’Mum Body’

Today I read a post about a mum who was talking about her ‘mum body’. It was about how in her eyes she wasn’t perfect, but that’s ok because her body had grown & given birth to babies. She celebrates all the ‘undesirable’ bits because having children was what gave her them.

It got me thinking about an adoptive mother’s ‘mum body’. Sometimes when I read these sort of posts on the one hand it makes me feel like the message is that those mums who have given birth to a baby are superior to those who haven’t.  On the other hand, it does remind me that growing and giving birth to a baby is truely amazing, so it should be celebrated.

I think adoptive mum’s sometimes feel that society views them as less of a mum because they didn’t give birth to their child. It makes them feel that they/their body is a failure because they couldn’t/didn’t get pregnant, or because they couldn’t keep that precious baby they did have inside for however long.

So, I would say to all adoptive mums,  be proud of your ‘mum body’. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t give birth to your child, they’re still yours. You’re still being a mum, just like all the other mums. Your body got you through all the ups and downs of the adoption process and long after it. It got you through the good times and not so good times. You can be proud of how strong you are, how determined you are, how resilient you are. Your body has loved a hurting child and may have taken many literal batterings, but it still stands and it still keeps going day in, day out. Celebrate you & your wonderfulness. Believe in yourself & remember you’re doing an amazing job. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself & remeber that your ‘mum body’ is worth celebrating just as much as all the other mums  out there….

 

Balancing Act

I was thinking the other day about how we parent our little girl, and I realised that it’s become a bit of a balancing act. Now all parenting involves endless balancing in numerous situations, but I think that adoptive parenting has some additional balancing going on due to our children’s backgrounds and needs.

One way in which we balance our parenting is between chronological age (e.g. when the child was born), and their emotional/social age (e.g., where they’re functioning at at this time) These ages are not always the same, as there may be delays in some areas, as well as advances in others. Generally adopters are told to ‘think younger’ in the way they parent their children, and I often have remind myself of this.

For us, I think our daughter is probably spot on or a bit ahead academically. She is very bright, and picks up new learning very quickly. She is able to recognise, read and write her name. She got her phonics sorted ages ago, and recently she started being able to sound out words to begin to read and write. She needs quite a lot of stimulation (e.g. reading books, puzzles), and we have lots for her to do. She seems to like doing these activities, and is very proud of her achievements, so we encourage them. Helping her to start to learn to read has been one of my greatest parenting joys, I just love seeing her world open up right in front of her. Her ability to learn amazes me, it’s fascinating!

On the other hand, she is functioning a bit lower than her chronological age of 4 in her emotional/social development. She often displays behaviour, and needs parenting more on the level of a young toddler/baby. This is where I find we balance parenting most. This is the reason we do some things that other people may feel she’s too old for. That other people may feel are unnecessary, and may be holding her back. I don’t think they are, I think they are helping her to fill in those possibly missing gaps in her development. We don’t really know much about her baby/toddler experience of life, we don’t really know what she had and didn’t have. So we kind assume she didn’t and we work hard to fill those gaps. Below are a couple of the ways in which we parent her (at a much lower chronological age than she is), and the reasons why we do what we do

Play/sensory: When our daughter came to us (age nearly 2 1/2) she brought with her a few toys. These were mostly aimed at baby/young toddler (e.g. musical toys, stacking cups) We still have all of these toys, and she still plays with them. She loves sensory toys, they seem to help relax and regulate her. Although she has plenty of age appropriate toys, she still needs these basic ones. They let her explore with her senses (sound, lights, oral) , which is exactly what a baby needs and does.

When the post adoption social worker came, she brought some fruity scented playdoh. Our daughter put a bit of each one in her mouth before she realised they didn’t taste very nice, and didn’t do it again. The social worker pointed out that thats what a baby would do, they explore their world orally. Our daughter is very sensory seeking. Anything and everything will go in her mouth, even if she’s been told a thousand times not to. To try to help this we have special ‘chewy toys” These are ones she’s allowed to chew, and most of them are made for babies (we are careful as she has teeth, so we watch closely so she doesn’t bite bits off). some are made specifically for older children/adults who need to chew, so they are more heavy duty. Chewing on these seem to help with her emotional regulation as well as satisfy her sensory seeking to some extent. Although she is capable of using cutlery, we have relaxed her table manners, so she’s allowed to fully explore her food as a sensory experience, The idea is that once she’s moved through that developmental phase, she should be able to catch up, otherwise she may be stuck in that phase for a lot longer.

We still do tummy time, which you’re meant to do with very young babies. This is to try to encourage her undeveloped vestibular and proprioceptive systems. I wrote about this specifically before, see (here).

Nurture: As with play, we do some things with our daughter that you would normally do with a baby/young toddler rather than a pre-schooler. Again, the idea is that it helps to filled in missed development gaps and nurture activities. It is also so important to encourage and improve attachment between a parent and child. We missed out on 2 1/2 years of giving our daughter nurture, and developing an attachment to each other, so anything we can do to help this can only be a good thing.

