An adopted daughter

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Last night, I was curled up on the sofa reading the latest edition of Woman and Home magazine.  The front page had enticed me to buy it, Have a Balanced Life, de stress, feel calmer, the headline promised and yet after reading what has always been a nice, inoffensive read I was angry and disappointed.  The reason for my fury was the introduction of an interview with Lisa Faulkner.  Now Lisa Faulkner always comes across as lovely person and is not the object of my frustration, rather the writers description of her ” Lisa Faulkner 44 …..has an adopted daughter ”  Its the sort of comment that makes you feel sick in the pit of your stomach.  Why is her daughter being introduced as an adopted daughter, surely Lisa Faulkner should have the respect of the writer to be seen as the mother of a daughter.  I have never introduced my children as  my adopted daughter and my adopted son, they are my son and daughter, our children, no labels.  What does the ‘adopted’ signify, abandoned, abused, neglected, traumatised, what parent would want their child to have that label?  Why should a child be described with such negative associations, they are innocent children, yet are being defined by their early lives and or the history of their birth families.

In our family adoption is not a secret, we discuss it freely and it falls naturally into conversations. Our children know of their early life, in the most appropriate way for their ages and know that we will always love and support them throughout everyday of our lives, our little family saying is love you forever and ever and ever.   I want my children to grow up bathed in unconditional love, support and a sense of belonging, a secure attachment which makes them confident and happy as adults.  Sadly it appears that our national media is quick to judge and label.  Fortunately for our family and friends they are not an adopted son and daughter, an adopted granddaughter and grandson, an adopted niece and nephew,an adopted cousin or an adopted friend they are simply two much loved children.

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An adoption story

This morning I’ve been doing some tidying up and came across my diary from 2010, the year in which the children came to live with us.  Unlike most of my full diaries this stops suddenly on the day we started introductions, which whilst a shame does illustrate how crazy life became with two little children.  I thought I would share the story of how we went from prospective adopters to parents in less than a year.

In mid 2009, we attended a 4 day intensive course for prospective adopters, this was to prepare us for adoption and the issues we might face.  It was factual and prepared participants for the realities of adoption but made us even more determined that we could offer a safe and loving home to children.  This course was followed by a home study where every aspect of your life, relationship, family, work, hobbies etc.. was discussed.  The home study is hard, as every aspect of your life is analysed and checked.  Whilst we were expecting safe guarding checks it also included proving income, home and life insurances, risk assessments and safety recommendations for your home, life plans and child care, as well as exploring in depth your health, emotional wellbeing, relationship as a couple and with family and friends.  Thankfully we completed it within 8 months and were approved by a panel from the LA as prospective adopters for siblings up to 6 years old.  At this point, our life really went on hold as we were finally waiting for our children.  Whilst there is a national register, as our local authority had taken us through assessment and approval, the practice is that you are on their books exclusively for six months. I think of all the years in which we had tried to start a family this was one of the worst periods, we were waiting with no idea of what would happen and when.  We were as proactive as we could be, clearing our spare rooms ready for children’s bedrooms and I tentatively began to look at local toddler clubs, schools, equipment etc.. But the reality was that there was nothing we could do. It was getting so frustrating that we phoned our social worker and asked if we could at least book a last minute holiday to give us a focus, we were given permission to do this as we were told it was highly unlikely that there would be any placements in the coming months.  Needless to say these were famous last words, on what should have been the first day of our cruise to the Norweigen Fjords we met our children for the first time.

Our wait finally ended on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon when after leaving a few messages our social worker finally reached us on the phone. We were expecting a catch up call so had no idea of the surprise she was going to spring on us.  There had been developments in a case the department were working on and a brother and sister were able to be placed for adoption and she would like to talk to us about the children.  The week which followed until her visit was the longest of my life and my emotions really were all over the place as we waited for her visit in which she honestly presented all she knew about the children and their history.  Events quickly snowballed from here with lots and lots of meetings with social workers, a paediatrician, psychologist, foster careers and we completed all the detailed paperwork to allow us to go to panel the next month to be matched as the children’s parents.  Where as I had been quite shy and reserved in the approval panel, I was so different in this forum, I felt so passionately that these were our children and argued so strongly and determined.  We were officially matched and then the madness started, we had 7 days in which to serve notice at work, decorate the children’s bedrooms, buy all we needed and get ready for introductions.  In the most intense period of my life I will always remember the kindness and generosity of people who helped us in so many ways, the rooms got painted and decorated, furniture was ordered and delivered, curtains, black out blinds and bedding arrived, our pond disappeared, carpets were fitted, everybody wanted to help in whatever way they could and by the day of introductions we were ready to welcome our little ones.

Introductions are an incredibly stressful time, you are under scrutiny at all times. The first time we met the children, there were foster carers and social workers watching everyone’s reaction. It was a short visit and I remember little about our first visit, we went clutching a doll for Little Miss and a puppy toy for Little Man which had featured in the introduction resources that had been read to them, a scrap book all about us and a talking book with our photos.  Mr S was more confident and enthusiastic, I was really conscious of not forcing ourselves onto the children and letting them come to us more gently, we played and sang rhymes and read books and after a short while left, it was all so strange it felt quite unreal.  Over the next nine days our visits continued, at first the visits were at the at the carer’s home accompanied by the foster carer, they progressed to us taking the children out alone to the foster carer bringing the children to our house and then leaving them at our house for a day.

