If today wasn’t going to be stressful enough it was made just that little bit more excruciating with the fact that our social worker, Denise, insisted on talking about the day on a very busy train from London to the Midlands. I’ll talk about adoption with anyone who’ll listen so it wasn’t the subject that bothered me – it was just the environment. Thankfully she gave us a tonne of new reports about the children to read so we managed to keep quiet for a while.
When we arrived at the social services building, we were led into the smallest and hottest room in the world, where Denise, Tom, Tanya and Gloria, the children’s social workers, and me squeezed in and looked through the introduction books Tom and I had made. The panel administrator very kindly went to a massive effort, verging on the farcical, to make a cup of tea that due to the heat none of us wanted actually wanted. But we politely said yes and got even hotter. I’m sure it was some kind of final test. Finally, the panel chair introduced herself, talked us through the process and the questions they were going to ask, and we all duly followed her into the meeting room.
As is becoming a pattern, this was when I started to feel nervous. And I mean nervous. I suddenly had this dread wash over me that they were going to say no – despite all the reassurances the social workers had given us. Conversely, Tom’s nerves started about three days before but he was in zen-like state of calm when panel was actually happening. I’m not sure which I’d prefer.
The panel was made up of three adopters, one social worker, the medical advisor, the panel chair, and panel administrator – it felt positive that there were five of us, so we weren’t quite as outnumbered as we were at the approval panel. They were all very smiley and encouraging, which somehow made my feelings of doom even stronger. It started with the medical advisor talking us through the information she had about the children. What was odd was that she was clearly working from early reports and we’d seen much more recent ones so we actually had to correct some of what she’d said. They then asked Tanya for further updates on the children from when the original report was written. I understand the panel had to get the information but I wish they’d asked our questions first – it really felt like an age before they got to us.
We were asked questions about why we wanted these particular children, about the potential impact on us, about one specific behaviour that had been identified in the report, and about contact arrangements. Similarly to the approval panel we each took the lead on a question with the other one chipping in extra bits as we went along. Before we knew it, we were ushered back in to the furnace of a room while the social workers stayed behind to answer a few further questions.
After about five minutes, the social workers came out and we all had to wait for another ten minutes before the chair came back and asked us back into the room. I genuinely couldn’t read her expression and I clutched Tom’s hand while she got herself organised. It felt like an eternity but she actually very quickly told us that the panel were delighted to approve the match. Yippee!
Of course I immediately cried. I’m worried what the adoption process has done to my tear ducts which previously were pretty much unused. Denise even commented that I now have a reputation for blubbing!
There was a bit of stand-off between the panel chair and Gloria about when the agency decision maker would sign off the panel’s recommendation. Tanya had hoped to give the children as much time as possible to get used to the idea of the adoption but had been told she had to wait for the ADM. It was agreed that the ADM would put this decision to the top of his agenda and it would be rubber stamped early the following week. Phew!
The panel finished with them talking us through why they’d reached their decision and wishing us luck.
Afterwards we took Denise out for some lunch while we waited to go back to the social services building to meet the children’s birth mum (more about that in next week’s blog).
The day ended with a meeting with the children’s nursery key worker. She was great! We looked through their books which had loads of pictures of them playing and having fun. She also gave us some great tips on how to manage their behaviour and the types of things they enjoyed doing.
The day had clearly taken it out of us, as we all slept on the train back to London. Denise was off on holiday the following day and wouldn’t be back until introductions have started so we all had a big hug and said our goodbyes. The next time she sees us we’ll be parents!
Tom and I went to the pub and celebrated with a nice dinner and some wine. We talked through everything we’d learnt and how we were feeling. We were both smiley and feeling warm (and it wasn’t the wine). It was so great to have this next milestone out of the way, knowing that in sixteen days time we were going to meet our children.
We had been asked by Tanya and Gloria, the children’s social workers, if we would consider meeting with Lauren, their birth mum. Having already discussed this with Denise, our social worker, we knew it would be in the children’s best interest, and actually of all of ours, so we immediately said yes.