Nurture is a lot about meeting the most basic of needs, so if you can show a child you want to and can do this, it goes a long way in helping them to trust and believe that you will look after them and meet their needs. Some children come to adoption having missed out on these opportunies to be ‘babied’, and almost seem too independent or grown up than their years. On a selfish note, it allows me as a mum to to have some of those experiences I didn’t have because I never had a small baby.

One way we’ve fairly recently started to do this is offering our daughter a bottle. She can choose if she wants it, so she’s in control of if she wants to receive  nurture in this way or not. Actually, despite being 4, she normally does choose to have it, and loves it. If you think how feeding a baby promotes nurture, then it’s exactly the same with an older child. It’s a chance to have that special 1:1 quiet time. It promotes eye contact and closeness. It’s meeting one of the most basic of needs. I wrap her tightly in a blanket and cuddle her close. The first time we did it I found it quite emotional as it felt so special, and I really wished we’d done it so much earlier. We tried to introduce a dummy (I know against all mainstream advice),, but she hasn’t really taken to it as she tends to chew instead of stuck. She does however know its there if she want or needs it.

We still sing her lullabies (rock-a-bye-baby and special version on twinkle twinkle little star) at bedtime. She sleeps with a nightlight and soft music. She has a baby monitor if we’re away from home. This way, we can quickly respond to her if she needs us. She needs to know that we are there to comfort her if she needs, and we do go back to re-settle her after bedtime. Sometimes she needs to be close to us at night, so we have a mattress on the floor in our room. If she needs she can come to sleep on it, and she usually settles back off happily. These all make us readily available to her, and she learns to rely on us.

As she gets older and bigger it may get harder to mentally put aside the thought of ‘she’s too old/she shouldn’t need that anymore’, but as long as she needs us to parent in the ways that we do, we will. She’ll make it clear when she doesn’t want or need them anymore. She’ll be able to move on in her own way and time, but not until she’s ready, and it’s important we give her the chance to be a really little girl still.

 

 

 

There’s a first time for everything.

We have just had our first holiday as a family. It took us 19 months after becoming a family to feel ready to be brave, step out and actually be organised to book a holiday.  The day we came back marked 21 months of us being a family since our daughter came home. The end of a first successful holiday was a great way to remember how far we’d come from those very early days.

The holiday was filled with lots of firsts and thankfully no lasts (as in ‘we’ll never do that again!). It had its fair share of ups, downs, and everything in between. As parents it was our first holiday with a child, and as they all say, “I think we need a holiday to get over the holiday’ certainly rang true at times. We did however really enjoy slowing down, spending time and having some fun together. We were able to give each other some moments of time out, so we came away feeling we had at least had some time to relax.

The first ‘first’ we did was actually go and see our daughter’s foster carer the day before the holiday was due to start. It was a first meeting them nearer to their home, and the first at a neutral location. We drove down, spent the afternoon with them, and then stayed in a hotel that night. We’d never stayed in a hotel with Little One before. I don’t really like sharing a room with her (she’s a noisy sleeper). But, this time it worked really well. She was tired from the travel and long day, so feel asleep quickly. I think it actually helped her having us right there as she went to sleep. We were close by as she may have been feeling a bit more needy after seeing her foster carers for only the second time since she’d left them. She slept through, and in in the morning. Many wins! She coped really well with the whole day considering it was all new, and seeing them probably gave her quite a bit to process. She had fun with them, but didn’t find saying goodbye to them overly difficult. I think it shows how secure she is in our family, and how well she is settled. She did miss them the next day, but also wanted to let them know that she was ok and enjoying her holiday. I think the distraction of the holiday the next day actually helped shift the focus from missing them, to being excited about what was to come next. We went to Center Parcs, (yes, it is spelt that way, I checked) and some of her nursery friends had been recently, so she kind of knew what it was. I’m really glad we initiated this meet up, it was a really positive thing to do. Now we know that we can go down to see them, and stay overnight to make a weekend of it if we want. It means that hopefully we can maintain at least yearly (if not more) contact, which would be great.

(Love this capture of their goodbye cuddle. It’s beautiful & bittersweet. Love & loss (again) all at the same time)

Staying at Center Parcs was another ‘first’, and I’d say for a first family holiday in the UK, it works well. Yes, it is pricey, but I think it;s pretty good value for money. Actually apart from the pottery painting (we only did this because we bumped into some friends and they suggested we do it), we didn’t spend any additional money on site. We stuck to the free things, which as we were only there 3 full days, was plenty in between downtime at our lodge. We did lots of swimming, some play on the ‘beach’, and some play in the play parks. For our family it worked well as we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, Our daughter loved the swimming. It was lovely to see her confidence growing each day in the water. She really enjoyed the slides, and by the last day was whizzing down most of them. A massive breakthrough was when she was brave enough to put her head fully under water. She was so proud of herself, and she’s been telling everyone about it all weekend. She is still terrified of letting go of us, so she was stuck to one (or both) of us the whole time in the big pool. So, still some progress to go there, but baby steps…. We did take her scooter, which although we didn’t use loads, it was helpful for the longer walks between our lodge and the car park. Hopefully she’ll have more road sense next time, as taking her out on it is a bit stressful, even with minimal traffic on the roads.

