Last week roundup results #5

The results of Week #5 of our Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

Last week has been a great one for our roundup. We had a record number of nominations and votes, and so many great articles. As usual, a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to join in.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week’s top 5

1thumbAn adopters experience of Home Education | insightsintomywhirlwindlife20
2thumbPlease don’t judge4
3thumbSuddenly Mummy: Not Like Any Other Parent4
FASD – an adoption reality – take2mumsworld3
5thumbHas anyone seen my stork? A blog about infertility. : And they lived happily ever after. Or did they?3
If you would you like to receive the results of our roundups delivered into your inbox each week, why not subscribe to our newsletter? You can find the registration form at the bottom of this page.

Is this week about adoption?

This week is NAW2016, National Adoption Week, and naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about what adoption means for me. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this year is the first time I hear about it, and I wonder how many other people, like me, never did before.

We adopted Ben just over two years ago, after a quick eleven months assessment and training. At the beginning of it all, I thought adoption was just a way to get a family, and to have a child when nature failed to give me one. Today I know that adoption is the whole of my life: it’s my son, my awake time, my reading choice, my conversation topics, my night dreams, my frustrations, my happiness, my everything… Adoption is the million little particles my soul is made of.

This week I’m opening the newspapers and all I can see are the cutest smiles of children in need of a forever family. The headlines read like “this child just want a mummy and daddy”. And maybe, just maybe, this is true, but this is not the entire truth.

It angers me to see how the media, and the adoption agencies, are using these children to drawn an unrealistic picture of what adoption is. What angers me is the subliminal message “adoption is wonderfully easy”, because adoption is not only made of cuddles, hugs, and kisses.

Adoption is more like a series of summer thunderstorms: loud, violent, unpredictable, damaging; followed by calm, peace, rainbows and new grass. And then the cycle repeats.

There is no luck in adoption. I used to think of myself as lucky to have found my wonderful quirky son, but the more I grow to love him, the more I have to admit that the only fortunate scenario would have been for my son to be born in a caring family, a family who could have looked after him and keep him safe.

There is no forgiveness in adoption. The trauma, sense of abandonment, and sadness never completely leave our children. They might grow up to be happy, accomplished, and fulfilled, but the hard places where they come from can never be completely forgotten.

So, yes, I get angry when so much noise is made around adoption for only one week a year. I get angry that next week many of us will be left isolated and unsupported. I get angry when conveniently the radio doesn’t mention FASD, attachment issues, RAD, and all the other realities weaved into adoption. I get angry that many schools are not equipped to help our children, and are not willing to listen and learn. Angry that post-adoption support is hard to access, and angry when the nation #SupportAdoption only because is a trendy hashtag on social media.

What changed after contact

I grab Ben, strap him in his car seat, drive recklessly at 35 miles per hour in a 20 miles per hour area, and run to join the queue at the school gates, just in time to see them opening. I glance down at a grumpy Ben and notice a big smudge of toothpaste on his t-shirt. I bend to clean it as best as I can before entering the school when I realise I’m wearing one blue sock and a bright pink one.

When three hours later I go back to pick him up, a very apprehensive teacher explains that Ben has been very aggressive, hitting and kicking the other boys. She tries to be sensitive when asking, “Can you pop in on Friday to discuss the situation? Did anything happened at home lately?”. I’m not really listening anymore, all I can think is: How did I get to this point again?

I look down at my blue and bright pink socks again. Mornings have been a real struggle lately. Ben wakes up, and as I open his bedroom door he yells at me to go away. A minute later he cries for me to hug him and comfort him, and as I do, he goes back at pushing me away, if not punching and kicking me. All that resumes again as I pick him up from school.

We had rough times in the past, but never this bad. I’m not one to jump to conclusions too hastily, but the only real event that had happened lately is our first meeting with Harvey, Ben’s birth brother.

I must admit, I was a little nervous of meeting Harvey and his adoptive family myself, but Ben looked so happy and excited about it. He talked endlessly about the meeting, and he seemed to be coping much better than I was.

The morning of the meeting he woke up at 4am. Not the first time Ben woke up this early, but still very unsual. Waking up early meant that our morning routine could take a more gentle pace; we had plenty of time. But it also meant everything that morning dragged on for a little longer, which contributed to increase my anxiety about the day ahead. I assumed, Ben being so young, it wasn’t the same for him. Now, I don’t know.

It was quite something looking at the two boys meeting for the first time. It might be me being a romantic, but I saw an instant connection between them, it was emotional and surreal at the same time. They play together for hours, Ben seemed to follow Harvey everywhere he went, and Harvey didn’t seem to mind. They even shared a cake and a sandwich together.

