The protective prospective father

Day two of prep group came and we talked to our social worker as soon as we could.  She agreed we could talk to our families so we got straight on the phone. If we were to adopt a child with such an uncertain future then we needed to consider worst case scenarios and whether we and our support network could handle them. The response was a resounding yes, so we confirmed we would be interested in finding out more about this very special little boy.

A big help in us cementing that decision came when the adopters who came in to talk to us brought their son,  a boy with FAS around the same age as the one we were interested in. We had the chance to talk to them at lunch and it was incredibly helpful to discuss their experiences as well as our concerns.

The rest of the day involved more training with the other prospective adopters and concluded with profiles of all of the children who the agency were trying to place displayed in the middle of the room. We had a look at all of the profiles and decided that we were still happy to pursue our interest in the boy we had looked at the night before.

Thus followed much amusement for my wife and the social workers as I hung around the profile for this boy, listening to what the others thought. Nightmare – some of them also wanted to find out more! Cue a sad face from me to one of the social workers – I had already started claiming him as my own!

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Love at first sight?

As part of stage one, we had to attend a preparation group. It was a two day course attended by other adopters at the same stage in the process as us.

It all got off to a great start from our perspective – a giant spider decided it wanted to find out more, so jumped down onto our social worker’s knee! Cue my wife and I teaming up to escort it out of the room – a perfect example of being calm in a crisis (and me doing as I was told!).

Over the course of the two days we learnt a lot – getting a completely different (non tabloid) opinion of birth parents whose children were placed for adoption. Having had a downer on them going into the process, I now have much greater empathy/sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation, often through no real fault of their own. It can be a vicious cycle, which we can only help by giving those children the best possible start in life (and sometimes even that will not be enough).

We also covered attachment theory, and the work that we might need to do to support any prospective children to build up areas of their lives they might not have had before (e.g. security, praise etc).

It was really interesting to meet others in our situation – to find that they had the same questions, concerns and hopes. It became a safe environment to share fears, and to learn from others.

The most vivid memory came at the end of the first day.

Having visited us on a few occasions, our social worker mentioned that she had some profiles of children which she’d like to show us, so would we be able to hang around after the end of the day? Intrigued, we agreed.

At this point, it’s worth noting that usually you’d look at profiles after you’ve been approved to adopt, but the agency we went through run another route to adoption, the child specific route, which links prospective adopters with children earlier in the process so the overall timescales are shortened. In case the link does not get approved at the matching stage, the child does not find out until the formal process has been completed.

Back to the story…

We sat down at a table with our social worker (and several others in earshot) and she talked us through the three profiles she was showing us. There were two sibling groups (2 girls; and 2 boys), and a single boy. Each profile was complete with pictures and a description of the children – what they liked to do, why they were placed for adoption and what sort of family might suit them best.

We had been looking to adopt siblings – my theory being that if one settled quicker than the other, they’d help the other, and also that they’d have some constancy with their previous homes (my wife’s theory was the more the better…), hence those two profiles. For reasons that will become clear.

Our social worker had also picked up on the fact that my wife would be giving up work to raise our child(ren), so would be able (and indeed wanted) to to spend a lot of time to help support their development, hence the third profile – a child with a diagnosis of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

We perused the profiles and asked lots of questions, with the social workers looking on trying to pick up on the slightest reaction, but we gave nothing away. We took the profiles back to our hotel and the walk back involved more of the same – both of us asking each other questions to find out what we were thinking, and neither giving anything away. We eventually each admitted that there was at least one profile we were interested in.

The first thing we did when we got to the hotel was to look online for FAS. My wife had an idea of the potential difficulties already, but when I searched it scared me silly. It became clear that we could not even consider the lone child without getting a lot of support from our families. Since we did not yet have permission to do that, we had to put that profile to one side – in fact, we put it on the table in the corner of the room.

We looked at the other profiles, but kept taking it in turns to go and look at the profile in the corner of the room. Something about that beaming face, full of character, made us unable to put him down.

We resolved that we would prepare ourselves as much as possible, then ask permission to talk to our families the next day.

Stage one – background checks

Having entered stage one, we were given a number of forms to fill in.

It was a real test of memory. You have to list every address you have lived in and every place you have ever worked.

You also need to select some referees – in our case we each chose 1 family member and 2 friends who had known us for a while. It was amusing that, despite the references intention being to get the opinion of those people, two or three of our referees asked us if what they had written was OK!

We had to note down significant events in our lives too.

Fortunately my sister has a fantastic memory, so was able to identify most addresses and dates of things like deaths of grandparents.

