This week is National Adoption Week, and given that my wonderful husband and I have very recently been approved as adopters I wanted to write a bit about why we have decided to adopt, what it means for us and our family, and explain the process for anyone who might be considering it.
In November 2016, eleven months after we decided to start trying for a baby, we found out it was not going to happen. It was the hardest and most upsetting time of my life, and really put a grey cloud over our newlywed bliss. We are very lucky that my husband has a child who is the light of our lives; smart, funny, great company, cheeky, and every lovely thing you can think of. But our family did not feel complete.
We did our research and found out that with the specific fertility issue that we were facing, our only hope of conceiving was via IVF with ICSI. We were not eligible for treatment on the NHS because my husband was already a father, but my parents offered straight away to fund any treatment that we needed. We saw a consultant in December 2016, which was one of the worst experiences of my life; she said some things to both myself and my husband that were horrific - until she realised that we were not NHS patients but potential private patients, when she very quickly changed her tune. But it was too late, and we left that consultation feeling completely deflated and hopeless.
It was around this time that we began to think more seriously about adoption. We attended an information evening in January 2017 and decided to proceed from there. In March 2017 we had our first meeting with our social worker, and the following week we were officially invited to apply to become adopters. On October 3rd 2017 we went to approval panel and were given a unanimous yes.
It has not been an easy journey to this point. There have been tears and frustrations but also a real sense of doing something really wonderful. With every meeting we had with our social worker, and with every preparation course we attended, we began to believe more and more that no only could we do this, but that we were meant to do this. Every step has felt so naturally like a step in the right direction.
Our family portrait, as drawn by my stepson for our social worker
So here are a few things I want to share with you about the adoption process, in case anyone is thinking of going for it!
It doesn't take too long
Like really, not very long at all. From our initial meeting to our approval was seven months, and that was because we delayed it a little bit by going on holiday in September. The wait for a child doesn't have to take too long either - in fact we received our first phone call about a child who may be right for us one whole hour after we were formally approved as adopters. Many of the adopters we met on our preparation courses, who started at the same time we did, already have their children home and living with them. This obviously isn't always the case but it's also not so unusual!
You do have some control
If you want to adopt a specific age, gender or number of children, you can specify this and no social worker is going to think any less of you. There are a lot of 'older' children waiting to be adopted, but that doesn't mean there aren't babies out there needing a forever family either. I think a lot of adopters are put off by the belief they will only be able to adopt older children but that really isn't the case. There also aren't that many children aged above about 6 who are waiting to be adopted - older children are often suited better to long term foster care than adoption placements.
The assessment is not so bad
The process can feel a bit invasive and sometimes unnatural (and always unfair - you will, on occasion, think to yourself "No biological parent has to go through any of this!") but it is what it is. The assessment is for a very good reason, because not everybody has it in them to face the reality of adopting a child. It's meant to be tough to weed out the weak. We didn't find it too bad at all really. I really enjoyed our sessions with our social worker, exploring our relationship with each other, how we parent my stepchild, talking about our families and friends. It made me realise just how lucky we were to have such a great support network around us, from our parents, our friends, extended family and even our employers. We are incredibly lucky.
Your attitudes will change
By applying to become an adoptive parent, you will meet some incredible people. I'm very grateful for those we have met and talked to along the way, from social workers and psychologists to other adopters and birth parents. It is a very moving and humbling experience to sit and listen to a person who has had their children removed from their care and placed for adoption. It is also extremely difficult to sit and read a report on a child about why they have been placed for adoption. Becoming an adoptive parent is not about hating birth parents at all - it is about compassion and understanding and being trusted with the greatest gift you could ever receive. It gives you a whole new understanding about why some people are unable to parent, and it has nothing to do with not loving their child.
You can almost definitely adopt
Honestly, unless you have been convicted of crimes against children, anyone can apply to adopt. I cannot speak about the experiences of others but throughout our application we have seen mixed race couples, single adopters, same sex relationships, older couples and younger couples all be a part of the same very special journey. There are some age restrictions (you cannot apply to adopt if you're under the age of 21), you cannot be undergoing fertility treatment (most will ask you to be a year past any treatment at the time of your application) and you have to be fit and healthy to parent, but that's it. You don't need to own your own house, you can have pets, you don't need thousands in the bank and you don't have to plan to be a stay at home parent. You just have to be passionate about adoption!
Because really that is what it's all about. You need to really want it, and you need to be willing to change the rest of your life to do it. You need to let go of any visions you had of what your perfect future family was going to look like, accept that it's going to be a little bit different, but that it's also going to be wonderful. Because it really, really is.