Lazy weekends, walks and wine.

During half term we decided to really knuckle down and get on with some of the decorating. In February we had a loft conversion done, adding another bathroom and bedroom to our 3 bedroomed terrace. We also plan to dig up the concrete yard, lay turf and plant flowers. We also have various cupboards to build, rooms to sort, things to fix. Half term seemed like a good time for some ‘nesting’, getting the house ready for the arrival of our little ones.

DSCF4837.JPGOn the first day we spent about an hour painting before we gave up. Now, that sounds kind of rubbish. But let me explain why. Preparing the house is really important, I had visions of a perfect haven for our children when they arrive, with a red front door and milk bottles on the step. In the real world, we’re realising that preparing ourselves is much more important.

Our children aren’t looking for a forever house. They’re looking for a forever family. Yes, of course, the better condition our house is in, the easier it may be to parent. Good storage, a safe outdoor space, carpeted stairs, it will all help. But what our children need even more is parents who are united, who love each other, who are a team.

And so instead of decorating, that afternoon we went back to our old university campus, where we first met, where we got engaged and had our wedding reception. We wandered around the library, sat in the sunshine, ate curly fries and ice cream and reminisced. It was a really wonderful afternoon. We didn’t write lists of jobs. We didn’t talk about paint colours or cupboard interiors. We just enjoyed one another. (And then went to the cinema to enjoy the new X-Men).

As committed as we are to making our house a safe, welcoming, comfortable home, we are also committed to spending time together, talking, laughing and relaxing. Remembering why we fell in love, and learning to love each other more deeply. Having fun together! Once our children arrive there might not be much opportunity for a long time to be just the two of us. But the basis of a strong family is a strong marriage. And so I will make no apologies for lazy Sunday afternoons spent in the pub, snuggly Saturday mornings watching DVDs or spontaneous trips out. We’re doing it for the kids!

Always check the label?

Last week I attended an information morning with Adoption Matters on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) and Neglect. The speaker was both a retired social worker, and an adoptive mum. I learnt that both FASD and Neglect can cause brain damage in a child, and can have very similar symptoms. As a prospective adopter, I picked up 3 main tips:

1. Don’t let your child’s difficulties become their failings.

Children affected by FASD and/or neglect will struggle with some things that other children won’t. There is such a wide variety of ways that children can be affected, this isn’t a one size fits all sort of thing. Children may struggle with poor co-ordination, hyperactivity, poor attention span, language development, understanding social situations, mixing reality and fiction, poor problem solving, attachment difficulties, poor academic performance etc. A child’s difficulties will be as unique as they are, and it’s a parent’s job to know them inside out.

A parent needs to know when their child is being disobedient, and when their child is unable to understand instructions. A parent needs to know when a child is being careless and clumsy, and when that child is struggling to control their own body. As you learn how FASD and neglect have affected your child, help them! If your child struggles to follow a list of instructions, don’t set them up to fail! Give them one instruction at a time, teach them ways to remember lists, help order their chaos with them. Our children may always have certain difficulties because in the past adults have failed to care for them. But those failings should never be our children’s failings.

2. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your child.

Many schools and teachers work really hard to help the children in their care learn and flourish. But it’s not always easy. Having a label like FASD can be really useful when it comes to getting school’s attention. A child with difficulties resulting from FASD or neglect may really struggle in a classroom environment. Hypersensitivity to smells and sounds can cause distress if a child becomes over stimulated, or can make it impossible for a child to focus on a task. Having to navigate complex peer relations and follow unspoken rules can be very daunting. Your child needs help, not just from you. They need other people on their side so their difficulties don’t become their failings.

And it’s a parent’s job to get people on side. You know your child best, so educate their teachers! If every child is unique in their strengths and struggles, your child’s teacher will need help to understand your individual child’s difficulties. Give them literature to read, point them in the direction of useful resources, be patient and explain exactly what your child struggles with and how they can help. It could just be things like always sitting at the front of the classroom, help getting changed for P.E., being allowed to leave the room for a quiet moment, a map of the school or a timetable of the day. Teachers won’t always think of these things, so don’t be afraid to help!

There may also be times when you need to really stand up for your child. You may have to go against your nature and be willing to make some noise. But isn’t it better to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, rather than your child? Make those appointments with the Head, ask exactly how your Pupil Premium is being spent, be your child’s advocate.

3. Don’t get distracted by the label.

DSCF4836Yes, labels can be really useful for getting the help and support your child may need. But labels are not the be-all and end-all. There is a lot more to a child than the labels we put on them. Especially a label like FASD, which can mean just about anything! All children, labels or not, will have struggles and difficulties. And all children have beautiful qualities and special gifts.