Managing the structure of the days whilst we were away was a learning curve for us, and we’ve come away with an understanding of what does and what doesn’t work. Our daughter is actually very easy going when it comes to a change in routine, so we’re pretty lucky in that at the moment she can cope with a fair amount of spontaneity. However, I think having a structured day, with set times for set activities does help, and i’ll try to remember that in the future. She did seem to struggle a bit more in the first couple of days whilst we settling into our routine, but once she got it, she seemed more relaxed. It was a shame that as soon as she got settled, we were starting to think about coming home. What we did find out was that she finds ‘down time’ quite difficult to cope with. She struggles to pick something and independently do that activity. Something we do see at home too. What worked well was giving her something specific to do e.g. colouring, and she’d happily do that for a short while. I had thought quite a lot about what to take to entertain her, as the only other place we’ve stayed overnight was my parents, and they have lots of toys. With suggestions from others, I decided to take quite a few different activities for her, all carefully chosen. Some were old favourites, like books, toys, stickers, colouring. Some were new activities. Some were comfort items (e.g. blanket, cuddly toys, chewy toys). Some other things to make it feel more like home, such as the baby monitor and night light. The iPad came too, pre-loaded with her current favourite programmes. She was really into nursery rhymes, so having that for ‘rest time’ was amazing. It meant we all relaxed at the same time. I forgot the blackout blind, luckily she actually slept really well so we didn’t have any problems.

(These are some of the things we took with us)

Of course a first holiday comes to an end, and you have the first holiday comedown/fallout to deal with. I  thought she’d be more upset about leaving than she was, especially as she’d had such a good time. She was actually really happy and excited to be home, which I guess is a really good thing. To prepare her for coming home, we read a great book about a little girl going on holiday and not wanting to come back, but when she got back she was happy to see all the familiar things again. We talked about what we were looking forward to doing, who we were looking forward to seeing. It wasn’t planned, but we had bought a box of Duplo the day before we went on holiday, but didn’t get round to opening it, so she was really excited to get home to open and play with it straight away. I’m going to try to remember that one next time, to have a small treat that she knows about waiting at home, so that going home seems more appealing. The next day she really wasn’t herself, very grumpy and tearful. Although I knew it probably would happen, because she was initially ok when we got back, I guess I didn’t expect it. I must remember to manage it a bit better next time, and plan a really quiet day for her to re-adjust to being back. I think she was also really tired, as she slept nearly 12hours that first night we were home. She woke up in a much better mood the 2nd day back.

Overall, the holiday has been a great success, and we’d definitely go again. There are some bits we’ll do the same, and now with a bit of experience, some bits we’ll do a bit differently. Planning is definitely key, and routine is still important when you’re away. She only knew we were going a couple of days before, which worked well this time. We kept her busy the day before we went, and packed when she was in bed, which also worked well. The gamble of meeting up with the foster carers paid off (although we only did it because we know our daughter and felt she would cope). The pottery painting she did will be a lovely physical reminder of the great time she had on her first holiday with Mummy and daddy. I’m really proud of her and how she coped with the whole trip. I’m really proud of us all for ticking off a big family first so successfully. Here’s to the next holiday…..

 

Listening

These last couple of weeks I’ve been reminded a lot about the importance and power of listening. I’ve been on both sides, of being both the listener, and the person who has been listened to.

I work in the health service, and it generally involves a lot of listening to get the job done. I have to listen to many voices, and I have to try to make sense of them all to achieve a positive outcome. I have to balance all that information I’ve gathered to make a plan. I have to listen to know how to communicate and carry out that plan. The other day I got sent a thank-you card from a patient’s family. They were thanking me for all I did for them whilst he was on the ward. I had a think about what I’d done to deserve such thanks, and I remembered that actually I’d done very little at all. The patient was too poorly to do very much assessment or therapy, so it got me thinking what did I do? And then it came to me, I took the opportunity to spend the time listening to them as they talked about the man their husband/dad was before he got ill. I listened to them as they described about their hopes and dreams for the future. I listened to them as they told me what was important to him/them. This helped me devise a plan to help him achieve some of those things. The patient sadly passed away in hospital, but his family went away feeling valued and listened to. It made me stop and think about what I need to do to make sure I listen more at work. Yes, time is precious and I am busy, but I hope I’m never too busy to listen when people need me to.

This week I had a post adoption social worker come to see me. I initially felt anxious about why she needed to come and see me alone as she’d already done our assessment. Was she coming to test me?, to trip me up on my parenting? Actually no, she was coming to try to understand out situation a bit more so she could make a fully informed recommendation of what our family needs. It was really valuable to me to have that 1:1 time for me on my own to talk, to reflect and  for her to my validate feelings as ok and pretty normal. It was almost like a little counselling session, and she left me feeling so grateful that I’d had that time to be listened too. It left a powerful mark on me because it reminded me again of how important it is to listen. Sometimes people don’t want or need you to talk (although she did in response to what she’s heard), they just want you to hear, to listen. Sometimes saying nothing at all “speaks” louder than words.