Ben was still excited about their meeting the morning after, and he couldn’t wait to tell his teachers. Now that I think about it, that was when things started to fall apart. He has been angry with me for days now, and I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it.

I’m his mummy. The one he calls to tell about his latest exciting adventure, and the one he runs to when he gets hurt. I always know what’s buzzing in his head, but this time I’m at a loss. I’m wondering if the experience of meeting his brother had some special meaning for him he cannot express in his own words, but most of all, I’m wondering what he meant for him to finally learn he has a brother.

For everyone on their adoption journey

I was 21 when I started the process of adoption. I’d never sought a relationship but I’d always wanted to be a father. The legal age for adoption is 21 so I thought ‘surely l stand a chance?’ I was told I was the youngest and first single, gay male adopter at my local authority in Yorkshire

When I applied there was a misconception amongst a lot of people that to adopt you have to be someone with money or a profession – not ‘little Ben from Yorkshire, working in a care home’. I’d worked with children and adults with complex needs so I knew adopting children with additional needs was my niche. I rang up and spoke to my local agency who advised me that a social worker would ring me and talk me through the stages. I was invited to an ‘initial stages meeting’. I was given lots of positives and I thought ‘my goodness, I’m going to get to become a parent!’ I passed various stages but there were some concerns about my age.

A lot of people asked me why I wanted to adopt at the age of 21. My dad was a vicar and I was brought up in rural Wales. When I was 15 I was brought to West Yorkshire and started going out with friends, experiencing nightlife and parties. By the time I got to 21 I‘d started to calm down and started to think that I wanted to become a parent. I’d worked out that if I started the process at 21, the likelihood was that I would be an adoptive parent by about 25. My mother, who lived with me at the time, just thought ‘let Ben get it out of his system’. She never thought I’d actually get on to the next stage.

I knew that as I was a 21-year-old boy it wouldn’t be plain sailing. At panel I didn’t get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – it was a 50/50. I’ve always wondered what the reasons were for this decision. Perhaps it was because I was young and naive and wasn’t a tried-and-tested parent but at the time my world crashed. My mother remembers me as a little boy wanting to be a daddy. All these dreams had gone in the words ‘you’ve not got a recommendation’.

I thought ‘what am I going to do?’ I also had the disappointment of having to tell everyone. I was almost aged 25 at this stage. But my social worker said: ‘don’t give up as it’s still got to go to the independent decision maker’. I thought it was the end of the road but my social worker told me that the independent decision maker can overrule the decision, so to leave it with her. She rang me the following week and told me the independent decision maker had said I should be approved to be an adopter so I was delighted.

About two months went by and then I had a phone call from my social worker who told me that the local authority had a little boy in mind for me. He had additional needs and was very quirky. They were querying whether he was autistic and he had other problems relating to the medication his birth mother took during pregnancy. When I met Jack he was certainly a quirky little boy. I was really taken with him but then panel said he was not the right match for me. But the independent decision maker said Jack deserved a chance with me.

If I’m honest no one could say it’s ‘because he’s gay’ or it’s ‘because of his age’ or ‘because he’s single’ because if they did, it would open themselves up for discrimination. I think the panel actually thought ‘what do we do here?’ By saying they were ‘50/50’ it throws it onto the decision maker. If I could have burst into the decision maker’s office and given him a hug I would have done.

Six years later, Jack is a nine-year-old boy who is thriving in mainstream school. He is my world, as are my other three kids.

I’m now well-known to social services now because I do all of the courses on offer around parenting and I also provide a lot of media coverage around adopting children with disabilities.

Jack’s mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, but the medication can cause learning difficulties for babies in the womb and stunt their growth. He also has OCD which was linked to his autism. As a result, he is routine-driven and everything has to be in place.

When I went back to my local authority to adopt a second child I was approved unanimously within eight months because the law had changed so the time-scale of adoption was completely differently and had sped up. I was approved as an adopter for a little girl aged up to three. After an initial match fell through I was invited to an information day which was where I saw Ruby’s profile. She has some health and physical difficulties I knew she was going to be my daughter.
It went to panel and I was approved as a match. She had just had her second birthday when she came to me and she’s now been with me over four years

When the social workers came to talk to me about Ruby they told me her birth mother was about to give birth to another child so would I consider this child as well? They also pointed out the scans had shown some disabilities. I said ‘yes’ but at this time my main concern was that Ruby’s needs were met. Ruby had been in an amazing foster home, as had Jack, but I didn’t feel it was the right time to adopt her sister Lilly as well, because Ruby had attachment issues. Ruby is severely visually impaired and her hearing is also impaired. She’s epileptic, has foetal alcohol syndrome, has learning difficulties, radial dysplasia (missing radius bones).

