So near, yet so far!

Three weeks ago, we attended a Life Appreciation Day. I’m not sure why it’s called that because every time I hear it I think of a funeral. Anyway, this certainly wasn’t a funeral. After being matched with our boys but before going to Matching Panel, the Life Appreciation Day was to give us as much information as possible and fill any gaps so everyone could be absolutely sure they wanted to proceed.

We knew it would be a long and emotional day, and so we traveled the night before and stayed over. We had a lovely dinner out at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then tried to relax, not easy when you’re suddenly in the same town as your children who you’ve never met. The next morning we had an all-you-can-eat (spot the theme!) breakfast at the hotel before setting off for the foster carers (Mike and Marion’s) house.

We knew our boys would be at nursery, but driving down the street was such a strange feeling. I kept looking at things – houses, cars, bins – and thinking, ‘my boys have looked at that too.’ Somehow having that house or car in common just for a second made me feel closer to them.

When we arrived at the foster carers house the boys’ social worker and family finder were already there, but our social worker hadn’t arrived yet. We didn’t really know how it would go, or if there was a structure to the meeting. There didn’t seem to be as everyone just started chatting, mostly about the boys. As soon as our social worker (Kate) arrived we felt a lot safer. She always seems to know what to say!

Mike and Marion are clearly very attached to the boys, they’ve had them for almost two years after all. It was obvious that they were very emotional and this made it hard. It felt like we were taking away their children. They were very professional and kind though, they kept saying things like, ‘it’s all part of the job!’ with a laugh; but it was clearly very hard for them. We could see how loved the boys were from the way they talked about them, and that was a great comfort to us. They kept pointing out things around us – that’s his blanket, he likes that cushion. Everytime they did my tummy went all funny. They boys were becoming more and more real. Then they showed us their bedroom.

At that point it all got too much for me. The feeling of being so close to them, without them being anywhere near was strange. We’ve grown to love these two little boys who we’ve never met. Seeing where they slept, their clothes hanging up, teddies on their bed. It was so happy, and so sad. Happy because we felt close to them. But sad  because we weren’t. I also felt incredibly guilty for taking these two wonderful boys from these two wonderful foster carers. Marion gave me a big hug. Although I don’t know them, I do love them, because they have loved my boys, and my boys have loved them. They’re part of my family’s story. And knowing that my boys have been in that hug too was wonderful. When we came downstairs, all the social workers were sat with diaries out discussing Introductions. My head started spinning, it was all becoming very real. Fortunately Mike and Marion wanted to show us the garden and so we quickly left the room again!

3450585089_7f017e8be6_o.jpgAfter leaving the foster carers, we went to (you guessed it!) an all-you-can-eat carvery pub to meet the adoptive parents (Gary and Joan) of our boys’ half brother (Josh). We were nervous about this too. Part of the adoption arrangements is that we will have direct contact with Josh at least once a year, as well as sending Christmas/birthday presents. By adopting our boys, we’re also gaining a sort of extended family, so we wanted this first meeting to go well!

It did, they were absolutely lovely. They are completely in love with their son and that was lovely to see. As they had fostered Josh while our boys were with Mike and Marion (sorry, hope you can keep up!) they knew the birth family well from contacts. It was really helpful to be able to get more information, especially from people who are adopting a child from the same home as we are. We were disappointed to hear last week that we probably won’t be meeting with birth mother; but we are glad we will always have Gary and Joan to fill in gaps. As the boys get older I hope they will see Mike and Marion as an uncle and aunt, and that they’ll be able to chat to them about their birth family.

After this meeting, we headed for the boys’ nursery. Only Kate was coming with us as the boys’ workers had other appointments. She went ahead in her car and we arrived a minute or two behind so headed in to find her. As we walked up the path, I had the same feeling as in the boys’ bedroom. I looked around greedily, trying to drink in all the things they must have looked at too. I noticed a little blonde head that reminded me of our youngest boy. I imagined it was him playing at nursery. Then my husband nudged me and whispered, ‘don’t freak out, but I think they’re here.’

Somehow the boys were at nursery when we were due to go. We’re still not sure how it happened, but we’re so glad it did! People keep asking me how it felt to see them, and I just don’t know. My first reaction was to turn around and run away. I felt like I’d give it all away if they saw me, or that we’d get into trouble. Fortunately my husband was behind me so I couldn’t, and we kept walking towards the door. I tried not to look at the boys, it felt like I wasn’t allowed to! But I couldn’t help myself, especially as our youngest had stopped scootering and was staring right at us as if he knew! My head was spinning, my ears were ringing, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I’m not sure how we got inside, but we did. And as soon as we did I burst into tears. I was so confused how that had just happened, and so overwhelmed. Kate apologised and checked we were OK, then she let us sneak around a corner where we could watch them playing for a few minutes! They were the most wonderful few minutes. Somehow, we stopped looking and composed ourselves. We still had to sit through a meeting with the boys’ key workers.

My head was still spinning, and sitting at a tiny table on tiny chairs drinking water out of pink, plastic wine glasses didn’t help the situation – it all felt a bit Alice in Wonderland! Fortunately Kate asked lots of questions while I mostly sat stunned. To be honest, I can’t really remember what we talked about, but we took photos with the key workers so we could tell the boys this story one day!

