Suzie*, a 49 year-old primary school teacher from Shepton Mallet, became a single adoptive mum to Rosie* through Fostering for Adoption. Here is her account of becoming an adoptive mum…
“I’m a primary school teacher specialising in special educational needs.”
What was your journey to adoption?
“I’d been considering adoption for a long time. I originally applied about nine years ago in London, but was turned down on the basis of my initial application which only gave a few details about me. I hadn’t even been seen by a social worker. It was pretty crushing. When I was told on the phone, I remember saying, “I think you may have missed a trick”. It sounds cocky now but, looking back, I think I was trying to soften the blow and hold onto some self-esteem.
“I moved to Somerset about three years later, in search of greater community spirit than I’d found in my part of London. I got in touch with the Somerset County Council Adoption Team and a social worker came out to see me. I was told that I’d need to establish a network of friends in the area before I would be suitable to adopt. It seemed frustrating to have to wait, but it was good advice: it’s so important to have people you know well nearby to talk to and spend time with when a child is placed.
“It took a long time to be matched with a child – nearly two years after being approved as an adopter. The number of children awaiting adoption dropped quite dramatically around the time I became approved. I was also asked to consider caring for a baby, but I’d always said I wanted a child who was verbal, because I wanted him or her to be consciously aware of what was happening. My social worker showed me details of a few other children in the age range I was interested in, but I didn’t feel they were right for me. I worried that by saying no I was possibly blowing my chance of ever becoming a parent. And then there were a few children who I really liked the sound of, but wasn’t considered for, because there were so many prospective parents competing for children, especially more straightforward children.
“Fostering for Adoption was suggested to me. It sounded like jumping into a fire. My adoption social worker explained that the children who are typically placed through this initiative are very young, that I’d probably get very little notice before a child came to me and would be told little about the family history or medical situation at that stage. It sounded bleak so I felt it wasn’t for me.”
But then Rosie came along…
“With Rosie, the circumstances were different. The things I felt I was looking for – a child who was verbal and about whom there was quite a lot of information – came together. Rosie’s social worker had known her family for a long time. When this social worker came to my house to speak to me and my social worker about Rosie, she talked for almost two hours which brought Rosie alive. She sounded really likeable. Suddenly, Fostering for Adoption seemed the right thing to do.”
How did you cope with the uncertainty of the Fostering for Adoption arrangements?
“It’s such a scary prospect. For me though, the risk of having to return Rosie to her birth family felt absolutely worth taking, because I really liked what I’d heard about her. I felt I’d be able to do it if I had to, although it would have been incredibly tough.
“Fostering for Adoption was the right thing for Rosie. She had been around the houses a fair bit, living with different members of her birth family. She came to me in September. For the first few weeks I didn’t have much time to think about the possibility of her going back to her birth family; I was so busy looking after her, getting used to being a foster carer. In December the courts decided she would be adopted. That was, of course, great news for me. I remember, though, feeling suddenly sad for Rosie when I heard. I hoped I’d be able to give her a happy and secure home and childhood, but this wasn’t a situation that any child would choose for themselves, having to grow up separately from her parents.”
How old was Rosie when she came to live with you?
“She was 3.”
Do you remember first meeting Rosie?
“Yes, I won’t forget it! I knew once I had met her that I could love her. She was delightful, cheerful, dancing around, full of personality. She is very loveable.
“I met her at the home of one of her relatives, where she was living at the time, and her social worker was there too. Rosie’s very sociable; she immediately wanted to play and show me things. That whole experience was positive. It was also scary and unreal – I sat outside the wrong house in my car for about half an hour, waiting to see Rosie’s social worker before going in; I was so nervous I’d got the wrong house number in my head!”
Did you ever have any doubts?
“I think because the process took a long time from approval to being matched with Rosie, there were times when I thought, ‘Can I do this?’ ‘Is this right for me?’ ‘Am I too old?’ ‘Have I got high enough energy levels?’ And I worried that I had perhaps said no to a child who might have been right for me.
“I was very lucky in having a really supportive, hugely committed and warm-hearted social worker (SW) who has seen me through the ups and downs. Once we had heard about Rosie, my SW and I felt so positive. My SW always implied I’d know instinctively if a child was going to be right, that I’d feel excited at the prospect of being with that child and, sure enough, that’s how it was and it’s worked out so well. I love Rosie completely and she is happy. I’ve never felt she is more than I can handle, although there have been tough days when she’s been grouchy or I’ve been a bit done-in. I think that’s parenting.”
How would you describe the first few months with Rosie?
“Full-on! I lost a stone in the first three months, despite eating more than usual; I was constantly on the go! Rosie used to say to me “Don’t be quiet!” We talked all the time and by the evening I sometimes felt I’d run out of words! For the first five months I didn’t take Rosie to nursery, and so my days were filled with solid play. I remember the first time I managed to empty all the bins in the house between playing. It felt like quite an achievement! I would emphasize to people considering adopting a child that adoption is a different form of parenting, because you’ve got to stick with your child all the time; with an older child like Rosie, you are the play-mate all day long in those early months. I couldn’t tidy the kitchen for an hour while Rosie was playing with her Duplo. She sought my company almost all the time and, in the circumstances, it was right that she had it. Because you haven’t been with the child since conception, you have to work hard to make up for lost time and to secure an attachment on both sides.
“The intensive one-to-one time is paying off. Rosie seems settled and I can back off to make a meal or send a few emails. We do still play together a lot, though.”
Have there been any challenges?
