Thursday, 11 November 2010

Being an advocate for your child.

The adoption preparation groups seemed so long ago once Little Bear was placed and eventually adopted by us, and although some of the information imparted has been lost in the passage of time, one thing still stands out today.
"You must be prepared to be an advocate for your child."

At the time I didn't realise quite how important this phrase would come to be. I heard it and my initial response was "well of course any parent worth their salt is prepared to be their child's advocate, surely?" and of course this is true. It is particularly true when children have additional medical/emotional/learning needs to be considered a parent needs to make their voice heard.

When a baby is born there is a possibility that at some point in the future this child may/may not require additional support in some way.

When a child is placed for adoption there is a likelihood that this child will require additional support in some way. 

All adopted children are affected by their experience. There has been a lot of research into the effect of the separation from the birth mother, and one particularly famous work worth mentioning is Nancy Verrier's Primal Wound. In which she states:

Many doctors and psychologists now understand that bonding doesn’t begin at birth, but is a continuum of physiological, psychological, and spiritual events which begin in utero and continue throughout the postnatal bonding period. When this natural evolution is interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother, the resultant experience of abandonment and loss is indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children, causing that which I call the “primal wound.” (Verrier, 1993, p. 1)

This means that even children removed at birth (or reliquished which is very rare in this country today) are affected by their experience. They may stay with one foster carer or move around. In the early stages they would still be having contact sessions with their birth parents, birth mum may be being assessed to check her suitability to parent the child. All necessary parts of the process but all adding to the separation.

If this is the experience of an infant who has never lived with his/her birth parent one must then consider the children who do have cognitive memories of their birth parents both positive and negative memories.

Adopted children need to be loved but more importantly they need to be valued and accepted and as adoptive parents we are the people to do that. We not only need to value and accept the lovely and happy things that they do as children but also accept the negative aspects of their behaviour, being forever available to them and willing to help them to make sense of themselves and value who they are.

It's a tough call. It is hard to be the parent of a child who hits, bites and spits, even though you are fully aware of the reasons behind these behaviours. It requires an inner strength to stand in the playground and watch all the other Mums in their little groups and know full well that you will never be going 'round to play' with your child at their house. It requires one to 'grow a backbone'! I hate confrontation and I am by nature a people pleaser so this has not come naturally to me.

I am more than willing, as the person who knows my child the best, to say "You are brilliant, capable, clever, loving and I am proud of you, no matter what I will love you." I am also the first one to explain why a certain behaviour was wrong and to help my child find ways to recognise and manage his fear/frustration/sadness/anger. To go to meetings in school, with adoption support, with the Educational Psychologist and say "This is how I think Little Bear was feeling in that situation, how can you help us to manage it?"

According to the Educational Psychologist, it is looking far more likely that Little Bear will go through a full assessment for an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. This is after my persistance with research and discussion with his teachers. 

For Little Bear to go into the world and be the very best that he can possibly be he needs to trust the adults around him. He has to be able to trust that we as his parents will never leave or give up on him no matter what.  He slso needs to trust that his teachers, teaching assistants and even dinner ladies can see him as a whole child, his good and his not so go behaviours.

Some very good friends of ours (who are themselves adoptive parents) played us this song a long time ago, it never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
"This Is To Mother You"

This is to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you
This is to be with you
To hold you and to kiss you too
For when you need me I will do
What your own mother *couldn't do
Which is to mother you

All the pain that you have known
All the violence in your soul
All the 'wrong' things you have done
I will take from you when I come
All mistakes made in distress
All your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss, yes
I will give you tenderness

For child I am so glad I've found you
Although my arms have always been around you
Sweet bird although you did not see me
I saw you

And I'm here to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you

*I have substituted couldn't for didn't as in our case this is a far more appropriate word.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

So then we became three - Part 2

In the Summer of 2009 we moved into a parish for my husband's first curacy. We returned to the Diocese we had left two years before but to a totally different area. We were also very different to the people who had left back then. We were now parents, the Curate had a ministry to which he had just been ordained and we were shortly to be joined by Monty the labradoodle.