It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life.
Lauren was tiny and clearly devastated by what was happening. She was wearing a lovely dress and a necklace and had clearly made an effort in how she looked – I suppose this image is how we’ll describe her to the children in the future.
We asked questions of each other. Ours were about the children’s past – where their names came from, their birth stories, and any special stories from their early years. It was great hearing all this as it would enable us to give them a much clearer idea of their past.
Lauren asked us about how we, as two men, would look after BG’s needs, what kind of house we lived in, the contact arrangements, and how we’d look after the children in general. We were able, with the social workers’ help, to reassure her that we would love them and look after them.
Throughout the meeting she kept saying thank you which must have been an awful thing for her to have to say, but it felt like she had begun to make some peace with what was happening – I hope so.
We promised to send her letters each year and ensured her that we wouldn’t let the children forget her or, as she was worried about, hate her.
Lauren has promised to keep up with the contact arrangements and has said she’s going to pass on the children’s scan photos, early photographs, and other mementos from their time with her, which will be amazing for the children.
The meeting was over in about twenty minutes and after a lot of tears from everyone we had our picture taken with Lauren for the life story book, had a big hug and said goodbye.
I came away from the meeting knowing that Lauren loved her children more than anything in the world – but unfortunately she was unable to look after them in a safe, nurturing and appropriate way. Seeing that love with my own eyes and being able to tell that to the children in the future will hopefully be of huge benefit for them.
I can’t imagine the pain Lauren was in when we left her behind with the social workers, but I hope that meeting us has given her some solace knowing that the children will grow up in a loving, safe and secure home.
As soon as we were approved to adopt back in June I immediately started thinking about what we’d need to do to the house to get it ready for the children, the toys and furniture we’d need to buy, and numerous ways of spending our savings on the children. I think it could be classed as what is commonly called nesting.
However, I’m a bit superstitious when it comes to buying things for babies before they’re born and I was the same with getting on with our nesting before the adoption was approved. The difficulty is that when things do start happening they can be quite quick so we made a tentative start.
We knew the two rooms that Tom claimed when we moved in would be the children’s and he would move into the guest room so it made sense to at least get that done. I should probably point out that Tom works from home so they were needed for work – although two was a luxury. We also knew we’d want curtains and blinds in those rooms so we got the curtain poles but not the actual curtains. We also ticked off all the health and safety requirements from our first home visit. When I say ‘we’ I of course mean our wonderful handyman who sorts out all our DIY needs.
Rather than buying everything we might need I decided I could at least start making lists – I love making lists! These were then transferred to a spreadsheet that included costs, suppliers, and comprehensive notes. After we added it all up it came to well over £5,000 but that did include a healthy budget for clothes, toys, books, and (joy of joys) craft materials! Also not actually knowing the sex or age of the children meant that I’d included baby monitors, cots, and high chairs as well as beds, bikes and a trampoline. A readjustment, based on the actual age of the children and after some stern looks from Tom, meant we were dealing with a much more manageable figure.
I trawled the John Lewis, Mothercare and Ikea websites (to name a few) for furniture, toys and the like. John Lewis had a particularly helpful factsheet about what you need for a nursery. The difficulty was working out what bits and pieces we did and didn’t need for our specific children. What age do they no longer need a high chair, what is a 1-2-3 car seat, and how much pink can fit into one room – I now know the answer to all three.
As soon as we were linked with Duckling and Gosling I wanted to start designing their rooms (especially as Duckling had put in a very definite request for a pink princess bedroom in her forever home). Knowing how things can go wrong, and not wanting to tempt fate, we decided to wait until at least after the play-date before we actually did any of the work. That was the right decision as meeting them somehow made it all feel more real and we had a better sense of what they’d like. However, while we waited I started getting ideas down on Pinterest and we booked in our handyman to help to put up shelves etc. The only thing we ordered in advance were the beds as we’d been advised by Denise, our social worker, that they can sometimes take a while to arrive.
