Today we are attending the first day of a three-day workshop all based around the realities of why children end up in foster care and then go on to being adopted. This is our first time and we have no idea what to expect, are other couples going to be more prepared than we are? Will we be the only same sex couple there? I mean seriously we through we knew what butterflies were when we first met, but this is something else, no idea what these emotions are bubbling inside. Rich decided he would drive, as clearly I was so obviously nervous and worried like normal but he had his professional work head on pretending he was fine. The reality though that he was clearly super nervous too, but playing the hard man. We arrived early as we always and remained in the car spotting other couples doing the same, waiting for, as instructed in the letter to ‘arrive 15 minutes before the session’. At exactly fifteen minutes to the second we opened the car door and started to make our way to the entrance along with four other couples, all with the same worried wide-eyed look upon their faces.
We followed the other couples into a large room with seats set out in a semi-circle fashion and we were greeted by three women, “help yourself to teas and coffee, and take a biscuit if you have skipped breakfast as I’m sure a few of you must have” laughing. We were then told to write our name on the registration form and also onto a name-badge for the day, thank goodness we didn’t have the added pressure of trying to remember everyone’s name. We sat down on the end of the row as I like to when going anywhere, theatre, cinema even a train ride. Just so I know I can nip to the toilet without having to ask anyone to move. Looking at the other people in the room and without introductions I noticed we were not the only same sex couple attending, there was a lesbian couple and another same sex male couple, along with two heterosexual couples. I tapped Richard in a secret service James Bond kind of way, making this known to him which was unsuccessful in getting and I just gave him a laugh and said don’t worry about it. Rich simply doesn’t understand talking in any sort of code or being subtle, he’s the kind of person you never say ‘don’t look but behind you’ as yes, he will turn straight round and look.
Coffee drank and we were starting off with introductions which included your name, age and a bit about ourselves and why we choose to start the adoption process. Luckily, they started from the other side of the semi-circle so we didn’t have to go first. The first couple consisted of a married man and woman who were in their late 40s and have been unable to conceive a child naturally, after two courses of IVF. They felt it was time they went down an alternative route to become parents, which was so lovely to hear that it could be possible for them after all. Similar reasons from the other couples apart from the lesbian couple who like us had ruled out surrogates as they felt they would find it hard to deal with knowing only one of them would be biologically linked to the child. It was now our turn and Richard introduced us and why we had chosen adoption for similar reasons to the other couple, but added that we wanted to be the forever family to a child that is already born and not had the best start in life.
The reality then hit home as we learnt in detail all about the different types of abuse a child can suffer which leads them to being placed up for adoption, the main reasons being neglect, physical and sexual abuse, however there are many reasons for a child to be put up for adoption which we were told we will learn over the coming 3 days. We were asked to think about what we felt we could handle as parents in terms of the background of a potential child and how we would feel explaining it to them in later life. Also, whether we could deal with potential disabilities of either a physical or learning nature and how that would affect our current lifestyle. In many cases medical family history of the children is not known and how would we cope if a serious condition developed after placement. This really was a shock to the system, realistically we had been a bit naive about the adoption process beforehand and the reality for most of the children is very sad.
It was then break time, so a much needed coffee was poured and it gave us a chance to talk about what we were all thinking in our heads. Rich said that the workshop so far was a real eye opener, but still felt this was the route for us which I absolutely agreed with. All we could think though about was, how anyone could treat children this way. We knew there would always be more to it and that it wasn’t just as simple as the parents being horrible, which was confirmed as we resumed with the session where it was clear that a lot of parents who have their children taken away, were a lot of the time previous care leavers themselves and have had a very difficult childhood as well. I think this is where a whole different set of emotions start to set in, as you understand that there so much more to the story for these kids other than just their own very short life so far.
