Don't Assume You Know Why We Adopted

Not every adoptive parent wants a baby.

14/07/2017 10:09 BST

Parents who have had birth children and then adopted explain why they felt they had room in their hearts and their homes for more children.

*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.

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“Whether or not she came from my body is irrelevant; she is in my heart.”

Isobel, 46, is married to John, 45. When they adopted their daughter Amy, Isobel’s son from her first marriage was 17. Amy was 13 months old when she came to the family and she’s now seven.

“The love I felt for my baby son was immediate. But with my daughter, that love had to grow. Now I know it’s possible to love your adopted child just as much as your birth child. When you adopt you don’t fall in love with a mini-you, a baby who looks like you or carries similarities to your parents or siblings; you fall in love with a whole new personality.

“Amy is a larger than life character, a ball of energy with a strong will. But she can be vulnerable too and feels loss deeply, for example at the end of the school year when she faces leaving her teacher and the familiar classroom.

“Amy went straight into care on the day she was born. She’s always known she was adopted and used to tell people ‘I’m ‘dopted’. She sees it as special and, I think, a bit different and daunting.  

“I always knew I hadn’t finished being a mother. I felt a deep need, but my husband was more altruistic and was the one who suggested adoption. But he found the vetting process very intrusive, and hated having to talk about his feelings and his own background. I didn’t mind so much, but you do feel out of control and vulnerable. It was the exact opposite of becoming a mother the first time - I wanted a baby, I got pregnant, no one vets you to see if you’re a suitable parent. Now I always welcome people’s curiosity and never take offence at questions about why we adopted.

“All we’d seen of Amy was a photo and a short video. I was petrified the first time we met her at her foster mum’s. Knocking on a stranger’s door, thinking, ‘What if this child doesn’t like us? What if I feel no connection?’ We stayed at a bed and breakfast for five days while we got to know her. Her foster mum helped make the transition work perfectly, attuned to what Amy needed and her growing interest in us.

“The thing is I nearly turned Amy down on the strength of that one photo. It was very unflattering and she looked podgy and expressionless. I couldn’t identify with her. She didn’t look like a baby I could take home. But a picture is not a person. Now I love that picture. I can see how vulnerable she was and it’s a reminder to me not to make silly judgements. She’s a beautiful girl and we love her.

“Amy is my child. She is part of me. Whether or not she came from my body is irrelevant; she is in my heart.”

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“My son said: ‘Why do you need any more children? Aren’t we enough?’”  

Jenny, 50, is mum to three children aged 29, 25 and 24. She and her husband of 10 years, Mark, 43, are also adoptive parents to Stacey, eight, who came to live with them 18 months ago.

“One of my brothers was given up for adoption. I remember visiting him in hospital after his birth when I was about four but he didn’t come home. We’re in contact now but the poor man didn’t know he was adopted until he was a young adult and had to get a passport to travel abroad. The discovery brought up lots of feelings of not belonging for him.

“I love my mum but my siblings and I didn’t have a great upbringing and when my first baby died, I couldn’t get my head around how she could have given up a baby.

“I had my children when I was very young, but I was always determined to break that cycle and give them every opportunity in life. I never pushed them but I’ve always scrimped and saved and put them first. I’ve always just wanted them all to grow up confident and happy in their lives and to be kind and respectful individuals. I love it when they all come over for a Sunday roast, with their partners and my grandchildren.

“My daughters were supportive of our plan to adopt, but my son was hurt at first. He said: ‘Why d’you need any more children? Aren’t we enough?’ I had to sit him down and tell him I wouldn’t love him any less, that you always have room in your heart for another child without there being less to go around. I also pointed out that Mark hadn’t experienced bringing up a child and I knew he had so much love and patience to give. Now Stacey’s a much-loved little sister.

“Stacey was classed as an ‘unadoptable child’, which still makes me angry. Luckily, her social worker approached us about six months after we’d completed our adoption training and just before her seventh birthday.

“When she came to us she had very poor mobility because she’s been strapped in a pushchair and left day after day by her birth parents. Now she plays football, goes riding and she’s starting ballet classes soon. Academically she still has a lot of catching up to do, but emotionally she’s doing really well and growing in confidence.

“Some people have said they don’t understand how we could take on a child who, in their unkind words, is an ‘unknown quantity’. Adopting really does sort out the nice, kind people from the ones who are quick to judge and see every blip as ‘because she’s adopted’.

“As Stacey had never had cuddles and eye contact, we needed to regress and almost treat this frightened child as a baby with lots of security and hugs and unconditional love. Of course there are days when being her mum and dad does seem daunting because she’ll push and push us for a reaction, but when we put her to bed we always tell her we love her.  

“If I hadn’t had children, I would find being an adoptive parent a lot more challenging. I know that everything is a phase and that as long as your child knows you’re always there, whatever, that’s all that matters.”

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“I was adopted and I always knew I wanted to give a child the chances I had.”

David, 36, has three children with his wife Marcia, 34: Alice, eight, Ruth, six, and their adopted son Josh, four.

“I was a Barnardo’s boy and then adopted when I was eight by my amazing parents. I always knew I wanted to adopt; to give a child like me the chance of a stable, happy upbringing like I had. Without my parents, I don’t know how I’d have turned out if I’d stayed in the system but, thanks to their faith in me, I started doing well in school, went to university and now I’m a creative director in an ad agency. I know a few details about my birth mother. She was a heroin addict and she died when I must have been about 18.

“Marcia and I always knew we would adopt, but Marcia also wanted to have the experience of giving birth and wanted us to have a combined family. The big plan when we first talked about starting a family was to have six children with three adopted, three birth kids. I don’t think either of us have the energy to get to six kids now and our family feels complete with Josh.

“He came to us when he was 11 months old. It is overwhelming at first, learning a new child’s needs and desires, what he’s interested in and gradually discovering his character. It’s very different from when you take a newborn home and all you’re worried about is sleep and feeding, even though that seems monumental at the time.  

“Josh was already walking, but his sleep was all over the place and he had an almighty temper - he’s still a very determined boy. I think being parents already made us much calmer and confident that we could provide a happy home for him.   

“He’s mixed race like our children and people seeing us together as a family would simply presume he’s our youngest, but when he’s a bit older we’ll start telling him about how we chose him to be our special son. Josh is such a happy, boisterous little boy. He loves singing and dancing and he can’t wait to start school in September, and be with his big sisters.”

“My advice to anyone considering adoption is ‘Go for it’. You get back what you put in 110%.

Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive at Adoption UK, says: “Everyone’s path to adoption is unique, and our members’ stories are as individual as the way their families come together. It is important that parents with birth children who later adopt can provide the right home environment for not only the adopted child, but the birth child too.

We know, through Adoption UK’s 46 years of experience in supporting adoptive families, that it is not only the adopted children who require support, but the whole family. Parenting a traumatised child as well as a birth child is not an easy task, but the benefits of a sibling relationship can be immense.”

If you would like to know more about adoption, contact Adoption UK.