Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas. It’s what (naturally formed over time) memories are made of.

This will be our 4th Christmas with our two children and already it feels like it will be the loveliest yet. You might have read on my previous Christmas blog about how I force fed people Christmas music from 4am and we all argued and cried and refused to eat and injured each other with toy guns. Well, we’ve come a long way since then.

The problem all those years ago was that I was so keen for us to ‘make memories’. Hearing all the lovely stories from other mums in the playground about their traditions, new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, all opening stockings in the parent’s bedroom, the family walk etc. It made me really envious. I know how daft that sounds now but our children were 4 and 5 when they joined our family and I felt like I had lost time to make up for. We didn’t have any traditions. I put a satsuma in their stocking, like I used to get, and they looked at me like I was crazy. Fruit. For Christmas? Who is this mad woman we are calling mum?

The first Christmas was really hard. The second was better but still quite an intense day as I had insisted it should be just the four of us. We have grandparents and uncles and aunties over now and it makes the day so much more pleasant. Easier, even, because they can entertain the children while I cook and test the wine. After the big lunch the children have started entertaining us by putting on sketch shows and singing. It’s like a scene from the Scrooge’s nephew’s house. This is the type of Christmas I always wanted and it came to us naturally. Once I calmed down a bit.

Putting up the tree this year was also the loveliest time yet. I got the decorations out of the loft and there are now 4 years worth of memories in that box. Baubles they made in Reception, the cardboard fairy that’s past it’s best but so cute we use it every year, the ridiculous reindeer head doorbell that makes me think someone is at the door every time I look at it. We’ve finally done it. We got there. We have our own family Christmas traditions without me copying other peoples or forcing new ones upon us all. I can’t explain this any other way. It just feels like Christmas has clicked.

My obsession with memory creation doesn’t just apply to Christmas. I’ve always been keen for us to have stories to tell about things we’ve done together. We’ve got plenty of them stacked up now. The time the dog dragged mummy S down the side of a hill as his lead was tucked under her chair and he saw a squirrel. The time the three of them nearly fell into a fishpond because I asked them to step back so I could take a photo. The time we did an open top bus tour during a thunderstorm. All of these memories take time to create and I know that now.

So, if you’re a newly adoptive parent or if you’re thinking about adoption as an option, think on. It’s not unusual, I hope, to want these special times to mean something to you and your family just don’t worry about making magical memories. They come to you as you live your lives together and they are worth waiting for. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Daily Mail story I do approve of

Take a look at this. I was asked to do an interview with The Mail on Sunday, and though slightly suspicious of their angle at first I was really pleased with the outcome. I believe it's important to speak out about positive and successful stories, not just of adoption, but of gay parents.

I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, 21 May 2012

They're moving in!

On one of our frequent visits to our local park recently I saw a friend with her newly adopted two-year-old little boy. He had been living with her for just 9 days when I saw them and I recognised the look on her face all too well. That, ‘oh my goodness, what have I done and how do I handle this?’ kind of look. One that I pulled off everyday for about 4 months when our children moved in.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely brilliant, but it just such a shock. Friends that have had birth babies go into a similar shock where they can’t leave the house or see anyone for the first few weeks because they can’t believe what they’ve got in their hands and how dependent it is upon them. It’s the same when you adopt, only for many of us they are walking, talking little things that you’re just not used to having around.

The first couple of weeks when our two moved in my partner and I used to argue over who would go to the shop to get milk just so we could have 15 minutes to ourselves and not have any responsibility for that short, sweet walk to the Co-op. I even remember sitting in a Frankie and Benny’s (somewhere we would never have gone B.C. – Before Children) and looking over at a couple of teenagers on a date envying their freedom to please themselves. We literally walked around in the hazy smog of shock for weeks. It lifted slightly when they started school but came back around 3.15 every day.

Nothing can prepare you for the day your children move in. Nothing. It’s exciting, it’s frightening, it’s exhausting and it’s forever. The first night ours spent here in their new home after we put them to bed we went to watch the new series of The Apprentice. It was a Wednesday night. We laughed at the bunch of buffoons on the show and tried to guess who would win and it felt like any other normal night until we stared at each other and burst out laughing because we remembered we had two little children asleep upstairs. We crept up to take a look at them while they were sleeping and it was just like a John Lewis advert, if the bedrooms in John Lewis ads had toys all over the floor.

