Almost exactly a year ago today I posted my first blog. In it I talked about growing up in a large family and how I always wanted my own children.
At that point we’d started the adoption process only the month before and were constantly being told that the process could take years and there were more adopters wanting to adopt than there were children waiting.
One year later, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be at the end of the first week of living with our two children – Duckling and Gosling.
The original idea for this blog was to take a look back at what I’d written and reflect on the past year and ponder the year to come. But there simply hasn’t been the time.
Suffice to say Tom and I are over the moon (most of the time) and we’re all settling into family life with each other (most of the time). More news soon when I come up for air…
In April 2015, Tom and I met with a social worker at our adoption agency for our very first meeting. By the end of it we had a long list of books to read, forums to join, and the recommendation of a single blog to follow. That blog was Sally Donovan’s.
The post was about self-care and it terrified me. In the first paragraph I read the text: “I collapsed into a mess of shattered nerves, frustration, anger and something like grief”. Oh my goodness! The writer had clearly experienced something terrible but as I read on I noticed a lightness in the writing that was actually full of hope. And it had me transfixed.
It was through reading Sally’s blog that led me to the Adoption Social which led me to all the other blogs I now read on a weekly basis. They often tell of the trials and tribulations of being an adoptive parent but somehow they too are always hopeful.
Reading these blogs is what made me think about writing my own in order to keep track of our adoption journey. And it was at this point that I started using Twitter as a way of connecting with the people whose blogs I was reading but also to let those same people know about mine.
I have used Twitter for work for years but have always kept that account completely professional and tweets were either directly about my work or those in my field. My new account was about me and the adoption process, and if I wanted to bitch about a late train, show off about an event I was at, or just share what I was feeling this was the place to do it. Having said that, I do try to keep those type of tweets to a minimum – who wants to be confronted with my *screaming* tweets at South West trains? And no-one likes a show off. However, over the last eight months, I’ve been continually amazed at how the vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are so open, caring and thoughtful – which in turn has encouraged me to do the same.
At times it’s been a strange experience for me. Complete strangers have tweeted about awful experiences and I have wanted to reach out to them but my natural British reserve has often stopped me. It’s the same if I see someone crying in the street – I want to ask if they’re OK but am worried about how they’ll respond. On the odd occasion when I have offered to help a crying person they’ve looked at me like I was mad. On Twitter, however, when I have offered a comment or thought it’s been greeted with thanks and appreciation, which has enabled me to do it more often.
For all the benefits of social media there are, unfortunately, also many downsides. Tom and I have a ban on using social media when we’re at home together in the evening. It’s all too easy to get carried away whatsapping, tweeting and facebooking and before you realise it, an entire night has gone. There are also the security risks both to ourselves and our future children - one of the reasons I’ve decided to remain anonymous. It’s the anonymity that allows me to be so open but also allows people to think it’s OK to say what they want without impunity.
A few weeks ago someone I follow on Twitter posted a tweet about their yet-to-be adopted child. A flurry of responses followed from people all giving their own points of view, but an hour later it felt like the original tweeter was being ‘attacked’ for a decision she had made, knowing all the facts, and in consultation with her social worker. A very final tweet from her did manage to stop any further comments but you got the sense she was exhausted from it all – I know I was.
It did amuse me that the very next day the same tweeter replied to a post of mine in an incredibly insensitive way. I’m sure she didn’t mean it to sound the way it did, but it just goes to show how careful you have to be when we rattle something off without a second thought.
Our agency recently organised a training event on the theme of social media and adoption, which I attended. It was a really informative night and I came away with some great tips and ideas about how to protect young people from the dangers of social media. These include:
Of course all of this is dependent on the age of your children. What is right for little Johnny isn’t necessarily right for little Tommy too.
So I wonder how I’ll use social media and blogs in the future after our children are placed with us. Will I have the time or inclination to continue my blog? I certainly hope so. Will I ask for advice and guidance on Twitter and Facebook? Almost certainly. Will I tweet every thought and emotion? Who knows.
But what I do know is that social media is here to stay whether we like it or not, and it’s up to each of us to use it as we see fit – both for us individually and for our families.
How do you use social media? Is it a lifeline or a straitjacket?
I mentioned last week that I started doing some research into adoption. In this post I’ve listed some of the blogs, books, and forums that have helped us understand the journey we’re on and prepare us (intellectually at least) for what’s to come. I do worry that I’ve possibly read too much, both online and in books, so do be careful that you don’t overwhelm yourself with too much reading.
