Nesting in our minds

There has been a lot of growing in the last month.

Hand-stitched Dad has been volunteering with me, and it has been lovely to share that with him. He really is a natural with the girls, way more than I was when I started. I may have a keen eye for observing and knowing people, but I need to practice relaxing and being in the moment. This is where hand-stitched dad puts me to shame.  I’m learning a lot from him and I wish he would post more often, as he is an inspiration.

We regularly chat about adoption. It’s starting to feel more real to both of us, along with the feeling that we really do have a say in all of this! It’s okay to voice what we want, what we hope for… I know it sounds baffling and obvious, but, after years of having our choices and our confidence taken away by infertility, it’s taken a bit of an adjustment.

I would say that the biggest achievement in the last month has been my sense of self-acceptance. Self-knowledge is great, but what worth is knowledge if you can’t accept it? I have to battle through a lot of bad experiences to get to a place where I feel genuinely accepted (where I genuinely accept myself). I’m starting to feel that way, and it is really paying off in my social life.

I like to think of this as “nesting in my mind” … preparing an emotional home for my future child. It is naturally selfish, as I am the first one to benefit from having emotional well-being. But other people benefit, too. I make no apologies for the time I invest in improving myself. Reading adoption forums makes you feel like social workers will reject you for any sign of weakness. And yet, I can think of nothing worse for traumatised children than a pathologically narcissistic parent!

Successful adoptive parents really do have a beautiful balance of humility and courage. The demands are so high. No wonder so many feel so inadequate so frequently. I’ve been a prospective adopter for years now, and I have deep empathy for adoptive parents. I have learned so much about myself from their journeys and struggles.  I hope this translates to resilience.

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Breakthroughs

After a long wait, I started cognitive analytical therapy this spring.  I have had a lot of different kinds of therapists over the last few years. Six, in fact. But don’t be put off by the number: the best indicator of success in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and you. Simply put: at any given time, you will always be you. Therefore, the therapist really, really matters. It may take a few to find the right one.

In this case, I feel like I have hit the jackpot. There is nothing special about this particular therapist. Or about this particular therapy. But I have lucked out, because it is the perfect therapy at the perfect time for me.

The structure of cognitive analytical therapy reduces my anxieties about the therapeutic process. This makes it easier for the therapist to challenge me during our sessions. I already feel like we have made significant progress.

Our goal is to develop strategies to improve my social skills. The method is to identify patterns in my thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours, much like cognitive behavioural therapy. But cognitive analytical therapy goes a step deeper and also looks at our past experiences to understand why these patterns exist.

I was referred for this therapy because, well, I was kinda already doing it with myself.

Self-development is a huge priority for me. I come from inauspicious beginnings, but I don’t balk at a challenge. Even this last major wall (infertility) left me wondering, in my grief, just what I needed to scale it.

In this case, I needed more therapy. A new job. And friends.

The new job was easy to get. And now that I am settled, I love it. I work from home. I make my own hours. I make more money. I have more responsibility. It ticks so many boxes for me. I have even made some friends. I feel part of something. I feel like I am doing something essential for the community.

Yes!

Making friends has never been a problem either. I can charm the pants off people when I want to. That’s what you do, when you are used to moving around so much. You become good at first impressions: good at making first impressions and good at judging others.

Building friendships, on the other hand, is a baffling empire. The British, especially, do it with gusto. People seem to find friends and link arms for life. Infiltrating these networks (much less navigating them) has been a nightmare. Sometimes it feels like if you weren’t there at the beginning, you aren’t there at all.

Enter from stage left: Therapy.

The best thing about cognitive analytical therapy is that most of the work is up to me. The therapist facilitates the method, and his judgment is an essential ingredient, but the impact? The change? It is all up to me.

For a traumatised child, sometimes retaining that little bit of control can make a world of difference. I can already tell I am changing. I look forward to the person I will be later this year, when I begin preparation group training.

If we meet our goals, I will have less anxiety, more self-esteem, less perfectionist compulsions, and better social skills. Again, therapy will facilitate that, but the real work will be done in the field: making friends, building relationships, and being more of me.

…Breaking through the walls I have built myself, in order to build stairs instead.

Progressing our application

Things have been progressing at a nice pace. We are booked into a preparation group in the autumn, which gives us time to move house (fingers crossed). Little City adoption agency has been in touch and we will be meeting with them in the next few weeks.

