Julie Ward knows exactly what people are thinking when she tells them her two children are adopted. Sometimes they even say it out loud. "The assumption is always the same – that I must have had problems having children of my own."
It couldn't be further from the truth.
"When I met my husband eight years ago, I started to feel ready to have a child, but the more we talked about it, the more we felt there are enough children in the world already who need loving homes," says Julie, whose two boys are five and three. "So we decided to apply to adopt and it was the best decision we ever made."
Julie is one of a growing breed of people who are more than capable of carrying their own children, but who decide to take on other people's instead. While some do it for the same reasons as Julie, others make the decision because they are single (but still want a family) or because they want to bring up a child of a particular gender.
Some people are motivated by seeing the joy adoption has brought to a family they know and others reach their decision because they were fostered or adopted themselves. Then there are those who feel they have something to offer a particular group of children in the care system – perhaps they have experience of working with children who were neglected or abused, for example. Others make the decision because they are single but still want a family.
Many, like Anne Hill, already have children of their own. "We always envisaged having a big family, but our second son was born with a profound disability and it turned all our expectations about our future family on their head," she explains.
"In the end, we got to this point where we thought, 'Do we really want to bring another child into the world who may or may not have similar problems and will put even more strain on social resources and the NHS, or do we help out existing children?' We decided on the latter."
Two years later – this January - two sisters, aged five and four, came to live with them. "We were very open minded about the kind of child we'd take on. In fact, we didn't plan to take on more than one, but our social worker felt we would be just right for these girls, who were born to a family with learning disabilities and a history of mental health issues."
It wasn't an easy decision, particularly since the girls had been labeled as 'hard to place.'
"Their foster placement had broken down and we knew this would be a very different kind of parenting than we were used to because of the difficulties and loss they had already faced in their little lives.
"But we were very keen and although the first three months have been hard because the little one needs so much reassurance and the older one's resilience is a worry in itself, we are very happy."
It was important to Anne that their existing children were in on the decision from the start.
"I can remember sitting on the bed with our eldest son a year ago when he was 10 and nervously saying, 'Mummy and Daddy are thinking of getting you a sister. What do you think?' His answer was simply, 'Really? When? How soon can we do it?'"
Adam Morley's three children were equally positive when he and his wife suggested that they grow their family through adoption.
"They were very much part of the whole application process because, not surprisingly, the social workers wanted to be sure that they would welcome any child that came into our family. They now have a six-year-old sister, who they utterly adore."
Adam admits he was shocked when it came to understanding just how different adoptive parenting would be.
"We swaggered into the training course thinking, 'What can you teach us about parenting? We already have three kids of our own.' But understanding the kind of therapeutic parenting that is required for children who have faced difficulties of broken ties at such a young age brings with it a whole new set of challenges for parents that they wouldn't normally have. But that's what the training is for and it doesn't stop – the support continues to be ongoing."
There's no doubt that infertility issues are still the key reason people adopt, reports Elaine Dibben, adoption consultant at The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).
"But motivations are changing as society changes. In particular, people are getting together later and that often means that one or both members of the couple have children from a previous relationship. In many cases, this makes them feel happier about going down a different route to have more children."
Having been fostered or adopted – or knowing another family that has been touched by fostering or adoption – can be another powerful incentive, she adds.
This was certainly the case for Joy Lindstrom. "I had a bad experience in my younger childhood, in that I lived in many different families which were not all loving, but then one particular family, with whom I stayed for eight years, turned my life around. The thought of being able to have an impact anywhere near as positive as that on another child is exactly what spurred me on to apply to adopt," she says.
Her husband wasn't at all keen at first, she admits.
"He said he didn't think he could father another man's child, but for various reasons over the next few years, he completely changed his mind and we now have two adopted children aged 11 and nine and we can't imagine our lives without them.
"I'm not saying it's easy – and because they come from a background of abandonment, we know that some of their challenges may only grow as they grow – but we also know that our love and support is having an impact and that is incredibly satisfying to see."
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