Once we started, we also called in favours from all our family and friends and at one point every room in the house had someone putting together an Ikea flat-pack, putting up a sticker mural, or just generally being helpful. Tom and I were particularly proud of our paint job in Duckling’s room. So in the nine days between the play-date and panel we redecorated the two bedrooms and the playroom, made the rest of the house child-friendly, and made our introduction books and DVD (a whole blog about introduction books at a later date).
I also scrubbed the house from top to bottom – clearing out cupboards, de-cluttering, and even hoovering the picture rails (who does that?). I knew the house was about to be invaded by two small children with muddy shoes, hands covered in paint, and the remnants of messy play but I wanted it to be clean and nice for when they arrived. Like when the social workers came to visit I actually did a bit of messing up before they arrived so they wouldn’t feel like they couldn’t make a mess.
I read online that nesting is a biological response in all animals when they are expecting an infant. And while Tom or I are obviously not pregnant, the need to create a nest for our children has been equally as strong. I just hope we haven’t overdone the pink…
A couple of weeks ago Tom and I ‘accidentally bumped into’ our children for the first time. As far as they were concerned we were two people ‘who worked’ with their social worker who just ‘happened to be in the park’ at the same time as them with a bag of duck feed. For us it was make or break about whether we carried on with the link. I’m glad to say it was one of the happiest moments of my life – one of those fireworks I talked about last week definitely went off in my heart. Even typing this the next morning it still brings a tear to my eye...
We’d travelled up to where we were meeting the night before and stayed in a nice, if not very old fashioned, hotel. I slept remarkably well considering what was happening the next morning - although we did both wake throughout the night having the most bizarre dreams, and in my case a proper jumping up and gasping for breath nightmare. Oh – and trying to close our ears to a couple having very loud and vigorous sex!
We both felt strangely calm as we drove to the park and sat in the café while we waited for Denise, our SW, and Tanya, the children’s SW, to arrive. It was as soon as the social workers did appear that the butterflies in my stomach took off. Every time a woman and two children appeared my heart would flutter until I realised it wasn’t THE children. What if they didn’t like us or, God forbid, we didn’t like them? At exactly 10.45am I glimpsed another woman with two children and I heard Tanya say ‘It’s them’. I could barely breathe while I resisted the urge to turn around and look at them.
They came into the café and bought some drinks, which felt like it took forever, while we all tried to act as naturally as possible. Finally, I heard their foster carer, Fiona, say “Oh look, there’s Tanya”. At this point I was allowed to turn around and see the two cutest and most wonderful children standing in front of us. I could feel my eyes welling up and it took every fibre of my body to hold back the tears of joy and the urge to give them a big hug. I could sense Tom, who was sat behind me, was feeling the same. After a brief chat, Tanya suggested we all go and feed the ducks together.
We walked down to the pond while Tom and I did our best to act ‘normally’. We knew Fiona had been working on the children’s stranger danger which we obviously wanted to respect and encourage. It was so difficult to try and strike the right balance between showing them we were interested and keeping a safe and appropriate distance. When we got to the pond, Fiona said the children could take some duck feed from Tom and me so the four of us knelt by the pond and fed the ducks. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to do (albeit with three people watching us).
We were probably together for about 15 minutes before Tanya said it was time for us to go back to work. I could have stayed all day but the children had nursery and we had to meet with some of the professionals who had worked with them since they’ve been in care. We walked back up the hill whilst having a chat with the children about their favourite colours and what they enjoyed doing. As we waved goodbye and turned away from each other I could feel my eyes wanting to stream with tears but I managed to hold them back. I remained in this state for most the day.
Tom and I drove into the city to the social services building. We were both smiling and excited the whole way there. We kept talking about things we’d noticed about them – their smiles, the way LB runs, how thoughtful and inquisitive BG is.
We met with the BG’s play therapist who gave us an amazing insight into the work she’d done with her so far and the progress she’d made. We made loads of notes and asked tonnes of questions. LB is too young to receive play therapy but we’re hoping it will start when he’s placed with us.