Finally, we drove to the hospital to meet the doctor who has done regular medical checks on the boys since entering care. she was another lovely person, and so helpful! She explained a lot of things very thoroughly, but in a way we could understand. One of the boys may need a simple procedure, and the decision was due to be made the week of introductions, so she was able to advise us on this. We were so grateful to have this meeting, it was really valuable. But it was also the end of a very strange day, and my husband kept dropping off! As we were saying goodbye, she told us she would be on the Matching Panel! I asked her if she would please say yes, and she said OK! That made me feel a lot better!

Well, that was a long post about a long day. We came home feeling more sure that these were our children, and with their faces in the playground etched on our hearts.

N.B. I have changed everybody’s names!
Image: Jeremy Brooks (2009)
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The road less travelled…

Recently we have spent a good deal of time with dear friends who are either pregnant, or parenting young children. This is a great joy, and we love imagining it is our own children making crumbs and chewing the coasters as we get ready to welcome them home. It also, at times makes me question why our journey to parenthood is so  different, and seemingly more difficult. From the outset, I know this is unfair. Every journey is different, and every hurdle feels insurmountable when we first face it, so I do not wish to belittle other peoples struggles, I’m just trying to be honest about how I sometimes feel.

The news of another pregnancy, or a casual remark about the ease of getting pregnant can trigger old feelings of shame, anger and guilt. There was definitely a stage when I grieved for pregnancy and the newborn child with my hair and my husband’s nose, this is not what I feel now. I have loved the highs and lows of our journey and I love our children-to-be, I would not swap them for 10 children from my own womb. But I have never quite shaken the shame and guilt I first felt when my body didn’t do what it was supposed to. We have never had any medical confirmation that one or both of us is infertile, or if we just have exceptionally bad timing! But I have always felt, deep down, that it is my fault. Somehow I am broken. And while I don’t dwell on this anymore, certain things will trigger that old shame and frustration that once overwhelmed me.

Today has been one of those days. And as I started up the stairs to bed tonight, I was reminded that our journey isn’t an accident. It’s not chance, or bad luck that led to our pain, frustration and finally to the joy of adoption. I have a Heavenly Father who knows me fully and loves me completely, and He has planned every day of my life. He has chosen this journey for me, for us, because he cares. Somehow, it is for our good, and His glory.

I cannot claim to know God’s reasons, but one thing I do know is that if we had conceived when we planned, we would not be adopting children for several more years from now. Which means that those two little boys that we have fallen in love with, would have been adopted by somebody else. If we believe, as we do, that God is in control of His world, then we must conclude that God brought them and us to this point and this time because He wanted us to be a family. And that is pretty special.

13067014944_0ea3967f8e_o.jpgGod didn’t forget about us when He was planning out the families, He’s saved 2 little boys for 4 years just for us. Yes, our journey to being a family has looked different to a lot of other people. Yes it’s hurt more than some other journeys. But it is the journey planned for us by our loving Heavenly Father before either of us took our first breath. We cannot compare our journey to other people’s. God knows all of His children, and He knows the right journey for them.

We trust completely that His plans are good, and we cannot wait to meet the children He has chosen for us.

Image: Wonderlane (2014)

Grrr, Radio 4!

This morning there was a short piece on BBC Radio 4 about female engineers. The woman being interviewed said how it was a great shame that there were not more women engineers in our country and how they were actively working to bring more women into the industry. The presenter concluded by urging all female listeners to consider a career in engineering. Well I have considered it, and here follows my reasons for not pursuing a new career.

I am a big believer that if you set your mind to something, with enough hard work you could achieve it. Certain social groups will have to work harder than others because of prejudice and inequality (anyone who isn’t a white, middle class, able-bodied male). But I went to a modern girl’s grammar school where we were taught to break the glass ceiling, don’t be the same as men – be better, and all that feminist malarkey. So my views that follow are by no means coming from the position of an oppressed, uneducated or indoctrinated woman.

Since my teen years, there has only been one career I have wanted: to be a wife, a mother, a homemaker. C.S. Lewis supposedly described ‘the homemaker’ as the ultimate career. And I do believe to make a home is a very noble task. A place to grow and thrive, somewhere safe from which to explore the world. A place to learn what love is, what it means to care for someone, to sacrifice for them. Somewhere to be valued and respected. Somewhere where there is joy and laughter, where sorrows are shared and loneliness is eased.

5113200859_377d4ec976_o (1).jpgMy (engineer) husband and I are a team. He works hard to provide our house – he pays the bills, provides food to sustain us and financial security so we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I work hard to make that house a home – I try to make it a welcoming, relaxing place to be, somewhere where there is nutritious and delicious food(!), a haven where he can relax and feel safe and loved after being away from it all day.

Soon my job description is going to expand! I will have two little ones to care for who need stimulation, education, love and reassurance. My job will involve providing them with opportunities to learn and grow, caring for them physically, emotionally and spiritually, teaching them what love is through daily sacrificing of my own wants and needs for theirs. My job isn’t simply childcare, it’s child-training! Preparing them for school, for independence, for responsibility, for adult life, for marriage, for parenthood, for life!