The next morning there was a tap on the bedroom door just before 6am. Our son was up and he wanted to chat and play. And so it began. And so it goes on to this day. The shock has gone. The arguments about who gets out of the house are long gone and the envy of the carefree teenagers has never reared its spotty head again. We’re okay now, well, more than okay actually but it does take time to adjust. I often tell new adoptive parents at matching panel about how it might feel when they move in, but I know they’re not really listening. Their eyes are glistening and they just want their family to hurry up and come together. I was the same. See, it’s impossible to prepare because you just want your children to be under your roof, and quite right too. It’s all part of the wonderfully bumpy ride that is modern adoption and there’s no use telling them. They’ll soon find out for themselves. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Don’t listen to the Daily Fail

This blog is being typed with hot and angry hands. Not because my kids have poured my favourite perfume down the sink or cleaned our new car with rocks, it’s because I have just read an article on adoption in the Daily Mail. I am furious. Have you read this tripe?

You see, what if you were/are a prospective adopter, someone who has struggled with fertility perhaps or is simply thinking about it as a way to create your family, this article could stop you in your tracks. I’m furious because it’s so bloody inaccurate! Local authorities and agencies do sometimes have their own ways of working and can be mildly different from each other but they all have to adhere to the same guidelines and I think I understand enough about it to be able to rant in this blog.

I am an adoption panel member for a local authority and have been for two years. I read those very heavy yellow pages sets of papers and help the panel come to a decision every month. If a child with an unusual or highly recognisable name comes up then sometimes we actively recommend they consider a change to protect the child’s identity. If you’re talking about a baby, you can introduce a new name gently and they will become used to it. Obviously get a 4 year old with a tricky name then it needs more consideration but you are adopting a person, a child, not a name that will embarrass you when you enrol them at baby yoga. The article was so unashamedly aimed at the middle classes it was thoroughly insulting to many who have considered adoption or have adopted. Your children’s friends don’t have to be called William and Henry!

This was badly researched, highly sensationalist, wholly inaccurate and actually damaging. The girl called Chardonnay they talked about in the article is, in my opinion, very likely to be fine and will find a loving family who will give her a tremendous life. They are playing us, the readers. Pulling our heartstrings and trying to get us to think the whole process is in ruins and best avoided. Well I can tell you it is not.

If you want to do you have to go for it. The process is nothing like as bad as they say it is. Read my previous blogs to find out what I think about that. As for letterbox contact, well, I don’t like it and don’t agree it’s beneficial for any party but still, their view is wrong. Children never get to write directly to their parents. Ever. It’s like prison mail and gets checked before being passed on. The Daily Mail is putting frighteners on people.

There. I said it. I said it quickly and with a hot head. This might not be my finest blog but it is one of the most passionate. Now I’m going to watch a DVD with my beautiful children and try and forget all about the Daily Mail. You should too.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Trappings of Success

I just this minute got home after going to a book signing by Lisa Faulkner, a regular re-tweeter of my blog and an adoptive mum. We chatted (very briefly) about how we need more positive stories out there about adoption. My blogs are always overwhelmingly positive, but that's because they reflect my experience from the approval process down to the children we now have. I want my blog to be honest, too, because it's not all plain sailing. Going from being a carefree couple with no responsibilities to being mums of two in a matter of days knocked us for six. So this blog is about how a trapped finger helped our little girl, who didn't like me very much, see me as her mummy.

One of the scariest aspects of adoption is worrying if your children will like you, never mind love you. If you've read any of my other blog posts you'll know that our love for each other as a family is now overwhelmingly strong. But it wasn't always so. We have a boy and a girl and whilst in foster care our son was the one social workers had concerns over. He was in therapy and displayed some fairly bad behaviour. Our girl was happy, attached to her carers and a seemingly easy child. All the work pre-placement was around how our son would cope with adoption and how we would cope with him. Well, from day one that boy fitted right in. It's like the tension and anxiety he was carrying around with him just lifted from his shoulders. He was warm, funny, loving and happy to be loved by us. We felt very attached to each other fairly quickly and surprised everyone, especially the professionals. Our happy little girl, however, was having a more difficult time. 

