Soft play and hard encounters

20 03 2013

Our lives have been turned upside down lately. Two weeks ago we were introduced to our little boy for the very first time!

For the past 12 years its just been the two of us. Now suddenly there are three! And the third has burst into our lives walking, talking, laughing and full of playfulness!!

My recent sleepless nights have begun to ease. They continued through the first week of introductions, more from excitement than anxiety, as I looked forward to each meeting! We’re now in a period of introductions where we are spending increasing amounts of time together, in different contexts (foster home, school, parks, and our home) to get used to one another. I’m pleased to report that the introductions are going very well.

Our first weekend meetings were incredibly moving. In the UK it was Mothering Sunday and we had the joy of taking our little boy out on our own for the first time, as a family!

We wanted to let him buy some spring flowers to plant in the garden of his new home so we headed to the garden centre and went shopping. Some may consider it a crazy first date together but he loved it, and so did we!

After this we had our inauguration into the world of soft play. I never knew such wonderful places existed! A whole warehouse filled with foam blocks, bouncy floors and walls, slides, ball swamps and more. He roared with laughter as he threw himself on me and we went coasting down the slide together! Four hours were over before we even knew it, and I felt like a child again!

Soft Play

Soft Play

Nothing could have prepared me for this time. My head had raced earlier that week as I sat down to my first dinner with my son. We chatted amazingly freely (he’s an accomplished conversationalist already) and he carefully studied me, looking deep into my eyes. I think he read my heart as his little eyes were twinkling excitedly as we talked. I confess that I may have been a little distraction for him as dinner took well over an hour to complete!

The many lonely and frustrating years where we were battling infertility (Read here 1 and 2) are now being overtaken by the excitement and anticipation of the years to come.

This new time has also been an emotional roller coaster. Recently we also met our son’s birth parents. My joy about meeting our little boy was matched with the painful reminder that they were losing theirs, against their wishes. The backdrop to adoption in the UK today is more often than not the sad reality of family breakdown, abuse or neglect. It is often the result of history repeating where children grow up ill-prepared and un-nurtured and become parents themselves, revisiting (often inadvertently) poor nurturing or worse on those they earnestly would want to nourish and cherish.

You can well imagine our apprehension at this meeting! We wanted to see it through though, for our son’s sake. In years to come we hope that he will appreciate that we took time to meet his birth mother and father, to find out about them and to let them meet us. We asked each other earnest questions as they sought to understand our motivations and heart and we wanted to learn of them, their interests, passions and memories, to one day fill in the gaps for this precious little boy.

His mothers gaze never left mine throughout. The tension of the initial meeting eased as we both realised the other recognised the mixture of pain, loss, concern and hope. These were not bad people at all; simply broken. And my heart broke for them. After they left the room I wept. For all the joys that adoption was for us, it meant that this mother was facing mother’s day knowing her son was once again not with her.

We agreed to what is called Letter Box contact. This is something facilitated by the adoption agencies where letters or cards are exchanged between the child, adopters/foster carers and birth relatives, perhaps once or twice a year. Our son left their care before he really knew his birth parents but this will be an important part of helping him understand his beginnings and identity in the years to come.

As I write this update I’m looking at my first invitation to a kid’s birthday party as a parent. Well, it’s of course our son’s invitation, but I’m looking forward to taking him, and once again being the (“responsible”) adult at soft play!

A whole new world is opening up to all of us ….


Planes, trains, automobiles … and a new family begins!

5 03 2013

This was always going to be an extraordinary, unforgettable day. After so many years of wanting and waiting we were finally going to meet our son!

Sleep, like the last couple of nights, had been fitful for me. When I finally awoke I woke excited! We made our way to the local authority offices where we were due for our first appointment; the introduction planning meeting with Social Work professionals.

I wasn’t sure who to expect, but I was surprised to find ourselves at a table with 7 social workers first thing in the morning! I had no idea how many people are involved in the different aspects of securing the very best care for our ‘looked after’ children in the UK. I was very grateful to see a room full of supportive people helping plan for the very best start for our new family.

