I longed for the first night Acorn came home. Before we were approved, before we’d even started the process, I used to lie in bed imagining what it might be like to have a little person in the house. I used to indulge my own romanticised view of what that would be like by thinking about that moment when we quietly pulled the nursery door to, inside there being a content, gurgling little one who would go on to sleep soundly and wake up all smiles and sunshine the next morning. Of course, I did know that’s not what many children do, let alone those whose adoption might have meant multiple foster carers, disruptions to attachment, trauma from the loss of all that was known and familiar. But it didn’t stop me dreaming about it!
In actual reality, Acorn came home after week-long introductions which had been hampered by snow and poor weather. He came home having visited once with his foster carer, and then suddenly, we were on our own. It was a strange feeling, one of there being a visitor in the house, of immense responsibility and a deep sense of privilege.
We played quietly at home with him for the afternoon, fed him fish fingers or something equally familiar and finger-foody, and had our first go at the bath and bedtime routine in our own home. We’d done it two or three times at the foster carers, but it felt totally different to be doing it in our own place. One of the strong recommendations in our training had been to keep routines, smells, foods, even washing powders and bed clothes the same for at least the first few weeks- even so, it was tempting to begin immediately modifying ideas and ways of doing things to suit ourselves.
And then, we put him finally, full of anticipation and nervous excitement, into his bed. We sat downstairs staring anxiously into the baby monitor and listening to him babble away. It wasn’t really as I’d dreamed it might be, but because it was real, it was better.
He did sleep soundly that very first night; knowing him how we do now but didn’t then, it was likely that he was just so so overwhelmed by everything he’d been through that day that he crashed. He does that sometimes now.
He didn’t actually show a huge amount of emotion generally for the first few weeks he was with us. We didn’t see tantrums or frustration or sadness, but equally, with the benefit of hindsight, know now that we didn’t see much happiness or excitement or joy. These things- all of them- have come slowly. And now, 18 months after he came home, he has just had a real meltdown at bedtime. He’s hugely clingy to me, often asking to be a baby and- I feel, though as any parent, I am only guessing what’s going on- showing some of the effects of his early experiences and loss. He clings onto me, and begs with tearful eyes that I stay- and although he may be able to state that factually he knows we’re a family for ever, his feelings and emotions suggest they are listening to a different story at times. It isn’t the rose-tinted idea I knew wasn’t true even when I thought it, but it’s our reality.
I had intended to write this post last night, and the night before, but have been slow to do so. Partly that’s cos I have had a parents’ evening at work, a conference with work, and generally a really busy week, but also partly cos Acorn has been really quite needy, clingy, easily upset.
It’s his birthday soon, and I do wonder if he’s aware of being a ‘big boy’- or more to the point, others’ expectations of him being a big boy. He’s said and shown lots of wanting to be babied, and though he was potty trained two months ago, has pooed his pants three days on the trot. He is reaching the age where he is starting to have conscious memory, and yet so much of his subconscious memory, his early life experiences, the trauma and neglect he experienced in his early months, already have moulded who he is. It’s hard to try and figure out from the toddler we see each day, what may, or may not, be influenced by his early experiences- and what may just be ‘normal’ toddler behaviour.
The early experiences our Acorn had are things which won’t ever go away, and we can never live pretending they didn’t happen- which is why, when learning about a child you are becoming a new, adopted mum or dad to, it’s so important to get as many pieces of the jigsaw as possible.
I knew this was important in principle because of the training you go through as an adopter. I knew we may have a chance to meet with birth family, and whilst this was just an ‘in theory’ thing, it made complete sense.
But then, when we were matched with Acorn, we were told we could have a one-off meeting with his birth grandma. It wasn’t compulsory, but was encouraged- for all the reasons above, but also because Acorn may want to know about these things and people as he grows up, so to be able to say we did everything we could seemed wise.
As a result, we met Sally during introductions week, once we’d spent time with Acorn and his foster carer over a few days. We were itching to get home by this point, ready to be a family. Meeting with Sally seemed like a necessary but unwelcome additionality to fit in and find energy for. I guess I felt like this about it because I had made assumptions about what Sally would be like and how she might respond to us. I felt sure she would be cold, cynical, hacked off with the system and resentful towards us- those awful people who were taking her first grandchild out of her life. I felt this kind of attitude would be totally justified and understandable, and that we therefore needed to steel ourselves for the meeting.
In reality, meeting Sally was nothing like my expectations. We met in a meeting room at the offices of the local authority we were adopting through. We saw down with Sally over a cup of tea, along with our social workers. They were there to guide the conversation, to support both us and Sally, and to leap in if the conversation headed down an inappropriate track.