She loved her foster home and had been there for 3 years, more or less. She was too young to understand why she was leaving this happy home. Her tears in the car on the day she came to live with us still tug at my heart when I think about it. She developed a nasty case of shingles from the stress of it all and we spent many hours at the doctors and the hospital. All the while our son was getting stuck in at school, making friends and happily forming a secure attachment to us both. Our girl was really struggling with me. I’m the main carer and took a year off on adoption leave so it was me that had to say no to things. She found this very hard. One day she looked me in the eye as she threw a finger puppet we were making on the floor. I asked her to pick it up. 'No', she said. I asked her if she would pick it up if her foster mum asked her and she said yes, I would. I had to go to the sink and look out the window because I was so close to tears. She would push me away at bedtime and wipe off any kiss I gave her. She was a tough nut to crack but I had to persevere.

Then one day, something terrible happened and it changed everything. It was Halloween. Our boy was a reluctant vampire and our girl was the cutest witch with the greenest face you’ll ever see. We were on our way to a party when I closed the front door behind me. Our girl just stood still with her hand on the doorframe, not making a sound. I told her to come along and get in the car but her face looked so pained. That’s when I saw that the entire tip of her finger was shut in the front door, which was now locked. I panicked as I tried to get the keys and dropped them on the floor. Eventually, with shaky hands I opened the door and her finger was bright white and flat as a pancake. After the initial silence of shock she now began to scream with all her might. I was terrified. What had I done? This might sound dramatic for a trapped finger but as we were struggling to get on I thought this was going to make things worse.

I called another mum who was also going to the party and she offered to take our son while I took our girl to the walk in centre to see if it needed treatment. Thankfully, they said it would just be sore but nothing was broken and she would be fine with a spoonful or two of the pink stuff. We went home, the two of us, and she cried and cried on my knee. I held her so tightly for an hour or more until she felt calmer and it had stopped hurting and just as I asked her if she would still like to go the party, it was as if something somewhere just clicked. Between us, it just clicked. Even though I was the meanie who trapped her finger I was also the one who took her to see a nurse, hugged her and stayed with her until she felt better. I can remember the exact moment when she looked at me as if to say, ‘Okay. You’re all right. You can be my mum.’ We shared a smile and went to the party. She stuck close by me until the party games started and even then she kept checking I was still there. It felt brilliant.

So, is this a positive story? I think so. It certainly had a happy ending. I wouldn’t recommend causing your children any sort of harm to get them to love you but that trapped finger changed everything for us. I’m also a lot more careful when I go out the door these days. 

As for Lisa Faulkner, she does wonders for the image of adoption by speaking about it in her new book as well as in interviews. She’s right. Positive stories about people’s experiences are so important for people thinking about going through adoption. I think it’s fantastic that someone in the public eye is so open about their own experiences. Her book’s pretty marvellous, too. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Letterbox contact

The name of my blog is ‘positive about adoption’. That’s because I feel extremely positive about the process and about my adopted family. It’s also because I don’t think there are enough positive stories out there and there are two many doom-laden Daily Mail articles putting people off. However, recently a reader through Twitter asked me to write about letterbox contact. I explained to her I thought I would find it too hard to write about it. Her comment back was that if we found it hard it would give a balanced view of adoption. This is a totally fair comment, but it’s more complicated than that.

You’ll notice I never mention the name of my partner and certainly never the names or any photographs of our children. I don’t mention their ages or anything about where we live or the places we go. Clearly, their safety and happiness is the most important thing in the world to me. I write my blog because I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing our stories in a humourous way and I love the feedback I get from people who feel it has helped them in some way. It sort of gives you permission to wrestle with your other half (or yourself) on the day of panel.

This is why I have to be extremely careful writing about letterbox contact. I don’t want to reveal any details about their birth family for everyone’s sake. It’s too personal. With that in mind I have given it lots of thought and this is what I have to say. I don’t like it. I realise it is part of modern adoption and it will help us in the future because there is no great secret or story for them to discover. But every time we get the letters we are reminded of the other family. And it hurts a bit. We can’t help it. They are our children now and this is our family.

When we get the letters we always take a week or two to absorb them and find the right time to read them to the children. We are always mindful of what they’ve got coming up. For example, both kids have a sleepover arranged this weekend so we will wait until they are home again and not send them off to their friend’s houses with these thoughts swimming through their heads. We all sit together and I tend to be the one who reads them out. I try to read them with enthusiasm and make them sound light and uplifting. They sit quietly listening and when I’ve finished they slink off to their rooms to play.

