Tuesday, 21 January 2014

a winter walk and thoughts about becoming adoptive parents

(A word of warning: this is a long post!)

Last week, I went on a long walk. It was a grey foggy kind of day and I wrapped up warmly before setting off. I walked along the canal and then along the river Kelvin to the arboretum in the botanic garden, eventually making my way back home along the back roads, trying to capture some of the most beautiful things I spotted on the walk with my camera (ignoring the bags of dog poo hanging on railings, the empty cans and all the other rubbish that is unfortunately so common here).

There is always much time to think about on such lonely walks: shopping lists, chores and cooking family meals.... Having more time than usual to reflect on life, I had already thought plenty about these things and my mind wandered towards James and Alistair whom we met for the first time two years ago. I was thinking about how these two wee boys joined our family and why, what this meant for the core family that we were at that time and who we have become since.

The journey to become adoptive parents is long and there are many obstacles to overcome. Finding an agency was easy, there are not so many options in this part of the world. We completed a course where we learned much about the adoption process, the legal side of adoption and child development, in particular in relation to children who have suffered abuse and/or neglect. We were the only couple who were parents already on this course, which I found quite difficult and I often felt that I had to justify my desire to adopt children more than I wanted to.

Once we had our own social worker, the family assessment started in earnest, we were visited many times over the next 6 months and interviewed as a couple, on our own or with Sam and Annie. Sam and Annie were central during the assessment process, after all, their life would change for ever and substantially so. They were absolute stars, happy to be interviewed as often as necessary, happy to be open and honest with the social worker, happy to voice their worries but also their excitement and wishes for new siblings.

Being under a magnifying glass was difficult at times, there so much baggage to be unpacked and reviewed, even in my relatively normal life! It was also a good experience and we learnt so much about who we are and what has shaped us as individuals, as a couple and as a family.
There were health assessments for both Richard and I am glad to report that we were deemed fit to look after children, a health and safety assessment of our house and interviews with referees (we had to provide 6). We had very difficult discussions about what we were looking for in a child for our family, what we could offer this child and how we help this child to settle in in our family.

Then, a report was written up, recommendations made and a final interview was organised, during which we were interviewed by group of individuals including adopters, adoptees, social workers and a child psychologist. It was a little like a job interview but with potentially much more far reaching consequences. It was certainly more nerve wrecking than any job interview I had been to before! We were told then and there that we were approved as potential adopters of one child or two children. It was exhilarating to say the least (but terrifying, too).

Within a couple of weeks were matched for the first time with a sibling pair. I never quite understood how this matching process works and what it does actually mean to be a good match. How do social workers decide what is a good match and what isn't and why? I suppose experience plays an important part. We were visited by the children's social workers, who spent a long time interviewing us all over again. After an agonising wait (over night) , we were told that we were not quite the family they were looking for. This happened once more with a different sibling pair. Feedback was minimal but we had the impression that maybe having two birth children didn't help. Having said that, this should have been clear from our portfolio. There is nothing that can prepare you for this kind of rejection and I still feel the pain. I felt a deep loss although we knew the children only from description and we had never met them, or even seen their picture.

I think it was even more difficult for Sam and Annie because they were at an age when rational thinking is maybe not so well developed. Eventually, we were matched with James and Alistair. We had to wait for more than two weeks this time to find out if we were the right kind of family. It was agonising. After weeks of yet more waiting, we were invited to the matching panel, which was essentially yet another interview by the placing local authority. This time, there were probably 12 interviewers (not counting the social workers) and the meeting lasted for an eternity. By this time, we were quite practiced answering questions and it didn't feel quite so difficult.

We had to wait for a decision to be taken then and there. I can't actually remember how I felt, I think by that time we were just tired. It was an emotional moment when we were told that yes, we were the right family and yes, James and Alistair would come to live with us. It was surreal because at that moment, we knew only about the boys history from their written portfolio, and we had a small insight into their personalities a short description written by their foster mum that read like an advertisement for perfect little boys. We were shown photos for the first time after we were formally approved. 

