Today is my 14th blog about our journey to becoming adoptive dads but it’s the first one to be in ‘real-time’. From now on my updates will be in the moment. Well, kind of - they’ll be delayed by a few days while I write them, edit them, and agonise whether they’re any good. I should also point out that this blog is a long one, so get comfortable…
So we’ve finally met our new social worker, Denise, and completed our first Stage Two meeting. Denise announced that she had a form we had to fill in that would officially start Stage Two proceedings and that at the end of the meeting she would decide to either leave the form with us to complete and we’d carry on the process - or she wouldn’t. If that happened that would be the end of our adoption journey with our agency. Righto!
Denise followed this by explaining she wasn’t going to pussyfoot around any issues and would be forthright with us throughout the whole process. She looked like she meant it too.
Both these announcements were enough to make me feel like I wanted to be sick. I wasn’t but it set quite a combative tone for the rest of the meeting.
It all started off easily enough with Denise going through our family trees, chronologies and eco-map. Tom went first and explained who particular people were on his family tree, discussed his relationships with his family, explained how he’d got into his line of work, and answered a whole host of questions about education, finance (more of this later), and a lot, lot more. The type of questions that need a bit of thought but nothing too strenuous.
Then it was my turn. In a earlier post I explain my ‘complicated’ family tree and gosh did it confuse Denise. Being inside my family I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand that I have three half brothers that I grew up who, to all intents and purposes, are my brothers. And I have a half sister whom I barely know. But this had Denise’s knickers in a twist as she tried to work out the relationships between various people. She was particularly perplexed by the story of how my parents met and asked me to ask them to get clarification on it* as she was unsure of their story (which is theirs so I won’t share it here).
*I have since asked them about their first meeting and it’s as brilliant as I thought it was and I was right. Take that Denise! I realise by not telling the story it sounds sordid somehow - I promise it isn’t. It’s actually very sweet – although no daughter of mine will ever meet her future husband in that way!
What I will share is why I cried. When I was 12 my mum suffered a devastating breakdown. This was triggered by the next brother up from me (the youngest from her first marriage) moving out of our family home. However, the root cause of the depression was my mum’s experiences growing up in a children’s home in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s which she had kept hidden from us all until this moment. All this, mixed with a large helping of Catholic guilt, has meant she’d always felt she was a bad mother to us all and had let us down (my brother moving out was the straw that broke the camel’s back). It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prove to her this isn’t the case (the happy and successful lives my three brothers and I lead did not come about by accident) she still feels like she’s failed us.
My mum is actually convinced that her depression will somehow go against us as part of the approval process but, perversely, I’ve always had the feeling the social workers I’ve spoken to have been rather pleased there’s a bit of trauma in my background that I’ve overcome.
Anyway, I felt, wrongly or rightly, that Denise was somehow attacking my mum’s honour with questions about how she met my dad, her childhood, how she interacted with my brothers and me etc. And it bothered me. And as I defended my mum’s character I felt my hand reach for Tom’s leg, my cheeks get hot, my lips tremble, and then tears streaming down my face as my voice cracked. WTF?
I rarely cry. If you don’t count weeping at weddings or sniffling whilst watching a soppy move or the latest John Lewis Christmas advert (and let’s not for the moment) Tom has only seen me properly cry about three times in nearly 13 years. This is not to say I’m emotionally devoid of feeling – I am very in touch with my feelings – I just very rarely cry.
Another moment that made me bite my tongue was when Denise was talking about my first teaching job when I left university. She seemed to suggest that the only reason I got my job was that the school I applied to was so terrible (it really was) that no one else applied for the job. She seemed baffled that I could get a job at a school having just finished university. I was livid. And confused. What was she saying about me? Did she think I was unemployable after meeting me for an hour? It turns out she had misunderstood my chronology. My job title after I left after seven years was the head of a department. She thought I’d started straight out of university as a head of department, rather than as a class teacher, which explains her confusion – if not her rudeness.
Whilst talking to her I knew I was saying the right things – in as much as I was talking slowly and thinking about what I was saying. Unlike our first meeting with a social worker back in August. However, I was too aware of my body language. Should I cross my legs, lean back, lean forward, clutch my cup to my chest or put it down? I must have look deranged as I shifted from one position to the next thinking about the signals I was sending.
The final irksome moment was our finances which for obvious reasons I’m not going to divulge on a public blog. Suffice to say Denise felt that two self-employed creative types may not have the resources to bring up two children. We assured her we did and will spend the next few weeks proving that fact. It got me thinking though – is adoption only available to the rich? That can’t be the case surely. This will be the basis of a future blog so I’ll say no more on this topic for the moment.
We eventually got to our eco-map. Denise went through each person with a fine-tooth comb and talked about how they might support us. She felt that we might need more people in our immediate locality but she was generally positive about it. Thankfully, most of Tom’s school friends live relatively close to us and it’s just a matter of adding them to the eco-map.
Throughout the whole session Denise looked like she was drowning in a sea of paperwork. I had to stop myself from going to my desk to get her a stapler and putting her files in order. We knew from the couple of phone calls with her that was probably scatty but this really took the biscuit. For someone who is as freakishly organised as I am she is possibly my worst nightmare. Anyway, I’ve already decided that when this is all over I am going to buy her a stapler to say thank you.
We finished up by having a walk around the house where we talked more like people getting to know one another. She asked us about the books on our shelves, pictures on walls, where our bathroom tiles came from, and whether we had a gardener (I’ll admit it - we do). I’m pleased we did this as I think it showed her a bit more of who we are and equally who she was. I really wish we’d done this first as I think it would have put us all at ease and put her questions into a better framework.
Before Denise left she thankfully handed over the Stage Two application form (HURRAH!) and we set some dates for the following meetings plus a provisional date for our panel (AGHHH!).
When she did leave, Tom and I had a spot of lunch and talked through everything that had just happened. We both felt drained and poor Tom had to go to his first volunteering session at the local primary school. I meanwhile went for a long run to clear my head. When we both got back we opened a bottle of wine and talked some more.
So we’ve finally met our new social worker and it only took three and a quarter hours for us to decide that we like her. In that time I went from disliking her intensely, crying in front of her, drinking a lot of coffee, liking her, disliking her again, and finally making up with her. By the time she left I was exhausted but I genuinely feel like she is someone who is on our side and is going to fight our corner every step of the way. You can’t really ask for more…
NB. She phoned the next day to check I was OK – nice!
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...