Rachel & Annie’s adoption story (Diagrama blog)
Today marks the start of LGBT Adoption and Fostering week 2017 – and Diagrama Adoption is, as always, proud to support this campaign.
Diagrama Adoption welcomes enquiries from people from all walks of life and our LGBT adopters and foster carers receive free membership to New Family Social where they can access specialised assistance, as well as dedicated, personalised support from our own team.
In celebration of LGBT Adoption and Fostering week, Diagrama adopters Rachel and Annie share the story of their journey to parenthood and the support they have received along the way.
It takes a village to raise a child…
When you choose to adopt, you open your life up. Not just to the child or children who you’ll form a family with, but to a stream of people who will enter your life. Those who you’ll meet on a regular basis in ‘real’ life – social workers, foster carers, teachers, health visitors…and those who you are likely to never meet, but will be ever-present in yours and your children’s life – birth parents, birth family members, teachers from past schools etc. That old saying that it takes a village to raise a child? Never is that more true than in adoption.
So when my wife and I were starting out, we knew it was going to be an important decision in who we chose to not just guide us, but support us through the adoption journey and beyond. It didn’t take us long to find Diagrama.
Before I go on, full disclosure: Diagrama asked if we would contribute a blog post for LGBT Adoption Week…it was easy to say yes because actually, we think they’re pretty great.
Our pathway to adoption
Those arriving at adoption have each taken a different path to get there – our personal journey had included a couple of failed IVF attempts – but for most the first step is attending an information evening – and in July 2015 that’s where my wife and I found ourselves, sitting in a small room with five other couples, waiting for a talk to begin.
To be honest I can’t remember too much about the talk – I know it mentioned the different stages we’d have to progress through, the checks we would have to get and the type of children we may find once we started looking (no babies).
What I do remember is the adopter that came to talk – she was open, honest and spoke about her children with such warmth and love, coming out of that session I knew it was something we could do.
Shed-loads of paperwork
So we started Stage One…aka ‘the shed-load of paperwork stage’. We completed a form, provided details for 3 or 4 referees, got our DBS (police) check – or, in the case of my American wife, a way more glamorous-sounding FBI clearance check – and had our GP complete a full medical.
Less than a month later we were sitting in our living room opposite ‘K1’, a flame-haired, (but thankfully not tempered) smart South African Diagrama social worker with the kind of eyes that make you tell the truth. Stage Two had begun!
Stage 2 – aka the totally randomly intrusive stage and the adoption version of the NCT group.
Questions, questions and more questions
There were lots of questions. I mean LOTS.
Questions you expected – What was your childhood like? What kind of values do you hold? Those you didn’t expect – Tell me about your great-grandparents, or.. I see you have colour-coordinated your bookshelf…would you say you have a tendency to be OCD?
Those that make you think – What kind of family do you want to be? How will you explain homophobia to your children?
We had weekly sessions and quite frankly we found the easiest thing to do was not to feel judged but to answer as honestly as we could. Once you’re through the process it makes sense – they want you to think long and hard about this life-long commitment you’re making and they have to get to know you – in order to successfully support you in family finding.
You also receive training during this stage. Ours took the form of a couple of weekends where you workshop your way through developing an understanding of what the term ‘looked after child’ actually means…the journey they will have been on, the losses they have suffered. It’s an eye-opening few sessions – and we can still remember most of the exercises we had to complete nearly two years on. It was powerful stuff.
At the end of Stage 2 you face…THE PANEL. My wife and I spent a lot of time thinking about THE PANEL. What would they ask? Would they like us? Would we be approved to become adopters? And when we think of THE PANEL why does it always give us the shivers?
In reality THE PANEL was made up of about eight people who had various connections to adoption – social workers, a GP, a couple of adopters, a couple of adoptees. We were nervous – true to form I chattered like a lunatic while my wife said very little. But Diagrama had been clear they wouldn’t put us forward if they didn’t think we were ready, and sure enough it wasn’t as bad as we expected – the questions they asked made sense (‘how would we deal with homophobia’?) and we were happy when after a bit of closed-door discussion, the panel head told us we were through. Approved for two children aged 0-6!
Finding our children
After two stages, you do have that feeling of ‘this is it! We’ve done it!’…there is no ‘stage 3’…you almost feel like the hard part is over. You are wrong. Family finding was one of the hardest parts of this whole process.
By now we had been passed from ‘K1’ to the capable hands of ‘K2’ – Diagrama’s lovely Swedish social worker – who shares our love of scandi-crime dramas and country music and who often worries about telling it like it is – ‘am I being too blunt?’ she often asks us. (She never is…and through family finding we always appreciated her candour).
The process of family finding is two-fold. On the one hand your trusty social worker is using her contacts to search, and you also have the ability to undertake your own searches through sites like ‘Adoption Link’.
Some people struggled with what sometimes felt like ‘shopping’ for children. We were as active with it as we could be. We were careful and considered, but it was one heck of an emotional rollercoaster. You find a profile you feel a connection with, you make an enquiry, you sometimes hear nothing, but sometimes you get questions back from the children’s social worker, you get excited, you get shortlisted, you mentally move the children in to your life, they go with another couple, there’s not often a reason given.
It all gets a bit much sometimes, but we took the practical route. We would cry, then pick ourselves up and get our game faces back on. ‘It just wasn’t meant to be’ was said a lot. Throughout this time we found we were looking at groups of both two and three siblings – we’d always talked in terms of ‘two or three’ and now faced with profiles, we found often that the number was just that…a number. The needs of the children was the important thing to be considered. There were groups of two siblings whose needs far outweighed those of groups of three.