We also spoke with Fiona for about an hour and a half. I was really worried at the start that she didn’t feel we were right for the children as she seemed a little guarded. As we chatted more I think she warmed to us – especially when she heard about the plans we had already made for the children coming to live with us. We asked what the children’s reaction to us had been and, as it should have been, they were slightly nonplussed about meeting two of Tanya’s colleagues.
At the end of the session we had a big hug and outside Fiona told Tanya she thought we were a great match. I am so in awe of the work she does and am aware of how difficult it is going to be for her to say goodbye to the children. Tom and I will be eternally grateful for everything she has done for them.
Unfortunately, the speech therapist and nursery worker were unavailable so we’ve planned to meet them in the next few weeks. I was annoyed when we found this out as we were expecting to see them but actually, I’m not sure we could have processed any more information anyway.
On the way home, a song that was sung at our wedding came on the radio and the tears that had been threatening all day finally burst forth. Not a great thing to happen when you’re driving at 80mph down the motorway.
Somehow we survived the journey and spent the rest of the evening letting our families know how things had gone and booking accommodation for the introductions which are starting at the end of the month.
It was quite the day and we both felt exhausted but unbelievably happy. The day was a huge milestone in Tom’s and my life - one that we’ll never forget – and we’re both so excited about all the rest to come…
Tom and I were on an absolute high when we went to the pub on Friday afternoon after meeting with the children’s social workers. But by the next morning, however, we spent what felt like a really long weekend going back and forth about what we were going to do.
We could definitely imagine the children living with us and being their parents but, and this is a big but, we didn’t feel an instant overwhelming connection to them and this worried us. Logically we knew there shouldn’t be an expectation of ‘love’ based on a photograph but at the same time I think we wanted to feel something more than we were. Mama Cass sang, “Once I believed that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells and poetry” and I think that’s what we were expecting.
I think we were also worried by how quickly things were progressing. We’d been told the process from being linked to introductions could take up to four months and we were now talking about taking under two. Although we’ve been waiting for this to happen for around a year it was suddenly very real and about to occur within a couple of months, and it was scary.
We spoke with Denise, our social worker, on Monday morning who told us our feelings were completely normal and she was really pleased we were being honest with her about how we felt. She suggested we take a day or two more to have a think and to chat to our support network.
That was probably the best thing we did. We spoke with our siblings and best friends about how we were feeling and it really sorted our heads out. They talked about how their feelings towards their own children developed over time – some very quickly and some took a little longer – and that’s completely normal. If they felt that about their own birth children, why shouldn’t we feel the same about two children we had yet to meet?
Knowing this, we went back to Denise and told her that we would love to be the children’s parents. Through all this it hadn’t occurred to us that maybe the children’s social workers may not have chosen us. Thankfully they thought we’d be a great match and so we were officially linked.
As Mama Cass’ song carries on, “But with me and you it just started quietly and grew… And it's getting better”. And I suspect, and hope, this will be the same with Tom and me.
A few weeks ago Tom and I had a visit from two social workers who had contacted our social worker, Denise, after reading our profile (link to 6 weeks). They were caring for a brother and sister and thought we might be the right parents for them.
It so happens that this week coincided with a break in my work where I’d planned to give the house a massive spring clean. I cleared out and re-arranged the cupboards in the kitchen, cleared and sorted the shed, fixed some lights that had been broken since before we’d moved in, and generally put the house in order. I then spent the day before Tanya and Gloria arrived slightly messing it up again so I didn’t look like we lived in a show home. Purely by coincidence, we had also booked in our wonderful handyman to finish all the health and safety requirements left over from our first home visit. So the house was looking great.
In the days before the meeting, Tom and I spent some time re-reading the children’s reports trying to get a clearer idea of who they were. All we had to go on so far was the report and a couple of grainy, black and white photocopies of the children’s pictures. But this also gave us the opportunity to think of any questions we would ask Tanya and Gloria.
Denise arrived about an hour before they were due to arrive to help us get prepared and to come up with our game plan. We decided that Tom and I would sit together on one sofa, Denise on an armchair and Tanya & Gloria on the sofa in-between the three of us. That way Tom and I would look united and we’d be able to keep an eye on Denise for any pointers we might need.