The area which took the most time was the medical. Not because it’s very lengthy, but because you need a double appointment and it’s usually a three week wait for a single appointment at our doctors’ surgery in the first place. It was fairly obvious that our doctor did not get many of these forms to fill in as he asked me and my wife all of the answers for our forms! The only issues that came up for me were my weight (surprise, surprise!) and my blood pressure, but neither affected our application since I took steps to improve both.

The most complicated bit was getting our dog assessed. There are so few people who can do so, but we managed to find one trainer who had done something similar and I’m pleased to say the dog came through with flying colours (it helped massively that we were able to “borrow” a friend’s young child at the time of that assessment), although we’d never take that for granted.

Stage one also includes the first prep group, which I will cover in a different post.

Back on the rollercoaster

Not content to wait a whole year to get back on the rollercoaster ride to complete our family, we contacted neighbouring local authorities to see what their waiting times were. Unfortunately we were met with the same response.

We widened the net and then my wife came across an independent agency (Families That Last) which might shorten that time to six months. They had an open evening that night, so I turned up fresh from a meeting and met my wife there. We watched a presentation, saw some anonymised profiles of the sorts of children the agency was looking for families for, and had a chance to talk to one of the social workers. We answered a few questions and asked to be considered as adopters. That’s when the wheels really started moving.

Within a short time, we had a visit from a social worker to find out more about us, have a quick look at our house and explain the process in full. We were keen to start the process so, with the agency’s agreement, proceeded to Stage 1.

The waiting game

In all the time my wife and I had been trying to conceive, it hadn’t crossed my mind that we might be unsuccessful and that adoption might be our only chance to have children.

My wife had always thought about having biological children and then adopting, but it was never something that I was willing to consider. Whenever she brought it up I told her that I’d prefer to concentrate on the route we were on, then consider alternatives if that route was no longer viable. I felt that considering the next step was admitting failure in the current one.

I had visions of my children growing up and then, when they found out they were adopted, announcing “you’re not my real dad”. I really wasn’t sure I was emotionally strong enough to be able to cope with that.

The turning point came shortly after our round of IVF was unsuccessful.

There was a TV series about adoption,  which I watched out of interest – not because it was on adoption, but because the listings said that it covered “adoption parties” (basically gatherings where hard to place children got to play in a room whilst prospective adopters got to interact with children whose profiles they liked the sound of – a kind of try before you buy approach, which was pretty groundbreaking stuff since usually the first time you meet the child you’re going to adopt is when you’re starting the “introduction” stage – more on that in a later blog).

In one episode, two brothers attended such a party but no prospective adopters came forward to express an interest. The upshot was that it was suggested that the brothers were split up since the younger one would be adopted quite quickly – it was the age of his older sibling which was causing adopters to shy away from them. It broke my heart, and that, combined with a bit more research into adoption (not least the discovery that nowadays adopted children are told their situation [in an age appropriate way], so there are no surprises in that regard when they get older) led me to consider adoption as something I might be willing to do.

Buoyed on by the prospect of restarting our efforts to complete our family, my wife (having already been keeping tabs on adoption events) made arrangements for us to attend an adoption information evening held by our local authority. We were given a presentation on the process and also heard from an adopter. Afterwards we had a chat with one of the adoption team and decided that we would register our interest in having someone coming and talking to us to see if we wanted to pursue that interest further.

A week or so later, we received a devastating letter – because we had only recently finished fertility treatment we would have to wait a year before the local authority would consider starting the process with us. That meant we would have to wait at least 2 years until we finally had our child. We had no choice but to wait.

Reaching for Hope

 

It didn’t feel right to go straight into the blog as of today, when I am an adoptive father. Instead, I thought it might be helpful to provide a bit of background into the journey before I considered adoption. This is actually a series of posts I wrote at the time, but which I’d not looked at for a couple of years. Pulling them together for this blog brought back some of the feelings I had at the time, which really surprised me given what has gone since.

In June 2010, I was sat having a conversation with a friend I was reunited with as a result of a conversation on social media.

We were in the same circle of friends, but lost touch after I left the area. We hadn’t been particularly close in the past, but we had each just moved house and I had thrown out an invitation along the lines of “you’re welcome to visit any time” which she called in at the first opportunity.

During the course of one of the most comfortable and enjoyable conversations of my life, it quickly became clear that we shared the same values and hopes for the future – we both valued our families and wanted to become parents some day. I have never told her this, but over the course of that conversation I began to see her not just as a friend but as someone I would be quite happy sharing my life with. At the time we were getting to know each other and didn’t even contemplate how difficult it might be for us to fulfil our desire to have children.

We became a couple soon after that conversation and I proposed at Christmas that year. She said yes and we started planning our future together. Six months later she moved in with me, bringing her 4 cats (“the girls” – remember that, you’ll need it later) with her and we continued with our wedding preparations.