Enjoy your child’s special gifts, and celebrate their courage.

An adopted child will have experienced too much loss and pain in their little lives. They are brave, they are courageous, they are strong. Celebrate the little triumphs and love them for exactly and completely who they are, labels and all.

I’d love to hear your stories – how have labels helped/hindered your child? How do you enjoy your child’s special gifts and celebrate their courage? Comment below and join the chat!

 

 

This is your life…

Last week we received our Prospective Adopters Report (PAR). A 21 page long document about us and our abilities to parent. It made for very strange reading.

Young, vibrant couple in their mid twenties.

Our social worker did a great job. I would definitely give us children! Hours and hours of interviews meant she could give really detailed accounts of our lives and significant experiences. She included anecdotal stories that make us seem like real people to someone who’s never met us. She made observations about us as a couple that we were oblivious to, like how we interact together.

DSCF4832.jpgAnd yet it made for uncomfortable reading too. Very personal memories are suddenly written in black and white and handed over to strangers. I felt comforted that the document she emailed to us was password protected. Not because it contains secrets, or because I’m worried who might want to steal it. But somehow it felt respectful.

Since our assessment interviews finished and we didn’t have any more homework, I’ve naturally started worrying about panel. I bought myself a new dress (actually 3) to wear on the day to give me confidence. However now I’m wondering if I’ve wasted my money. Sitting in a room full of strangers who have all read this document, I’m pretty sure I’m going to feel completely naked.

White British, heterosexual, able bodied, Christians.

And as always it comes back to the fact that a room of complete strangers get to decide whether or not I can be a mum. They will know my medical history, how I got on at primary school, how my husband proposed. What they won’t know is how long we have longed for our children. How much we already love them. The way our hearts break when we pray for their safety. It doesn’t feel fair that these strangers get to make such a massive decision. That we have to be prodded and poked and investigated inside out. But this is how our children will come home to us. and so we trust and we wait.

We are thankful for our social worker and the hard work she’s put in, as well as the PAR she’s written. We’re thankful that there are procedures in place to protect our children, and that that room of strangers are there because they want the best for our children. We’re thankful for a God who is in control, who has a plan and who loves us.

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!

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!

 

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

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.

What am I?!

Our road to adoption has been a rollercoaster of feelings so far. A lot of people have remarked how similar it is to pregnancy, I’ve never been pregnant but I sort of think they’re right.

Waiting. Nesting. Preparing. Worrying. Dreaming.

At first we weren’t sure if it would happen so we didn’t tell many people, the more sure it got the harder it was to hide and so we made ‘the announcement’. Friends and family have been so supportive, they want to know if there’s any news, anything they can do.

DSCF4734We started getting ready, nesting. We had a loft conversion built to add another bedroom and bathroom onto our house. We’re getting bedrooms ready, childproofing stuff, making  our concrete yard into a family garden. We have, in our weaker moments, bought a t-shirt and a dress that we keep in our wardrobe until we need them!

We’ve been reading all the books, going to the training, desperately trying to prepare now so we won’t be taken by surprise when it happens(!) We worry that we’ll let them down, that they won’t like us.

We often find ourselves saying things like “this will be so much better when our children are here,” “this time next year it could all be very different!” We find ourselves daydreaming about the things they’ll like, the places we’ll take them, the kind of parents we will be.

We are Expecting.

And yes, it is very different to pregnancy too. I haven’t had to give up my uterus for 9 months, and all the trauma that comes with that! But the emotional turbulence has taken it’s toll on me still. (I have found myself crying before at the sight of baby wipes in the supermarket.)

We won’t be getting a newborn baby screaming and covered in goo. But that doesn’t mean our children will come quietly! And the messiness they’ve been through on their way to us will stay with them much longer.

We don’t have much idea at all when our children will arrive. But we know that God does, and we trust His plan and His timing because He knows us and our children better than we ever will.

There is one big difference, that I think may make this harder than pregnancy. It isn’t the paperwork, or the long meetings or having to explain to people why you’re not having ‘your own’ children. When you are pregnant your child exists but you’ve never seen them. You love them unconditionally before you’ve ever met them. Our children exist, God has already chosen them for us and they are out there somewhere; we love them so much even though we’ve never met them. But unlike a pregnant mother I don’t know if my children are safe, and I can’t do anything to keep them safe. Pregnant mothers can obsessively watch what they eat, what they lift, wait to feel a kick. Every night they go to bed and they know their child is where they should be.

Every night I go to bed and I pray that my children are safe, because that’s all I can do until they are here, where they belong.