Another tactic from Denise was getting Tom to pick up Tanya and Gloria from the station. We live on a main road with our garage and garden at the rear of the house. By picking them up we were ensuring their first view of our house was the garden and not a busy road.
Up until now I was feeling fine but as soon as Tom returned with them I started to feel a bit (read ‘very’) queasy. The enormity of what we were about to do suddenly hit me.
Tanya came across as being very friendly and warm whereas Gloria had a more stern look that actually worried me a bit. But as we all warmed up to each other over a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit it was clear she was really hoping we were right for the children almost as much as we wanted the children to be right for us.
We started by talking through BG’s report. Tanya was great at making her come alive in our minds and gave us lots of really useful information. BG is really into dancing, singing and being a ‘drama queen’. I decided to view that as a positive, what with my theatrical background, as opposed to it being social worker talk for ‘she has tantrums’. Meanwhile Denise was really needling them both to find out as much as she could so we had as clear a picture as possible.
Tom then showed Tanya and Gloria around the house while I got some lunch ready. I had prepared loads of stuff in the morning so we could make our own sandwiches. This worked out very well as one of them was a vegetarian and the other couldn’t have dairy products. The five of us had a really nice lunch and in a different world I would have suggested opening a bottle of wine…
After lunch we talked through LB’s report. Again, Tanya really helped him come alive in our minds and was able to answer all our questions. He is into anything that his older sister’s into and loves playing with her and doing craft activities. Again, I was delighted to hear this and I was able to show Tanya and Gloria the ‘craft drawer’ that I’m slowly building up.
Tanya had clearly done a lot of work with the children and was very fond of them. As well as the nice stuff she told us, she didn’t pull any punches about what had happened in their past, the impact it’s had on them to date, and its potential impact in the future.
We were then given tonnes of photos to look at and an eight minute video of them playing in the foster carer’s garden. They were really cute, and watching them made a huge smile appear on my face. I was aware that I had reached for Tom’s hand and noticed that he was smiling too.
Having been bombarded with questions, it was now Tanya’s opportunity to ask us a few. As is becoming normal, we were asked about boundaries and how we’d implement them, how we’d support the children and their needs, about female role models that would be able to support the children, and how we’d deal with being gay parents. And finally, if we could see them living with us - we certainly could.
At our final prep meeting, we were told that these initial meetings tend to end in one of three ways… The first is that it’s clear one or both parties don’t want to continue and that’s the end of it. The second is that it might be a goer but some more thought needs to be had. The third is that a diary comes out and plans are made for future meetings. I was delighted when Gloria not only got her diary out but called the office to book us in for a provisional panel date! This was followed by a date for introductions and a moving-in date. WTF?! This was suddenly very real and very quick.
I had taken a bit of a gamble with work and had started to wind down my commitments but these new dates had a massive clash with a project Tom was due to work on. It was a concern, as he would obviously miss out on the money but also the possibility of not getting the job when it comes around next time (the joys of a freelancer).
We discovered that part of the speed was due to Tanya & Gloria discovering that the children’s foster carers were going on holiday and ideally the children should be placed before then rather than going into respite care. I should point out that the holiday was booked before the foster carers took on looking after the children and they had tried to get them a passport so they could go with them but were unable to do so.
Thankfully Denise was there to put the brakes on slightly and said we weren’t to make any kind of decision now but should talk to each other over the weekend. Tanya and Gloria agreed this was a good idea and we agreed to chat again by the middle of the following week.
Tom took them back to the station while Denise and I chatted about how things had gone. She was really pleased and said we’d done a great job. It was such a relief. When Tom returned we had a quick de-brief before Denise left us and we headed to the pub at 4pm on a Friday! We had a lot to talk about…
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the ‘house rules’ I’d like to instigate when our future children move in with us. There was a mix of responses ranging from “good plan, be firm” to “you’re living in dream land”.