This week a twitter debate I was drawn into was all about do adoptive parents listen to their children?. Initially I initially felt that the debate was a little one sided (basically adoptive parents don’t listen), and I commented how sad I found this. I do not have this experience, and feel very grateful that I do feel listened to by my parents. I’m sure that’s part of what makes me very content as an adoptive person. It did make me think  that although I have a positive experience, I do need to listen more to those who have different views and experiences. If I listen and acknowledge that it can be different, I am in the best position to be prepared for what I need to do as an adoptive parent. The last thing I want is for my little girl to grow up feeling not listened to. For her to be hurt and angry because of something I did or didn’t do. If I can learn what to do (or what not to do) from others who’ve been there, hopefully she’ll grow up a more content person too. It reminded me again that adoption is, and always will be a very complex situation. There will always be different voices that need to be heard. As adoptive parents, we have a duty to listen to them all, however hard it may be to hear them. This particular “discussion” that I had on twitter actually turned out to be a positive one. It could have gone either way, but I’ve come away grateful that I was listened to, and my views valued. I was also proud that I was able to listen to someone else, and use their expertise to help me be a better mum.

All this thought about listening reminded me that I really need to try to listen more to my daughter. Not just what she says, but to listen to what she’s trying to say/communicate in what she does. After all, we all know that communication is not all speech. I realise that I need to be more in tune with what she’s trying to tell me in how she behaves. It reminded me that if I listen more to her (e.g. get off my phone), I’m less likely to miss all those precious moments of growing up. This week I’ve loved listening to her play, and watching her really start to get into imaginative play. I’ve been amazed listening to her start to learn to read. To see that world opening up in front of her is such a privilege. By listening to her better I can hopefully better help her manage her feelings, and I can help her navigate the ups and downs of everyday life. It’s challenged me to stop. To think. To listen. And to soak up what I hear as a result…….

Bye Daddy, See You Soon….

This last week my husband has been away in America, it was only 5 days & 5 nights, but it was the longest our little family has been apart. It was the first time our little girl had one parent away for more than a couple of nights. It was quite a big thing for us, we wondered how she would cope. She’s quite clingy to her Daddy at the moment, so this worried us. She doesn’t know how far America is, but to me it feel (it is!) a lot further away. You can’t just return home quickly if you’re needed in an emergency.

We needn’t have worried, husband returned home safely and we’ve had a really good, settled time at home. I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what went well & if it were to happen again, what might we do differently. Below are some of the things we did to help. I have to say I think the prep all paid off  it may have appeared over the top & too much, but for us it worked!

1) Timing of telling her Daddy was going to be away: We only told our daughter that Daddy was going away 2days before he went. This was so that she didn’t have time to get anxious about it. It did give her time to process it & for us to talk about it to provide reassurance if needed. We chose to tell her on a day she wasn’t at nursery so that we would be available to ask questions if needed.

2) Quality family time before & after: the before bit was planned. We made sure the normal Saturday morning jobs were done before hand. This meant we had time to go for a treat lunch out. When Daddy returned we actually ended up just cuddling on the sofa & watching a film together. We’d planned to make a welcome home cake, but little one randomly had a tummy ache, so we just snuggled. On a Thursday afternoon when we’d normally be busy was just bliss. I think it helped her feel really happy, relaxed and settled. We watched Beauty and the Beast (92 version), what a classic!

3) An exciting new toy: We bought our daughter a Paw Patrol teddy that sings as a special Daddy is going away present. Her sleep is not always great, so we thought something that might encourage her to sleep would be helpful. The teddy was going to be her new snuggle buddy when Daddy was away. It worked really well & she was pleased with her new friend. It helped distract a little from the feeling sad. This wasn’t to say that we didn’t recognise and acknowledge that she might feel sad or upset. She definitely did miss him, but I think that she’s well enough attached and settled to know that Daddy was always going to come back.

4) A little treat from Daddy each day:  Daddy left her a little present to unwrap each day. These were small treats such as sweets, bubbles, glow sticks. I think they helped her know he was thinking of her, and he wanted her to feel special each day.

5) Countdown chart and welcome home sign: When I was younger both my parents were away for periods of time & I remember not finding those times easy. I also remember making and using countdown charts and enjoying crossing off the days. We made ours for Daddy’s trip the morning he left. We had some new stickers (always a hit!) so she decorated it herself. We named days of the week because she has a good understanding of days of the week and a good concept of time. Every night before going up to bed we added a sticker to that day. It was a good visual way to show how much time was left before Daddy came home. When I was younger making the welcome home sign was also a highlight of the trip. I helped our daughter make ours the morning Daddy came home so it was up and ready.

6) Supportive family/friends: Both our families knew husband would be away, and both offered support. Although we only saw one set of grandparents once, it was great to know they were there if we needed them. The texts and phone calls were great. In the end we were fine, but it was reassuring to know that if it had all gone wrong, they would have been there to do anything we needed. It certainly helped me feel well supported and less alone. Some friends also knew, and offered support, so again it was helpful to know there were local people to be called on if needed.