Monty is one of the best things that has happened to us as a family but the early days were tough! I had grown up with dogs and my parents had bought their first labrador puppy when I was three years old and so I was viewing the combination of dog and three year old through rose tinted spectacles.

I had conveniently forgotten that puppies are bouncy, nippy crazy little beings and view anyone smaller than adult as another puppy or at least as a play thing. Pups play rough together and bite and wrestle each other and Monty would attempt that with Little Bear and consequently Little Bear would be upset by him.

However as Monty has grown up and matured so his relationship with Little Bear has grown. Little Bear has more control and demands more respect and despite their equal size and weight now, Monty is far more gentle and reasonable in his behaviour with him.

Monty's presence has also given our family a new dimension. Monty is a member of our family and his status as such causes Little Bear to reflect empathetically in his dealings with Monty.

One of the best places to see Little Bear and Monty at play together happily is on our walks in our local park. Little Bear throws the ball, Monty chases it and returns it to Little Bear and so the cycle continues. They are equally excited about their trips to the park!
As he grows Little Bear shares in the responsiblities of dog ownership and this is boosting his fragile self esteem enormously.

Friday, 5 November 2010

So then we became three - Part 1

The first few weeks passed in a haze, playing, getting Little Bear settled into a routine and getting ourselves into parenting mode. There were so many little things we needed to learn and it took some time before we felt confident.

The only way I can describe it is as I imagine any new parent experiences the first few months with their new baby. However instead of a tiny delicate infant whose needs had to be met, we had a little boy who was already eating 'proper food', drinking from a cup and in size 4+ nappies. His needs were different but they still needed to be met.

We were also acutely aware of how he was/was not ours. Registering him at the doctor was tricky as the doctor's receptionist was from the scary receptionist training school so many of them tend to go to and didn't seem to understand that this little boy wasn't legally allowed to be registered in our name until after the adoption order and yet we had permission to access routine doctors treatment for him. Argh! That was a difficult one.

The baby clinic was another trial. The health visitor noticed that he had missed one of his immunisations and so gave me an appointment to do it, which happened to be at the time she did all the clinic. That was hard work. Controlling a stomping toddler in a waiting room of tiny babies, while being acutely away both of my new mother status and my adoptive mother status.

Little Bear was obviously an energetic boy. The permanency report for him describes him as an active energetic child. (We were later to read between the lines about that one!) I suffered a couple of toddler groups but Little Bear would seek out other children and lash out at them and it made me extremely nervous. At one toddler group we were asked to go for time out in 'the quiet room' and were left alone in this room for ten minutes before another mother and son joined us. They had also been put in 'time out'. This was the first of many experiences like that for Little Bear and I. So I chose not to frequent toddler groups again and instead we socialised with good friends who knew our history and didn't judge our parenting based on Little Bear's difficulties socialising.

The adoption process itself had by this time moved to the final stage. Little Bear became a member of our family legally in August 2008. We travelled to court and after a very brief ceremony and lots of pictures we went to a restaurant and shared a meal with some close friends who had been in court with us, and one set of grandparents. Then on a happy Sunday in september 2008 we returned to the church which had 'sent' my husband to college for Little Bear's baptism. It was a joyous day and very important to us, a real sealing point joining Little Bear with us and with the wider family of God.
Towards the end of my husband's time at college we decided that maybe Little Bear should be socialising more widely and enrolled him at a nursery for just two mornings a week. With the wonder of hindsight I wish I hadn't as Little Bear didn't really gain from it. He needed (still needs) structure to help control his impulsiveness and this unstructured nursery setting didn't 'fit' him at all. Although the nursery manager appeared not to like boisterous boys in general very much so Little Bear wasn't the only one always in trouble!

We moved back to a suburban setting (as opposed to the rural idyll where the college is based) during Summer 2009. A good sized house, an ordination and a new member of the family were to come.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

How I came to be an adoptive parent...PART 3


This is the most tiring, brain frazzling, difficult time of the adoption process in my humble opinion. It's difficult to explain to any one who hasn't 'been there, done that' but I shall try just in case.

