In the Club

In the club.jpg

I absolutely love this ridiculous BBC drama in its second season. It’s about a group of random women (with very bizarre stories) who had nothing in common except pregnancy. They met at antenatal classes and have loved and cared for each other ever since. They share each others worries and joys, they laugh together and cry together. There is something so powerful about shared experience. Sometimes there aren’t words for how we feel, but there is great comfort in a person who just knows.

I’ve never been pregnant, and while I’m told a lot of the emotional and hormonal experiences of adopting can be similar, there’s also a lot of differences. It’s easy to feel alone. Our social worker tells us stories of other adopters, and tells us what we’re feeling is normal, but it’s not the same.

Halfway through Stage 1 we spent four days at an adoption preparation group. For the first time we were meeting people who were going through the same thing as us, who were feeling the same things as us! A bit like the TV show, we were completely different people, with very different life experiences, but one thing in common. We were all longing for our children. We enjoyed those training days immensely and are still in touch with two of the couples we met.

I recently joined Twitter when I started blogging about our experiences. The main reason being to meet more people who were going through the same sorts of things as us. I log in every day and read tweets about parenting successes and failures, I read about the pain of caring for children who hurt, as well as the joys of the little victories. I read blog posts about the big events, and the small. Of all my Twitter friends I’ve only met 2 in real life, and yet I cry and rejoice with them all as they wait for their children, and then parent them through ups and downs.

Today was a Blog Day, but nothing big has happened, I couldn’t think what to write about. And then I realised something big has happened. I finally feel like I’m in The Club. There are actually people who are feeling the same joys and sorrows that I am feeling and will feel! I realised we’re not alone, and it is wonderful.

And so today, on a grey Friday, to all my Twitter and blogging friends: Thank you!

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The Healing Power of Destruction

I had a difficult weekend last week. After our final assessment interview before Approval Panel I felt incredibly helpless and nervous. My old, crippling Anxiety started to creep back, filling my mind and my body. Then on Sunday we had some news of a family leaving our church. This brought all the usual feelings of grief – sadness, loss, anger, betrayal. By Sunday lunchtime I was filled to bursting with Big Feelings. I felt like a can of Pepsi Max that had been shaken and shaken and was just waiting to be opened.

Before I was diagnosed with Anxiety, these Big Feelings would build up in me until there wasn’t room for anything else. Then they’d keep growing until they didn’t fit anymore and they’d burst out of me. My poor husband often bore the brunt of it. Sometimes we know these Big Feelings are inside us, but we don’t know what they are and so we can’t explain them. Either we try to reach out for help by expressing them, or they just burst out of us. Either way they can result in destructive behaviour – shouting, screaming, aggression, etc.

If we have destructive Big Feelings inside, we need to get them outside of our minds and bodies.

DSCF4822.JPGBut we need to learn to do this in a safe way. When I worked as a martial arts instructor I saw many children channelling Big Feelings through punching and kicking a punch bag. It was a great way to express destructive Big Feelings in a safe way and I am going to use this technique with our children when they arrive.

Sometimes just writing down our Big Feelings and then destroying the piece of paper can help. Anything that gets them outside of our bodies, without hurting anyone.

On Sunday I took a sledge hammer and crowbar and starting removing the paving slabs in our yard and smashing up the gravelly concrete underneath. It was therapeutic. Suddenly those Big Feelings that were eating away inside of me were instead eating away at the ugly concrete.

This was Constructive Destruction.

Constructive because it relieved me of those destructive Big Feelings, and because it was a job that needed doing! It was like opening the can of Pepsi Max.

The children we adopt will have their own Big Feelings. They may have experienced loss, neglect or abuse. They might feel hurt, or broken, or even destroyed. And they may bring with them lots of destructive behaviours – violence, anger, lying, stealing. Sometimes we will never understand why they do something. But sometimes they, and we, just need to know that something that was broken can be fixed.

Sometimes we need to see if something that was destroyed can be healed.

As I smashed up my ugly concrete garden, I knew that from this rubble would eventually come a beautiful, grassy garden.  And in the sadness and anger of grief, I knew that our little church family would heal. That though it hurts now, it won’t always. I knew I didn’t need to let those Big Feelings of Anxiety destroy me. I made room for other feelings. I filled two tubs with the rubble. One for my Anxiety. One for my grief. The destruction was healing.

And as a Christian I can look to The Ultimate Destruction for my Ultimate Healing. The destruction of the Son of God on the cross brought about the eternal healing of my sinful heart. Praise God!

Parents, how do you help your kids channel their Big Feelings? Have you found a way for Constructive Destruction? Do comment, I’d love to know your experiences!

 

Wise child-rearing in a technology saturated society.