As I write this, the photos we have of our two little ones are playing on a slideshow on the second computer screen. As I think ahead to this new stage of our lives, this new role in my busy and rewarding career, my heart swells in my chest with anticipation, with love and with frustration at BBC Radio 4. I do not feel I should pursue a career in engineering, just because I am a woman. If there are less female engineers than male in our country, is that a disaster? Could it be that those women just chose other careers? Telling me I have to consider a job in engineering simply because I am a woman, is as bad as telling me I should stay home with my children all day because I am a woman.

With full awareness of my options in the world, I am choosing to be a wife, mother and homemaker because that is what I want. If other women choose to be engineers – great! But let it be because they want to engineer, and not because society says they should in order to appear more equal. I do not feel any less than my husband because he engineers and I homemake. I couldn’t do what I do without him doing what he does. Likewise, he couldn’t do what he does without me doing what I do! That’s what makes us equal. The freedom to choose your own path rather than being pushed down the one that best suits others. That’s what makes us equal.

In my third year of university I took a module in Feminism. I used to come home irate  after each lecture and every time I vented my feelings towards my husband, he would respond with a smile, “grrr, feminism!” Well that’s how I feel today. Thank you very much for the right to vote, but please stop telling what to do in order to feel fulfilled and free.

Image: pbkwee

Santa Claus is coming to town?

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and tomorrow the new term starts. Before we know it, Christmas will be here (yay!!!) and it’s looking quite likely that this Christmas could be very different for us with the possible arrival of our 2 children! This has got us thinking about how we want to celebrate Christmas as a family, what traditions we want to start and what ground rules we want to establish.

One thing we’ve both always felt strongly about is that we don’t want to encourage our children to believe in Father Christmas. Please don’t condemn me until I’ve explained why.

  1. We don’t want to ever lie to our children. It’s not just the untrue claim that Father Christmas exists, but it’s all of the pretence that goes with it. Sending letters, visiting a man in fancy dress, sprinkling reindeer food and leaving out a mince pie and carrot. Parents often have to work hard to convince their children that Father Christmas IS real! And that results in quite a lot of deception that we aren’t comfortable with. We want our children to know that they can always get an honest, frank answer from us. We want them to know that we have never misled them. As adoptive parents, we are going to have to work extra hard to gain our children’s trust, we don’t want to make it harder. And as Christians, we don’t want learning about our Heavenly Father to be overshadowed by or confused with stories of a mythical ‘Father’.
  2. We want to teach our children grace. Father Christmas expects boys and girls to earn their gifts, but that’s not what gifts are. Gifts are given freely without condition or clause. Gifts are abundant and loving. If our children think they need to earn their Christmas presents by making it onto the list, how do they know anything good we give them isn’t conditional? How do they know our love isn’t? How do they know God’s love isn’t? Now of course children need to learn the value of hard work and reward. But not in the context of gifts. At no other time in life are we expected to earn gifts. The shame that is often attached to adoption means our children may find it hard to accept that we love them unconditionally. They may often feel they need to earn it, or that they never can. We don’t want to reinforce this through scaremongering tactics.
  3. Parents should be their children’s main authority. It drives me mad when I hear parents say things like “if you keep making a noise, the policeman will come and get you,” “if you don’t go to sleep, Father Christmas won’t come.” First of all, neither of those things are true. Second of all, do we want our children to be afraid of policemen?! And thirdly, why can’t we say, “don’t do that because I said and I’m your parent?!” When did being a parent not be enough to expect obedience?!
  4. We think the truth is more exciting! Christmas is the time of year that Christians celebrate God becoming human in order to be a  sacrifice by which we could know Him. That’s really exciting! It means gifts beyond any Christmas List that Father Christmas could ever bring.  Furthermore, Saint Nicholas, on whom the myth of Father Christmas is based, was an excellent man! He fiercely defended the gospel and apparently even punched a heretic in the face(!?) We want to teach our children the truth about Saint Nicholas, and still enjoy the myths, but knowing that they are myths. Most of all, we want Christmas to be about celebrating the real hero of the season, the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ.

3120969316_6ecdb66f97_o.jpgAs we’ve talked about this recently, we’ve realised that it is very likely that our children’s foster carers won’t have felt the same, and so it is likely our children will already believe in Father Christmas. We don’t want to shatter their fantasies as soon as they walk in through the door, we equally don’t want to go against our principles in order to keep up the pretence. We will probably try and play down Father Christmas, whilst having a really great Christmas, and eventually fade him out until he is just a nice character in books and films.

I hope, if you are big Father Christmas fans, that you won’t be offended. I love Christmas, and I always love it when people are enjoying the season, I do also quite like Father Christmas as an idea and I especially love all the films about him (Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus: The Movie, The Santa Clause…)  This is what we have decided after a lot of thought and discussion, it doesn’t mean it’s right for all families.

If you have any experience of this in adoption, or if you have similar or different views on Father Christmas, I’d love to hear them and to know your tips in general for surviving Christmas with kids!

Image :kennedyrox (2008)