As Little City and Rural share training, we don’t need to decide between them until we put in a formal application after preparation group training. The government, however, is changing the way adoption agencies assess prospective adopters. Things may look completely different after July 1st, meaning we will be pushed by government KPIs (key performance indicators) to apply and be approved as soon as possible (four to six months).  The alternative is that we bring down the statistics for our chosen adoption agency.

The cost of these changes is that vulnerable people who are not yet ready to adopt will either be rejected at panel or rushed into parenthood. Well, I suppose if those people wanted to take their time, they would. I’m not sure it will make the system better though — preying on people’s intense desires to be parents.

Because of these changes, I have made it clear to the adoption agencies that hand-stitched dad and I will be taking our time. The last thing I want is for an over-eager social worker to try to rush us, our report, our link, our match, our introductions, our *anything*. Thankfully, Rural adoption agency has been very supportive of our plans. This has increased our trust in this agency to the point where it would take a lot for Little City to impress us.  Rural has demonstrated a commitment to getting to know us and maintaining a continuity throughout the various hoops placed before us prospective adopters. The attitudes of the staff have all been ‘on message’ aka consistent and clear. Finally, they have demonstrated their understanding of what we have to offer and what we have to learn.

This has set the bar rather high for Little City.

I feel like my mind is already made up. But that is not how it works. A lot can change before 2014. It is important we stay flexible and only commit when the time is right.

There is still an awful lot of work to do.

Peace happens

I have become a television stereotype.

You know that geeky girl, hunched over and hiding behind books and glasses? That one that smiles but you don’t notice because you aren’t looking.  I’m pretty sure I’ve become her. Either that, or the little girls I volunteer with watch too much telly. They asked me if I could see without my glasses and I shook my head.

“No, sorry — I can’t see very well at all.” The girls, who sometimes act more like the young women they are growing into, looked at me sympathetically and curiously. I took my glasses off and smiled at their fuzzy faces. I was close enough to see their expressions change. Two girls retreated into their own minds, wondering what it meant to be partially sighted. The third girl gasped and exclaimed, staring at me adoringly:

“You look so pretty!”

Yes, I’ve become that geeky girl on telly, transformed by the removal of her sight aids.

I smiled at my little friend. This particular girl so rarely shares her feelings and thoughts, especially when they are positive. When she relaxed enough to be surprised and, moreover, share that surprise with me, so did I.

“Thank you,” I said to her, smiling warmly. “That’s a very nice thing to say.”

It’s been on my mind ever since. The remaining hour I spent with the girls was the best one I ever had with them. We connected, we laughed. The girls seemed relaxed and engaged. I caught more than one complimenting each other. And in my heart I thanked all the people in their lives who made that hour possible. That’s a lot of people having a lot of good days.

I know it is difficult to do, but it’s something I’ve been practicing for years. As a server at a special events catering company, I smiled as if my career depended on it because it really did. I was surrounded by  stressed people who were desperate to have a good time (who were often spending a lot of money to have a good time). Well, they could afford my smile. I enjoyed putting myself aside, putting on my tuxedo (yes tuxedo) and being the friendly, calm, constant one.

The world needs more people to be friendly, calm and constant.

I know it isn’t always possible and we should definitely not hide our emotions away, but isn’t it a wonderful thing when peace happens?

I’m developing that very important skill of enjoying it while it lasts.

The Mid-Wait Wobble

I can see why people are keen to rush into things. Sitting with anticipation and anxiety leads to thoughts (messy thoughts) unless you keep an active reign on yourself. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the decision to adopt, but still I catch myself in the odd moment wondering if it will really happen: if we could really cope with being adoptive parents.

Several years back I would have (allegorically) hung myself in this annihilating train of thought. Now my reflective mind is a bit more resolute. I note the thought: Am I worthy? I look to the feeling: fear. I also look to my habituated response: self-doubt and sometimes even self-attack.

I remember the little, lonely girl and her bullies. I remember I’m no longer that girl. I hold her close to me; I hold that fear. And instead of turning on myself, I breathe. I remember that fear is natural, human, normal, shared. I remember that I’m here today, despite my fear. I remember that I am more than fear. I am worthy.

Slowly, with time, my brain and my body learnt not to be afraid of fear. The little lonely girl was learning to trust herself.

I wobble. Drenched in fear, I wobble.

But somehow, every wobble moves me closer to being that parent. I will not be perfect. I will yell sometimes, blinded by fear and love. My emotions will sometimes overspill in tears. I will feel helpless. I will feel unworthy. I will be afraid.