While we wait for our children, I am working as a nanny for a lovely little boy in Year 2. With some help from his Dad, he’s recently set up a website where he sells things he’s made. It’s linked to PayPal for easy online payments. He has a staff only section for the 3 workers who he pays £1 a month to design new products. Currently a bookmark costs 69p and, as he’s started receiving orders, so I asked him yesterday whether he’d factored in delivery costs, or was that charged separately? He hadn’t factored in delivery costs because he didn’t know what a stamp was.

How can a child build a website from scratch, but not know what a stamp is?!

Well, after a long conversation with the Tesco kiosk lady about the cost of stamps, he’s now reconsidering the price of a bookmark.

DSCF4794But it got me thinking. I am only 25, but my childhood was so different from this 7 year olds. At his age I had a pen pal who I posted letters to regularly. With my school friends I saved up my spare change and posted it to the RSPCA. We’d send postcards to family while we were on holiday. I’m not sure I knew what a website was, never mind how to make one. I’m still not sure!

We see so many statistics of children who are groomed by predators over the internet, or exposed to pornographic images before they’ve reached puberty. We shake our heads at parents pushing children round in prams who are glued to an iPad. It’s easy to think of the internet and technology as the root of all evil. We say children should enjoy childhood the same way we did – playing in the streets. (How on earth do we think that is safer?!)

Well until recently, I really believed technology to be the Destroyer of Childhood.

Yesterday, when I picked up my little website-building friend, I began to change my mind. For a long time I’ve struggled to get him to engage with Maths, he just doesn’t enjoy it. And why should he?! Yesterday he worked out how much profit he’d make if he sent his products first class, and how much second class. He worked out the individual cost of a stamp from the price of a book of 12. He estimated how many products he’d sell in a month, so how much he’d have to spend on stamps each year. He factored in the costs of staff.

He then tried to negotiate a better deal on stamps from his Dad. He reconsidered the features of his products to decide if he could sell them for more. He started designing flyers to advertise his business, and badges for his staff. He has an apprentice.

Maths, literacy, art and design, negotiation, persuasion, leadership, problem solving, hard work and discipline, the value of money. Suddenly learning came alive, and he was loving it! And suddenly I found myself wondering, not how can I slow him down, but how can I keep up?! He might never use a stamp, but when you know how to send an email, does it really matter?

He might never play Kerbie, or trap his friend in one of those massive commercial wheelie bins, but I think he’ll survive. Especially when he’s made his first million by age 21.

And so, as we get ready to welcome our children home, I’d love to know how you feel about your kids and technology. How do you keep them safe without holding them back? How do you keep up?! At a recent Therapeutic Parenting training day I heard about the benefits of playing video games in light of the Nurtured Heart approach. I’d love to know your experiences of this too! Please comment and join the conversation!

The Blessing of Childlessness

Believe me, those are not two words I ever thought I’d put together.

All I’ve ever wanted is to be a mother, to look after my family, and then to be a grandmother. And I was going to be really good at it. I’ve always been involved in children’s work at church, and it was something I was good at.

I was pretty sure I would be a very good mum.

Soon after we got married we decided to try and conceive naturally. We’d just joined a brand new church plant and most of the team were young married couples. It felt like everyone was having babies so we didn’t want to be left out! We read books about parenting, we planned how on earth we’d fit a baby into our one-bedroomed flat, we wrote a list of baby names. Every time we visited a family with young children, we’d talk about how they parented and what we would do the same and what we would do differently. We were pretty ready.

But God had other plans.

DSCF4785.JPG6 months. 1 year. 18 months. 19 months. 20 months. We were getting impatient. People were having their second babies, their third! People would say things like, “just you wait, you don’t know the meaning of tired!” “Are you free to babysit? It’ll be good practice!” “Drinking wine? You mustn’t be pregnant!” “Going to the cinema? You lucky things – make the most of it!” Well we didn’t want to wait anymore, we didn’t want any more practice! And we certainly didn’t feel lucky.

Soft cheese and wine are not a good trade off for a child.

We knew we were becoming a bit obsessed and we knew it wasn’t good for our marriage. We needed a strong marriage in which to raise children, and on which to build a life when the children grow up and move on. We purposely decided not to pursue medical advice for lots of reasons and so we decided to stop talking or thinking or trying, and just to enjoy each other, enjoy being married. To an extent it worked, we grew closer and more in love, but the desire for children of our own never went away. Last summer we decided to move on with Plan A and apply for adoption. We’d just bought our house and inherited some money, we were in a much more sensible position and much more likely to be approved!

The closer we get to meeting our children, the more we appreciate our years of childlessness.

