Selfless or selfish

Being an adopter is strange.

One of the reactions I have received on a number of occasions is “what a great thing you are doing”.

It feels like a suggestion that it’s a selfless act to “take on” someone else’s child. Or that we’re some kind of charity that rehomes helpless children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When it came to deciding whether to adopt, my first motive was entirely selfish. I wanted to be a parent. I wanted to complete my family. I wanted the child(ren) I had always imagined I would have.

If that makes me a bad person then so be it, but please stop saying that I am such a good person for going down this route.

Yes, we made a decision not to try another round of IVF, opting to invest in the future of a prospective child who may have issues rather than bringing into the world one who might. But at the end of the day, that was a logical, not selfless step. Maybe even that decision – to preserve funds/limit borrowing to make life a bit easier – had a selfish slant to it.

Our life was always going to feature children. From the start of our relationship my wife and I agreed that we wanted a family. We’ve just arrived at that goal a lot differently to how we planned/expected.

So it’s not as if we’ve given up the life we might have had if we had not adopted. This is the life we chose for ourselves.

From the moment we became parents then I agree, we had to become selfless and dedicate our lives to our son, but not necessarily any more than those who have biological children.

Where I might agree with those who see us as unselfish is in the choice we made to adopt our son rather than any other. His uncertain future brings challenges which we might otherwise have avoided had we been more selfish, but every day is special and the way he has become an integral part of our family – both immediate and extended – is something magical that I wouldn’t change for the world.

Advertisements

Daddy, daddy, daddy…

A few years ago, whenever I got home from work the arrival of the car onto the drive would signal our three cats to suddenly appear, asking to be let into the house.

Then we got our dog and it all changed. At the sound of the car pulling onto the drive she would race down the stairs and be waiting for me to open the front door. There couldn’t be a better welcome home. Or could there?

The day we met our son, he was all set to give us a great big welcome, but got shy at the last minute and ran and hid. In the course of that first week he got braver and less shy.

When he moved into our home I had five weeks off, which really helped to form a bond. So much so that it really was a struggle to be leaving him at home when I went back to work.

Our boy called me daddy because that was the name he had always known me as, so it wasn’t clear whether he understood that I was his daddy.

I needn’t have worried.

The first day I got home from work, as I opened the door the dog was in her usual spot, tail wagging so hard that the rest of her body followed. A short distance behind her was our son. Desperate to get close to me, but keeping a safe distance to avoid being whipped by the dog’s tail. Shouting “daddy, daddy, daddy!”.

The best welcome ever.

Other than every other welcome I get.

He now races down the stairs, or darts out of his playroom, shoves the dog out of the way to get to me first and has the biggest smile on his face. Even after the hardest, most stressful days at work, that smile, and the giant hug that follows as he leaps into my arms, lets me forget it all in an instant.

When I get frustrated with him/life, I think about those special moments when it seems like I am his sole focus and it helps bring me back to reality. Without him I would be me. With him I am “daddy, daddy, daddy!”

The Big Adoption Day

Having gone through the process, our adoption agency (Families That Last) asked if we would mind providing a case study for them to share with prospective adopters.

Since we had such a positive experience with the agency, I had already attended some adoption information evenings to give an adopter’s perspective, and we got ourselves (as a family) on the list for preparation groups.

Providing a case study was a logical next step, and here it is. Names and locations were changed to protect our son’s identity.

It seems fitting to share it with you on this day – a year since we first met our son and, coincidentally, Big Adoption Day 2016*. Next week we go to court with our son for his celebration hearing – the final formality in his adoption. A week later marks the anniversary of the day introductions ended and we were officially flying solo.

It’s not been an easy journey so far, but we made the right decision to adopt our son, despite his uncertain future. We could have waited and chosen children who would have been easier for agencies/local authorities to place with adopters (e.g. younger children with no expected health issues), but for us the rewards in helping our son to be the best version of himself that he can be far outweigh the difficulties we may encounter (and, indeed, have encountered) along the way.