There is almost always a change in their behaviour in the week or so after reading the letters. Sometimes they are extra clingy and loving, almost reassuring themselves and us. Sometimes we get bad behaviour. Obviously we prefer the former but we’re realistic enough to know we might have to deal with the latter. We get questions, which we always answer as honestly as we can.

I think if you’re about to adopt, thinking about it or have adopted then letterbox contact is more than likely going to be apart of that. Don’t let it stop you. You might find you feel differently about it. We’re all individuals and deal with things in our own way. If you have any questions talk to your social worker about it. I had a long telephone chat with ours not long ago because I was worried about the content of one of the letters. I will call them again in the future if anything worries me.

Letterbox contact never stops us feeling that adopting our two children is the best thing we ever did. It is what it is and we have to deal with it. It just feels uncomfortable and a bit difficult for a few weeks of the year. It’s still completely bloody worth it.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A watched phone…

We all get big news from time to time. If you get the job you’ve always wanted or a house sale goes through or you get together with the man or woman of your dreams, things that make you feel brilliant. But I don’t think there is anything in this world that feels as incredible as knowing you’re going to have children. And when you’re approved adopters that phone call could come at any time. There’s no way of knowing when it will be and it’s not like you can eat a bowl of chillies to speed it up.

When you’re waiting for that call you can drive yourself a little bit crazy. You know something major is going to happen in your life but you have no idea when. You can still enjoy hung over lie-ins at the weekend and plan holidays without giving a hoot about term times, but every so often you remember this won’t last. It’s a time I look back on with a certain fondness, even though in reality I was probably unbearable to be around.

You see, I’m a big communicator. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, texting, blogging, emailing or good old-fashioned talking to someone face-to-face, I like to stay in touch and know the news. Waiting for this phone call from our social worker was beginning to make me turn purple. Every time my mobile rang with an unknown number I practically jumped on it. We had been approved for 3 months and were beginning to get fed up of sleeping in and pleasing ourselves. Then one day, it rang.

My partner was in London with work and I was at my desk. It was a normal day. The mobile went. I jumped up and ran into the corridor to answer it. It was our lovely social worker. She asked if I was free to talk and I could feel my palms going sweaty. She said, ‘You’ve been matched’. I felt sick. She told me all about these two little children, a boy and a girl, and said she would come round next week with more information and their photographs. Naturally, the first thing I did was call my other half. Voicemail. I tried again. Voicemail. And again. Voicemail. I shook my phone in frustration. This was killing me. I couldn’t tell another soul in the world what I knew before telling her and this was the biggest news of my life.

Sitting back at my desk I tried to concentrate on writing a piece about sustainable energy for a construction magazine. As if. I was chewing my lips, sweating, sitting on my hands, banging my head on the desk and being very melodramatic. Why couldn’t I get hold of her? A friend asked me if I was okay but all I could do was nod my head with wild eyes. This was very unlike me. Then my phone rang and it was her. My heart felt like it was going to explode.

This time I went outside in the bright sunshine and I finally told her our news. She had been on a broken down tube for half an hour and came out to about 24 missed calls. We talked all about it and I told her what little I knew. We kept saying their names over and over again. I couldn’t believe she was in London and we couldn’t just meet up and talk even more about it. How could I go back to writing a piece on solar panels now? At least I was able to tell other people. I called my mum, our best friends and other adopters who had also been matched. Then I ran in and told my colleagues the news as well. My boss might have wanted me to spend a bit more time doing what I was paid for and less time repeating myself to anyone who would listen but he didn’t let it show. When my other half got home we opened a bottle of champagne and started imagining what our lives would be like.

As I write the girl is drawing a picture of her family on her easel and the boy is out at one of the many parties they get invited to. I’m sat here trying to think of something witty to round off this blog, but I can’t so I’ll go for sentimental instead. Somehow, some way, we were matched with the most brilliant children imaginable. It’s not always easy, I do have the odd ‘fisher-wife’ moment trying to get them out the door, but the social workers got this match absolutely right. I never did go back to my job after taking adoption leave, but I was probably a rubbish employee anyway because I never stopped staring at my phone for those last few months.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Pressure of Panel

There is one word all prospective adopters fear, not triplets, ‘panel’. If you want to become an approved adoptive parent in the UK you have to go in front of a panel. It’s part of the process and one your social workers talk to you about at almost every home visit. It begins to become the event that your entire life hinges on. ‘Panel need to see that you’ve thought of this’, ‘Panel will need an explanation for that’. It’s hands down the most dreaded part of the process. Until the kids move in, of course.