7) keep busy/keep to routine: I think we got this balance about right. We managed to do everything we would normally do, as well as a couple of added extras that just happened to fall last weekend. It was helpful to have some distractions from missing Daddy. Also to get us out of the house and to be with other people. It kept us busy, helped us enjoy the sunny weather, and made Little One lovely and tired so she fell asleep quickly at the end of the day. I think if we hadn’t had had the extra acirivities I think I would have planned a couple in to fill a bit of time and have some treats.

8) Keep in contact: I am amazed by modern technology and how it helped us stay in touch. We sent messages everyday. We could send photos so Little One could actually see where Daddy was and what he was doing. We could also video call a few times too which was great. We specifically didn’t promise a phone call every day as we didn’t know if/when we’d be able to. This was Little One wasn’t too disappointed or feel let down when it didn’t happen.

9) Swap a toy: my husband and daughter swapped a small soft toy that each of them looked after. The idea was that it would reinforce the fact that Daddy would be coming back as he’d have to bring the toy (Tiger) back. As someone else suggested, the toy that my Husband gave to Little One was ‘loaded with hugs and misses’ so every time she hugged him it was like getting a hug from Daddy. To be honest, I’m not sure she was too bothered about having his toy, although she did bring it out with us on the first day & it slept in her bed. She did enjoy seeing the photos of Tiger doing things and going places with Daddy. Just don’t do what Daddy did and leave the toy in the hotel at the airport. He had to ring them and say ‘I left my Tiger in bed’ He said the staff were a bit confused. He had to go back to get Tiger, luckily they found him!

10) Plan ahead: By this I mean, aim to get any household jobs (eg cleaning, shopping) done before the big trip. This worked well for us as it meant I didn’t have to worry about the added pressure to get those done. It meant that on the Saturday that Daddy went we could relax a bit and watch the Royal Wedding together. Any time during the trip that I had was spent either with Little One or just winding down myself in the evening. To make it easier I planned really easy & quick to prepare meals. This generated minimal washing up at the end of the day, so made that job much more bearable.

11) Look after yourself: Having to be a lone parent when you normally do it as a couple is not easy, so it’s important to look after and treat yourself too. I had my favourite  ‘grown up tea’ one evening & watched a film I’d wanted to see for ages. I failed on getting enough sleep or going to bed early and stayed up far to late most nights. I blame the lack of anyone telling me to go to bed/sleep on that one.

On reflection, I don’t think we’d do anything different if there was a next time. We might tone down the presents/treats as she probably didn’t need them all really. However, I don’t think you can over prepare on these sort of things. Parents know their children best, and how they are that time, so they know what their child needs. There may well be some fallout from the trip in the next few days as Little One processes the last few days, but for now I’d say this trip has been a massive success!

*An additional strategy we used on a previous trip was that my Husband and Daughter wore matching (both fruit print) socks. The idea was that if they missed each other they could simply just look at their socks and think of each other. We weren’t organised enough this time to do it, but for a short overnight trip it did seem to work well.

Voices

I’ve noticed recently that there has been a bit of discussion and debate around the fact that there are different voices, or viewpoints being heard and expressed in the adoption world.

Adoption is a very complex thing, and it involves many many people, and so of course there are going to be many different voices all wanting to speak and to be listened to. I’ve noticed that sometimes these voices can clash with each other because they come from opposite sides of the story. An example of this is the adoptive parents and the (adult) adoptees. This ‘debate’ is for me very interesting because as an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, I can put myself very much in both ‘camps’

I was adopted at 16months old, as a relinquished baby in Asia in the late 1980’s. I am now in my early 30s. I have a 4year old little girl who was adopted nearly 2years ago, from the UK care system. Our experiences and stories are massively different, but we do have a shared identity in being adopted. I hope that when she’s older we can make this a positive part of our relationship.

I have always known I was adopted, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know. My mum tells me that I drip fed appropriate information as I grew up, so that by the time I was old enough to really understand adoption, nothing of my story was new or a surprise. We are trying to take this approach with our little girl. At the moment her life story work is very basic and sporadic. It’s mostly led by her and talked about on her terms because thats all she needs right now. When she’s older she may need some more support to explore and understand her story. As adoptive parents we are fully committed to supporting and helping her to make sense of who she is. We want her to know that it’s ok to talk honestly about how she feels. We’d rather she did than keep it bottled up inside. If we can be open and approachable now, the hope is she will feel confident to share with us when she needs to.

I am very sure of my identity as an adopted person, and I feel very happy and content with this. I know who my family is, and feel very much part of it, and hugely loved. I have no desire to find my birth family (it would be pretty much impossible anyway). Most of the time I forget I’m adopted because although it’s made me who I am, it does not define me. When I meet new people I don’t tell them I’m adopted. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s just not something that’s really relevant to everyday life. It’s the same with my little girl, we don’t announce her adoption to everyone. For a start it’s her story to tell, not ours, and when she’s older she can decide what she wants people to know.

Although I’ve had a very positive experience of adoption, and I’m very grateful for being adopted I totally understand that some adoptees have a different view. I hope that my daughter will feel the same way, but I am preparing myself for the chance that she won’t feel the same. I understand why some adoptees feel so much anger, pain, grief hurt. You can’t have adoption without loss, and loss brings all of those things. All parties experience loss in adoption. The child, they lose their birth family. Birth family lose their child. Adoptive families often come from a background of loss. Many adoptive families also have to grieve a loss of the family or parenting experience they imagined. I get that some adoptee feel angry at their birth family for a number of reasons (e.g. abandoning them).