I will be all of these things. I will wobble, wobble, wobble up mountains and through rivers.

If that is the only thing my child learns from me, I’ve done my job. We are, all of us, broken in seen and unseen ways. We stumble, fall, and break some more. We wobble.

Maybe life is about learning how to wobble.

Making Decisions

Hand-stitched dad and I are notorious for our decision making skills. We like to sit with the question, weighing up an endless supply of ‘what ifs’ and second-guessing what we (and others) want. Social workers love that we took our precious time (three years in fact) between our first enquiry and our decision to proceed. They will love it less when waiting for our answers during home study, I’m sure.

The government was not thinking of me and hand-stitched dad when they decided to reduce the assessment period to eight, six and then four months. We genuinely need time to process and adapt to what we learn about adoption and about ourselves. We are thoughtful and considerate people. We are not good at making decisions.

Age? Not an exclusion factor.

Gender? Don’t care.

The social worker from Rural Adoption Agency pointed out to us that we needed limits, otherwise we would have thousands of children thrown at us once approved. We looked up BAAF’s matching criteria form and discovered we still couldn’t draw a line.

“You need to talk about it more.” The social worker suggested. I thought to myself: we’ve talked about it plenty; what we need is a way to make decisions.

The social worker’s face took on a dreamy look when sharing a story about the magic of telling an adopted child they had been chosen. “We chose you.”

I cringed.

Based on my own experience of trauma and neglect, the last thing I wanted to hear as a child was that I’d been chosen. I would much rather have had a choice. I would have wanted someone listening to me and giving me a say in the decisions. It’s not easy getting to know a traumatised child on that level. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Where on the BAAF form does it say: “I would like the child who would choose me” ?

Hand-stitched dad and I were both on a natural high after the social worker left. We bounced from the kitchen to the dining room, putting away snacks and hanging up laundry. We reassured each other. “It went fine.” “Did I talk too much?” “No. Was I okay?” “Was I okay?” Yes. Yes. Smiles. Hugs. This is it. “The first step!”

We babbled excitedly about Rural Adoption Agency. I was pleasantly surprised by some of what the social worker described. It fit my impression of the agency from my research and monitoring. It’s nice when evidence corroborates like that.

Hand-stitched dad had preferred Little City Adoption Agency. But he shrugged, with a smile, “I can’t think of a reason not to go with Rural adoption agency.”

I paused and smiled. “Neither can I.”

We looked into each other’s eyes and our smiles grew. We bounced up and down together, both exclaiming in unison: “We just made a decision. We just made a decision!!!” Then we collapsed in fits of giggles at our absurdity. We smiled at each other. We held hands.

The first step.

Just a Prospective Adopter

“As you are still a prospective adopter, you can have little real idea of what it is like actually to parent one of the most difficult children in the system, though your understanding will have been augmented greatly by being able to read these boards. ” [Bold mine]

Really, it’s never nice to be told what you are.

But that’s not what I want to comment on. I want to challenge the idea that the biggest difference between the quoted person and me is that they are parents and I am not.

If you search the scientific literature, you don’t read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experience raising a ‘difficult child.’ You read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experienced and resolved their own trauma successfully — presumably because these sorts of parents have genuine empathy and resilience. Experience raising a child doesn’t really factor into that equation, because people don’t need to be experienced parents to have the resources, understanding and motivation to take care of a traumatised child.

In my masters training, I was told by a child psychotherapist that “children choose” who to trust. They “choose” based on their complex experiences, or rather — how their experience of you fits into their previous experiences. It is a mostly automatic process, as people do not always have the capacity  to step back from and challenge the connections between emotions, thoughts and behaviours. As I observed child-adult interactions for my course, I saw this in practice: we are all captive to our life experiences. It is difficult to challenge our semi-automatic judgments of people, including ourselves.

I am a prospective adopter. But my ideas of what it is like to “actually parent one of the most difficult children in the system” come from my own life experiences not my adoptive status nor the amount of time I’ve spent reading adoption boards. I trust that my home study will fully explore these experiences in order to answer that very question.  I may even share a bit of my history with you here. Please don’t mistake this future disclosure of information as seeking your approval, as I don’t want or need it. The only people that matter regarding my parenting skills are the people in my care and the people who sometimes act on their behalf (aka the social workers).