It was a while longer before finally, today two years ago James and Alistair moved in with us to become the two youngest members of our family (not counting the cats). The move came after a frantic two weeks of introductions, a time that was spent driving to and from the boys foster home at the oddest times of day to learn about their lives, their routines, likes and dislikes. During the first week we went to see James and Alistair every day at their temporary foster home so they could get to know us a little. Every night, we talked to Sam and Annie and we showed them photos and videos that we had taken during the day.

Then, after 5 days, the four future siblings met for the first time at our house. Sammy cooked macaroni and cheese for lunch, which we were told was the boys favourite food. It must have been so strange for all the children to one day meet their new siblings. There is nothing really that could prepare them for this moment adequately. To this day I don't think that James and Alistair grasped the momentous life changing importance of this day. All went well, considering. A week later, they arrived with their load of belongings. They must have had about 40 pairs of socks each!

I don't think I slept a good night's sleep for the first 4 weeks after placement, it was the most exhausting and emotionally draining experience I have ever had. We all dealt differently with this situation and I can only speak for myself but I would count a day as a success if I managed not to burst out in tears. I barely ate.

Social workers kept coming first daily then weekly then monthly. I am so grateful for the fantastic support we had from our own social worker and the agency , a support that we still get whenever we need it. However, I was always anxious when the boy's social worker came to visit. I felt under a lot of pressure because she had been very critical of us during the introductions and I worried so much about not living up to her expectations that I felt even worse on the days she came round. It was only after the boys were formally adopted in May 2013 that I truly relaxed.

This is enough for one day I think (although there is so much more to share). We celebrated today's anniversary with a pizza dinner because this is what we had when James and Alistair first moved in. Only today, they prepared their own. They have come a long way since January 2012. And so have I, and the rest of the clan.

Thank you so much for all your comments on my last post, I so enjoy hearing from my readers. In fact, I am so happy to have readers at all! Who would have thought. Cx


  1. Hey Christina,

    Thank you so much for sharing some of your journey towards adopting your boys. It's funny where a solitary walk will take us. I admire your bravery and comittment to go down the path of adoption.
    And your photographs are beautiful too.

    Leanne xx

  2. I so admire you Christina, you are amazing. Thank you for sharing this xo

  3. I found this humbling to read and so inspiring - what a wonderful and costly thing you have done and are doing. Wishing you and your family happy days together always. E x

  4. Beautiful and moving post, Christina. All your family do you proud. All power to you!

  5. What a wonderful post, thank you for sharing such a personal story. I know from experience how important it is for the right parents to adopt the right child(ren) and what an incredible difference they can make to each other's lives. I respect and admire people who do it, who go through this lengthy process, which is after all, necessary as everything has to be Just Right, for all concerned. I am sure that when your own birth children are adults, they will fully realise and appreciate what you did for two little strangers and be immensely proud of you, if not already. (I don't know their ages so this sounds a bit vague, sorry).

  6. I love this post, Christina. It is a beautiful reflection on a process that can leave one feeling quite raw and emotionally scarred. I could identify with so much of it. Hugs...

  7. What an amazing story Christina. Those little boys are so lucky to have found your family. Congratulations on two years together.

  8. What a heartwarming post. I can only think you have given those two little boys a chance of a wondeful life.

  9. Thank you for sharing this story. I know you have given them a loving home. I didn't know much about the process before reading your post and I appreciate having more information. I have thought briefly about adoption myself because I wanted more children but cannot have them, for health reasons. I don't know if I would be able to go through with it, though. I admire you for your dedication to the process and for opening your hearts and home to other children in the first place.

  10. A very thought provoking post. I have friends who adopted three siblings and I know it isn't always an easy journey, even when you think things have reached an even keel so I'm very much in awe of anyone who even takes the first tentative steps towards adoption.

  11. What a beautiful post Christina. Congratulations on the first two years of your journey together :)

  12. A wonderful story and an insight into the adoption story. Wishing you all many more years of happiness together.