There are some things I struggle with though. One of these is anger and blame directed towards adoptive parents. Maybe it’s because its not something I’ve ever felt, so find it hard to imagine why someone would have these feelings, but blaming them for their struggles seems unfair to me.  In the UK children come to adoption through the care system. They’ve been removed from birth families because it was not safe for them to remain there. Adoptive families go through extensive assessment to assess their ability to parent children who are likely to have experienced a high level of trauma in their young lives. Adoptive parents are (usually) not to blame for these difficulties, they didn’t cause the trauma. All the adoptive parents I know do their very best for their children. They support them in every way possible. They love them fiercely. They know that ‘love does not fix everything’, and yet they still love. They support their child to find their own identity, and work with them to put the pieces of their lives together (e.g. life story work, contact). I don’t think they see themselves as ‘superior’ parents, in fact, most I know spend a lot of their time over analysing their parenting and doubting themselves.  I do appreciate that there are some exceptions to the rules, and I know that adoptive parents have their flaws too.

I do think thats it’s really important for more voices to be heard in adoption. For adoptive parents to listen to what adoptees have to say. You can’t truly understand what it’s like to adopted unless you are. I think it would be helpful for parents to prepare themselves for what their child may feel or think when they grow up. This way they can prepare themselves to learn how to try and help their child. For them to acknowledge that those feelings are real, and not to dismiss them.  For adoptees to listen to adoptive parents, to understand some of their equally valid feelings. For them to remember that parents are at the end of the day people  too, so they’re not perfect and may slip up at times. That most of them are trying their absolute hardest to do their absolute best.

To conclude, I feel it’s really important to remember that everyone is different, and are entitled to have their different opinions, and thats ok too.

Adoption & Miscarriage

I didn’t know whether to write this post, but decided that I would, as writing helps me process my thoughts and feelings. It’s also because miscarriage is so rarely talked about, yet it is really very common. Maybe sharing my experience will help someone else….

Last week I suffered a miscarriage, at likely 6-7weeks pregnant. It was not nice, quite distressing actually. I have never felt abdominal pain like it. I have never been so sick. I was exhausted! That was just the physical stuff. I had only found out I was pregnant 3days before. It was after a trip to the local out of hours at A&E because of the excruciating pain. I did the pregnancy test there, and was told by random doctor ‘you’re pregnant, congratulations’ If I was ever going to be pregnant, this was not the way we’d planned to find out. I walked home in a bit of a numb daze. I couldn’t quite believe it. Turns out it was too good to be true. In reality I think I had already/was at the time miscarrying.

We had already decided that we will most likely not go down the adoption route again. Not because we’ve had a negative experience. Actually we’ve an overwhelmingly positive experience, and we feel very blessed, happy and settled with our little girl. We don’t think we can risk upsetting this bringing in another adopted child. We just feel that managing two different adoption stories, with different contact arrangements and all that adoption brings would be too much for all of us. The only way we might consider adoption again would be if Birth Mum had another baby who would need adopting. We do understand that having a birth child will throw up another set of ‘issues’ to navigate, and it’s not the ‘easy’ option. We know that birth children after adoption is not that common, and discouraged by some. However, we feel that if it happened in our family, it could work. Our daughter loves little ones, and would make the best big sister. We feel she could cope with a sibling, and we would do everything we could to make sure having a new baby is managed as best it can be for her.

As far as we know I’d never been pregnant before, it didn’t happen in those months of trying before adoption, and we were not expecting for it happen so quickly (if at all) after deciding ‘we’ll not particularly try, but see what happens’ at the beginning of this year. It was a big surprise, one which we were delighted about. Like any newly pregnant couples we excitedly calculated the due date (mid December, we’d have a Christmas baby, aww). We pictured how our family would look as a four. We imagined how our little girl would take to being a big sister. We started thinking about how we would manage adoption and a new birth sibling. I didn’t sleep much those first couple of nights, so much to think about.

The few people who’ve known about the miscarriage have asked me ‘how do you feel?” Honestly, in those few days I didn’t really know how I felt. I didn’t feel devastated or really emotional, and I kind of felt bad for not being more upset. I wondered if something was wrong with how I felt? with me? I think I just still felt really numb to any emotion. I was only just getting my head around being pregnant when the miscarriage was confirmed. In some ways I think because the reality of being pregnant hadn’t sunk in yet, I was almost protected from the sadness and disappointment of not being. I do wonder if I was subconsciously trying to protect myself by not letting emotions in, maybe they would come later?

It is now a few days later, and I do think that I am now starting to reflect on what’s happened, and I think those emotions and feelings are slowly coming. However much I try to tell myself ‘I’m fine’, I need to allow myself to grieve, to be sad, to be angry. I sometimes thought, ah, only 6weeks, not really a ‘baby’ yet. But then I remember what a 6week only ‘foetus’ is, they are very much alive and living. That’s what I’ve found the hardest. There was life. and now it’s gone. That life was going to be a baby, my baby that I made.

