Five years ago Mary and her husband Barry (then 33 and 39), from north Devon, adopted two toddlers.
We decided to adopt after three unsuccessful rounds of fertility treatment. They are siblings, a boy and a girl, both under four when they came home to us.
The adoption process (the period of time between attending the initial meeting and the children being legally ours) was enlightening, interesting, terrifying and emotional with massive highs and lows, sometimes all in the same day. It was very much a time for reflection and soul-searching.
I have nothing but praise for the adoption team who were supportive, helpful and sensitive. Lots of things that our social worker said to us during that period have stayed with me and I still think about them today.
Although there was some paperwork and a few meetings, it all felt useful. I enjoyed the process of examining why we wanted to adopt and talking about our relationship and childhoods. It fostered a sense of appreciation for each other, as well as for the support we receive from our families and friends.
I thought it would be some sort of test that we either “passed” or “failed” and that our children would have behavioural problems and would struggle at school. I thought they might resent us and might not love us, and I’d have to prove myself as a mother to other people who would see us somehow as fraudulent or second-best. I thought it would be constant hard work, and because having prepared myself for this I didn’t really allow myself to think about the joy it might bring. Yet we still wanted to do it because, despite the doubts and uncertainty, deep down it felt like the right thing to do.
And what is the reality is now?
The reality of our lives now as a family is amazing. We have a wonderful, normal and ordinary life. We are a family. We love the children and they love us back. It’s fantastic in the way that normal family life is, funny and sad, hard and joyful, boring and exciting all rolled into one.
The children are happy and loving, confident, funny, friendly, kind and very bright. They are curious about the world, love school and have good relationships with their peers and adults. They amaze me and I am very proud of them.
Being adopted is part of the fabric of all our lives. They have their birth story books to look at whenever they want to. I read them extracts from the letterbox letters. We talk about their birth family. It often just comes up, casually, in conversation.
We have all bonded and grown together and feel absolutely secure in our relationships. We have given one another what we need – the children needed a secure and loving home and we needed them and so we have soaked it up and grown and flourished together.
Some of the challenges
However happy we are as a family, it can’t be denied that the situation we are in has arisen because of painful things that happened in the past. My daughter lived in squalid conditions for much of her early life, then they had to leave their foster carers and adjust to life with us. They’ll grow up knowing that their birth parents couldn’t take care of them and have to live with the sadness of that.
Their birth parents have suffered the loss of raising their children. My husband and I went through infertility and miscarriage.
When I talk to people about adoption and how great it has been for the four of us I always qualify it by saying that it’s not like that for everyone and that many adopted children and their families face enormous difficulties. Although adoption is wonderful, I don’t want people to think that it wraps everything up neatly with a big shiny bow and everyone forgets about the past; they don’t necessarily live happily ever after.
Everyone’s life experience is different
It was important that we had worked through all our feelings about infertility and kind of grieved for that and accepted it before we decided to adopt.
Prior to adoption, we didn’t know any adoptive families or even have very many friends who had children. Adoption and parenthood felt like a bit of a mystery, a club that we weren’t part of.
I think the fact that we both had happy childhoods, a strong relationship as a couple and lots of support has been invaluable (though, of course, many different types of people make wonderful adoptive parents – including single people and those whose own unhappy childhoods have taught them what not to do).
My advice to other people thinking of adoption is to be open and flexible and empathetic. Talk to people about adoption and read everything you can.
Be prepared for the children to arrive! Superstitiously, we kept thinking that it was all going to go wrong, right up until the matching panel, so we didn’t get the children’s rooms ready until really late. It was a total last-minute rush.
Accept all the help and support you are offered. Ask for help. Don’t worry too much. Go with the flow. Enjoy it.