Quiet but busy

Apologies for having a quiet summer on our blog. We haven’t even been reading other people’s blogs, since Google Reader shut down. Does anyone have recommendations for another browser-based RSS reader?

It is October, which means our adoption journey picks up pace. We attend preparation group this month, at Suburban Agency. Soon after, we will put in our official application to Rural Adoption Agency. We will be appointed a social worker and then complete home study. A few panels, a lot of reading, and one match later — and we will be parents.

We have been entertaining the idea of Hand-stitched Dad taking the adoption leave, so all three of us can be home for the most amount of time with our new family member. I have heard that some social workers are particular about releasing a child into the care of a man. That is a diplomatic way of saying that some social workers make matching decisions based on our gender (or maybe gonad assignation?) rather than exploring what “gender” and “familiarity” really means to their traumatised child. There are of course very good reasons why some children are placed with Male or Female parents, but I hope there are even better reasons why they are matched with those parents, that have nothing to do with Male or Female parts at all.

I cannot speak for individual social workers or individual children awaiting adoptive placements, but I can speak for my lovely husband. Hand-stitched Dad is a gentle man with a boyish face, who rarely has anything but kind things to say. He is tall and slender, with a charming multi-coloured beard. Whenever I see him, I relax. Whenever he looks at me, I smile. If I feel childlike and stroppy, he returns my childlike banter in equal force. If I feel serious and philosophical, he listens quietly.

When things became very stressful — the peak of our grieving — we separated for a brief two weeks. It was horrible. But at the end of the two weeks, I knew exactly why I married this man.

We are not perfect. We make mistakes every day. We have had life experiences that have disabled us and left us lonely and afraid. We do not have everything we want, such as a spacious, clean home. But we do have a few quite remarkable things, such as deep respect for each other and a willingness to grow together no matter what the outcome. I now have a name for the values that keep us together: Acceptance and Resilience.

Hand-stitched Dad is steadfast. He embodies all the best qualities of a parent, and, yes, most of those qualities are also considered archetypical female: gentleness, sensitivity, compassion, tolerance, deference.

I look forward to seeing our prospective adopters report. How will it capture the ambiguity of gender roles in our relationship? Will I be described as masculine because of the absence of typical female traits? Will people ignore Hand-stitched Dad’s strengths because he is male? How will the biases of our social worker play out in our assessment?

It may not ultimately work out financially, but I would love to see Hand-stitched Dad grow into the role previously known as Mother. I know that I would be proud to be a Father. I’m not sure it matters what we hide in our underpants.

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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.

Play

The fact that I’m a grand-uncle to an 18-month old makes me feel quite old! I’m really not that old, am I?!

As mentioned in my previous post, until a few years ago I didn’t think we’d be adopting, so I never expected that anybody would care about my experiences with children. I’d always thought that I’d just learn ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Anyway, on Mother’s day our family met at my sister’s house for Sunday lunch, so while everybody was finishing their meal and chatting, I excused myself and sat with my grand-niece while she played nearby.

At first I just watched her playing with a toy school bus and a stuffed dog. It was cute to see the attention she put in to carefully opening and closing the door of the bus each time she moved the stuffed dog on or off. The fact that the bus had no roof and the dog would have been way too big to fit though the door seemed to be of no consequence to her whatsoever.

Next she climbed inside her Little Tikes car. Rather than dashing about, she glanced around for a while, looking a little confused. I remembered seeing her in her car earlier; she had made a big play of turning the key before setting off. I wondered if she was looking for the key, so I helped her search. I found the key on a little chair at my feet. I called to her and showed her that I’d found it.  She lent though the ‘windshield’ of her car, with her hand reaching out expectantly. I too lent over with my arm stretched and handed her the key. She sat back in the seat and pretended to turn the key in the ignition before setting off around the room.

By now the family was returning from the meal and sitting in the lounge. My grand-niece parked her car and toddled over to me with an In the Night Garden book. I asked her if she could point out the Tombliboos to me (which she did). When hand-stitched mum asked her if she would would like me to read to her, she shook her head and plonked the book down on the sofa.

I looked around and found one of those shape sorter plastic ball things – you know the ones – where you have you find the right shape to fit each hole.  At first I was at a loss as to how to extract the shapes from the center of the ball; however, my nephew came to my aid and showed me how. Then my grand-niece picked up a shape and seemingly randomly tried to stuff it in to every hole.

To try and make it easier for her, I slowly rotated the ball, presented one side to her, and asked if she thought the shape would fit. After a short struggle, I’d announce that I didn’t think the block would fit and rotated the ball to show the next opening. When the shape finally popped though the correct hole, I gave a big cheer and a broad smile formed across her face. This cheering seemed to give her no end of encouragement and we hunted for the next match together.

By this time pretty much everybody in the room was watching. Much to her excitement, the next matches resulted in louder and louder cheers. Sadly however after a while, conversation had taken over in the room. As such when another block fell in to place, my grand-niece paused for the cheers, but none came. “Uh-oh,” I announced loudly, “didn’t anybody see what you did?!”  A cheer arose from the room, a smile returned, a little body relaxed and the play continued.

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!