K2 was often there with a good reality check – Can you cope with these? she’d ask. Always, we searched our hearts and came back with the honest answer. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting.
Something about them made our hearts skip a beat
Then, just over five months since we were approved we saw a profile of three sisters, all aged under six. There was something about them that made my heart skip a beat. I sent the profile to my wife. Same reaction. We emailed our social worker. She emailed their social worker. Yes, they would look at our information. We braced ourselves for disappointment.
A couple of weeks later K2 called. We would hear something by the end of the week. Two hours later another call came. They had read our information and wanted to come and meet with us. We were the only ones they wanted to meet. I was stunned. My wife was stunned.
Fast forward a few weeks and we were visited by two social workers who asked more questions. They showed us photos and videos. In two hours, we were smitten. As their social worker left, she turned to us…’If you don’t take these girls…I’ll be back’ she said (half) laughing. “Was that a threat?” asked K2 as we closed the door…it was the right kind of threat. The next day they wrote to confirm they wanted to proceed with us.
From that point it all happened quickly and not quickly enough. We attended a child appreciation day – met their foster carers, their teachers and their GP, and were overloaded with more information – some of which was the kind that doesn’t get captured on forms. It was invaluable.
We got rooms ready. We made introduction videos and books that explained who we were, what we liked to do and what our house looked like. Always keeping in mind how the girls would be feeling, what questions they would have, what might make them feel ok about making this move.
We attended one last panel…(there’s always another panel!)…this was the one that mattered – we were so nervous but we got through it and got the approval we needed.
Introductions (when you actually meet the children) started one month later. Looking back on it now it was all very surreal. But when you’re in it, you just go with it. Meeting three little strangers, learning about them, starting to love them, wondering if they’re starting to love you. It was brilliant, difficult, positive, nerve-wracking, hilarious and eye-opening all at once.
Getting to grips with a two-mummy family
The girls were prepared that they were going to have two mummies as their ‘forever family’. Our youngest two had no issue with it – in fact during our introductions we were constantly outed by middle. “That’s my two new mums” she’d tell anyone we would randomly come in to contact with. It took some getting used to!
For our oldest though, it took a little longer a ‘family’ to her looked a lot like the one she’d come from – a mum, a dad, a brother and a dog. A car ride during introductions we heard her voice from the back ‘Mum?’ we both said “Yes?” only to hear the little voice say “Urgh this is so confusing!” We had to agree!
As time went on we spoke more and more about being a same-sex couple. We were open with her, we understood, we broke out the books – ‘Picnic in the Park’ , ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ and our favourite ‘The Family Book’ by Todd Parr. We spoke as much as we could about how families can look different – but how each one is special in their own way. It took her a little longer, but she doesn’t see us as different now – we’re just simply her family.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. We had a complication that meant our introductions lasted seven weeks instead of the usual two (it’s a long story), but we tried to stay positive – we had extra time to get to know the girls, learn their routines and generally feel like we got this. Our ever-trusted K2 was with us throughout this stage – regularly coming to see us – making a very long drive – to ensure we were ok and to bolster our voice in the regular review meetings we had to attend. She really was a fantastic support.
Home at last
Coming home (a much longed-for day) finally came around. It was a huge moment for the girls – saying goodbye to the foster carers who had been the stability for the girls was tremendously hard. We drove away towards our new life to the sounds of the girls sobbing in the back of the car. We cried too. It was hard on all of us.
The one thing you learn through all the training, talks, and books you read as you get ready for adoption, is about the loss. There’s nothing easy about it. The upheaval, the newness of everything, the uncertainty. For those first few months of being ‘home’ it permeated everything. The girls showed it in their behaviour. Middle had regular, all-consuming meltdowns. Oldest wasn’t sure she wanted to be here. She was often frustrated and angry and didn’t really know why. Little was quiet and unsure. There were times we worried we couldn’t cope.
K2 was there during this time – and we couldn’t have got through without her – a calm voice to anchor us in some pretty stormy seas. But that old saying about time being a healer is true. Week by week, month by month things settled. Home started to feel more like home for the girls. After a bit of a struggle to find them a school place, we were lucky to get them into a great school where the teachers understood what they’d been through. The routine helped. Friends were made. Play dates and parties started. We began to feel more bonded. The girls started playing more around the house. We would sing when we drove anywhere in the car. On the weekends we used our National Trust membership to within an inch of it’s life. We started to feel the chaotic calm of ‘normal’ family life. There were still tears and tantrums, but there was laughter and singing now too.
Returning home we began to be very thankful that we had chosen Diagrama all those months ago – the post adoption support was fantastic. K2 would regularly come to visit once the girls were in bed and we could talk. Just being able to ‘off-load’ and analyse our progress helped keep us sane and see that we were making progress. Also indispensable was the support we got from other couples that we had met through Diagrama. We have formed a fantastic little collective – and we meet regularly at a local café. It gives the grown-ups a chance to have a proper chinwag/rant/laugh (depending on the week you’ve had) and the girls a chance to play with other children who have a similar background and they can identify with.
Fast forward to where we are now. We have been ‘Mummy’ and ‘Mama’ for just over a year. Life ‘post-children’ is very, very different from life ‘pre-children’ and it’s taken some getting used to both for our children and for us. We have both returned to work full-time and are lucky to have managers who have allowed us to tweak our work hours and add a work from home day each week. Like most parents we’re muddling through and making it work.
When I step back now, I see a family. A happy, messy, not always as organised as we should be, singing, shouting, dancing, loving family. We do this thing that we started in introductions…any time someone shouts “Family Hug” everyone has to pile in. It makes me laugh every time.