Recently we’ve been listening to The Valley of Vision by Sovereign Grace, and it’s helped me to vocalise some of the things I’ve learnt:

  1. Motherhood had become my idol. I longed for my children more than I longed for my Father. “You stripped me of everything I would depend on, so I’d depend on You.”
  2. My bitterness was not other people’s fault because I’d been wronged, it was deeply rooted in pride. “And though my humbling wouldn’t be my decision, it’s here Your glory shines so bright. So let me learn… that my losses are my gain, to be broken is to heal, that the valley’s where You make me more like Christ.”
  3. Jesus suffered much more than I ever will, in order to bring an end to my suffering. “You knew darkness that I might know light. Wept great tears that mine might be dried.”

Although it still hurts deeply, we thank God for our time of childlessness. For how He has grown us and cared for us; for the time we have had to serve others and to learn from them; and most of all we thank God that He gave up His only child for us.

“He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 113

Why my mental health is a strength

When we decided it was the right time to pursue adoption, our main concern was that I have a history of mental health illness. A few years back I suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression. We worried that they would think I was unstable, unreliable, weak. We knew that these children would need extra care above and beyond ‘normal’ parenting, and that I would be the stay-at-home parent so a lot of pressure would fall on me. We didn’t want to take something on if it would be damaging for us or for the children. But we felt we were ready, and we knew the social workers would make the right decisions.

As we have gone through the process and learnt more about the things our children will be experiencing, I have become convinced that my mental health isn’t just not a weakness, but that it is a strength.

Hyper-vigilant, trouble sleeping, restless, reliant on structure, distant, short tempered, compulsive behaviours, irrational fears, overeating/unable to eat, emotionally erratic, expecting the worst, unable to trust.

These are all behaviours I’ve been told that children who have been neglected, abused or who have had a significant loss might have. It’s also a good description of me when I was at my lowest point.

I can never understand what these children go through on their way to their forever families. But I do know what it’s like to be on constant high alert. I know how it feels to believe everyone who comes to the front door wants to hurt you. I know the fear of going to sleep in case my loved ones die in the night. I know the utter panic of last minute changes to plan. I know what it’s like to lie awake all night because your mind is so busy that it feels like it might explode. I know the temptation to curl up and shut out the world because it hurts too much to be in it. I know what it’s like to want to reach out for help, but not be able to make the words come out. I know the confusion when your heart starts racing and your ears start burning for no apparent reason. I know how it feels to struggle to breathe as your body goes into panic and seems to implode. I know how much it hurts to really believe the person you love most is lying to you, or trying to harm you.

DSCF1339.JPGAfter two bouts of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and prescriptions of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, I’m OK. I know my mind much better. I know the signs of an attack and I know how to cope. I know the words to communicate what’s happening to those around me. I know there’s no shame in mental health problems. I know techniques to ‘talk to myself’, to control my mind and my physical reactions to it. I know how important it is to look after your mind. I know that we are stronger than we think. I know that all of this can be overcome, but that it’s not easy.

The things my children struggle with, the reasons why and the ways we deal with it will all be different to my story. But I am convinced that my experiences will help me to be a better mother, to understand just a little bit more what my children are going through.

And so I believe my mental health is a strength. And if going through all of this means I can help my children in just a tiny way to heal, then it will all have been worth it.

Our wonderful social worker (and the cake she never ate)

After a confusing rejection from our local council, we contacted Home for Good (a Christian charity that promotes adoption and fostering) to find out what next. They pointed us in the direction of Adoption Matters (our adoption agency) who straightaway arranged to have a social worker come and visit us in our home. We were so nervous! We’d had a home inspection when we adopted our second cat from Cats Protection, and that was bad enough!

We cleaned the house from top to bottom, we considered in great depth the placement of every cushion, every photo frame, every coaster. We told ourselves our story over and over to make it sound as good as possible. We meticulously planned who would open the door, who would sit where, who would make the tea. We baked the cake. It was the most carefully baked Victoria sponge in all of history. I made the blueberry jam from scratch that sandwiched it together and then we displayed it on my beautiful cake stand on the kitchen worktop.

SCake.jpghortly before she arrived, I started to worry it looked like we were trying too hard. Should we just hide it and give her biscuits? Eventually we decided the best thing would be to eat some of the cake. Then she could still be impressed by my marvellous baking, but wouldn’t know we’d baked it just for her! She’d think we were the sort of family who have fresh, home baking casually!

Well when she arrived I was completely knocked off guard – she was nice! She seemed to really want to help, to really get to know us. It didn’t feel at all like we were being judged or tested, she didn’t mind the cats trying to get into her bag. And she was so young! Now, I watched Tracy Beaker as a child so I thought I knew what to expect, but this was not it!

Then came the big moment, “would you like some cake?” And then, so simply, so casually, my last wall of defence, my last big pretence came crashing down with three words, “no thank you!”

Well, apart from feeling a little bit devastated, somehow my need to put on a Desperate Housewives type performance left.

I realised it was OK to just be ourselves.

