A decade on, Helen reflects on her journey through adoption to become a mum.
My beautiful son came home when he was 7 months old. A decade on from our adoption is a good time to look back and share my early experiences which I hope may help others along the way. It doesn't represent everyone's thoughts but it's a few of mine.
Adoption is an exciting but also scary experience. Before you embark on the journey, be clear you can care for a child that is not biologically linked to you. Adoption is a lifelong process. Ideal expectations need to be booted out and replaced with real thoughts. This soul-searching deserves time. Adoption is not a plan B to giving birth and you must be out of the woods of any healing needed if you have experienced fertility disappointment. Your child or children need to know they are the treasure in your life.
Establish What you can Offer
To help the matching process you will be asked your preference on a variety of areas: age of the child(ren), sex, hair colour, disabilities you can cope with (a list will be provided for you to tick) and most importantly, what you will be prepared to manage in terms of the level of distress the child has experienced. For the sake of the child, you need to be as honest as possible because they will need you. To put it bluntly, your feelings need to come second and you will need to work out what you can offer emotionally as a parent throughout their life. I retracted last minute on saying yes to twins. The reality was that I liked the idea but knew it would have been too hard for me.
It's impossible to be fully prepared for parenthood but there are things you can do to ease the change. Be with children as much as possible. Offer friends and family your services. Babysitting weekends, go on holiday and be the nanny! In my case, even being an aunt to more than a dozen children wasn't enough - it was on my terms and it was only the fun times.
Emotional support and hands-on help will be needed no matter how capable you are. Some friends will wish you well and be ready for a weekend drink. I realised all my good friends worked full time, my family lived over 2oo miles away and I struggled with asking for help. Work out who's practical and who can you tell your deepest worries too - if you do that before the process begins you're already winning.
Educate Yourself and Loved Ones
Before starting the official work, do your research. Speak to your council adoption team, contact adopters/adoptees and read, read, read. Find out the steps, get it down on paper and walk your family through it. Family and friends will be involved and some will be interviewed. You'll be emotionally drained and fighting to get through each step of approval. I was frequently reassuring and explaining to others, when I needed to be reflecting and recharging in between the process and work.
Wait for Love
The love will come. Being so worried I was going to screw up didn't leave much room for relaxing and simply loving. You'll be getting to grips with your new normal at your own speed. Assessments will continue until final approval which can take months depending on your case e.g. birth parents may appeal the court's decision and there's a chance they could win. I didn't enjoy this time and felt I had to hide my fears. Relaxing and just loving my boy couldn't come until the final hearing. But just remember there's years of fun ahead and the love will flow and flow.
Self-doubt, guilt that you gained when the birth parents lost, imposter syndrome - these can all hit top volume. Most parents enter parenthood with these feelings, for everyone it's important to just turn the dial down.
You'll quickly get used to the odd question. At times you'll be caught out and it might hurt. Just brush it off. Here are my top hits..
Revisiting your child's life story will happen often and expect the questions at the weirdest times. We've had chats at the dentist, whilst I picked up our dog's poo (!) and in a shoe shop to name a few.
It's usually when he's at his happiest and most relaxed (except the dentist.) During these times no matter how I might feel, my aim is to listen first, be honest and slowly help him make sense of things.
His questions are evolving and I won't be able to answer everything because we just don't know all the answers. But he's known from an early age that we care for his birth parents and they loved him. They gave him life and gave us the gift to love and be with him because they didn't know how to care properly.
In fact, in a way, if a time comes when he wants to begin a relationship with his siblings and birth parents then we'll know our family bond is at its best because he wants to include us in his plans.
Our job is to make sure he commits fully to any wishes rather than fulfil any short term whim. He's the captain of his own ship and we just need to be a good crew.