I have wondered a bit about adoption and pregnancy. I have thought about my little girl’s Birth Mum and how she felt when she found out she was pregnant. How she felt whilst she carried the baby, and what it must have felt like to give birth knowing the baby was going to be taken into care straight away. I have thought about the very different routes to becoming a mum. It made me love and appreciate my little girl so much more because I think I grasped a little bit more of what a miracle babies actually are.

I am so very grateful to our local medical services who have shown urgency and compassion when we’ve needed it. Particularly to the midwifes and nurses at the early pregnancy unit. I was very impressed with their thorough assessments and comforted by their reassuring words.

So, what an experience, what a week. Life goes on, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that little being who even though they’ve gone, they’ve left an everlasting impression on me.

F・O・U・R

Last year I wrote my little girl a birthday letter when she turned three, (read here) so I thought I’d make it a little yearly tradition and write again this year. I can’t believe another year has come gone so quickly She’s growing up too fast, but is becoming such a beautiful girl who makes me so proud.

Dear Darling,

Happy fourth birthday! I can’t believe you’re four already, not a baby or toddler any more, but now a grown up wonderful little girl. It’s your second one with us, so hopefully it will feel a little more familiar this year. Since your last birthday we’ve celebrated a few more family birthdays, so you’ll know to expect a yummy cake, presents and very importantly tasty food. As promised I’ll make sure we have some ‘multi-coloured Babybels’ the ones you so want. You’re having a little mini party this year with your little friends. Mummy has been pretty excited to organise your party, I think its a job every parent enjoys ticking off the list of ‘things parents do’ I have loved seeing your little friendships start to grow this last year. You’re such a kind sweet little friend. Always willing to give a little kiss and a cuddle. You’re so good with the little ones too.

So much has happened in the last year, and we’ve had so much fun and many firsts together. Some of the highlights have been taking you swimming for the first time. Fun in the snow for the first time. Going to the Indian restaurant for Daddy’s Birthday. Our lovely 2nd Christmas together. When you realised Santa had brought you a ‘purple teddy’ liked you asked him for, it made my day. so special! We’ve Run more races and won more medals. You’ve learnt to  ride your bike and scooter. You’re very proud you can jump, and are nearly there with hopping too. We went on a train ride and you were so excited. We’ve had contacts with your foster carer and birth family, and I’m so proud of how you coped with both. We’ve legally become a family, and we’ve been to see the Judge. Only really special children get to see the Judge, and even more special ones get to sit in his chair and wear his robes! You’ve also had a new baby cousin, and I love to see how much you love her, she’s so lucky to have you as her big cousin. You’re going to be a cousin again soon, and I know you’ll adore the new little baby too.

You started nursery this year too, and I’m so proud of how well you’ve settled and got on. They all love you there, and I love getting little updates. I love that lunch is often a highlight, and all those drawings and paintings are wonderful. I love that you were so proud when you learnt to spell and write your name, so clever! Now you know all your letters and phonics it won’t be long until you can read by yourself, you’re going to love reading, I did when i was a little girl too. I know you’re not always keen on getting up to go to nursery, I’m not a morning person either, but I do love those sleepy morning cuddles as I get you ready.

Although there have been some great bits of the last year, it’s not all been easy. I really wish I could make it all alright for you I do. I hate to see you so upset and confused. We’ve talked a bit about how and why you came to live with us, and it really unsettled you, It makes me so sad that someone so little has to carry all those thoughts and feelings. It’s not fair, it’s really not. We’ll always be there on this journey with you, and we’ll do everything we can to help you. I know that at times I’ve not been the best or the most patient of mummys, and I’m sorry when I’ve upset you or made things worse. You’ve taught me so much about myself this year, and have given me a drive to continually try to do better. I do love it when we’re ‘friends again’ and your cuddles really are the best.

So, lots to look forward to in your year of being four. There’ll  be new babies, hopefully holidays and learning to read and write. The biggest change will be school in September, how did that come round so quickly?! You take everything in your stride and cope so well, so I know you’ll do just fine. It might make you feel a bit unsure and anxious, but don’t worry, we’ll help you through. You’re going to love school, reception looks like so much fun!

So, happy birthday sweetheart, keep doing what you do best and keep growing into the most precious of girls with the most beautiful of curls. You may be growing up really fast and are now four,  but you’ll still be our little baby girl forever more….

Love Mummy x

Our Village

There is a saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. People have been posting about it on Instagram recently (I do do things other than browse Instagram, honest). I didn’t get involved this time, but it has made me think about who’s in our village? Who is helping and supporting us whilst we raise our child?

The other day I posted a photo on Facebook because our daughter came home 18months ago. One of my friends replied ‘She’s certainly adored by a lot of people!”. I loved this comment, it’s so true, and it made me so very grateful for all the people who are helping and supporting us along the way.

When we had our adoption approval assessments, one of the things we had to discuss was our support network (our village I guess). I’d heard it said that for some people their ‘support network’ looks very different pre and post placement of children. Some relationships just naturally and gradually fall away, whilst others are more abrupt. Of course, there are often relationships gained and made because of adoption too. For us it was a mix of both, we gained some, we lost some. Of the ones we had, their dynamics changed, their purpose evolved.

