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.