For the next hour we ran through who was going to be responsible for the introduction plan and planned meetings, supporting our son, us and his foster family in the transition, our son’s schooling, post adoption support, letterbox contact with our son’s birth family (subject of a future post) and helping us later with the court order for adoption, amongst many other details!!

After this we ran through the proposed timetable of introductions, commencing with our first meeting with our little boy this afternoon!

Even with all the anticipation, excitement and nerves it still felt strangely unreal. We had just been told that our son was quite taken with the photo book we had made for him and that he had been telling people about his new mummy and daddy. Minds swimming, we headed off to grab some lunch together before we made our way over to visit him at his foster family’s home.

On arrival we were warmly welcomed and brought through to the room where he was waiting. Initial shyness almost immediately faded away as he invited us to play with his puzzles, cars and trains. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed at the enormity of this! I forced myself to hold back (happy) tears!

1 hour was over all too quickly today.

I am however SO thankful and grateful for the reception we received. He doesn’t fully grasp yet what is happening and that his temporal, albeit brilliant, care is coming to an end. At his age he will have no concept of what a “forever family” actually means. This is where our mission commences – to win the heart of our son.

He is beautiful! I think I am falling in love all over again! We’re so proud of him and all that he’s achieved and become in his little life to date, having faced some tough times at a tender age.

We parted today leaving him to look after one of our soft toys until we return again tomorrow afternoon.

Now I’m left wondering how I’m going to keep my mind focussed through the morning at work tomorrow!!


2 more sleeps …

3 03 2013

It’s now less than 48 hours until we first meet our son!

2 more sleeps (if the excitement and nervous anticipation don’t keep me awake).

Within the last couple of days he will have been given a photo-story book that my wife and I crafted to introduce ourselves to him. In it we tried to capture for him what we were like, the things we had fun doing, to show him around our home and to express how much we’re looking forward to meeting him.

I wonder what he thought of it? Of us? I wish I could have been there as he caught his first glimpse of his future life!

It is so difficult to convey all that is going through my mind right now. We have been preparing for this moment for so, so long. (You can read the background to this adoption in earlier posts) Our hearts have been readied over many years and of recent our home too has been changing. We have finished decorating his room. The bathroom now has a little stool next to the sink awaiting tiny feet to stand atop it. There is a new seat at our dining table awaiting the fine adjustments required to seat him at his first meal with us! Electrical sockets are all concealed behind those slightly irritating plastic plugs that keep fingers and foreign objects out of them.

Although a distant memory now I recall at the outset of the adoption process being anxious that I would feel love and a connection with the child with whom we would be matched. I heard the same anxious thoughts from friends who were expecting their first child. I heard too how all that changed the moment their child was born and as fathers they took their first look; how their hearts melted and their eyes welled as they held them for the first time.

Deep within I wondered if that would be different for me. After all I wouldn’t be holding a baby. My child would not be my ‘flesh and blood’.

I now know – being a father is more than ‘flesh and blood’.

Since my last post I continue to be overcome as I think of my son! For men I think there is something about seeing your child. Previously we had seen a few pictures however after matching panel I was given three further pictures and I’ve been captivated by them ever since. He’s quite simply stunning.

I can’t wait until our eyes first meet!

And I wonder if in that moment this little boy will have any idea what great things are in store for him? Of how my heart has been bursting to meet him and how there is nothing good I would withhold from him if he will only ask me!

A big week awaits all of us.

Mission Accepted

20 02 2013

These days I am quite distracted! Only last week we were matched with the little boy we are soon to adopt. I have on my mobile phone now a couple of pictures of a him. My son!

I sit just looking at these pictures, feeling a growing sense of pride and wonder at this little boy who doesn’t yet know me! I am easily overcome!

We’ve just completed the preparations for him coming home. His room is decorated and waiting. The date is set for our first meeting.

And whilst I’m excited, I’m also nervous! How will he respond to me? Will he know that I love him already? That I’ve been preparing for him and this moment for so long? Does he know the pride I feel even now? Will he reject me, just because he doesn’t know how to accept a father’s love?