So, who is currently in our village? I think the people in our support network can loosely fitted into groups. Some of these people may appear in several groups. Some might be there for the long haul, and others just for a short time. It doesn’t matter, I guess the important thing is that they’re there at all. Here are some of the ways in which our village is currently supporting us:

Family: We both have very supportive families, who have been there every step of the way. They were the first to know of our plans to adopt, and the first  to meet our little girl. She is so loved by them all, and she knows it. She is their first grandchild on both sides, and its lovely to see the joy that she brings to their lives. They offer a listening ear, as well as the practical day to day support. They were the first people we left our daughter with, and the respite they’ve provided to give us time together, or just the house to ourselves has been invaluable. Our siblings, are growing into their roles of aunties & uncles beautifully too.

Her Birth Family: Some might think it’s strange to put this group as part of our support network, but I guess in an indirect way, they are. Without them, we wouldn’t have our daughter. One person in particular is very supportive. They actively participate in both letterbox and direct contact. They have information and insight into our daughter’s life before she came into care. They do really love and care for our daughter, and we are really grateful they are still in her life despite the sadness and pain it must cause for them

Social Services: Again, to some, an odd thing to add to a support network. However, without them, our daughter wouldn’t have been matched with us. They actually did a really good job pre-pacement and pre-adoption order. I’ve heard really bad things about life-story books, but that particular LA produced a really good one, that in time should be a really valuable resource to use to help our daughter learn about and make sense of her story. However much we were glad to be free of social workers and social services, we do still need them to assess for further support now and probably in the future. If they could do it a bit more speedily, it would be nice though! We had a great experience with our adoption agency, and they continue to provide training sessions and social meet-ups for families.

Church: I joined our church a few months before we formally started the adoption process, and having that time to build up support and friendships was great. When she came home I was really touched how inclusive the support felt. The leadership team were aware of what was planning, and provided regular ‘checking in support’ We were offered the meals, just as any new family would be. We were officially welcomed during a service, again, just as any family is. Our daughter was welcomed into the Sunday school and has thrived there. Little one loves church, and particularly dancing. One Sunday she stood on the stage and danced, unprompted and alone. I had several people come up and say to me how much that had made her day. She feels so happy and at ease there, its wonderful. The church run a toddler group weekly, when we went it was a highlight of our week. It was a great opportunity to get to know young families a bit more.

Local Adoption Support Group: We eventually found our local adoption support group. Because we were assessed and also placed out of area, we didn’t really know many other adopters where we live. It was so nice to have found more local people who have trodden the same path that we have, who ‘get it’. We currently go to a weekly stay and play group, and it’s been great to get to know some new people. Although Little One doesn’t really understand adoption, I hope it may be helpful to her when she’s older, to know other children who are also adopted. The parents share resources and provide mutual support.

Twitter: It has been such a great resource for me this last couple of years. It’s a strange concept, being in contact with people who you don’t know & have never met, but you really feel you do know them. I’ve learnt so much for other adoptive parents on twitter, their experience and advice has been invaluable. It’s where I found many blogs to read, and where I got the inspiration to write mine. We nearly went on holiday with people that I ‘follow’ on twitter (only didn’t because the trip was cancelled due to the snow). Me in a previous life would have never have dreamt of going on holiday with strangers, but this somehow just felt right. Twitter has been a lifeline during those days of being a new parent stuck at home alone, and feeling quite isolated at times. When times are tough, knowing you’re not the only one going through it is reassuring. When times are better, celebrating the good, however small is wonderful too. Those other adoptive parents ‘get it’, and sometimes just an acknowledgement of ‘us too’ is all thats needed to keep going.

Work: I am very fortunate that I was able to take a year off work for adoption leave. My employer has been very supportive, and that has massively reduced the stress at times when added work stress could have pushed me over the edge a little too far. One of the best experiences I had was introducing my daughter to my old manager when she came back to visit after retiring. She was such a support during that assessment and matching time. She retired just before I went off on leave, so for her to see the ‘happy ending’ was really special. I tweeted the other day that ‘now `i know why parents say ‘I go to work for a break, at least no one screams at you there…” Someone replied that they see work as ‘self-care’ I think I agree. Although I love my daughter and spending time with her, I also love my job. I love the satisfaction and sense of achievement it brings. My colleagues are amazing, and I’m so lucky to have them. They make what is a tough job bearable. It’s also really nice to meet up with them socially, and spend time with them just being friends without the pressures and stresses of work.

So, that’s how our village looks at the moment, it’s big and varied, but at the same time, compact and specific. For anyone who is looking to adopt, I’d say make sure you have a really well built village/support network around you. It may change, and thats ok, but the important thing is to have it there when you need it, and you will…….

The Most Precious Girl

To the most precious of girls,
with the most beautiful of curls.

We love you lots & lots, 
just like jelly tots.

Mummy & Daddy are so lucky to have you ,
you stick our family together just like glue.

You bring lots of laughter and fun,
you are our special little one.

Although you’re growing up now and very nearly four,
you’ll still be our little baby girl forever more!