I talked at length with @frogotter and @tootingmama, two of the people I follow on Twitter who are much further along the adoption route than Tom and me, about which of these rules were realistic, which ones would be lost in time, and which might be worth abandoning right away. It was very positive and ended with the tweet “I'm looking forward to reading your post on rules for parents now! ;-)”.
I’d been thinking a lot about the type of Dad I want to be when our children arrive so I thought it would be a good idea to come up with the rules I want to abide by. I should also point out that the rules in the previous blog were house rules i.e. for Tom and me as well as the children – indeed as @plainlyamess very beautifully tweeted “respect is caught not taught”.
Tom and I rarely argue. When we do it’s usually because we’re hungry or tired (or God forbid both) or because we haven’t heard (or listened to) what the other one has said. So much conflict around the world would be resolved if people just listened to someone else’s point of view. I want to try and listen to everything my children tell me (both verbally and non-verbally) so I can learn to understand what they need of me. I hate it when you see children trying to get their parents’ attention just to be ignored. I’m not suggesting I should allow them to interrupt every conversation I have but I won’t ignore them.
Not everyone is good at everything, and knowing that is a huge lesson in life. I want my children to know that it’s OK to fail at something. It’s liberating and allows you to keep trying at it if you want to.
I’m rubbish at saying sorry. Tom knows this well enough and will be bowled over by my admitting it here but the ability to say sorry is undervalued. If I do something wrong in the bringing up of my children I have to learn to apologise and make it right.
I want my children to know I love them and I will show them this at every possible opportunity. Whether it is simply saying the words, giving them a hug when they need it or have done something wrong, or in some other way that we discover together over time, I hope they know I do.
If I’m calm and polite in my interactions with my children then hopefully, over time, they’ll learn to be the same.
Every parent I have spoken to (adoptive or otherwise) has talked of the need for clear and firm boundaries. If my children know what I expect of them they will know how they ought to behave.
Consistency is the key to keeping the boundaries in place and working. If one day they can go to bed at 10pm but the next day I insist on 7pm they won’t know where they stand. Similarly, Tom and I have to be a united front, both sending out the same message.
Although my children may be the centre of my world they won’t be of the wider population. Behaviour that is acceptable at home may not be in someone else’s house, on public transport, or in a museum. When I was a waiter whilst at university I would despair of children (actually their parents) who were allowed to run around a restaurant while I was carrying hot food and drinks. There will be times when the needs* of people around me may come before those of my children. If they can’t cope in certain situations we’ll try to avoid them until they can. *I don’t consider running around in front of tray of hot food a ‘need’.
However, I will fight for what they do need until my dying breath. Whether this is accessing support from CAMHS or dealing with another child pushing ahead at the park, I will be there for them.
Without being gushy and sickening, Tom and I are a great team and our relationship is really important to both of us. If we aren’t working well together the whole family will suffer. I have no idea how but I really want to make time for us as a couple.
Similarly, as the stay-at-home parent, I want to be able to make time for me.
I want to teach them the skills that will help them grow into fully rounded adults. From cooking and basic DIY (such as changing a plug) to lighting a fire and putting up a tent.
I want to fill their childhood with us with lots of happy memories. Baking a cake, going camping, watching a film together with popcorn and ice-cream. Both big and small things that they can hopefully look back on fondly in the future.
Honesty is the best policy. I want to be honest and open with my children so they feel able to be the same with me. With everything they have been through in their early years it will be even more important that they are able to do this.
I remember when I was a kid a neighbour of ours always promised to take me horse-riding. Every time I saw her she would mention it again and every time it wouldn’t happen. Unbeknownst to me, my Mum would often ask her not to mention it unless it was actually going to happen – which of course it never did. I don’t even remember her name but I remember those broken promises and I pledge here and now not to break one I make to my children.
So quite a list of rules for me to try and live up to. Like the house rules some of these may be easy to achieve and others almost impossible. All I can do for now though is try to meet them and promise not to beat myself up if I don’t.
What rules do you live by as a parent?
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...