Hi, I’m Emily and I recently became an instant mum to two toddlers after adopting siblings. From the outside we would look like any other family, but my kids have only been with me a matter of months. My unexpected bumpy journey to becoming a parent started a decade ago.
My husband dreamt of our children before we married, so we always knew children would be part of our future. We had spoken about adoption right from the start. To have an adopted child know they were our first choice felt important to us, but age and the length of the adoption process meant we tried to conceive first.
Long-road to motherhood
Trying to conceive was a long and lonely journey. Over the years the silent disease of infertility ebbed away at every decision and aspect of my life. I increasingly felt distanced from my girlfriends with children, as they lived a life I didn’t feel included in. We fell pregnant on our first round of IVF, but sadly suffered a missed miscarriage. We discovered this devastating news during a routine scan at our fertility clinic. All our hopes of a family were ripped from us and our faith took a downward turn. Further rounds were unsuccessful but they helped answer the unexplained aspect of our infertility. There are many ‘nevers’ in accepting the inability to conceive and it took a long time to process this grief.
Few friendships bridged the void of my childlessness but the friends who stayed with me in those dark years remain the most treasured people in my life. They include child-free women, single ladies and mothers who allowed me to be part of their children’s lives by involving me in their world - not just their babysitter list.
2019 felt like the right time to attend an adoption information session. This was followed by home visits from social workers before attending medical reviews and training. The training was enjoyable despite the weight of the information we were given. We learnt how adopted children’s early experience is often traumatic, neglectful, abusive or violent. Whilst these early experiences would stay with the children, the love, stability and therapeutic parenting of adoptive families can enable children to flourish. We knew that adoptive children would be grieving the loss of birth parents and foster carers. But being well acquainted with loss, we knew our experiences had given us the empathy and resilience needed.
There are four main stages to the adoption process: registration/checks, training/assessment, matching and placement. Social workers become part of your weekly routine and end up knowing everything about you! In March 2020, just one week before lockdown, we were approved as adopters at an adoption panel. Within a few weeks, we were approached by a family finder about a sibling pair of toddlers. They felt like our children – even similar in personality and appearance to us. At our first virtual meeting with the children’s social workers, they felt happy we were the right match. Nearly four months later, we attended a virtual matching panel and were officially matched with our children. One month later they moved in, the process taking 14 months from training to placement. This, sixteen years after my husband’s dream.
Parenting adoptive children is described as parenting plus because we are re-parenting children that have suffered traumatic early years. We have trained in different parenting approaches such as therapeutic parenting, which uses nurture, empathy and firm but fair boundaries and routines. These aid the development of new neural pathways in the brain to help children gain trust in adults and heal. We have trained in, and use the PACE model of parenting as our foundation – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. Adoptive children can process things differently, for example, they may fail to understand stranger danger, or may struggle with attachment – showing anxiety, clinginess or over independence. To help our children feel safe and loved, we choose ‘time-in’ to help them feel connected and to help them regulate their emotions (time-out may reinforce feelings of rejection for children already subjected to neglect or being left alone). ‘Cause-and-effect’ thinking is under-developed due to their neglect, so natural consequences help them to make that connection, engaging their lower ‘survival’ brain with their higher ‘thinking’ brain. So if you draw on the wall – you help clean it up etc. Strong behaviours may be hiding deeply rooted traumas, so we might ‘wonder out loud’ to help them find the cause beyond the behaviour.
Lockdown gifted us with precious family time, enabling us to build bonds of attachment. My husband now works from home, enabling more time with the children. The increase in virtual meetings allowed the adoption process to continue and helped us remain connected to our church, friends and support network. However, the government fails to see that not all new parents have babies, leaving many new adopters unable to access a Covid-19 support bubble if their ‘new addition’ isn’t a baby under one.
The unchartered world
I am loving finding my feet as a parent but feel uncomfortable in this unchartered motherland. This is the ‘land’ I have spent years avoiding at all cost. I feel apprehensive about playgroups as I can’t join in with birth stories, or explain why I chose my children’s names (I didn’t). I alone have to respond to their care needs as I build bonds of attachment and I wonder if I’ll be labelled a helicopter mum. Will I be questioned why they are still in nappies, aren’t yet eating with cutlery, or even steal someone else’s food? I can’t disclose why my toddler’s emotional or gross development is not in-line with their age. I may struggle to form relationships with mothers who have known each other from NCT classes. So if you see me on the outside of this unchartered motherland looking scared and lost, please welcome me in.