How do you know…?

In the Disney film Enchanted, the main character Giselle sings a song called That’s How You Know. It’s really good. She’s explaining to Robert that he has to romance his love everyday so she knows he loves her. By the end of the film, she realises that love isn’t about romantic gestures, it’s about mutual respect, trust and commitment. She also learns that it isn’t quite so clear cut as finding ‘the one’.

While we were waiting to be matched, I was very conscious that our children were ‘out there’ somewhere and we needed to find them. I was also aware that there were a lot of children who fitted our criteria, and who we could love for the rest of our lives. We weren’t looking for ‘the one(s)’, we knew whoever we ended up with would become our own. We knew once we found our children, we would love them wholeheartedly. We would commit to them, no matter what. That is how we would know.

The question was, which ones should we commit to.

We kept our criteria broad, mostly to improve our chances of a quick match! Before we were approved, we decided that we would say yes to the first offer we had, unless there were any serious red flags. We also agreed with our social worker that we would leave the search to her. She knew our criteria, she knew us, and she knew the system. She could also be led much more by her head than we could. However, once we were approved, we had to set up a Link Maker account so that she could look on our behalf. This was lethal. Once we were on the website, how could we not look?!

We looked at every profile we could find on there. We imagined them as ours, in our house, with our family, in our arms. We talked about how their names would sound with ours. We wondered how we would manage certain health or development issues. We considered if we could actually take three, or four… We flagged up several profiles for our social worker to look at and pursue for us. We also started to get messages from childrens’ social workers.

There were a lot of children who fitted our criteria, who we could have loved forever. There were some profiles we preferred based on little things – names, ages, hair colour. How else are you supposed to choose between them?! Our social worker followed several leads for us, all very different profiles, all very real possibilities. At one point we were in the top two for some sisters who we were very keen on. They went with the other couple because we were too white. I sobbed in the M6 toll service station for a while after that phone call. It was a ruthless, brutal process. 

One day in the summer holidays, when we were decorating the loft, our social worker rang to say that a family finder wanted us for two little boys. She gave us some details and asked if we would like to read their CPRs. I felt numb. We were completely blindsided as we hadn’t seen them on Link Maker, and at this point we had several profiles in our minds that were at different stages of being explored. Our social worker explained to us that if we decided to meet with the family finder and social worker, she would have to suspend all of our other inquiries. It felt like a big step, to cut off all those other options.

That same day we received the CPRs and read them on the loft floor while my in-laws carried on decorating. It was hard to take in all of the nitty gritty details they don’t include in the Link Maker profiles. We’d never read a CPR before, and it was a strange experience. We decided straight away that we would pursue these little boys as far as we could. The professionals thought we were the right match, and we knew we could care for them and love them. We were excited because we might have found ourchildren. Would we have felt like this if it was a different CPR? I don’t know. Probably.

The more likely to happen it seemed, the more certain we became that we wanted it to. We looked at their photos all the time. We talked about what they might like. We decorated their room and imagined them in it. The social workers chose to give us these boys, and so we chose to love them.

How did we know? I don’t think we did. How do we know? I know because I think about them every waking moment.  When they are afraid or hurt and need their Mum, I know. When the punch and kick and bite me, when they spit and swear at me, I know. When they wake me up, when they cuddle me, when they set the table, when they ignore me, I know.

I know they are mine, I know that I love them because I choose to. Sometimes it’s easy. As I write this, Spiderboy is playing X-Box with his Dad. I keep stopping to watch him. He is just about perfect in every way. His little knees sticking out of his shorts, his gorgeous eyes magnified by his glasses, his blonde hair combed over to the side, his voice and his fingernails and the way he keeps rocking on his chair and driving his Dad mad. I keep welling up when I look at him because Iam overwhelmed with feelings of love.

But sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes he presses all my buttons on purpose. Sometimes his pain and trauma spill out of him, and it causes me pain too. Sometimes I’m just too tired to play, or to answer questions, or to say the same thing. Again. These are the times I really know. Every time I choose to sacrifice my own comfort, wants, happiness, safety for the sake of my boys, I know they are mine. I wouldn’t do it if they weren’t.

I suppose the moment we ‘knew’, was the moment in matching panel when they said yes. We left the room and I cried. I knew then that I was a Mum. And I knew I had the best little boys in the whole world.

This is just a recreation of me coming out of matching panel.

Everybody wants to live happily ever after
Everybody wants to know their true love is true…

His heart will be yours forever
Something everyday will show
That’s how you know…

That’s how you know it’s true.

 

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)

One year on…

Well, a year and a day ago was a very special day. That was the day we first met our social worker and our adoption journey officially began with Adoption Matters. A year and a day later (today) we met with another social worker and a family finder to discuss two children who will probably very soon be our children.

What a year!

At times it has been frustrating, exciting, exhausting, mostly all at the same time. Looking back I can see that the process has helped to prepare us for what is to come in lots of deliberate and undeliberate ways. Here are three big things I’ve learnt:

919395814_b86b34dee2_o.jpgFirstly we’ve had to practice patience. I am not a patient person, I hate having to wait for anything (especially Christmas). But the nature of the adoption process involves a lot of waiting – waiting for forms to process, waiting for appointments, waiting for letters, emails, phone calls, waiting for social workers to come home from (well deserved) holidays. There is a lot of waiting for other people to do things. Often it can be frustrating because to you, your case is the only thing that matters; but for a social worker, they must balance several cases, while making decisions based on experience and knowledge instead of emotion. Learning to let go and not need to be in control of everything will help us in the chaos of parenthood. Learning to be patient while people do things at a different pace than you would like will help us step back and allow our children to grow. Learning to trust God’s timing and plan will help us parent with joy instead of anxiety, knowing there is a loving heavenly Father in control.

Secondly we’ve developed persistence. We’ve heard stories of people who gave up on adoption because the process was too hard. Often people remark how this is a shame, but I’m not sure it is. Parenting will not be easy. It will certainly not be easier than the journey to get there! But I do believe that if it is something you really want and are committed to, you can get through much more than you know to get there. We’ve stuck at it because we want to be parents. And once we are, we will not be giving up, despite the challenges that will come. I think in this past year we have learnt that it is easier to give up, but not as rewarding. We’ve learnt that if something is worth having, it’s worth hurting for. We’ve learnt that a parent will sacrifice and suffer to protect their child, just as our heavenly Father gave His own Son to make us His children.

Thirdly, this year has been a great time to work on relationships. First and foremost our relationship with each other is stronger. We’ve been through quite a journey together this year and we are closer because of it. We’ve learnt to lean on and support one another; to talk more honestly about our feelings, our weaknesses and our fears; and to care for one another better. We’ve also begun to discover the importance of relationships with others. Before this year we had kept our struggle with childlessness quite private. But this year we’ve been able to open up and draw strength from the wonderful family and friends around us, growing relationships that we will no doubt need more as we become parents.

We are very thankful to God for this year of waiting, of trusting and of growing. We know that he has been preparing us for the wonderful job of being parents. We know He has been guarding our children, and preparing them to join our family too.

Most of all, we look forward to what this next year will bring!

Image: mat_n (2007)

Paper Pregnant?!

I do not like this phrase. I’ve read lots of objections, and none of them are the reason I don’t like it. I just don’t. If we have to have a label, I’d prefer ‘expecting’ or ‘parents in waiting’! But recently I have started to feel pregnant. Not paper pregnant, but actually physically pregnant. (Don’t panic, I’m not.)

