingly never-ending hill towards a very abstract goal — “being allowed to adopt children” — we reached the end of the climb on Friday.
The journey had not been easy. It had been long. The journey had forced us to look inside ourselves and ask why we wanted children — why we wanted a family. What could we provide? Who were we really, as people? What are our values? What are our hopes, our experiences? How do we see the future?
We have reached the flat at the end of the climb and suddenly find ourselves lost. What now?
The question was answered immediately after leaving the “Adoption Review Panel”. Throughout the approval process, we had been questioned on all manner of subjects, but in recent weeks W had begun to suspect there was an agenda behind some of the questions.
Her suspicions, it turns out were absolutely right.
Obviously, I cannot divulge exactly what was disclosed to us because it would betray too many confidences. I can say that the future may no longer be an unknown. Early next year our lives may well be turned upside down — our big old empty house will no longer be so. We knew this was the end goal of setting out on the adoption road but never really prepared mentally for it.
Suddenly we are filled with further questions of ourselves. Will we be good parents? Do we really know what we are doing?
Of course, these questions are fleeting — for the most part, we are now not able to think straight. We walk into town to buy groceries, hand in hand, huge grins on our faces. We prepare for this Christmas — perhaps our last on our own — but we find ourselves thinking past it to future Christmases, birthdays, and any number of memories yet to come.
Somebody famous once wrote that the future will be an awfully big adventure. I understand that now.
A Lull in the Adoption Journey
22nd October 2007
We find ourselves becalmed at the moment.
So many months of thought, energy and activity were wound up in our drive towards being approved to adopt children, and we never really thought beyond.
Meanwhile, our house is busy rearranging itself — as a transformer toy might. With a little help from Freecycle, we now find ourselves with several children’s beds, minus one couch and armchair, and with dust settling.
The next round of transformation is probably going to involve pictures, soft furnishings and toy boxes. Paints not used since I left art college now find themselves in the study, along with canvasses, boards, and brushes. What to paint? Disney? Rupert the Bear? Where the Wild Things Grow? The Hungry Caterpillar?
Towards the end of the year, we will once again find ourselves subjected to a board of well-meaning but really rather frightening opinions that matter for the “Matching Panel”. We will be judged not on our ability to parent — that has already been decided-but on our suitability to look after, nurture, love and cherish specific children we know no more than photos and a few paragraphs about.
While having the children’s best interests at heart, the panel’s knowledge and experience of both us and the children will be based on the written account of social workers. While this might sound terrifying, we feel very fortunate to know both parties. Our referees share long careers in the pursuit of the interests of children. We have come to know and respect them enormously. They carry huge responsibility — that of building a family. Think about that for a few moments. Could you do it?
During this period of limbo, we know of our “prospective” children and fight against the compulsion to already think of them as our own. We try not to imagine Christmases, holidays and birthdays to come. We try not to imagine our family and friends coming to know them. We try not to imagine. We try.
The not imagining is perhaps the most difficult part of this journey so far.
Just a Few Words
13th November 2007
Just a few words today before heading out into the rain on the streets of London to find something to eat.
The main news as of last night is that we are moving forwards towards the next step of the adoption journey — we had a phone call from our social worker, letting us know that she had met with the various required people yesterday to discuss our potential match with “the children” (any details of which I obviously can’t share at all) and that they see no problem in going forward to a matching panel in late December.
The next hurdle is to put in place all the information and plans we will need to ahead of the matching panel. Schools, doctors, that kind of thing.
All of a sudden what seemed like an infinitely far off event is racing towards us. Things to do. People to meet. Stuff to buy. Furniture to build. Ponds to fill in. Kitchens to reorganise. Ornaments to pack away.
When telling a close friend about the prospective dates “if everything works out okay”, she responded with how many weeks away that is. We had never thought in terms of a number of weeks. It had been years and months until now. Now it is weeks.
I’m going to keep my fingers tightly crossed — not only that we reach the finishing line in one piece, but also that I turn out to be as good a Dad as everybody says I will be.
The Week in One Post
24th November 2007
After several days spent being pulled between work, home, and all kinds of thoughts about adoption, the week has flown past.
Cutting a very long story short, on Monday night we found out there is a good chance that the Government may pay my salary for several months — to aid us in our attempts to bond and form strong attachments with the children when they arrive.
Naturally, you can imagine we were lost for words.
After so many months where the social services have been inquiring what we can provide — what we can do — they have now turned completely around, and are attempting to give us the world and its dog.