“I used to find it impossible sometimes to get little jobs done in the day, which was frustrating. Occasionally, I had the energy to be productive once Rosie was asleep, but other times I just had a bath and went to bed after sending a few texts, or gave in to the temptation of turning the telly on. I had the same jobs on my to-do list for ages! I suppose that’s a downside of being a single adopter.
“Often I’d get excited about meeting up with a friend, looking forward to a conversation with a grown-up, only to find that Rosie required 90% of my attention and my friend and I could only exchange a few sentences here and there. That made me feel lonely sometimes.
“The frequent visits from social workers and other professionals in the early days put me under a certain pressure. Rosie was wanting me to play and I was trying to meet her needs as well as making the place a bit orderly in preparation for whoever was visiting. And, of course, the professionals were coming to observe how well I was caring for Rosie, how I interacted with her, how she responded to me…at times it was a little stressful.
“For the first three months, Rosie had twice weekly contact with members of her birth family. I didn’t have any say in the matter at this point, but I supported the arrangement because it was absolutely in Rosie’s interest to continue to see her relatives. I used to look forward to those days in a way, as I had a couple of free hours, but the downside was managing Rosie on the return journey and for the first hour or so once we got back home. Not surprisingly, having to switch from her nearest and dearest to me, a newcomer, she was often out-of-sorts and contrary on the way back in the car and on arrival at my house. I coped okay, and put on a sunny face for Rosie, but those were the harder days.
“Being asked to play for the hundredth time a game I don’t like can feel soul-destroying! Rosie loves to play rambling imaginary games in which I’m asked to change role every minute or so. Not my favourite activity!”
Have you witnessed any changes in Rosie since she became part of your family?
“Yes, lots! In the early days she used to be startled by ordinary noises, such as the post coming through the door or a large vehicle passing. Now she is used to this environment and very relaxed in it.
“It was lovely for me to witness the change from her saying ‘your car’ and ‘your house’ to ‘our car’ and ‘our house’ and ‘home’. To begin with, I think she felt physically safe with me and she enjoyed the fun things we did, but now I think she feels emotionally secure with me. When she first came, if I walked away from her when we were out and about, she wasn’t bothered. Now, she keeps an eye on where I am if she’s running ahead and the other day she was momentarily distressed in a shop when she thought she couldn’t see me. That’s a big change.
“Her personality has become more rounded. Nowadays she’s assertive and can be feisty, which she wasn’t to begin with. It’s a sign, I hope, that she feels at home with me.
“Recently she has said, ‘I like having you’ and ‘I love you’. A few months into the placement, I began telling her at bedtime that I love her. I’ve not encouraged her to express the same sentiment in my direction; I wanted her to go at her own pace and there are several people in her birth family who she really loves, so I’ve had to wait in line! These things take time, but it’s been lovely to hear it.
“She quickly picked up turns of phrase that I use. It’s funny to hear her say things I say, like ‘Here you go!’, ‘Goodness gracious!’ and ‘Good idea!’.
“It was interesting to see her regress to being a baby in text-book style. I’d read about this being a typical part of attachment and thought it sounded rather creepy. In the event it wasn’t at all. Rosie started asking me to feed her at meal-times and then wanted to be held by me like a baby while she made cooing noises! I would rock her and sing to her. She loved it and still does. She liked trying to climb into my jumper, while I was in it, so I would put on my big dressing-gown and wrap her into it with me and carry her about.
“It’s clear from what she says that she envisages her future here with me. We had a week’s holiday in Wales in the summer. It was lovely and since then she has said more than once, ‘We better go back to Wales’. She talks about doing some of the same things we did for her fourth birthday again for her fifth birthday or at Christmas. I am pleased that she seems to have reached this understanding gradually and without apparent distress. We talk quite a bit about her birth family and I’ve explained why she doesn’t live with her dad or birth mum. I’ve been advised by my social worker and Rosie’s SW how to go about this. I’m honest with her, but light-touch. I aim to let her think it through and feel sad, if that’s her inclination, but not for long.
“I’ve tried, to an extent, to incorporate her old world into her new world of adoption. We see birth family members more often than required by the contact plan; I didn’t want to close off Rosie’s history because her relationships with her birth family are very precious to her and to them, and these individuals are part and parcel of who she is. Also, as she gets older, they will be in a much better position than me to talk to Rosie about her start in life and to answer her questions about that time. I’m hoping this will help her come to terms with what has happened and to become a grounded, contented girl and woman. In her case, I think two families are better than one. I hope so. I was delighted the other day when Rosie said casually, ‘The next time we see Auntie Steph…’ I thought how well she seems to have made sense of her life now and how comfortable she seems to be with it. I’ve been very lucky in that Rosie’s birth family have all been very decent towards me and kind.”
So, the million dollar question: would you recommend Fostering for Adoption?
“Yes! I feel fantastically lucky to have Rosie in my life. She is happy and I am happy. Fostering for Adoption seems a better option for children in care than a foster placement followed by an adoption, as it reduces the number of huge changes a child will experience and allows him/her to achieve permanence earlier. Also, I found it helpful to know Rosie while the very frequent contact was taking place, before the decision was made that she would be adopted. Those weeks gave me a glimpse into her original world and made me really think about what she was going through. I feel that I’m possibly better able to meet her needs as an adopted child as a result.
“One final thought: you need to be ready for lift-off at any moment with this process. In my case, there was just one week between learning that Rosie was coming to me and meeting her at the start of the introductions. She moved to my house five days later. It was a hectic time, with me at work up until the day of meeting her, trying to tie up loose ends. My best friend came and stayed for a few nights in that week to do some preparations on my behalf. She just turned up and got on with a whole load of jobs. That was a blessing! And then Rosie was another.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.