It was a big upheaval for Ruby and it took a long time for her to settle because of the differences and smells and because I have to feed her through a tube into her stomach. If I gave her half a meal more than she should have there would be projectile vomit so she had to be cared for by someone who knew how to care for her. But as soon as it clicked it was great. She was secure and she was attached.

Lilly came to stay with us two half years ago, last April. The social workers hadn’t picked up that she was profoundly deaf with no speech. They initially thought that she would qualify for a cochlear implants fitting. However, further investigation proved that she had actually been born profoundly deaf. So, unfortunately, cochlear implant’s was ruled out

I then completed our family when I adopted Joseph at the beginning of September 2015. There are now two boys and two girls in our family.

Joseph was 4 weeks old at the time. He was a relinquished baby. He’s British Chinese and has Down’s syndrome.

I’d always wanted to adopt a child with Down’s syndrome. Working with children and adults with an array of needs has always been a passion of mine but adopting a child with Down’s syndrome is not for the faint-hearted as it does come with difficulties. They can be very poorly children. Joseph suffers very badly with his chest as his immune system is very low. Children with Down’s syndrome can also have heart complaints if their development is sufficiently delayed. Joseph has just turned one but he’s functioning at the level of a two-month-old.

But adopting children with additional needs doesn’t mean it’s an end of your social life – it can actually enhance your social life. I’ve seen and done more things with the children than I would have done before adopting them. It has opened up a lot of doors for me. My attitude is ‘they’ve got a disability – so what, we’re going to do it!’ Having a family has improved my life as well as my children’s.

Inevitably adopting a child with additional needs is slightly harder but in my opinion, all children have a need, whether it’s ‘additional’ or not – they can have emotional difficulties, they could have experienced neglect… all children coming into the care system have a need.

The challenges of being a single dad… well, I’m a very patient person. I don’t do stress. I take each day as it comes. When I look at the children and see how they are now, compared to how they were… they’ve come on in leaps and bounds through love and nurturing. They really are amazing children.

And I have a great rapport with Jack’s birth mother which is quite unusual. Jack’s birth parents are schizophrenic so they can’t look after him. His birth mother adores me and me her. After a right good chat and hug she said ‘he’s so lucky to have you’ and I replied ‘I’m so lucky to have him’. They are my children so they act like me. They do my quirky things as they’ve adapted through my lifestyle.

When people have said to me: “they’re not your flesh and blood” I reply: “I’m the one caring for them, clothing them, loving them, and nurturing them”.

My message to prospective adopters when they’re coming to being matched is to think outside the box. Don’t think you only want a ‘perfect child’… I’m sorry, but no child is perfect, and that applies to all children, not just those who’ve been adopted. Incidents of children being born with foetal alcohol syndrome are on the rise, as are problems related to the birth mother’s drug use during pregnancy.

I’m not saying children with disabilities are right for everyone as some people can’t cope, but there are children out there with slight additional needs who are being overlooked by a lot of prospective adopters.

People say my children are so lucky but I’m just as lucky as they’re my world. If I didn’t have them I’d be a very lonely person.

I envisage myself as a 70-year-old man caring for 50-year-old adults but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being presented with the national adoption champion award by First4Adoption in October last year meant everything to me and took me completely by surprise. The award takes pride of place in my living room. I’m honoured and it inspires me to encourage others to adopt.

Last week roundup results #4

The results of our Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup #4 are in.

There have been so many great nominations last week that it’s a pity not to include them all. But rules are rules, so a big congratulation to last week’s top 5 blog posts and a huge thank you to all of you who took part.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week’s top 5

1thumb4 Relative Strangers: Olly Murs Broke my Lightbulb3
2thumbBefore You Were Mine - Someone's Mum3
3thumbEmpty | 2newgirls3
4thumbI wanna be like you. | Two Dads, one very opinionated son.3
5thumbThe Best Exotic Post-Adoption Support – Hannah Meadows2
If you would you like to receive the results of every weekly roundup via email, why not subscribe to our newsletter? You can find the registration form at the bottom of this page.

Fairytales of adoption

Last two weeks had been quite intense: first my mum came to visit for a week, after that we all had a nasty stomach flu, still quite poorly, we attended fostering panel, and finally Diego’s parents came to stay with us for another week.

Spending time with family is always pleasant, but when parents invade and take over your home for a period of time, it’s all another matter. Life tends to become chaotic, routine goes out of the window, stress levels rise, and by the time the guests leave you don’t even remember how family life used to be before.

Over these last two weeks, we had a chance to talk extensively with our parents about adoption and fostering. I realise only now how little they know about it, how uninformed they are, and yet how opinionated they can be.