I found myself in the dilemma that must be faced by people who win holidays. What about my work? So far in our journey, the people at work have been brilliant — supporting us, giving me time off for the various interviews and meetings, and doing everything they reasonably could to help. Suddenly asking what they thought of me having three months off was surely the unknown though?
I was surprised. I had imagined maybe taking a month off, and then coming back on a part-time basis. Work saw it differently — they would rather it was one or two huge chunks — to aid with project scheduling. It’s easier to say “Jonathan isn’t available until May” rather than “Jonathan is available next Tuesday, the Tuesday after that, and so on. Plus of course, you get nothing done in one day in my job. Software development typically takes weeks.
Of course, the possibility of taking three months out is purely dependent on the government saying “yes” to funding it. The social services think it’s a good idea, but that doesn’t mean the money will be forthcoming. We may hear a big loud “NO WAY” (in true Wayne and Garth style).
At the moment I am of a mind to think it would be wonderful to have this chance, but if we don’t get it, then we can’t miss what we haven’t got.
Anybody else taken a long time off before? (other than the obvious mothers who gave birth and had six months off).
The week ended (and continues to crash around) with W returning from work on Friday night with her entire body breaking out in hives. It’s happened several years running now — each time after suffering a cold once the weather got cold in November. She looked like a burns victim last night — I felt so sorry for her. Luckily the drugs she has been prescribed seem to work, and she’s a bit happier today. She still has red welts all over her though — popping up and disappearing from hour to hour.
Send her some love. She needs it at the moment.
Telling the Children
3rd January 2008
Our future children were told of our existence today — told that they have a new Mummy and Daddy. Their foster carer broke the news early this afternoon armed with the scrapbooks and the DVD we put together to introduce ourselves.
It went better than anybody could have possibly expected — the problem now will be keeping a lid on the children’s excitement — we still don’t meet them until the end of the month. The month will seem like forever — both for them and us.
Such simple things were hard for them to take in — a park outside the front door, grandparents who live at the seaside, a cat, a huge garden, pet chickens, brand new bedrooms, and of course a Mum and Dad…
I think somehow we may have trouble sleeping for the next few nights.
Counting the Days
24th January 2008
I wanted to clear something up — it would appear many of those who have commented seem to think that we have a few days left until our house is populated with small nuclear devices on legs. Far from it.
In a few days time, we will make our way over to the foster carer’s house — after school turns out — and meet several small children for the first time. We will hang out with them for a couple of hours, play with them, tell them stories about ourselves, and generally just get used to each other a little bit. Then we will go home.
Day on day after that, we will spend more and more time with them — building on our presence around them. The entire process has been thought out by the social workers and the foster carers to almost imprint us on the kids — to ease their way into their new family. We will end the week waking them up in the morning, and returning them at bedtime. Each time we bring them to visit our house we will also be bringing their belongings. Our house will become theirs, and they will be helping that happen.
We will visit the oldest child’s school to help say goodbyes — we will meet teachers and friends, and be proudly shown schoolwork.
Rolling through next weekend, we will have them all day each day. With a little luck, a little normality will descend, and make the final journey from the foster carer to our house a natural one early the following week.
I am writing this today because the likelihood of writing much after this weekend will be remote. On Monday the real test begins — we find out just how much the preparation, the hoops and the trials have been worth. We will find out in a sudden and probably jarring manner what it is to be called Mum and Dad. I have no idea how we will react to it.
The Adventure Starts Here
25th January 2008
I finished work this evening, and don’t go back for 2 months. During the coming weeks, I have to learn how to be a Dad to several small children.
Leaving work this evening was strange — following a last hour where a seemingly endless queue of people took turns to visit my office or call me (including the MD!), I found myself stood in the kitchen at 6pm washing my coffee mug out to take home with me.
I have never experienced so much goodwill from so many people. It feels very odd indeed.
The weekend is going to be spent building stair gates, putting curtain poles up, and finding ever more room in the attic for boxes of things we no longer have room for. Bedrooms, cupboards and wardrobes stand empty — ready to be populated with unknown clothes and toys.
We also need to find some way of applying brakes to W’s parents — the children haven’t even arrived yet, and the stream of things they “saw and thought of us” is increasing week on week. We are having to be very careful — we only have to mention we could do with something and it arrives by magic — as evidenced by the brand new pushchair in the hallway. In weeks to come, I will no doubt stop feeling as guilty about receiving presents and gladly accept them.
It’s perhaps the first lesson, isn’t it — we are not the only people excited about the children arriving in our lives — our extended family are gnawing their fingernails too.
Originally posted on my personal blog, and now collected together at jonbeckett.com — the second part in the series tells the story of the first days and weeks with children.