Part 1 – up to approval to adopt
It’s been a long time since I’ve written such a personal blog – and in this particular case it’s taken me nine months to feel ready to share. It’s written in three parts – I really hope it helps anyone else who is thinking following the adoption path.
Five years ago
Just at the point where we’d decided to try and start a family, I was diagnosed with a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and given quite a poor prognosis.
We went from being in full on ‘trying for a family’ mode to the stark realisation that if I chose to have my life saving treatment, then it would draw a very thick line under us being able to have children of our own.
It was a very black and shocking time.
April 2010 is a blur in my memory. There is little I can remember of my month stint in practical isolation in The Christie having high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant.
But unknown to me, as the treatment fried my insides beyond use, at the very same time a new life was being made – my daughter.
If you take only one thing away from our story, then let it be this – when it looks like there’s no hope, somewhere unknown to you the universe will be reoranising itself to put things right. The only question being when it decides to reveal itself.
Three years ago
When I was little I always took for granted that I would meet someone, get married and have a family. It never occurred to me that things would look any different.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that everyone has their own story – mine is just different. And while life dealt us some really crap cards that we can’t change – what we could change was the future and how we responded to them.
So while it meant we couldn’t have our own family, what it did give us was an opportunity to do something really incredible for another little boy or girl through adoption.
In the summer of 2012 I finally plucked up courage to apply for an adoption information pack and in September of that year, very tentatively we went to an information evening.
Christmas that year was a tricky one – by that point I knew that my child would have been born. But I also knew that it was unlikely to be in care yet. Which meant that my child was out there somewhere and in trouble, but I didn’t know where and I couldn’t get to them.
It was an unexpected and awful feeling.
Two years ago
Now that we were in the system, we knew that the clock was ticking on our newlywed, ‘just the two of us’ time together, so we made sure that we ticked off some of our bucket list. We canoed across Scotland, back packed around Zambia and blitzed the house to get all our renovations finished.
It was also important to put some distance between myself and my cancer. Cancer is traumatic to say the least, and I needed time to heal emotionally. I also needed to come to terms with the guilt I felt towards my husband and all my ancestors, whose genetic line finished with my broken body.
In the summer of 2013 we went on a four day intensive adoption preparation training course with 10 other couples. At the end of the last day we were asked what we’d learned and what we’d managed to let go.
I wasn’t sure, and then it came to me …… what I’d learned was that although I didn’t yet know my new child’s name, what sex they were or where they were, by learning about the chaotic and often dangerous situations these children are plucked from and how they would most likely be affected, I was already starting to bond with my child.
And what I was letting go were the two little girls who were sitting on the floor just to the left of me. I didn’t even know they were there until that moment, but they were the two little girls we would have had if everything had worked out naturally for us. They would always be there, my two little ghost girls – my genetic legacy – but I needed to let go of them. My future was now destined to go in a different direction.
Adoption approval process
Things started to move very quickly from this point on. Reducing the length of the adoption process was by now high on the government’s agenda. We’d come into the system through the old process and now we were the first going through the new.
I expected the weekly visits from our newly allocated social worker to be enormously intrusive. They weren’t. I think we were really lucky with our social worker – in reality it felt more like free facilitated couples counseling. I quite enjoyed it, and it gave us a unique opportunity to learn even more about each other.
What I found most difficult about the approval process was thinking back to how I’d been parented. I lost my mum to cancer 12 years ago – revisiting my childhood so vividly was incredibly hard, but also made me realise that I really wanted to adopt a girl, because I wanted the kind of relationship with my daughter that I’d had with my mother.
What was also very hard – and I still feel very uncomfortable talking about it was deciding what sort of child we wanted.
For anyone considering adoption, I’d really recommend that you get the box set of the TV series Cold Feet. Not only is a slice of Mancunian history, it also contains an adoption story line which is fantastic preparation, so I knew that the ‘tick list’ was coming.
Initially you want to say yes to everything – partly because you don’t want to be discriminatory, and partly because if you have your own children naturally you don’t get to choose.
But when you are faced with, ‘would you choose a child with or who has suffered’……
- Physical disability
- Mental disability
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Learning difficulties
- Life limiting illness
- Birth mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy
- Birth mother took drugs during pregnancy
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Born as a result of incest
- Born as a result of rape
- And so the list went on
Each one had to be explored, and many of them were on a spectrum …… how visually impaired? Glasses, no sight at all? As someone who spent six years working for The National Library for the Blind it was very difficult.
The realisation that this wasn’t a popularity contest, and it wasn’t about being a saint was a huge relief. Rather it was about what we could cope with and have the best chance of success. So we chose the easiest possible option.
Christmas 2013 came and went, but this time it felt a lot easier. Although I still didn’t know where my child was, at least I knew by now they’d be in care and would be safe. The light was at the end of the tunnel for all of us.
Approved to adopt
On Friday 24th January 2014, we walked into a room and looked at the 12 faces sitting around the table who would decide whether or not we were to be a family.
They had all read the 30,000 word report prepared by our social worker, the references provided by family, friends and work colleagues and very importantly the medical report provided by my clinician at The Christie – which said that four years on from my last treatment, my prognosis was very positive. It took a long time to get the report, and my health history hung over us, threatening to derail our adoption ambitions for a long time, but it was necessary to prove to the panel that I was going to be around to watch our child grow up.
Our application to adopt was approved unanimously.
While I thought getting approved to adopt would be the hard bit, it was nothing in comparison with what was to come next.
Alison x (your 4Manchester Women Editor)
Photographs: Alison Staples