Blogs - One of the things that’s encouraged me to start this blog is the support and information Tom and I have found through following blogs. Keith from the agency first told me about Sally Donovan’s blog, which led me to The Adoption Social (TAS), which led me to hundreds of others. Each week TAS sends out the best blogs so you can get a real sense of what’s going on in adoptive families. Here are some (among many) of the ones that I really like - Misadventures of an Adoptive Dad, We Are Family, Three Bees and a Honey, Suddenly Mummy and last but not least the musical Gareth Marr.
I follow many of these bloggers on twitter and they have all been happy to answer questions, lend support when needed, or simply 'like' my thoughts - so thank you to all of them!
Books - Every social worker I’ve spoken to has had their own ideas about which books you should read. There’s a book list in the Stage One information pack, another in the Preparation Days information pack, and another on the agency’s website. I have probably read more books on a single topic this year than I did in my three years at university (admittedly I did drama so it’s not that surprising). Anyway, here are my mini reviews on the books…
No Matter What by Sally Donovan – This is a great read. It’s honest and full of hope, joy and sadness. It brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face in equal measure. It was brilliant to hear about an actual adoptive parent’s journey. I found out about the book through Sally’s blog.
The Pink Guide to Adoption by Nicola Hill – The first half outlines the law and how it affects adopting as a gay or lesbian couple. This was very helpful from a practical point of view. The second half is full of case studies of gay and lesbian couples adopting children. This was really helpful to see that it has been done before, and most importantly it has been done successfully. I found this book on the internet when I first started investigating adoption.
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier – I really struggled with this book. The premise is that babies create a bond with the birth mother in utero and if the child is separated at birth a wound is created that is devastating to the child’s development. Whilst I completely accept that early childhood trauma seriously affects children’s emotional and intellectual development, my issue with the book is that it talks mainly about children being relinquished by birth mothers at the time of birth. From everything I’ve been told about the types of children on the adoption register in the UK, it's incredible rare for a child to be relinquished at birth nowadays that the information seems slightly redundant. There's very little mention of childhood traumas beyond the separation itself. It also mainly talks about a woman taking over the caring role and that men have little to do with this side of things. All in all not that helpful for Tom and me. The second part of the book is more practical, and potentially very helpful, but by this point I couldn’t wait to finish it.
A Child’s Journey Through Placement by Vera Fahlberg – This is a text book for social workers who look after children and young people plain and simple. I haven’t read a book like it since I trained to be a teacher many years ago. However, its plain talking and clear advice have made excellent reading and I would recommend it, as a book to dip in and out of, to anyone who is thinking of adopting. This was recommended to me by Sandra from the agency.
Preparing for Adoption by Julia Davis – This is a straight talking book that outlines the process of adoption and gives clear, practical guidance on how to get started and how to keep going once the children arrive. This was also recommended to me by Sandra from the agency.
The Unofficial Guide to Adoption by Sally Donovan – I have just finished Sally’s second book. Again, this is a really open and honest account of what life has been like for an adoptive parent. I suspect I’ll come back to this book one once we have our children as it is packed full of really useful and practical tips.
If I had to choose a few of the books I'd go for No Matter What and Preparing for Adoption.
Forums - These are a great way to speak directly to other adoptive parents who are either at the same stage as you or have already been there. Sandra at the agency directed us to New Family Social which is specifically set up to support LGBT people who want to adopt. The online forum is brilliant – I have posted a number of questions that have always been replied to quickly and with great thought. They also run events where you can meet up with other families (although at the time of writing we have yet to attend one of these). We have also just joined Adoption UK, recommended to us by the agency, which is basically the same as NFS but available for everyone to join. Again there is access to forums and support, which have been really helpful. For both these forums, like all online communities, you get out of them what you put in so try to keep your profile up to date and check in with what they’re up to.
No doubt you'll find your own research and information to help you make your initial decisions and then to support you when you adopt but this has all been invaluable for Tom and me to make sure we have made the right decision.
In April Tom and I met with Keith for our initial meeting. Keith is a senior practitioner at the agency and is a very earnest middle-aged gentleman. He was the first stereotype of a social worker we’d met - with leather elbow patches on his tweed jacket. He gave us a rundown of the process and then started asking us questions about who we were, our family life, how we thought we might be as parents etc.
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...