17.00 - 19.30, Wednesday 18th April 2018
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Some four years ago Susan and I sat in our car just outside a hospital and cried. We had just met, for the last time, with our consultant who had confirmed the news to us that our chances of conceiving were slim at very best. The reality of this for Susan was immediate, the pain very obvious. In true bloke fashion I postponed, or, probably more rightly, denied the pain. I recall vividly my mind turning to what next? A life of tropical beach holidays, of luxurious weekend city breaks, low handicap golf, fast cars and champagne?! For those who want to be a family the truth is none of these things – lovely as they are – hit the mark.
Whatever your philosophical or religious persuasion there is something profound in being family. It seems to me that there is no greater happiness, no bigger challenge and no greater sadness than having the responsibility for a child’s life. I know that because eighteen months ago Susan and I adopted three little girls. It thrills me to witness their progress. To see something of their childhood restored. And more than this, that with them we are family. We would not want it any other way. Being a parent is a challenge; being an adoptive parent is asking you to take a child and love them as your own challenges and all. It’s a big ask.
Occasionally Susan and I will sit and try to imagine our lives without the girls. We think this is a healthy exercise to do from time to time. It helps to put in context those thoughts that I’m sure most adoptive parents have most days that go back to when life was easy, restaurant eating was enjoyed and summer holidays were about uninterrupted reading time! It isn’t long though before our conversation turns to how life would be downright weird without the girls. I hesitate to write it, but like Jerry Maguire, they complete us.
A word on the thrills, of which there are many. Nothing beats seeing the girls develop and grow, seeing them play with happy abandon, hearing them laugh and sing, watching them dance, watching them explore and learn. Teaching them how to ride scooters and bikes, build sandcastles, paddle in the sea. Watching their personalities flourish, their confidence grow, boundaries being pushed. Witnessing them take on your traits, like drinking the milk out of their cereal bowl! It is a thrill.
A word on the grind. I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture of domestic bliss. Being parents is an unrelenting task. The days become rhythmic blurs of getting the girls up, breakfasting, teeth cleaning, wiping bottoms and streaming noses, dressing, school runs, pick ups, clothes washing, ironing, dinner making, bath time, bed time, flake out, glass of wine, 10 O’clock news, our bedtime. All this interwoven with seemingly infinite questions and requests! This is parenting. Remorseless!
The adoptive parent also has to work through, patiently, the various issues that come with your children: The damage that has been done to them, their insecurities, some of their behaviours. I knew as a child that bad behavior (fighting and lying) would be punished. I also knew that being punished didn’t alter how much my Mum and Dad loved me. Susan and I grew up in a secure place – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Adoptive children’s behaviours are born out of abuse, anxiety and insecurity, out of not knowing what will happen to them next. So it’s no good getting cross when pants are wet for the 3rd time in a day. It won’t be an accident; learning to find a language that is age appropriate and gets to the root of the issue with our children is something I’ve not found easy. It can be frustrating. Working out what behaviour is born out of insecurity and what is ‘children being children’ is mentally hard work.
A word on our relationship. We’ve been married for six years. The biggest challenge to our relationship is time. Between work and looking after the girls, time together gets marginalized. Not only does it get marginalized the quality of that time gets compressed. Very often the best we can do is sit next to each other and watch a film. No talking. Once a week, on a Monday evening, we try and sit together and talk. We do talk about the girls, but we try and talk about each other and what’s on our hearts and minds. In short, we try to catch up. We don’t always manage to do this, but we try. Eighteen months after having the girls we are also trying to go out on our own once in a while. It’s a novel experience dating!
A word on our support network. I have no idea of how we would have coped without our friends, family and understanding bosses. As a family we have been much loved. Not only do the girls have their adoptive grandparents they have a number of surrogate ones too; people who consistently give the girls their time so that we can have a break.
A word on CCS. Their pre and post adoption support has been nothing short of tremendous. Not once have we felt on our own throughout the process. Not once have we ever felt like a number or ‘just another couple looking to adopt’. The pre-adoption assessment work was done robustly but sensitively. The bizarre and difficult task of ‘matching’ was similarly completed sensitively. Post adoption our social worker has just been there: to listen, to allow us to download/offload, to give helpful suggestions where it has been needed. I commend them to you.
Adoption has brought me to this place: I now watch DIY SOS Big Build and Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘Love your Garden’ and weep! A bit of love, a lot of effort and a load of patience changes lives – ours as much as our girls! Adopt and weep! We have no regrets.
Matt & Susan