So many questions. The mind can race! Be still (I tell myself).

I have a faith. Something that has been tested and questioned over these last few years, through our experience of infertility and sadness. Through this testing my faith has become more grounded, and more precious to me too.

The bible which I’ve pored through and cried over in my own times of sadness speaks much of adoption you know. I’m only just beginning to get a glimpse of what it means.

As I sit holding my phone in hand and looking at the pictures of my son I’m reminded of this verse:

“I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:16)

I thought of how in the months before we’d been praying for him, before we even knew who we’d be matched with, for his safety, healing, provision & protection. For all the “walls” that were before him in his little life.

Even now hearing my own anxious thoughts & questions a fresh realisation is dawning on me…. that our heavenly father feels the same love, pride & excitement about meeting us. And the same anxiety that we really grasp truly how He feels for us!

Overcome. Again.

I’m readying myself for the task ahead. To capture the heart of my son!

Mission Accepted.

I’m a dad – in waiting!

18 02 2013

Despite my best intentions of writing during the past 9+ months I have found myself simply unable. Much has happened. And it has been more intense than I can possibly communicate here.

I am now a father!

I’ve yet to meet my son, however on Valentines Day this year my wife and I were matched with a little boy. The best Valentines Day gift I can ever imagine receiving!

Rewind 12 months then:

Feb 14th (Valentines Day) 2012 – We met with the social workers who would decide to assess us as prospective adopters. They took great care to explain to my wife and I the backgrounds of the children needing adoption in the UK and asked us if we felt we would still like to pursue adoption. Having spent time already asking ourselves this question we called them back the next day to embark on the assessment process.

We were assigned an amazing social worker who we were very fortunate to connect with straight away. We spent the next 9 months being visited by her every few weeks to answer her questions as she built up her assessment of our suitability to care for the children they needed to place. The process and questioning are thorough! We were given reading to do at home and assignments to complete (it was in our interest to answer thoughtfully and fully as our own words were taken and included in the final assessment of us!).

Topics covered in the assessments included:

  • Own family background (family tree, relationships, experiences & memories)
  • Our relationship as a couple
  • Identity (how we considered ourselves, nationality, likes/dislikes, values, beliefs, diversity, etc)
  • Health
  • Leisure & Interests
  • Adoption (why we choose it, our experiences of infertility)
  • Supporting children (the backgrounds of adoptive children, their support needs & behaviours, who we felt we could support)

Others sessions are tailored to you to help with your own unique assessment.

A lot of ground is covered in this time as you can see! Do I think the process long? Yes! Too long? I’m unsure. Wholly necessary? Absolutely!

We have met many great couples (and singles) seeking to adopt in this process. It’s clear that most have come to adoption as we did – through not being unable to have their own children. Being made to undergo an assessment that requires approval of you before you can parent does seem harsh. You are on edge for months and fear being dealt another blow of disappointment. You can’t understand why other prospective parents are not scrutinised in this way!

However, having undergone it now I appreciate the highest standards our local authorities are seeking in adoptive parents. The children they need to home have had poor starts in life. It’s not just parents that are being sought, but people who have the capacity and resilience to re-parent if required, and to win back the hearts and trust of children.

So following 9 months of assessment the Prospective Adopters Report was written and submitted before our local adoption panel in December, and we were approved!

The matching process in the UK is where the sponsoring local authority then begins its search in earnest to find a child/children suited to the adopters. They will take into account ages (relative to other children if present), sexes, national/ethic backgrounds, beliefs of children, interests & hobbies, amongst other things. Local authorities have 3 months to find “a match” in their area before adopters can turn to the National Adoption Register (England & Wales). Each local authority will have their own register and matching team, and will begin by showing adopters in their area the ‘profiles’ of the children they need to find families for and gauge if you sense a match with any of them.

As you can imagine this in itself is a hard process. How do you choose one child over another?

Long ago we had decided to pray that our children would be brought to us clearly and we wouldn’t have to seek them out. At all cost I wanted to avoid the “adoption fayres”.

