My husband was the one to take primary adoption leave after we adopted our two sons – siblings, who came to us aged four and seven.
It meant that after my two week’s paternity, I was working overseas a lot and travelling a great deal. I’d find time on planes to note little stories, which would bring me comfort after being taken away from my new family so early on.
These were personal and I kept them privately on a memory stick, with no thought or ambition to use them – that was, until our first Christmas together.
I’d naively built our family’s ‘happily ever after’ up to this moment and we were all really excited for Father Christmas to arrive – so I was staggered to find myself sitting and comforting our eldest son, who’d asked me why Santa had not visited them when they were with their birth family.
Trying to explain why Father Christmas wasn’t there for him during his early years was difficult – especially as our oldest son shared details from previous Christmases, which were heartbreaking to hear. It really shocked me as festive traditions are something that most people from more privileged backgrounds take for granted.
I managed to shift the focus and helped him to understand how family was more special at Christmas than gifts, and how we would try our best to make it very memorable for them.
Yet my son’s words affected me so greatly that I began to dig these jotted thoughts back out of the archive and started work on what would become my first published book: Santa’s Wish – a story that focused on kindness.
The story was a re-write of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, where a little boy asks Santa what he wanted for Christmas and Santa makes a heartfelt wish for us to look after each other in different ways. But I wrote my version with my son in mind.
Adoption was always going to be the way my husband and I would grow our family. We were both instinctively drawn to adopting because we wanted to help children who needed support. In fact, we didn’t spend a lot of time considering the other options.
My husband was ready to adopt after we married but I took a little longer. I kept waiting for that moment when I’d know for sure but eventually realised there would never be a perfect time.
We threw ourselves wholeheartedly into research and preparation for the various steps in the process to adopt siblings specifically, as we always wanted more than one child.
It felt like this was such a natural choice for us and we sped through approvals and panels, carried along by our enthusiasm.
Matching with a child, however, was harder. Having sifted through (literally) hundreds of profiles and having several home visits, we ended up meeting our children at an activity day – which was almost like speed dating for families and children looking for new homes, but with a lot of thought and planning to help protect the children’s understanding of what is happening.
This was perfect for us as the preconceived ideas of what we were ‘looking for’ on paper – ages and genders, for example – were replaced by strong, natural chemistry that we all felt instantly.
That said, even with the wealth of reading and homework, there was still a lot to learn when our children moved in.
The rollercoaster that is the first few weeks of ‘placement’ is rarely discussed in the pre-adoption process. Our boys moved in over the summer and we soon settled into a routine, helped along by some nifty ideas such as our breakfast table adventures, where we set up toys every morning in new exciting scenes and scenarios for 100 days.
We also created a washing line with photos of expected visitors, which helped the boys to feel less anxious when being introduced to our family and friends.
However, like most adopters, our ‘honeymoon period’ was swiftly followed by the children throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us, from temper tantrums on days out to shouting in public and chucking scooters.
They were testing every boundary to see if they were truly safe in this new environment and if this promise of a ‘forever family’ had any strings attached.
And then we had that heart-wrenching Christmas.
I had Santa’s Wish published and as I toured it around schools and family events, it became increasingly important to me to be able to make a positive difference to the lives of children like my sons through writing and telling stories on topics such as mental health, adoption, family types and autism.
After great sales, a growing audience of readers and requests from schools that I’d visited, I penned three more children’s books and set up Owlet Press in 2018.
Every time I met someone who had bought one of the books, the impact it had made on their family was amazing. They got to see characters like themselves or in similar situations, whether it was kids from different races and religions to single parent and same-sex families to those with learning disabilities. Parents and kids alike told me they were represented and felt seen and heard.
I felt this the most when I wrote and published The Blanket Bears, a story about adoption, which was largely inspired by my sons and their placement with us.
While my children inspired me, it took a great deal of care and consideration to get it right and I kept the book separate from them until it was finished, concerned it would’ve been too raw for them at that particular time.
It was by far my most personal book to date and I am so proud of how well it depicted my sons’ journey, and how well it’s been received since.
Having books like ours early on in our family life would have certainly helped with some emotional issues my children faced and allowed them to see adoption as normal.
I know they would have found joy in seeing positive portrayals of adopted characters, instead of the orphan trope thrown carelessly around in many children’s books – narratives which are triggering, traumatic and create shame.
As our sons have now grown out of the picture book age and into young adults, they do show a keen interest in my job but are my harshest critics first and foremost (which I love).
We obviously have the joyously hormone-filled arguments that are the soundtrack to any tween and teenager household, but more often we have a real laugh together in our bubble, looking out at the tumultuous world around us.
Having been raised by an incredible, black foster family and then growing up with two dads, they are now very passionate about subjects such as diversity and inclusion.
Our adoption journey has had highs – I have fond memories of taking my wildlife-obsessed children to meet family in Australia – as well as lows, realising that even the best parent can’t really ‘heal’ the hurt of an adopted child.
In many ways, we’re very different, but it means everything to see them grow up forming their own beliefs that happen to be like my own.
I tell my stories and they live theirs, and I’m proud to call these two young men my sons.
Adoption Month is a month-long series covering all aspects of adoption.
For the next four weeks, which includes National Adoption Week from October 14-19, we will be speaking to people who have been affected by adoption in some way, from those who chose to welcome someone else’s child into their family to others who were that child.
We’ll also be talking to experts in the field and answering as many questions as possible associated with adoption, as well as offering invaluable advice along the way.
If you have a story to tell or want to share any of your own advice please do get in touch at [email protected]
- Why we’re talking about adoption this month
- How to adopt a child – from how long it takes to how you can prepare
- The most Googled questions on adoption, answered
- How long does it take to adopt a child in the UK
- Adoption myths that could be stopping you from starting a family
- How to tell your child they are adopted
Visit our Adoption Month page for more.
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