*The Big Adoption Day gives prospective adopters a chance to find out what difference they could make for some of the most vulnerable children through a number of adoption open evenings across the country. Those events will also include the unveiling of a new animation produced by adopted young people for prospective adopters.

Drinking whilst pregnant – is it worth it?

I knew I shouldn’t have done it.

I’ve just read a discussion on Facebook where a pregnant lady with only two weeks until her due date has asked whether it would be OK for her to drink alcohol now, having abstained for the rest of her pregnancy.

That sort of question always brings out the same responses:

“I was told by my midwife to drink Guinness and my kids are OK”

“I had the odd glass of wine and have had no issues”

“It can do no harm”

“MEDICALLY it is fine to have a drink”

“It would only cause damage if you’re an alcoholic and drink all of the time”

“It will be too late to cause any damage”

No. No. No. No. No!

All of a sudden these mothers who have been fortunate to avoid the impact of FASD are experts in the subject.

It may not have affected their child, but who is to say that it will not affect someone else’s?

Yes, the medical research can’t point to a safe level of alcohol that could be consumed during pregnancy, since it likely varies by mother and child (and possibly father too in terms of the child’s propensity to be affected). So what makes them experts about a woman they have never met?

Yes, in the past guidelines were that a small amount of alcohol was OK. But that’s because the UK was years behind the likes of USA and Canada in their research.

The fact remains that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE. If you don’t want to risk your unborn child from being affected, then don’t drink whilst pregnant. It’s as simple as that.

If you happened to have a drink before you became aware you were pregnant,  don’t beat yourself up – it’s done now, but at least you can mitigate any further affect of alcohol on your unborn child.

Rather than listening to those who got lucky, listen to those whose children are affected by FASD. If you had to walk a mile in their shoes and deal with the challenges they face on a daily basis, you would see it’s really not worth the risk.

That’s not to say that life with a child affected by FASD is always hard.  It’s not. I have more fantastic moments with my child than challenging ones, but I always have the worries about his future that I would not have had if he was not affected by FASD.

Introductions…

Quite possibly the strangest part of the whole adoption process was introductions. Going into someone else’s house and having them introduce you to your child is a bit surreal!

On the first day, we knocked on the front door and could see that our son was standing in the hallway. He was apparently all geared up to say “hello mummy daddy” as the door was opened, but instead ran into the conservatory! We sat in the living room, surrounded by pictures of us, while he spied at us through the glass door.

Eventually he came into the room and started playing with his trains. It took so much effort not to jump down onto the floor and play with him, but we knew it had to be his move, not ours.

After a while, I sat down and played in a different corner of the room. It was then that it happened – first contact – as our son came and leaned on me while he watched what I was doing.

By the end of the visit my wife, my son and I were playing happily together and we had our first family photo.

An hour or two after meeting our son we were ushered out of the door. As hard as that was, we understood that the whole point of introductions was to build up the time we spent with our son, and the amount we did for him, gradually – until we had sole responsibility.

The rest of introductions went like clockwork. It helped that we got on well with his foster family (and friends and extended family who.all came along to check out his new mummy and daddy) and were made to feel very welcome in their home. We also got to meet our sons health visitor,  visit his nursery, and meet those who we would be maintaining contact with in some way or another. All of that helped us to build a picture of our son which I am sure will help as we discuss his past in the years to come.

After about a week, we said goodbye to our son as we made the journey home (complete with a car full of his toys and clothes!), with more to come with his fiater carers) and wouldn’t see him for over 24 hours, when introductions would move from his foster home to our home.

Usually our son would only have visited our home, building up the time spent there each day in the same way as we had increased our time at his foster home, but it was a considerable distance from his foster home so it was decided that he would sleep in his room from day one.

A week later and his foster family went home, as did his social worker. We were flying solo!

Matching panel

After being approved to adopt, there was yet more paperwork to complete – our social worker, our prospective son’s social worker and ourselves all had to contribute to the report that was going to matching panel.