What I can offer you, dear reader, is the same respect, consideration and acceptance of your disclosures that I demand for mine.  I understand that we may have had different experiences; we may make different choices. But we are united by how we take responsibility for those experiences and choices: our actions, our beliefs. We strive to understand, to know more, to do better. We share our vulnerabilities and strengths, by our own choice, and in time we realise that respect has less to do with shared experiences and everything to do with acknowledging ourselves.

I empathise with the original source of the quote. They were motivated by a desire to protect the vulnerable members of their group. I am reminded again that I’m an outsider  a prospective adopter. As an outsider a prospective adopter, I have no leverage to challenge the way things are done. Strange how this experience of rejection and frustration feels a little like… a real idea relevant life experience.

Don’t worry, I have a support network in place to cope. 😉

Big City’s comedy of errors

The first time we inquired with Big City adoption agency, they sent a big packet of information plus a DVD. Hand-stitched dad and I found the DVD very helpful (if not a little clinical and scripted) as we both prefer visual learning aids.

The second time we inquired with Big City adoption agency, we filled out an online form and someone called us several weeks later to take our details. In hindsight, we probably should have asked whether this person was a part of the adoption team or a social worker, as it turns out they were just an admin in a special data collection team!  The phone call ended with a verbal invitation to their information meeting in five days and an assurance that the adoption team would send a letter invite out.

On the day of the adoption information meeting, we received a call from the same person asking for our details again. I kindly reminded her that she already took our details and we were still waiting for the invite to the information meeting. Coincidentally (!), we also received a call from a Big City social worker asking if we would be attending the information meeting that evening. Um, no? They apologised for not sending the letter through and assured me that they would send an invite to us for the next information meeting.

A couple weeks later, we still haven’t received an invite. We did, however, get a call from a member of the adoption team who was interested in progressing our application and wanted to “see where we are.” I advised her that we still have not received anything from Big City regarding the information evening. She apologised. I asked for the details over the phone. She said she would send them through email. We confirmed our correct email address. She said she would “send it in the next thirty minutes” and that we should review, print and call to RSVP.

It probably is no surprise, but we still haven’t received this email.

Big City adoption agency already had a few marks against it, and our initial experience has done nothing to improve our opinion. We wanted to give it a fair chance against the other two agencies, but that is becoming a lot less likely!

So with Big City out, that leaves Little City and Rural adoption agencies to decide between.

Little City Information Evening

I’d never really contemplated the idea that having a child would involve panels and social workers, rather than antenatal class, midwives, etc. Life however is in the habit of ignoring my assumptions, turning any preconceptions on their head, and long story short here we are embarking on quite a different path to what I expected: the path of adoption. And for me at least, the first big step – the moment that made it all seem real – was the the Little City information evening hand-stitched mum and I were invited to.

I would normally be pretty nervous attending an event like this, but somehow the timing seemed right. We had previously attended an information evening by Rural, however I felt like an observer that night. I was dipping my toe in the bath to check the temperature before taking the plunge. At Little City’s evening I felt like I was actually there for a reason.

The event was held in a small room at their offices, which felt intimate, unassuming and welcoming. Hand-stitched mum and I made our way in, sat a couple of rows back from the front (not wanting to seem too eager or not eager enough) and chatted while waiting for others to arrive. All in all there were probably about eight other couples there by the time things got started.

First up was the team lead who introduced herself and talked a little about the history of adoption and the adoption process as it is now. To be honest, many of the details washed over me a little during the first part of the night. Most of the stuff they said, hand-stitched mum had already told me.† Also I was trying to be mindful of my feelings – something that doesn’t always come naturally to me.

Next up was an adoptive parent who talked us though their adoption process. For me, it was reassuring to hear someone talking passionately about their experiences. At the information evening for the Rural adoption agency last year, one of the adoptive parents who spoke was clearly stressed and very upset. It was scary to see such strong emotions. As I hadn’t heard from an adoptive parent before that night, I started to wonder if that’s just how adoption is! At the Little City information evening it was nice to be reminded of the positives too.

Lastly, a social worker introduced herself and described her part in the adoption process. She was warm and friendly, with a genuine smile. I knew it was unlikely that she would be our social worker. The whole process of inviting someone into our house and our lives seems very alien to me, so it was just nice to put a friendly human face to the adoption agencies.

Questions were invited at the end, as you tend to expect not many people were brave enough. However, many stayed on at the end to speak to the social workers and adoptive parent more privately. Hand-stitched mum and I stayed too and we asked the social worker whether it was okay to start to the process while considering a house move. Thankfully, the social worker said it was fine, as long as it was completed before we adopted.