We then move on to a whole different subject, all about how to parent and adopted child with additional needs based on their history. I mean surely being a parent is just being a parent, so we were a little sceptical about what they were going to tell us, as we’ve watched the super nanny lots of times on TV and know that the naughty step and timeouts are such a good way to discipline and teach children. Oh, how wrong we could be, as we realise that these children may have had some quite difficult experiences already and a specific example was given of a child who had been neglected and left alone for long periods of time in their cot. The social workers explained that a time out or naughty step, could give them negative flashbacks to the rough time they previously experienced and was simply not appropriate. This was quite sad to hear, especially as we really thought we knew best and then very quickly had that idea turned upside down. It wasn’t a problem, but as with everything so far in the process, it gave us even more reason to want to research and learn even more, to ensure we could be the best possible parents we could to these very special children that deserve a great life.
The social workers then went on to explain that they wanted to tell us of a recent adoption placement they had dealt with, that was very difficult for all involved including the child and new adoptive parents. I mean we wanted to hear the story for sure, but is this some sort of scare tactic where they want to make us decide to drop out or give up on the process all together, we weren’t quite sure of what to expect. They start to tell us the detail about a placement where in the first 4-6 weeks the child who was placed, would run and hide under the dining table when someone knocked on the front door. Initially the parents were asking him to come, each and every time which often ended in tears and him being quite distraught. Luckily, then new adoptive parents contacted the social work team and asked for advice, to which they explained that he was used to a lot of domestic violence and the front door going used to mean fighting and shouting, so he was simply scared. They advised that instead of telling him to come out and to stop being silly, they needed to get under the table with him and explain that he was safe and that no harm would ever come to him, building that bond and making him feel safe. It took quite a few weeks for this to improve and eventually stop, but they got through it with the help of social workers. It was a very distressing time for the new adoptive parents and child, but this is the sort of challenges that adopting a child can bring. A number of people in the room was clearly quite shocked to hear the story, but also a little emotional as everyone in the room was thinking the same thing, we would have done exactly what those parents did initially and told him to come out from under the table. We knew even more then, that we wanted to change a child’s life for the better and felt even more determined to ensure we get through this process but were a little nervous about how hard some of this would be and worried if we would be even nearly good enough.
The three days seemed to fly past, but also felt very draining as we were trying to constantly take in so much and it was very intense with emotions taking over going up and down throughout each day. The main positive out of the three days over than all the brilliant theory, was that we had made some lovely friends with some of the other potential adopters, which we hoped would turn out to be valuable friendships as they have the same understanding as we do about everything to do with adoption. As much as our parents and siblings want to be supportive, they just don’t know what we do about the process of the children. We said our goodbyes and swopped emails with the other couples, so we could create a little chat group of support for each other and genuinely wanted to know how each other’s journey progressed.
We’ve now got home a lot earlier than we expected for day three, so we decided to continue with the mountain of paperwork which included a neighbourhood and community form which we needed to research the local activity groups for babies and children, a list of the preferred schools and any recreational facilities in our area. It was surreal to be researching primary schools for a child that did not exist yet, I mean what do we even need to consider. We also created a ‘Support network’ that was known as an eco map, of all our family and friends who would be in regular contact with our child and what our current relationship is like with them. This would also start to bring up parental decisions between us in the case of who we would let babysit our child and who we probably wouldn’t. This conversation was quite funny, as we both had the same feelings about the people who we specifically did not want to include in the ‘looking after’ section. We are very fortunate that we have the support from both sides of our families, so we ended up with a rather full page.
As it was getting later into the evening, we decided to do a bit of a stock take of what we have and what we don’t have completed, which started a big worry for us, as our DBS certificates were not yet back. I mean what is going on with this, who do we need to call to find out what is going on? We couldn’t help but think the worst, even though we knew we were both crime free and should have no negative records at all. But what if something crazy has happened and one of us have done something by accident and never been told or a case of mistaken identity. Rich was now a total wreck, as he likes to have everything done in order and struggles with things going off track or not to plan, but it was already too late to phone anybody to chase. I knew right then it was going to be along night, with him starting to question everything. The extent of the whole adoption process was unfolding and we never expected it to be a walk in the park, but we thought ‘this is really going to be a long road’. We are convinced now that this process feeling so long is all part of the test of our resilience and a way of proving just how much we want a family of our own, so they will get a shock as we are going nowhere and will be seeing this all the way to then end.