Thankfully Tom and I are over and done with the approval process so this seemed a good time for me to reflect on the last nine months.
I’ll start with the positives…
From the moment we told our family and friends of our intention to adopt they have been more supportive and caring than we could ever have hoped for. Even aunts & cousins I haven’t seen for years had heard about it from my mum and were truly excited for us. All of this has really helped keep us going when it was feeling stressful. On the downside, at times when nothing much has happened (see below) it’s been a nightmare fielding the expectations of so many people – especially whilst trying to do the same with our own hopes and expectations.
We have the best social worker in the land. Despite making me cry at our first meeting, Tom and I have both grown to respect and cherish Denise and all the hard work she does for us. She’s clearly been there and seen it all and really knows her stuff. What’s extra lovely is I think she feels the same about us. At a meeting last week when we read a child’s report, she had really questioned the child’s social worker to find out everything she could as she felt ‘protective of us’ which almost made me cry again - though this time in a good way.
It’s no surprise that a fabulous social worker would work for a brilliant agency. There have been some ups and downs along the way but on the whole they have been great. Our training days were particularly good and we both feel that they have given us a solid grounding from which to work. We’ve also had sibling training, online safety training, and the promise of post-adoption training too. From our first prep days, we made friends with some other prospective adopters and we’ve enjoyed a few drunken nights together whilst we all wait for our children to join us (not literally, obviously). We’ve always been prepared for what’s coming next in the process and this has helped us enormously.
Of course, as with anything, there are things that are not quite so good…
Denise is actually our second social worker. We were introduced to Lorraine at our agency's office and I immediately took a dislike to her. I don’t know why – I just did. But I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and see how things go. At the end of our first meeting at our house, I decided she might be OK but then she told us she was leaving the agency and we were going to be assigned a new social worker. I was so annoyed at wasting a whole afternoon that would have to be done again with our new social worker. It obviously turned out well but at the time I was not happy and it made me question whether we’d made the right decision about the agency.
By far the most irritating thing about the approval process is quite how long it takes. At the beginning, we’re told that Stage One will only take two months and Stage Two up to four. Whereas in actual fact while you wait for CBS and medical reports to be completed, Stage One can go on for what feels like forever (in our case it was just over four months). Denise has clearly been through these delays before as she knew exactly which forms we should sign with dates set in the past and future (very rarely on the actual day we were signing) in order for the statutory ‘timeline’ to work. If this happens over and again (which it does) why not just tell us Stage One is longer (in order to help manage our expectations) or allow us to progress onto Stage Two if all you're waiting for is a piece of paper to arrive?
But I should point out that I’m aware how lucky we are to have had such a good process. I know of people who have really not gelled with their social worker, whose social workers have repeatedly changed, whose agency is not up to scratch, or who have stayed in Stage One for months and months.
So if you’re about to start the approval process here are my top tips to keep you sane…
How was the approval process for you? What tips would you offer to someone starting the process?
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?
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...