They told me, for example, that I shouldn’t mention to Ben his birth family, and that I should hide his Life Story Book “somewhere safe”. They were horrified when I told them that I regularly show Ben pictures of himself with his birth mum and dad. In their opinion, we should wait until Ben is older to tell him he is adopted (they never told me how old is old enough though), and someone even entertained the idea of not telling him at all.

They believe that, because Ben became part of our family when he was an infant, he won’t have memory of a life before us, or won’t know any better. In a way, they think life before us doesn’t have any influence on who Ben is today, his behaviour, or his volatile emotions. In a very sweet but foolish way, they think that everything a child needs to overcome a difficult start in life is love. It’s a very bohemian take on life, “love will conquer all”, but I’m not sure love alone is enough.

I told them a typical backstory of two look after children. It went more or less like this:

Two little girls, 8 and 5, live with mum. Mum is an heroin addict who makes money having sex with man who she brings back home. 8 ends up having to take care of her little sister, as well as mum, most nights. Both girls are exposed to the attentions of mum’s male companions.

That was just the begging of my story, but I could see apprehension in my parents’ eyes and their heads starting shaking, so I stopped and waited for their comments. “Yes but these are stories from the news, you won’t get children like that. Right?”, they told me.

I have to wonder if there is a general miseducation around the reasons why children are in care, or if it’s just easier to think that awful things never happen close to home.

Either way, I failed to explain my family what our worries are, what risks we incur, and the reasons behind our choices. Diego’s parents, my own parents, and I’m sure many other people out there, feel confused and a bit alienated for not being able to grasp the dynamics of the adoptive family they know.

I feel sometimes that I put a huge effort in protecting my son from the world: no sharing pictures, no telling his story, no revealing details of his birth family, even omitting he’s adopted at times. I understand it’s not my story to tell, and it wouldn’t be safe to share it openly, but I have to ask myself what would happen if his story was told unreservedly.

In many adoptive families there are behaviours and needs that are directly related to the children earlier life. If my parents and extended family knew everything about Ben’s past, they would be able to understand why Diego and I parent him the way we do. They would be able to make sense of all the small things that seem to be so insignificant to others, but that are so important for Ben. They would be able to abstain from judgement and be more supportive.

We will become a foster family very soon. Our family will grow into an even bigger riddle for our relatives and friends. Ironically, the one clue that would help them solve this mystery is the one we cannot disclose: the life our children lived before us.

Last week roundup results #3

The results of our Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup #3 are in.

We realise there are way too many good posts to share in a week. For that reason, next week’s roundup will show the top 20 posts—rather than just 10—for you to browse and vote for.

A huge thank you to all of you who took part and a big congratulation to last week’s top 5 blog posts:

1thumb7 Children's Books About Adoption | Angel Adoption2
3thumbBroken | wearefamily2
Time to fight the removal of children’s rights through the Children and Social Work Bill | rightsinreality1
The reality of resilience  – imperfectlyperfectmother1
Of course, this week roundup is already up and running. You can add your new entries by visiting this page.

Big Emotions

When our neighbour walked towards our door and told us, “It’s not good”, we immediately knew what he meant. His wife’s health deteriorated very quickly since she had been diagnosed with cancer. We heard she had to be admitted to hospital the day before, after she suddenly fell unconscious. After the doctors had revived her, she decided to sign a Do-Not-Resuscitate order, which means her next episode will also be her last.

He went on to explain what medical implications would result from being resuscitated for a second time, and why the wife made the choice she made, without ever disclosing his opinion, and with such remarkable details. I expected to find anger in his voice, but I found none. That’s when he added, “She means the world to me”, and when I froze.

It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said it. It was a last plea, as if he was asking me for mercy; as if I could do something to save his wife’s life. I felt like I had to defend myself from the absurd allegation of not wanting to do anything to help. I would have wished nothing more in that moment, but I could nothing. His pain petrified me.

I could have reached some kind of contact with him; if not with a hug, I could have maybe offered to hold his hand. I could have repeated back to him what he was telling me, make him feel heard. I could have validated his emotions and allow him to feel they way he was feeling. Failing all that, I could have said, “I’m sorry”, but I couldn’t even manage that much. I let Laura, my wife, do the talking instead.

To think that, not even an hour before our encounter, a group of 15 people forming our Fostering Panel had just approved our application as foster parents, unanimously. Now I worry they all made a terrible mistake with me. Maybe it was too much to ask a panel of people, who had just met me, to determine if I was fit to be a foster parent, when all they could judge was my determination to become one.

Children in care often come with big emotions. How often have we read how their emotions are their only way for them to protect themselves from the outside world? And how much good can I do if I emotionally shut down every time I’m confronted with someone else’s pain?

Big emotions have always left me stumped. I really thought that all the articles and books I read had prepared me well. I thought I had learned not to fear them anymore, but for this time at least, I clearly did.