As our wedding day approached we looked forward to the time when we would be joined in matrimony and expected that a family would follow soon after.  Our wedding was one of the best days of my life so far, and just before our first Christmas as man and wife we adopted a dog – another girl to add to our family.

In the months that followed, we were unsuccessful in our attempts to conceive. We accepted that it could take time (after all there were a lot of things that needed to happen at the right time) but expected it to happen eventually.

After a year of trying, we sought help from our doctors and were referred to a fertility clinic. Following a number of tests (mainly on my wife – I just had to give a sample), the conclusion was that there wasn’t a reason for our infertility, but that since my wife’s egg reserve was low then it would be best to move to IVF as soon as possible.

In order to give us a chance to conceive naturally whilst my wife lost the weight required to receive NHS funding for IVF, she was prescribed with Clomid, a drug which regulated her cycle for three months. That gave us three months when we knew for certain when she would be ovulating and so could plan accordingly. Unfortunately it was not to be the case.

About a year after our first appointment at the fertility clinic we were given the go ahead to start IVF. Agonisingly, that start was delayed further due to my wife needing some separate investigations into her heart and lungs, all of which thankfully came back clear.

With the time we had to think about what would happen, we discussed baby names. Having grown up with two sisters and been surrounded by females at home (my wife and our 5 furry girls), I became convinced that we would have a girl. Although we disagreed on names for boys, we came to an agreement on our first born daughter’s name – given the journey we were following, we decided that she could only be called Hope.

We went into Christmas last year knowing that after two and a half years of waiting, we would be undergoing egg retrieval and embryo transfer in the new year. We felt that this would be our year, this was the year we would have our baby, this was the year we would meet Hope.

My wife had to endure mood swings, nausea and pain (by injection and otherwise) whilst her ovaries were being stimulated and the maturation of the eggs was triggered, then came the first big day – the extraction.

Having had some scans prior to retrieval, we were hopeful of enough eggs to provide an embryo for implantation and some others for freezing (or “plan B”, if needed). We were delighted, therefore, that we had 7 eggs – even if only half of them were to be fertilised then we would have 3 or 4 chances to have our Hope realised. Now it was just a case of waiting for the call to confirm when we would have the embryo transferred.

The first call came – only one of the eggs was fertilised (apparently the eggs and sperm samples were fine, but it seemed they did not “talk to each other”) and there was uncertainty over whether that one would be viable. Devastating news – we had no plan B, and our plan A was looking shaky and Hope was fading.

We had no choice but to wait to find out whether we will have any embryos to transfer in two days time.

Through this all, we went through every emotion possible – from joy to anguish and hope to despair. Seeing my wife having to cope with those emotions was heartbreaking. There was nothing I can do to ensure that we could have our baby and it hurt so much. Whilst we still had a chance I still had hope, but it was getting harder and harder to remain positive.

It turns out we had a fighter.

We were given an appointment to transfer the embryo and all of a sudden we had hope again.

At the time, I don’t think I truly realised how much I want to be a dad until that possibility was almost taken away from me. (I now know differently, but more on that later…)

We were feeling pretty optimistic now we knew we’d got a shot at it. It came as a big shock that we only had one fertilised – we had prepared ourselves for things not working out further down the line but hadn’t contemplated the possibility that our eggs and sperm wouldn’t work together.

In a dish somewhere was a piece of me and a piece of my wife, giving us a chance, however small to extend our family. We were looking forward to bringing a new life into this world :-).

That hope and optimism grew when my wife got a call from the embryologist.

After the news we had earlier in the week we were half expecting our lone embryo to no longer be viable and for the ET to be cancelled. Imagine our surprise and sheer delight when we were told that instead of one embryo being transferred we would have two!

When we had received the call earlier in the week, there had been two eggs fertilised, but for one of them they could only identify one set of DNA, so they decided that it was not viable. Over the course of the last few days, that embryo had fought its way through to actually be a better quality embryo than the one which we had been pinning our hopes on. We were very fortunate to have had our embryos placed into an embryoscope, which tracked their development by taking regular photos. If they had not been in there then we would have only had one to transfer.

Embryos transferred, we were cautiously optimistic about our chances of having a baby – but then came (another!) waiting game.

We (well, my wife) did several home pregnancy tests, none of which came back positive, but we were still holding out a tiny bit of hope for our two fighters.

We took a test at the hospital and it was confirmed that we had not become pregnant. Hope was gone.

We had a weekend away to escape the house and clear our heads before deciding on the next steps. We’d planned it regardless of what the result had been.  It was so refreshing and relaxing, it gave us a chance to focus on each other (and the dog) for once, rather than on the journey we had been putting all our energy into.

We decided not to fund another round of IVF given the massive uncertainty that it would give us the child we wanted to complete our family.

Our journey was at an end. We had stepped off one rollercoaster and were about to get onto another.