What was surprising, in fact, overwhelming for me, was that Sally was just so lovely. Where I’d expected coldness- warmth, where we’d thought she would be simmering with resentment, genuine, generous goodwill towards us as the people who were going to bring Acorn up as their own.
I was totally blown away by the meeting, completely broken by it. I sobbed and sobbed, following Sally saying goodbye, grieving on her behalf that this had to be so hard and final for her. Whilst I understood why this was, and why Sally, or Acorn’s birth parents couldn’t keep him safe, I realised there and then that she was driven in her generosity towards us by a love for her grandson. I am so thankful to her for this. I bet she never forgets, as we can’t, Acorn’s adoption heritage.
That meeting influenced me a huge amount, and i am so very glad we did take the opportunity given to meet Sally. I think Acorn has good reason to be very proud of his birth grandma and the self-giving love she showed.
My second post for National Adoption Week 2016 probably seems like a bit of a cop out because really, it’s not one moment in time. Instead, it’s more of a synthesis (ooh, get me and my big words at ten to eleven on a school night!) of memories of those first few weeks when Acorn came home and the realisation of things longed for.
I distinctly remember, in those heady first days, taking great pride and enjoyment in hanging out washing. What a mundane and uninspiring moment to choose as one of my top five, you might think. But there was something truly wonderful and fulfilling about hanging up little pairs of trousers, vests, tops, for the first time. I have to say, my enthusiasm was stretched at sock pegging, you may be relieved to hear. Even so, the whole process, so prosaic and humdrum, as it is, was so lovely to do.
You see, in the busyness, ongoing involvement of social workers and visits, and other massive adjustments that characterise the first weeks of an adoptive placement, there are precious few moments to step back and reflect. Pegging out the washing, our Acorn’s included, gave me chance to do just that. To realise that I was now a mum, with all it brings of the daily grind, but equally, all its small joys and happy, or funny, or hard, or sad moments. I’m not saying there was one particular moment I recall pegging out the laundry, but a series of snapshots, glimpses into our new reality, that of being mum and dad.
Another from those early days springs to mind; our first trip into town. We’d been home together a few days, and felt brave enough to venture out where people might actually know us and speak to us. We put Acorn in the new pushchair, figured out the challenges of the straps (I’m sure they are purposely difficult!), and went off down the road together, a family of three. It felt so strange, to have this little person, who was ours. As we walked past people and smiled or said hi, in the way you do when you live in a small, Northern town, we said to each other giddily, as they passed, ‘do you think they realised?’
It was as if we felt that somehow, the fact that we’d adopted and were complete rookies at this parenting thing must have somehow been obvious to the passer by. Like it was emblazoned on our heads ‘first timers, totally clueless!’
It’s the small things about being an adoptive mum that are the most special, the small steps Acorn makes that seem the most significant. Hopefully these two ‘moments’ show this.
In homage to National Adoption Week, and because I #supportadoption and want this blog to encourage others who are considering adoption, this is my top five moments as an adopter. I’m going to try and do one a night this week. That’s the plan anyway.
Actually, it’s really really tricky to distill the last 2 years into five moments, but I’ll try. And hopefully write something mildly interesting and maybe amusing, rather than just mushy.
1. Buying a new vacuum cleaner. Hmm, yes, you read that right. Getting approved as adopters was a bit of a day outing for us; we had to travel to a city, whereas we live in a small, provincial market town. That does explain our purchase on what was a wet February day.
The panel was positive, empowering- dare I even say, enjoyable. These people all had a passion for what adoption can achieve, and if you make it to approval panel, your social worker is confident you should be approved. So we went in feeling like it was a test, and came out feeling a wave of goodwill and belief that we could be parents to a child or children who’d experienced trauma.
We felt giddy in the knowledge that we WERE going to be parents, and so to celebrate, we bought a new Hoover. Yes, you read that right. How very domesticated! We also celebrated with a lovely meal together, but every time I vacuum now, I smile! The fact that generally hoovering is done with a nearly three-year-old ‘helper’ is a direct result of that special day.