Throughout the process, our social worker has worked so hard to get to know us, how we think and feel. And then to use that to help us be the best parents we can. We’ve never felt like she’s trying to trick us or trap us. It genuinely feels like she wants us to succeed! This has really helped us to be open, which means we’ve learnt more about ourselves and each other and have been able to really think through how we can be a more effective team.

I always thought that once we were approved we would sign up to all of the magazines and websites and trawl through profiles until we found our children. Now, after months spent with our social worker I feel so differently. I trust that she wants the best for us, and for our children. I am confident that she is very competent at her job and knows much better than us. I know she has worked and will keep working really hard because she believes in what she does. And so we trust our social worker completely to find our children for us, and this, I think is one of the best compliments we could give her. We thank God every time we think of our wonderful social worker.

Even if she didn’t eat the cake.

Adoption was always Plan A

Since telling people that we’re on the road to adoption, one of the questions we get asked most frequently is “why aren’t you having your own?”

This hurts because we are! The children we adopt will be absolutely ours, our very own.

But it also hurts because the assumption behind the question is that adoption is somehow less than biologically conceiving and giving birth to a child.

Growing up, adoption was normal – my aunt was adopted before I was born. My parents did a lot of work with families where drugs and alcohol ruled. I saw firsthand how destructive these were, as well as spending time with children who were neglected as a result. And so from a young age, Adoption was always Plan A. When I met my husband we talked about this from the beginning, and he was always in agreement.

As Christians, adoption is a massive part of our faith.

The Bible tells us that we have been adopted by our Father God, that he has made us heirs with His Son, Jesus Christ. This is a massive deal! God, the Creator and Ruler of the world chose us in His great love to be His children, to share in all the good things He gives His Son (Ephesians 1:4-6, Romans 8:16-17).  And the Bible tells us that this was always God’s plan, we weren’t an afterthought, it says He chose us before the beginning of creation! Adoption was always Plan A!

DSCF4748.JPGOn our hearth we have a framed quote, it says:

“It’s important to realise that we adopt not because we are rescuers. No, we adopt because we are the rescued.”

Like all children, we mimic our Father.

Now this doesn’t devalue the beauty of conceiving and giving birth to a biological child. The Bible speaks very highly of this. It’s another way we can mimic our Father, who created people in His own image. There is something so wonderful about growing a child from nothing. Another beautiful picture of our God who created us.

When we got married we wanted to try and start growing our family straight away.

We started trying to conceive and contacted our local council to enquire about adoption within the first year. The council said that as we planned to have both biological and adoptive children, they would prefer for us to have the biological ones first. And so for three years we put our adoption dreams on hold and concentrated on that. How long do you wait before you wonder if there’s a problem? We didn’t know. But after three years we decided to stop waiting and to carry on with Plan A.

We haven’t had tests, we don’t know if we can conceive naturally or not. All we know is that so far we haven’t managed to, and that’s OK! We won’t be any less parents because our children are adopted. Adoption isn’t the consolation prize, it isn’t the last resort. It’s how we always planned to grow our family because it is a powerful and beautiful thing. Later we may adopt again, or we may continue trying to conceive. We may decide we have our hands too full to consider more children, or we may be rejected at panel and never be parents.

Ultimately, whatever happens to our plans we know that we can’t miss out on God’s Plan A for our lives. And so as our loving Father, we will trust Him with the future, whatever it brings.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21

“What can I get you?”

So this week we had to choose our criteria for our future children.

It felt a little bit like going to Subway: I’ll have a six inch Hearty Italian with tuna, NO cheese. Toasted, but with the onion on first, and then peppers and cucumber added after with a little bit of BBQ sauce, and a little bit of mayo. Yum.

When it’s children, it’s not so fun.

Questions like: what is your comfort level with a child who uses sexual behaviour to respond to stress? a child born of an incestuous relationship? a child with experience of physical abuse? a child who has cerebral palsy?

How can we opt to choose an ‘easy’ life, when these children never had the choice?

DSCF4741cWhat if we had a birth child born with Downs Syndrome, or Autism, or a mobility impairment, would we send them back?!

But as we filled in the forms something that the social workers have been saying all along, clicked! The adoption process is not about getting the parents the best children, it’s about finding the best families for the children.

They’re not asking us “what can we get you?” They need us to ask “What can we give you?”

Are we strong enough, equipped enough, able, to provide the love, boundaries and care that these children need? Alongside the therapeutic parenting all adopted children need? Ticking yes, yes, yes because we feel guilty saying no is NOT in the best interests of the child. These children deserve the absolute best love and support. NOT parents who are barely coping just to avoid feelings of guilt.

After a long, hard afternoon we have completed our form ready for the social worker tomorrow. We will hand it in guilt free knowing that we have not asked “what do we want?” but “what do they need?”

Not “can you meet our needs?” but “can we meet yours?”

And then we will carry on waiting, and trusting, that our children are on their way to us.