In our case as Little Bear was only 17 months old it was decided a week for introductions would be enough unless it was decided otherwise during the process. During that week we stayed at our friend's house (as by now we had moved to theological college) as we needed to be near to our son's foster carer. The week went as follows: Tuesday-Friday we went to foster carer's home in time for Little Bear waking at 7am and were there playing and observing his routine until bedtime at 7pm. On the Saturday we took Little Bear out alone, we went to the sea life centre and he used the pushchair that we had bought for him, and the car seat in the back of our car (Yes! A car seat in the back of our car). He was wearing a snowsuit which the foster carer had bought for him and we giggled because he looked like Maggie Simpson in this photo:
We went home after we had delivered him back to the foster carers, he waved and smiled at us as we pulled away and I shed a few tears leaving that day. I was being silly because on the Monday he came and spent the day at our house, the foster carers went and left him with us and we put him to bed for his nap in his cot in our room...and he slept!
On the Tuesday we went to collect him to bring him home. Our social worker had warned us that goodbyes were very emotional,  8 members of the extended family had turned out to say goodbye to Little Bear. There were lots of tears although Little Bear remained amazingly quiet throughout. We got him home and had an afternoon with the new toys we had bought and some familiar stuff he had brought with him. Then he went to bed in his new cot in our room and went to sleep without a fuss. We sat downstairs that night amazed and emotional.
We have a son!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

How I came to be an adoptive parent...PART 2

One dark November night we arrived in the 'Adoption Shop' having phoned our local authority with our initial enquiry. Now it's certainly not as it sounds - one can't choose children from the shelf. It is just the term by which the LA describe their public adoption offices. It was a meeting to talk generally about adoption and what the process entails.

We were easily the youngest couple in the room. There were some families with young children with them, various different ethnicities, ages and just a general mix of people with a common interest in adoption. I remember feeling very excited, nervous, and scared all rolled into one.

We returned a week later to start the paperwork. There were CRB checks and all sorts of other forms of paperwork. Then the waiting began... we waited for a place on the preparation course first. Then once we had experienced five days of training which covered everything from attachment to child protection to making sure we had come to terms with the loss of our 'dream babies' , we once again waited for a social worker to guide us through our Form F. This is the case study on adopters which has a dual purpose. It assesses the person/couple's suitability as adopters and is the document which introduces them to the social workers responsible for prospective children. It is fair to say that in my 30 years on this earth this is one of the most important documents concerning myself and my family. It is therefore vitally important to have a good working relationship with the social worker responsible for preparing it. Our social worker was great. Committed, capable, and empathic. She was also extremely thorough and stated that she never took a couple to Approval Panel unless she was 99% sure that they would be approved. She visited us once a week over 3 months and the meetings were progressively easier (although she was terrified of our pet rats and sat as far away from them as possible all the way through the meetings).

On the 21st February 2006 we went to our approval panel. Our panel cross examined us for about 10 minutes (which felt like an hour) and then our social worker stayed for a further 15 minutes privately. Then came back to tell us we were approved! Whoopee!!!

Then a little more waiting began. However this time we were on a winner! Our baby was out there waiting.

The LA we were assessed by  had a system which involved allocating a new social worker once adopters were approved. We were very nervous about losing the person we had put so much trust in and starting again at this point. However, our fears were unfounded, our Support Towards Adoption social worker was fantastic and we were really happy to have her in our corner for the most exciting period of our lives so far!

'Little Bear'
The first meeting with her she came with the file of a child who was waiting for us to look at. We were overwhelmed! She came to us with Little Bear's file, 2 days after his first birthday. He sounded amazing and we started to say his name repeatedly (which is only Little Bear for this purpose!) and to look forward to the meeting with his foster carer, social worker, family finding social worker and our social worker which happened 1 day before my 26th birthday.

