October 16, 2019
Jake and I had been together for some time when we decided we wanted to start a family, but it just wasn’t happening naturally. We decided on IVF and had one attempt which failed. We very quickly came to the decision that we could have another go at IVF and end up further in debt, or look at adoption and feel we were helping in some way.
Following the initial meeting with a social worker to decide if adoption was really what suited us, we had five days of Preparation Training. This was good. We met another couple and shared history and felt we were not on our own.
The training was a godsend. The adoption team spoke to us about the children awaiting adoption, the government assistance given, the ongoing support offered. It touched on child development and issues that may become apparent as adopted children grow up. We did role play and quizzes and listened to a speaker who was an adoptive parent.
What I will always take away is how, when a person adopts a child, that person actually adopts not only the child but years of baggage plus a whole history and extended family. For us, that has been invaluable but has also helped us manage situations that have arisen over the years.
The homestudy process was nerve-wracking. Now I look back, this was the most important part of the process, giving us a real insight into adoption and the children who were waiting for adoptive families. The process involved us as a couple and our immediate family and friends; at different stages, we all had to talk about ourselves, our likes/dislikes and our home life and expectations.
I was excited at first, then nervous, then came to the quick realisation that I had to lay everything on the table and be completely honest. Never wanting a social worker to see the real state of your home or have an inkling that you may be angry or upset that day was extremely stressful. But we soon learnt that homestudy is about the real you.
It’s about how you live – are you a noisy couple, what are your expectations of a child? What are your habits, how do you deal with certain situations? It’s the social worker’s time to get to know the couple that a child may be placed with. It’s determining what type of child would fit into your life and vice versa.
We spoke of family dynamics – are there any extended family that visit regularly, are there any people who have suffered abuse or trauma in their lives? We spoke of loss and how we grieve. It was during the homestudy that I learnt my own mother had suffered abuse. This was confronting and opened up a new dialogue, but in some way helped my mother in speaking about it.
I found out a lot about myself and how schooling was going to be a major issue for me as I didn’t like school myself and guaranteed I would pull any child I had out of a school and send them somewhere else if I wasn’t happy. Of course, this didn’t happen but it helped me to see I would have to overcome a hurdle if it arose and find alternative ways to manage the situation.
The homestudy also got us to look at the house we live in, the safety factor, the stairs, the switches etc. It may have seemed a bit of wasted discussion at first, but we had to remind ourselves that we were not going through a nine-month pregnancy where we could get things ready slowly and learn as we went along. Oh no! We would be welcoming a child who could walk and run and climb and effectively turn our home upside down in five minutes if we weren’t ready.
After that, it was paperwork and then the panel meeting to see if we were fortunate enough to be selected to go ahead – which thankfully we were. Then the waiting began.
The matching process was unbelievably exciting, amazing, heart-wrenching and nerve-wracking all at once. We had our sheets of questions. A bit like a shopping list of sorts – the type of child we felt we could parent. Girl or boy, age, disabled, trauma types, sibling group, open, closed or letter box contact.
‘It’s cheating and not fair,’ some people said to us. I felt guilty at first but then thought about it. Being careful and clear about the child we were looking for was for the child’s wellbeing first and foremost, and to give the best chance of bonding. Then it’s about you as parents, what your skills and lifestyle can offer to a child. It’s about being a parent who can give enough time and resources to support them growing. It was not about getting the perfect child, it was about giving the child the best possible chance in life with the best possible parent.
I always felt I had more of a connection with girls so we decided to adopt a girl. In hindsight, we wish we had applied to adopt more than one child at that time (a sibling group), but we would have never had our daughter if that were the case.
Adopting a child of school age was important, because we both had to work. We had a limited support network and a small home that couldn’t be altered, so certain disabilities were ruled out. We were quite noisy, played music and had visitors, so a quiet, introverted child would probably have been unhappy with us. We had pets which put a stop to adopting children with asthma. The list goes on, but it’s a list with a purpose and it’s a list that will help match the right child with the right family.
We were fortunate and the matching process was not too long for us. There were still faces of children that were of interest but didn’t lead to anything, which was hard but made us a bit resilient. Eventually, we were matched with our daughter Jasmine, who was three years old at the time.
The day came for us to meet our soon-to-be-daughter. She was at the window of the foster carers’ house, smiling and waving. We were nervous and didn’t know how to react or behave. We went to the door and she opened it. The first thing she said was, ‘Are you my new mummy and daddy?’. We looked at each other and said, ‘yes’. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the garden and then demanded that Jake and I swing her from her hands and feet.
Our daughter was vivacious, loud, strong physically and in personality. A child with her own likes and dislikes, her own personality and her own behaviours. She was not afraid of much and was socially advanced. We had no idea what we had let ourselves in for! Our one-hour visit turned into three hours.
The foster carer was our saviour. She gave us every bit of information we could hope for. But she also told us her own story and how she had always done short-term two-week fostering. When Jasmine landed on her doorstep, she stayed for two and a half years. This adoption was the first the foster carer had been part of and she was experiencing loss at the same time as we were gaining a daughter.
After two weeks of introductions, we had the bedroom decorated and looking like it was ready for a princess. Our little new daughter was coming home to live with us and our cat.
There have been many challenges over the years– we had (and still have) to think on our feet regarding behavioural issues we have. We don’t do what most ‘ordinary’ parents do when their child misbehaves and just tell them off. We have to find the root cause and deal with every event differently to ensure the best possible outcome.
But there have been lots of positives too. Smiling when people say our daughter looks like us! Enjoying watching Jasmine playing appropriately and having a best friend – something which is possibly a non-event for most people, but such a milestone for our daughter. The biggest positive is feeling like we are coming through a deep tunnel and nearing the end. The best bit is we have learnt so much and would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Fast forward to 2019, and our lives have changed completely. We are more resilient. We sit down and speak to each other and work as a team. We are three now and enjoy being a family.
Our adoption journey was comparatively smooth once we understood that social workers were not there to see a pristine home and prized china cups on display. They want to see the real you. They need to see honesty, whether that be sad, bad or indifferent. But they do want you to have done your own research and be willing to look at yourself, accept any flaws you may have and look to find ways of managing those issues.
I admit I had some misconceptions. I, like many people, thought that love and a home would be enough. It isn’t enough. It will never be enough. The trauma that most of the children have experienced will require you to be a force to be reckoned with. You will need to be resilient, always be on your toes, think outside the box, look for as many support networks as possible and be patient and listen.
Most of all, give yourself time out. It can be challenging and exhausting and nearly tear you apart but once you get a handle on it, you need to enjoy every minute because that child will love you for staying and for putting in those boundaries. They may not know how to show it but they honestly will love you as you will love them. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have ‘instant’ love for them. You have to get to know that little pair of feet in your home. But it will happen and it will have been worth it.
Adoption is a wonderful thing and very individual. Take everything you can from information sessions and preparation courses. Read magazines and books. Find out what your family and friends think and how they view adoption. Open your minds to children of every age and background. Trauma is a real possibility so be calm, rational and prepared. Be yourselves and be honest. And keep a Life Story Book and box of all important dates and occasions, books and clothes once your child is with you.
Jake and I are proud adopters and I personally like being an advocate for adoption. Adoption is necessary, is a privilege to do and is incredibly worthwhile, so best of luck in your journeys.
If you are considering adoption, you can find out more about our adoption service here. You can also check out our adoption resources, read more real adoption stories and find out about our next information events. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us – we’d love to hear from you.