As we drove home, hand-stitched mum and I chatted. I remember being excited.  I could hear the excitement in my own voice and it felt good. In fact, it felt very good to be embarking on a path that I’d never anticipated being on.

Hand-stitched mum has an unbelievable ability to research, absorb and recall information!

Rural’s Viability Assessment

As we had attended an information meeting for Rural adoption agency at the end of 2012, the next step was to speak with a member of the social work team. She called in the middle of the day and asked if I had approximately an hour to complete the viability assessment.

“Doesn’t my husband need to be present?” The administrator had said we would both need to be present for the conversation.

The social worker said no, it wasn’t necessary unless we wanted to both be present. I knew hand-stitched dad would much prefer me to do the talking, so I said it was okay to go ahead. “I’ll do my best to answer for my husband.” And I made an effort to reflect on what we both might answer and shared honestly, even (especially!) when they differed.

My first impression of the social worker was that she had a bright voice and sounded kind and considerate. I wondered if she had counseling training, as she listened well. I felt comfortable talking with her.

She asked about:

  • Our names
  • Our address
  • Our contact details
  • How we found out about Rural adoption agency
  • When we attended the information meeting
  • Our ethnicity
  • Our religion
  • Our children, if any

Then, she explained about the process of adoption. I listened carefully, but was secretly pleased that I already knew everything she shared.  She specifically emphasized the need for contact with birth families. She asked for my thoughts. I said we had no problems with contact, as long as it was in the best interest of the child and “everyone involved agreed to review it as the child develops.” The social worker was impressed by this answer and explained a bit more about how contact was decided.

She then asked about:

  • Our expectations of adoption
  • Our medical history
  • Our reasons for adopting
  • Criminal disclosures, if any
  • Our knowledge of children in care
  • Our support network
  • Our work life
  • Our finances

She asked if I had any questions. I asked her for advice on timing our house move . She said that the best time is before the child is matched and placed, as any changes will be too disruptive. I was relieved that we wouldn’t be excluded from the process because we were considering moving house. There is no guarantee it will sell!

I had other questions, but the social worker sounded pretty eager to share the results: she was recommending that the Rural adoption agency proceed with our enquiry! She said that she could tell from my answers that I valued transparency and honesty.  She said that it was clear we had taken time to gather information and prepare ourselves for the next step. She said it was good that hand-stitched dad and I had different personalities and strengths as we would balance each other. She then asked how I would describe our relationship. I thought immediately of what my counselor said years ago.

“Devoted” I mused. ” ..that’s what others have told us.”   I swear, the social worker smiled.

I talked some more. I thought fondly of hand-stitched dad.  “We are not everything we want to be, but we are proud of our strengths.”

The social worker explained that her report will be reviewed by the monitoring group, who then decide whether to proceed. They have responsibility for prioritising prospective adopters’ enquiries to meet the needs of children currently in care.  The social worker advised us that we would receive a letter with the results of the review. She also hinted that there may be a wait due to the current backlog of enquiries as a result of a recent marketing drive. Again – not a concern for us, as that gives us more time to get the house sold! I told her we were not in a hurry.

The social worker finished the conversation by giving her full name and contact details. She advised us to call her if we had any further queries or wanted an update on the process. We haven’t had a need to call her yet, as we understand the process fairly well.  I may give her a call if we do not hear from them in April.

Overall, my experience of the viability assessment phone call was very positive. Despite our increasing knowledge of adoption, hand-stitched dad and I are ‘utter newbies’ and lack the confidence that experience brings. We sometimes feel inadequate as prospective parents, so it is validating to get such a positive response from a social worker regarding what we have to offer. The social worker sounded genuinely excited to meet us. She did her best to reflect our answers and provide feedback. It felt nice to have someone recognise and value our strengths, while keeping in balance our vulnerabilities.

I called hand-stitched dad immediately after the assessment, and he was amused at my excitement: “I can tell; you sound really pleased.” I chattered about every single question the social worker asked, on the phone and again at home. Hand-stitched dad confirmed that I did a good job representing both of us.

Two weeks later, we received the letter from Rural adoption agency. The letter confirmed that they would like to proceed with us and that the next step would be a home visit from a social worker. They said that they would contact us as soon as possible in April to arrange a time.

We look forward to hearing from them!