What was the adoption process like for you?
We had a very positive experience and over the six-month assessment period built a good, open and honest relationship with our social worker, which I think was important. I enjoyed our weekly sessions with our social worker; using the time to reflect on both past, present and future thoughts and feelings about prospective parenthood and life in general.
The three-day training period was intensive but rewarding. The facilitator was excellent. It was great to be with other prospective adopters. The sessions served as a ‘balanced’ reality check with regard to children in care and the adverse experiences they commonly endure. I’m interested anyway in psychology and sociology so revisiting stuff I’d read about child development was fascinating for me.
The process for us felt pretty structured and professional – but it’s not an easy journey when your lives are busy and there’s plenty of other things going on.
What was it like compared to what you thought it would be like?
Much better! I think for understandable reasons the idea of adopting – and what’s required to get approved and finally meet your child – can seem daunting and scary for lots of people, including me. I’ve learned ways to manage my anxiety throughout my life but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have those thoughts and feelings. My partner was often calmer and less worried which helped. In the end it’s still a ‘leap of faith’ so to speak but the preparation, training, learning and talking goes a long way to make that more of a reality.
How did it feel to meet your child for the first time?
Amazing! He was stood up at his foster carer’s window waiting for us, with the biggest smile and the most beautiful eyes! This followed several weeks of photos and videos back and forth between his foster carer and us. Lots of adopters talk of a ‘surreal’ feeling around this time, which I think is understandable after a more ‘abstract’ experience during the entire process of preparing for – and meeting – your adopted child.
‘Introductions’ was probably one of the most incredible and exhausting experiences of my life. My partner and I were knackered every day of those two weeks. The emotional, physical and psychological combination of what’s required is a unique experience. Having said that, driving home on the last day with our son was profound. I think we knew in that moment, seeing him in the rear-view-mirror that our lives had changed forever. The sense of responsibility and the desire to protect him really kicked in.
We’re full of admiration for our foster carer. She’s so much more than our ‘introduction’ week, she’s part of our son’s story and his life. We always make sure we talk about her with our son.
How did you decide what child would be the best match for you?
Well this is a unique kind of process that takes place between adopters and their social worker/agency; and there are too many variants to mention which might affect the outcome of this at any given time.
In the end the child’s needs remain central to this but we talked about our wishes, hopes and fears and what we felt we might or might not be able to manage in terms of meeting a child’s needs. Our social worker spent six months on-and-off getting to know us, so I think she had a pretty good idea. It’s really important to balance what you might have wished for with everything you’ve learned about children in care and to keep an open mind. At 48, as the primary carer I imaged a school age child for example, but in the end our son was just two when he finally came home with us. It all happened very quickly to be honest but as I say each adoption is different.
What was the most challenging part of the adoption process?
For us I think the final stages before going to panel and the legal checks and personal information required by social workers and agencies to get you there can take its toll. The anticipation can be immense. In the end, although it’s not always easy to remember, there’s a reason why these things need to be done. My best advice would be to remember that your child is out there and the best things in life are often the hardest to achieve. So if they say jump, ask how high. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that everything comes back to the safety of the child and things can feel unfair at times as a prospective adopter.
How do you know if you’re ready to adopt?
You’ll never really know if you’re 100% ready. Birth parents will tell you there’s never a perfect time to have a baby. The adoption process is a journey to discover just that. If I’d remembered that I might have been a little more relaxed. I remember a very experienced adoption social worker telling me some of her clients took 10 years to arrive at adoption. It’s one of the hardest and best things you can do with your life.
For a lot of gay men my age, becoming a parent in my 20s or 30s wasn’t on my radar (or legally possible via adoption). I think I always knew that I wanted to nurture, love and raise a child and in my 40s I met and fell in love with someone who wanted to go on that journey too. For me and my partner adoption was always the first and only choice to becoming a parents.
I think if you’re part of a minority that’s been denied something in the past, you work harder for it, which gives you a determination to do the best job you can.
What does it take to be a good adopter?
Well the PACE (Patience, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) model of parenting goes a long way to achieving this (when you’re not too tired to implement it!). Find out about trauma, attachment and the kinds of neglect these kids experience and how this might affect their development and behaviour. It won’t be wasted, even though you’ll revisit it during your training/assessment. You’ll find it easier then to ‘see’ the child through all of these things when it comes to matching. Be open minded about the child that might become your child. In the end they need your time and love - to feel safe, secure and stable.
It helps to be in a good, stable place in your life. Do all the things and go to all the places that being childless allows before you start the adoption journey and then be content with the simpler pleasures that raising your child will bring.
What did you learn about yourself during adoption, if anything?
That I can be more patient than I ever thought possible!
How has your relationship with your adopted child evolved?
Our son is an absolute joy at the moment! He’s curious, kind, funny and loving. He is also beautiful and charming and everyone who meets him seems to think so too.
He’s very much attached to and bonded with us, although this didn’t happen in the same way or at the same time for me and my partner, which was really hard.
What we’ve also noticed is how his anxieties manifest and this can take time to pinpoint. He seeks approval and reassurance all the time; and needs to know what’s happening next. This has begun to make much more sense to us and we’re able to meet his needs better as adoptive parents.
Our ‘life journey’ work together is also really important. We haven’t really done this textbook style but in a way that suits our family. So, we talk with him about his birth parents, his birth family and his foster carer, using photos and stories. We were advised to start this age-appropriately from early on, and we broadly agree with that. I can see now that all of this is part of our relationship with our son. He’s our son but he doesn’t have one story.
We love him to bits, and we’d do anything for him.
I’ve also recognised the need for ‘me’ time and that’s really hard to make happen in the early days when your child and the adoption process are all consuming. But I’m a better parent for it and my relationship with my son has flourished.