That was a meeting to remember. I just wanted to impress Little Bear's foster carer, whom he had lived with from 3 days old. She obviously adored him and particularly so as he was her first 'fosling'. She had loads of photos which she was desperate to share but our very pragmatic social worker was urging caution. Inside I was chanting 'please please please' and they did eventually show us some pictures of this beautiful blond, curly, smiley little one year old! My heart leaped. This could be our son.

More waiting was to come. Summer brought holidays for social workers and support staff and nothing happened about Little Bear's matching panel. We got gradually more frustrated. On the sidelines was the fact that we were due to move. My husband was due to start theological college in the September which meant a move which could cause problems at matching panel. Although all the social workers so far were quite positive about the placement, there were concerns about matching panel. Without their approval this child would not be coming to live with us!

During the summer/ early autumn we busied ourselves with moving plans. We would be quite a distance away from the placing authority and it would be a complete change of lifestyle and experience but this was something that my husband had been praying about and working towards for many years by this point. We were prepared and felt God's hand in it. We were leaving our jobs and moving to theological college to follow my husband's call.

Some people involved in the process did not seem to realise what a long and demanding process discerning a vocation really is. In fact, we were interviewed at the last minute by another social worker responsible for Little Bear and his family, and this woman raised concerns about our stability and commitment because we were moving into the unknown. This person had not met us before, she was not in a position to make those assumptions. We felt as if we were being challenged at the final hurdle.

She detailed her concerns to the matching panel and I responded with a very careful worded email which completely dismisses any concerns which she had and very much supported all that we had previously told our various social workers.This was so that our social worker (who would be representing us at Matching Panel as prospective adopters are not invited to this one) could present our responses to panel.

Matching Panel approved the match - Little Bear would be our son!
This was not without its hitches - one person on the panel disagreed with the match but is was carried by the majority. The dissenter actual told our social worker 'on your head be it', meaning that is the placement disrupted then our social worker's reputation would be questioned! No pressure then?!

Monday, 1 November 2010

How I came to be an adoptive parent...PART 1

As it is the much publicised and much tweeted National Adoption Week, I thought I would dedicate a post of my occasional blog to my adoption experiences.

I have ever since I can remember wanted to be a Mum. I had a baby doll when I was small who was my pride and joy and I remember being age 7/8 years and being bothered by my lack of cousins (and therefore babies) as my extended family has never been close. When I was in my early teens through to university I made myself available for as much babysitting as possible and clung to people with babies and small children like a limpet. I was certainly keen. When I didn't mensturate until I was 16 my major concern was that if me periods didn't come it would mean no babies later on.

I met my husband when I was in my final year. I was instantly smitten (and still am), and the feeling must have been mutual because within 4 months we were engaged and married exactly 12 months later. As soon as we were married I wanted to start a family but agreed that we should wait a while and sort out our finances (as i had just graduated and needed a job) and decide where we would settle. However we didn't wait long because we decided to just leave it up to God and nature about 5 months after we were married. We don't like to hang around!!

However, hanging around is exactly what we did as month after month I would feel bereft about the monthly bleed which I so wanted when I was 16. What was once a sign of my fertility seemed to signal problems with just that. We went to the doctor after a year of trying for a baby. We had a few tests including an hystereosalpingogram for me, and we were diagnosed with a 5% chance of natural conception, and given notice of the 2 year waiting list for IVF then only allowed one attempt on NHS. The stinger for us really was that we would need to consider donor sperm for a more successful outcome.

It hit us like a brick, the baby I had dreamt about all my life would be unlikely to join our little family. My world went very dark for a about a year, and I was medicated for depression and encouraged to seek counselling. I couldn't face the counselling in the early days but I soon was given some perspective.

Our friends son was born alive at 20 weeks, and he lived for only an hour. We were shocked to the very core and could not imagine the pain of having a child and that child then dying. This put my misery into perspective. I then started counselling, which gave me the opportunity to grieve for the 'dream baby' .

We decided that we would prefer not to pursue IVF for the sake of my mental health and because we were uncomfortable with the idea of using donor sperm, we decided a child whom we adopted would not be biologically linked to either of us but adopted by both of us.  Therefore we looked into adoption.