How I wish the ‘me’ that I am now could really speak to the ‘me’ that I was just over two years ago, and reassure ‘old me’ that everything would be just fine. Better actually, than fine. But that’s not how life works, and perhaps dealing with the uncertainty I felt back then prepared me for the present- and the future. However, if ‘me now’ really could speak to ‘old me’, maybe I’d say something like this:
Two-and-a-bit years ago was the official start of our adoption journey. We’d finally made official contact with an agency, and had decided we were ready to travel that road. It was a long way to get to the start line though, wasn’t it? All those years of waiting, hoping and medical intervention trying to help us have a birth child. And, after realising it was unlikely to happen, coming to terms with that fact. Adoption had entered our thinking much earlier- Mr Oak, and me, had talked about it as an idea, then as a possibility, then as an option. Finally, it became our next step. The phone call to our adoption agency felt so nerve-wracking, we had experienced so many disappointments and losses with the miscarriages and failed IVF, this felt like our last chance. We were desperate for it.
Do you remember, ‘old me’, how much you cleaned for that very first, informal visit and ‘chat’ with a social worker? We’d already made progress in our thinking through an information evening, through reading tons of stuff on the internet, and watching as much adoption-related telly as we could get. And now, here we were, with a real-life social worker coming. To our house. With our daft, bouncy, crazy dog, and every skirting board cleaned impeccably. After all, the opinion this social worker formed on us had potential to shape the course of the rest of our life.
The thing is, ‘old me’, you can’t have done that badly in that first meeting, because the social workjer who came to see us that evening, went on to invite us to stage one of the adoption assessment process. We had to provide people who knew us well who were willing to vouch for us and act as referees. We had to be police checked, our employers were approached, and we had medicals. You were so nervous, ‘old me’, about the medicals. You were scared that you would make us fail at the first hurdle. You were worried about your Rheumatoid Arthritis, and it’s associated tendency towards fatigue and joint pain. You were anxious it would prevent you from being considered for adoption. But, ‘old me’, your GP supported the application to adopt, she had seen the strength of our relationship through the rigours of IVF, and she was convinced that medically and mentally, there was no good reason that health concerns should be a barrier to being parents. Wonderful news- see, ‘old me’, one of your big fears laid to rest.
And so, things proceeded- through stage two, where the nitty gritty is. The social worker ended up knowing more about us- about our finances, our childhood experiences, our relationship, our faith, how we dealt with frustration and challenges- than our own parents do. Some people say it’s intrusive, but trust me, ‘old me’, we knew by the end that we were really well prepared. And, ‘old me’, believe it or not, we felt that the approval process validated us as potential parents- a whole room of people knew all the gory details about us, and yet still believed that we could make good parents- wow! As for your fears about your faith being seen as negative- quite the opposite- the network of support your faith gives us, both practically and emotionally, is seen as wonderful!
So, ‘old me’, we were approved. As parents. And in this process, contrary to IVF, there was definitely, absolutely, children at the end of it. All those doubts and worries about not being ‘good enough’, ‘old me’, don’t make so much of them. Allow yourself to believe that one day, you will be a mummy.
And that happened quickly. We saw a set of profiles, ‘old me’. Of real children, who needed forever families. Not the kind of example ones where stock photos of angelic looking model children are used. No, these were the real thing- and the photo we saw, the one that really jumped out at us- was grainy, not in focus, and in black-and-white. It was a terrible photo of Acorn, and yet immediately, we were drawn to him.
Things were a rollercoaster of emotions from there- oh, ‘old me’, one of my best memories from the adoption process, was the day that we were on a shortlist to be matched with Acorn. Mr Oak and I had both escaped, on tenterhooks, from our workplaces, and met for the 9 minutes or so that our lunch breaks crossed over. We were waiting for ‘the call’ to find out if we’d been selected. It didn’t come, so reluctantly, Mr Oak and I said goodbye to each other for the afternoon. As we walked away from each other, my mobile rang. It was our social worker. She said she had good news! I think, ‘old me’, that I nearly deafened her as I yelled to Mr Oak to come back!
We met Acorn for the first time on a Friday evening. We’d both been at work that morning, and had driven to the area where Acorn was in foster care. What a barrage of emotions that day! We walked up the garden path, and as we reached the front door, it swung open. There he was- he was only in a nappy and his glasses, looking up at us, wide eyed and curious. Our son.
That moment was just over a year ago, and Acorn is growing fast. He is boisterous, bold, loves being out of doors, and never stops talking. He races about on his balance bike, climbs anything he can, and makes us laugh and exhausted. He is everything I hoped for when I longed to be a mum. I know that, if he were ours biologically, I couldn’t love him any more than I do. And, ‘old me’, I wouldn’t change a single bit of the journey. It was all important- even the hard bits- and so very very worth it.
So, ‘old me’, hang on in there, it’ll be worth your wait.