This week is National Adoption Week 2017 with the hashtag #SupportAdoption. It's one of the biggest adoption awareness raising initiatives in the UK. So yes, the over-riding aim is to find families for some of the most vulnerable children in the UK. But there's also a hope that those whose lives and hearts have been touched by adoption will share their individual stories to #SupportAdoption.
Maybe you'd like to hear mine.
Sixteen years ago, I received a phone call out of the blue. I was sitting at my kitchen table with a group of friends, chatting and laughing over coffee and cake. The kids were all at school. I'd adopted the little girl I'd been fostering nearly a year before and made it clear to Social Services that that was us done. With three kids, our family was complete. But this was urgent, they said. They wouldn't be calling if they weren't desperate, they said. It will only be for six weeks, they said.
I went back to the table and told my friends. They all thought it was so exciting. The idea of a newborn baby coming to us the next day straight from hospital... You can do it, they said. We'll support you, they said. We'll be there for you, they said.
Sixteen years on and that tiny baby is our beloved son. He never moved on. He's our challenging yet wonderful son with FASD and a learning disability who's never going to live independently. And those friends are still in our world, still supporting the best they can. Not in hugely practical ways, but just by sticking with us. They have my back. They believe in me. They stand by me even when they can't understand. They've never lost faith in me, even when I've lost faith in myself. They let me talk when I want to talk and stop asking questions when I don't. They have supported our adoptions, in ways that most other people we've encountered have not.
Most 'normal' people with 'normal' families don't understand adoption. They don't understand how you can love someone else's child as much as your own birth children. They don't understand when you say it's different (because how can it not be different when you grew your birth children inside you for nine months and gave birth to them and breast fed them?) but it's equal in intensity. They ask how 'your own children' are coping with these other children in their world, as if these other children are not your own. They describe your adoptive children's birth mother as their real mother or natural mother, as if you are in some way fake or unnatural (I choose to go with 'supernatural mother'!).
The kids hear all this too. They know they are different. They're treated differently. They're not invited to the parties. They're looked at with suspicion. They get asked if their mum dumped them in a dustbin. They're told they weren't wanted and that their birth families were 'skanky'.
As an adoptive parent, you have to be thick-skinned and strong for your kids: a veritable love warrior. You have to fight to keep their self-esteem and sense of identity intact. You have to support adoption, be an advocate for adoption. You have to tell your kids a different story to the story the world is telling them - in a louder, more confident voice that drowns out all the negative voices.
We all go through life believing that the help and support will be there when we really need it. Like the panic button you're given to hold when you're in that MRI machine, which you can push if you need help. Which my husband pushed and no one came. He shouted and no one came (he ended up throwing his wedding ring across the room because he was panicked it might interfere with the MRI scan).
One afternoon when my daughter was in Year 10, we got a phone call from school saying that she was telling everyone that she was going to meet her birth family after school. They thought we should know. That's as far as the support from school went. This revelation rocked our world. We had no idea how to react. We turned to Adoption Services for help. We pushed the panic button. No one helped. They told us to look online for advice, to order a book form Amazon. We shouted louder for help. No one came. No one helped. It appeared this wasn't a big issue for anyone but ourselves. These services are so stretched that only the emergency cases get a chance of receiving help. We didn't count as important enough.
We got this from school too - 'She's not on our radar.' And psychological services - 'She presents as a delightful child'. No one had the resources to help us or the understanding to see what was going on.
And then it was too late.
The support you receive when you adopt may not come from the places you expect. It can be a lonely journey - isolating, terrifying, undermining. You have to create your own support structure - a local support group, a Facebook group, a close friendship with another adopter - places where you can be heard and understood and supported.
Adopters need to know that they are not alone. Adopters need to support each other.
We are the experts on adoption. We're living it. We are the only ones who can ever really understand. We have been there before.
I choose every single day to #SupportAdoption.
For this is my family. This is my life. This is my reality.
I have the most incredible children in my life.
They're the most forgiving, resilient, determined, funny, generous kids I know.
And I have the privilege to call them mine.