There were progress meetings and in introductions we also met the children’s birth mother.  This meeting was organised very carefully by social services at a neutral venue, we were briefed before hand on what we were allowed to say and how the meeting may develop.  It was an incredibly emotional meeting, social services directed a polite conversation and we had a photo taken together so that in the future the children can see us together to know that we all agreed on the adoption.  The smiles in that photo do not reflect the raw emotion in that meeting.  At the end me and the children’s birth mum both hugged each other tightly and I promised her that I would always love and care for the children, we were both sobbing our hearts out and it was one of the most intense and emotional moments of my life.  I know some adopters choose not to meet the birth family, it was very painful but I am pleased I did, I have a lot of respect for the birth mum’s decision to allow the children to be adopted and I hope that she saw how much we would love and care for the children.  She was also always very supportive of the adoption process and did things that helped speed up the legal process, she did not make any objections.  She even signed her permission to allow the children to use our name immediately on all legal documents, eg NHS, child benefit etc.. which made things easier.

Nine days after the initial introduction the children finally came to live with us.  However even then it was not the end of the process as social workers’ visits and reviews continued to the final adoption order six months later.  It had taken eight long years but we finally had our perfect little Sparkles family.

Below are the original diary pages of this time in our life, sadly my fancy coloured pens have faded over the years but it is still legible evidence of our grand adventure.

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Being Mama Bear

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This week is National Adoption week and consequently my Twitter feed has been full of tweets and comments. There is so much I could say but in all honesty this week I’m tired and all my energies have gone into caring and protecting my little ones. There is a level of security you are always aware of, an awareness of issues that other parents can’t imagine, even this week I found a photo of Little Miss posted by error online, an errant comment which caused upset and that’s before all the day to day little dramas.   I have been into the children’s school this week to discuss the extra grant the school receives for our children and how this can be best spent to provide support for staff and my children.  We are extremely fortunate that the children’s school does take a proactive and positive approach and they are a model example.  Our aim this week was how to create a safe school and in our discussions it was apparent that so many of the strategies would benefit other pupils too.  We looked at the school environment, how to create a safe place and a special person to listen and respond to their worries, the need for sensory integration, resources for the curriculum to represent all types of families, help on getting organised, training for staff on attachment and other issues adopted children are vulnerable to etc..  The list was long. The meeting had been planned but it’s need became more apparent this week when Little Miss had got upset that some of her peers had said Little Man was not her real brother. I don’t believe it was said maliciously just mixed up and confused thoughts from a small child but for someone who so desperately needs to belong Little Miss was upset and lots of conselling was required.  Perhaps that’s what makes an adopted Mum’s role different, it seems there’s lots of  actions to be taken and little battles to be vanquished in the shadows so your children can be happy and content.

Our 5th Anniversary as the Sparkles Family

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Today is a very special day for the Sparkles family, five years ago we became a family when Little Miss and Little Man came to live with us permanently. After a week of introductions with their foster family, the children came home to us, making it the most exciting and scariest day. We could scarcely believe what was happening, after all the heartbreak and waiting, we became a family of four. We celebrate this day, as it’s our special day, no one else knows the significance of the date. I always feel birthdays and special holidays are tinged with sadness. I have no memory of the days the children were born and I know their birth mother will always be thinking of them and her memories of the day, likewise with Christmas and other celebrations. I love the children’s’ birthdays and we do celebrate big time but it’s not my day, today is our day.

The last five years have been the best of my life, I have never felt happier, more fulfilled or excited about life. All I ever wanted in my life was to be a Mum and every day I am so grateful to have my little family who bring me so much love and joy.

Today we will celebrate with a family meal and special family time and I’m sure there will be cake! It’s a day to celebrate our amazing, beautiful and loving family. Mr S, Little Miss and Little Man I love you all so much xx

The cake we had on our 1st anniversary.
The cake we had on our 1st anniversary.

Letterbox

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This evening, I have finished the task which occupies my waking thoughts in the preceding weeks.   It is a simple task, a letter and some photos of the children, something so easy.  I am so proud of my children and I could easily write reams on their personalities, characters, successes, little anecdotes etc.. and fill album with photographs, yet this letter is to their birth family and it is so difficult to strike the right balance.  For security, we have to be careful not to identify ourselves, so no mention of the beach babes they are as this may give a clue to our seaside town, photos must be vetted carefully for clues, no uniforms, local landmarks etc..  I am also aware of the circumstances of the family and am careful not to boast of the treats and holidays the children enjoy.  To me the most important purpose of the letter is to let the family know that the children are happy, healthy and most importantly loved unconditionally.  In one of the most emotional meetings of my life, I met the children’s birth mother, we shared a hug and I promised her that I would always love, care and be there for the children, we were both in tears so it was quite difficult to get those words out.  I see the annual letterbox contact as one of the ways I can show her I am keeping my promise, its so difficult to write but so important too.

As well as for the birth family, the annual contact is for my children too.  In the years to come when the children are 18, I want to show them that I always kept my promise to their birth family to write an annual contact letter.  I have never had a response from the birth family but I am ok with this, I can only imagine how joyful and distressing the letters must be.  The joy of knowing the children are happy and healthy but the distress of not knowing where they are, the hurt of the adoption etc..  I don’t feel hate or anger towards the birth family, just sadness at their circumstances and respect for their decision to have the children adopted and given a fresh start in a happy, loving family.