We had the panel date circled on our calendar for weeks. Just looking at it made my tummy go funny. I was excited. I was ready for it. This felt like the final hurdle (until you discover there are a few more once you get matched). The morning of our panel finally came around and things did not go to plan. My co-mummy works at a law firm and a massive, international crisis had occurred the day before. She was in the office until 5am on the day of panel. She didn’t sleep because she was working like crazy and I couldn’t sleep because I was going crazy. When she finally got home I left her to sleep for as long as I could. Panel was at 11am.

Previously a social worker friend of ours had given us some advice. She told my partner not to wear a work suit because they will think she is too corporate and too committed to her job. Ha. How could we admit she had worked through the night the day before? To clear our heads we took the dog for a walk in the local fields and I mentioned I didn’t think she should wear a suit. Well. I don’t remember lighting a touch paper but something just snapped in both of us. We actually ended up shouting at each other and wrestling on a rugby pitch an hour before we had to show ourselves to be respectable prospective parents. And it was all over what to wear. This was the biggest row we had ever had, before or since. It was ridiculous and we both knew it.

Soon our shouts turned to sniggers and we both laughed at just how pathetic all of this was. We ran back home to get ready, me in a pair of trousers and a shirt, her in a nice black suit. And you know what? We were approved. The whole panel agreed we would be suitable parents and we drove away feeling as close to euphoric as you can get without assistance. We went for lunch to celebrate and were greeted with a bottle of champagne courtesy of some gorgeous work colleagues. It was a wonderful feeling. We were expecting children but we could still guzzle the champagne. Perfect!

You have to remember that if you’re at panel, you’re doing well. You got that far. Your social worker and their managers don’t put you up for panel until they know you and your Form F is ready. My advice to all prospective adopters is to try not to fear panel. I’m a panel member myself now and I always make sure I give adopters a knowing and supportive smile when they come in. There is something utterly nerve wrecking about sitting in front of that many people and you can’t change that. But just know they want you to do well. You will be asked a few questions but they are questions you will be able to answer, because they’re about you.

Oh, and don’t worry about what to wear. Just feel comfortable in what you have on and you’ll be fine. As for my co-mummy and me, she is still the main breadwinner in our house but she makes plenty of time for our children and has never had to work that hard since. Which is a good job too, otherwise we might have had to go for round two.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Two mums, two kids, one family

This morning on the walk to school our boy told me he loves it when it’s Father’s Day, because he doesn’t have to do anything and can enjoy ‘free play’ while the other children make cards. I reminded him that on Mother’s Day he has to work extra hard and make two cards while everyone else makes one. He slapped his forehead and said, ‘oh yeah, I forgot about that.’ 

Our two adopted children have lived with my partner and I for three years now and I can honestly say that we haven’t received one single bit animosity or non-acceptance. Not even so much as a ‘tut’ when we walk by. We genuinely forget that we are any different to any other family and I often describe us as a very ‘conventional non-conventional’ family, in that are probably a bit boring. We play in the park, we go out for dinners, we go to museums and we try to remember to get more use out of our National Trust membership every year. So far so very, very normal.

We genuinely found the whole adoption process to be quite wonderful. We never felt we were treated any differently or ever made to feel awkward. Ironically, the one person who did make us feel uncomfortable was another gay man on the training course. He made a snide comment during an exercise we did on how people fit into the world, insinuating that it would be hard for us to be accepted in our community. Well, he got that wrong.

Of course, when the children started bringing friends home for tea we got a lot of questions. Such as, ‘Where is your dad?’ ‘Why don’t you live with them?’ ‘Where did you live before?’ It went on and on. But we just answered them calmly, honestly and without any fuss. When children have questions they just want answers they can understand. There is nothing unusual about my family to everyone that knows us. I am friends with many of the mums in the playground. I go on school trips to help out. I work with the PTA putting on fundraising events. I embarrassed our children at the school Halloween party by dressing up in a hideous outfit, because that’s what parents do.

From the very first phone call to the Local Authority Adoption Team to our family day in court, our adoption experience has been as close to magical as you can get. Every year we look forward to going to the adopter’s picnic to say hello to the lovely people who helped put our family together. Our children are happy. They get treats. They get told off. They get everything you would want children to have. And they get all of this from their two mums. Shame on anyone who thinks they shouldn’t.