As it happened towards the end of the assessment in late 2012 our social worker ‘sounded us out’ about a little boy they had to adopt. Following approval they asked us formally if we would consider him. Electing not to request any other profiles, we believed we had found our son!

I am so thrilled to report that the matching panel on Valentines Day 2013 unanimously agreed!

We await the formal confirmation from the “Agency Decision Maker” but all being well we anticipate meeting him in March and welcoming him home for Easter.

This journey has now taken a significant new turn!

Life on the Open Road

12 04 2012

Making the decision to officially enquire about adoption initially felt like a great release.

For the first time the road ahead seemed open. We had begun to reawaken our dreams of family life, though not daring to let them run too far. No longer did the odds on us becoming parents seem greater than that of buying the winning lottery ticket! Whilst the final matter was still firmly outside my control, here was action I was able to take that was a positive step towards parenting!

We had been invited by the local council to attend an Adoption Information Day. The day we had so nervously anticipated had arrived. This was the point at which we officially embarked on our adoption journey.

The tension and anticipation in the room was palpable. Dozens of couples from all walks of life found themselves uncomfortably drawn together into this space, bound only at this point by their desire to explore adoption.

The traffic enroute had done nothing to ease the nerves.

As we sat (awaiting the remaining victims of the morning rush hour snarl) we glanced around the room. Other couples twitched and fidgeted, clearly checking out their room companions too.

I became acutely aware the atmosphere was charged with an emotion of sorts; the pent up kind earnestly seeking release. At this point I was almost overcome and choked down a sob. Not one to get overly emotional, I sensed a lot was riding on this day. If the other couples sat before us now had shared parts of our story then there was to be found in this room many years of heartache, loss, grief and frustration. It was tangible!

Before us sat a small panel of people. Smiling warmly and offering us the opportunity to grab tea or coffee whilst we waited. They seemed used to accommodating a nervous company of guests. These were our hosts; senior social workers for the local authority.

The day soon got under way. The purpose of these days is to inform people of the realities of adoption in the UK today. Many people still think that couples adopting here will be giving a home to an unwanted or orphaned baby. Whilst that may be the case in many parts of the world today, in the UK (and perhaps across the Western world) this is simply no longer the case. Most unwanted babies will never come to be having been aborted as a developing foetus. Those children that remain requiring adoption are predominantly those who have been forcibly removed from their birth parent(s) because of neglect or abuse.

[This situation has puzzled and vexed me over the past few years. In 2011, according to the UK Department of Health, 196,082 abortions were carried out. Infertility figures are harder to gather, but somewhere in the region of 50,000 fertility treatments are carried out annually. This doesn’t make sense; something is wrong here! Whilst I don’t support abortion for convenience I recognise it to be a legal right individuals have to choose this action. I do not wish to condemn those making this choice. The irony is that couples experiencing infertility and couples/singles choosing abortion both face a sense of loss, grief and depression. My heart cries over the pain people face and simply thinks can’t we just cancel these pains out, offering more children up for adoption? Why is adoption not presented as more of an option?]

Over the years my wife and I have supported a number of vulnerable families, including helping a couple be reunited with their daughter after a period in foster care, helping them to rebuild their family. From our time together working in the fields of homelessness and addiction we had witnessed firsthand the effects of abuse, sadly and often unwarily revisited down through generations. The background for adoptive children wasn’t much of a surprise to us, though it may have been to a number in the room that morning. It was the intention of the authorities to present the reality – that adopters are taking on children with often complex needs. Not the idyllic picture some may have held.

That said we had a moving talk from an adopter of his experience of taking one of these children into his home and how he had taken to fatherhood. He shared how they worked together to overcome the past, helping his child form attachments again after his trust had been abused so early, and how proud he was now as to watch him grow. Adoption is a high calling for people to parent, not simply have, children.

The day was all too quickly over, yet we were exhausted. In it we had covered the application process, timescales and what to expect (more later), the children’s background, the legal framework and statutory bodies responsible for adoption, the Adoption Panel, the matching process and child placement.