We were approved as adopters earlier this month, and then on Friday we met with our social worker for the first time to discuss the next stage. She had already been working very hard to find us matches and showed us several profiles of children whom she was ‘pursuing’ on our behalf. It was a very exciting and stressful meeting. Exciting because we may have seen the faces of our children for the first time. Stressful because we don’t know! There was one profile in particular that we can’t stop talking about, and are praying might be the children God has chosen for us.oblivion16

Since Friday I have been overwhelmed with excitement and nerves at the same time. Years ago I went to Alton Towers and there was a rollercoaster called Oblivion. At the start you get to the very edge of a vertical drop and the car stops, you are left hanging over the edge for no longer than a couple of seconds before the car drops into ‘oblivion’. Those couple of seconds feel like hours, you hold your breath and brace yourself for what’s coming.

I feel like we’re hanging over that edge at the moment.

But when we have massive feelings in our hearts/heads, our bodies are affected too. And the effects of the excitement/nerves looks more and more like pregnancy! I’ve found myself needing to rush for a wee more and more, I think because my body is so tense. I find these big feelings sometimes leak out of my body in tears, so I seem to spontaneously cry for no reason. Sometimes I feel so nervous and excited I think I might be sick. I’m physically tired, not from growing a human but because I can’t switch off my brain at night to get enough sleep. I’m eating more to try and feed the butterflies in my tummy which often feel like hunger, and so now I’m starting to look pregnant as I grow my tummy with cake!

The difference is we don’t have a due date. I don’t know if this will last for weeks or months or years!

And just because my children aren’t physically in my tummy doesn’t mean I don’t carry them everywhere with me. They are constantly in my thoughts and my heart as I love them more each day without having met them.

There isn’t a word I like to describe what’s happening, and I hope and pray that it doesn’t last long enough for someone to come up with one!

In the meantime we are praying that God will be preparing us and our children to be a family; that He will help us to trust Him and His plan more each day and that we manage to get some sleep before they arrive!

How will we know?

In 11 days we go to panel to be (hopefully) approved as adoptive parents. Then comes the matching process. Our Social Worker seems confident that we will have profiles to look at straight away because our criteria is fairly open. Throughout the process we’ve tried not to think past panel day, we really wanted to take it one step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. In fact, as someone who gets excited about Christmas in January, I have been incredibly self-controlled!

However, there is now very little to distract ourselves with, no forms or meetings or training days, and so inevitably our thoughts and conversation have turned to post July 5th. Aside from wondering when our children will finally be home, and desperately hoping they’ll be here for Christmas, our biggest question has really become ‘how will we know?’

DSCF4869We are very confident in our Social Worker, she knows us really well, she has so far worked really hard on our behalf, and she is genuinely concerned with the best interests of the children looking for families. And so when she starts to bring us profiles to look at, we’re confident that all of them will be sensible, good matches for us. And so now we’re wondering ‘how will we know?!’ And if all of them will be good, sensible matches, what would make us say no to the first one we see?

Should we be waiting for a fuzzy feeling? Or holding out for a child with less ‘issues’? Should we narrow our criteria? Should we look for profiles with cute photos?! How on earth will we know?!!!

When we were looking to ‘adopt’ our cats I looked at loads of websites with photos and descriptions. Both times I knew as soon as I saw the cats that we ended up adopting, and then did everything I could to make them ours.

Adopting children is quite a lot more complex and serious than adopting cats. I don’t think we can operate the same method.

When our Social Worker asked how we’d like to go about the matching process, we said we’d like her to do all of the searching, and bring us the profiles she thought were good matches. We knew if we started looking ourselves we’d fall in love with every face we saw, and we’d talk ourselves out of our original criteria that was decided with very sensible reason. We didn’t want to risk getting attached to photos of lots of other people’s children, and we didn’t want to risk pursuing matches that would ultimately not be approved because they weren’t at all sensible.

And so if we are only going to see profiles of children that fit our criteria, and that have been selected by a professional who knows us well, understands the system and cares for the children, why would we say no?

If you’ve adopted, I’d love to know your thoughts. How did you go about the matching process? How did you finally know? Or maybe you’re in the matching process now, has it been what you expected? Please leave a comment!

 

 

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!

“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.