We also had to agree to the various post-adoption plans that were to be put in place in relation to e.g. health, education and contact with our prospective son’s birth family.

Since he had a diagnosis of FAS and had such an uncertain future, we asked for consideration for future support. The response was that if the need arose we should contact his lical authority and they would “consider the request”. Although not ideal, at least we had it recorded that we could speak to them in future.

In the run up to matching panel, I had to put into place the necessary arrangements with my work. Although policies seemed pretty clear, HR almost threw in a last minute hitch that would have reduced the amount of time I could have taken off to ensure introductions were smooth. Extra stress that I did not need, but fortunately boss was ready to back me up and it managed to get resolved in time. I was very fortunate that conpany policy is to give adopters 6 weeks off on full pay – had that not been the case then I could have taken a lot longer to form a bond with our son, and it could have taken longer for him to settle.

Because Easter was approaching quickly, arrangements were put in place for us to agree the plans for introductions before matching panel. Upon receiving details of the way we would build up the time we spent with our son over the course of introductions, for some inexplicable reason my first reaction was “that’s a lit of time”. It quickly dawned on me that soon enough it would be 24/7.

The morning of matching panel arrived. Since his local authority is some distance from our home, we stayed overnight in the hotel where panel was being held.

We met with the medical adviser who gave ys an idea of his history and possible future, then waited anxiously for his social worker to arrive. She got there just in the nick of time and we excused her late arrival since she had been visiting his birth mother that morning so she could tell panel that she was supportive of the process.

We went into panel from the start this time and were not met by the smiling faces we had encountered at approval panel. Instead, a number of them appeared very stern – we hoped that wasn’t a reflection on our application!

Panel asked questions of our social worker, his social workers and ourselves to get an idea for why we all thought the match would be a good one. To be sat there when people tell why they think you will be good parents was particularly moving – cue more tears from us.

Once the questions were iver the chair asked if panel wanted us to remain in the room while they made their decision. They said yes and my heart stopped.

Suddenly the lady who had seemed most confrontational led the discussion  and gave glowing reasons why we should be approved. The rest of panel agreed and we now just had to wait for the decision maker to ratify the decision the following day.

We later learned that panel had received some sad news, hence they hadn’t been as upbeat as we had hoped when we arrived (despite my carrying in a teddy bear!)

In the afternoon we had a meeting to discuss the plans for introductions which would start the following week.

We met his foster mum again and gave her a pile of things to help her get him familiar with us as mummy and daddy – a bear, a dvd, a talking photo album and a load of photos of us.

In just a few days we would meet our son!

Approval panel

At the end of stage two, a report was compiled to be sent to the approval panel. Usually it would be generic in terms of the children that adopters would be approved to adopt (e.g. 2 boys aged 2-7), but in our case there was an additional note added that we would be looking for a match with the particular child (it didn’t focus solely on that child in case something happened and the match was not approved at a separate panel).

Once the report had been submitted we received an invite to the agency’s HQ for our panel. On arrival, we met with our social worker to talk us through what to expect, then she was called in to talk about us for 20-30 minutes. It could have been a painful wait, but we were introduced to our post-adoption support worker who kept us calm. We both had occasion to walk past the room that panel was being conducted in and tried to figure out whether it was going well or not.

After a nervous wait, the chair of the panel came out and introduced herself to us. She said that they had a couple of questions and we were shown into the room.

We were introduced to the panel – a mix of social workers, medical prodessionals, adopters/adoptees and independents. All of them smiled and seemed really friendly, which put us at ease.

As far as I remember, the questions we were asked were about the research we had done into FAS (to which the answer was lots, including attending a few support groups and becoming members of an online forum) and our key strength as a couple (teamwork).

We were thanked for our responses and asked to leave the room for panelbto make their decision.

A few minutes later the chair emerged to confirm it had been a unanimous decision to recommend we be approved to be adopters. Thd final decision came a few days later from the agency decision maker, who has the ultimate say, but who bears in mind panel’s recommendation.

One hurdle down, one to go!