The day ended with an invitation to let them know if we would like to proceed with our adoption application. Some would change their mind on reflection about the complexities of adoption today, and that is only right. However having slept on it, we placed our call in the morning with an affirmative “Yes”!

I’m pleased to report we’ve had a subsequent home visit from social services and they have agreed to accept our application to become prospective adoptive parents! The road ahead remains an open highway…yet trailing a long way off into the distance!

An unexpected encounter

7 03 2012

Throughout the first year of trying to conceive I had been telling myself that perhaps we were simply one of those for whom it would take longer.

We listened to many stories from family and friends of how others had managed to conceive after a struggle. The advice being that we should hang in there because it would happen in time.

Time passed. We sought help from doctors and undertook all the tests. No answers. We had a course of fertility treatment too, without success. I felt we were doing all that we could, all that I knew how.

Then it came. The medical profession’s conclusion on our conception problems. “Unexplained Infertility”.

That was the phrase they penned on our file; just the latest in an increasing number of emotional punches. We had watched countless friends start a family over recent years (to us it seemed that everyone was having kids!). We had been the first of our families kids to marry yet now watched our siblings raise the first grandchildren, in increasing numbers.

I’ve witnessed how being childless is a particularly hard thing for a woman to bear. I’ve learned how intricately woven into a woman’s sense of identity the ability to produce children actually is. When this ability is thwarted the desire only intensifies and the sense of purpose diminishes. Though not given voice the question in my wife’s mind seemed to be “If I can’t bring forth children (the next generation) then what am I here for?”.

Over the years a great sadness set in for both of us. And I felt powerless.

In my last post I explained my tendency to seek to “fix” things. Well I had tried. Tried and failed. Here was something that I simply couldn’t fix. What upset me most was it was something that really mattered. The woman I loved was inconsolable with a grief for which I had no consolation, comfort or fix.

Perhaps it was finally acknowledging this powerlessness and the reality of our situation that brought me to my knees.

A great depression followed. I couldn’t function at work. I felt like crying all the time though couldn’t give in. My thoughts raced constantly but never focussed on anything. I was quite simply losing my mind! I had noticed that over recent years I’d been struck by more and more colds and illnesses. A fact that hadn’t escaped my employers too and I was asked to account! Fortunately they are good people and offered me the chance to see an occupational health therapist. Somehow we ended up discussing our conception problems. I was asked about my feelings and the emotional upheaval of it all. To be honest I’d never considered a possible link between this and my general health.

I had been down before, but not debilitated like this. I began to simply weep. I had to work out what it was that I could do, even if I couldn’t fix our situation. During this time I read the proverb quoted in my last post:

“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.” (Proverbs 13:12 MSG)

A turn around is what I needed; what we needed. A good break sounded like the opportunity to find it!

Somehow things fell into place and enabled this. We negotiated a sabbatical period and took 3 months unpaid leave. Whatever else the future held for us we knew we had to focus again on what we had, to rebuild the strength in our relationship that had been eroded by this “unrelenting disappointment”.

Where better than heading into the wilderness, away from city life, busy distractions, people … oh, and the babies that seemed to surround us these days! And so we found ourselves some of the most remote cottages we could and began our retreat. A retreat from the world, yet one in which we rediscovered each other.Wordle: An Unexpected Encounter

We took time to cry, to grieve and to heal. Welcome time to walk in the snow, to ride in the mountains, to run in the rain, to share our hearts with each other, and with God; things we had neglected for a while.

It was during this time that my heart was opened to adoption as more than just an option. We encountered a lovely couple, only just older than us, who had adopted a little girl. We would never have known had we not been told how this beautiful family had come to be. They were a family who shared the dreams we once shared. Who had strength and into that strength had brought many others. They wouldn’t know it but they inspired me to dare to dream again, to hope for a future beyond the heartache of the last few years.

This chance encounter on a break in the wilderness of another continent had indeed began to turn our lives around. The proverb came to mind once more. A seed had been planted. It was to take us another year but this week we have taken the first steps on the road towards adoption for ourselves!

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