From a sense of uncertainty to being prepared to discuss one’s sex life with strangers, Dotty Winters reveals the eight things she wishes she’d known prior to adopting.
Adoption: “More emotional, more fun and crazier than you ever imagined”
This week the media will be full of heart-breaking and heart-warming stories, raising much-needed awareness for National Adoption Week. My family is one of those good-luck stories; we are fortunate enough to have wonderful biological and adopted children. So I am very much pro-adoption. But there are important things that I don’t think you’ll hear in this week’s coverage. Along the way we’ve met many other fellow adopters and heard their stories, and there are things we all wish we’d known; not things that would have changed our decisions, but things that would have made the whole process a little less stressful and confusing.
1. It doesn’t need to be a postcode lottery
Many people don’t realise that even if your local authority area initially says you aren’t suitable, neighbouring agencies may be very keen to talk to you. There are a small number of children who need to be placed outside authority boundaries, and provided that you are within a reasonable travelling distance for the social workers, you may be exactly what they need. There are also national and regional agencies that operate separately from the local authority system (usually placing children who have not been matched in their local authority after a period of time). You can – and should – shop around to find the right agency for you. Most run regular information evenings, and you can attend as many different ones as you like.
2. It can take a long time
It took around two years for us to adopt our youngest; this isn’t unusual, nor is it much longer than the average amount of time it takes to conceive and grow a biological child. During the process social workers get to know you really well and prepare you for adoption. Yes, there are elements of bureaucracy that could be lessened, but there’s a limit to how short the process should be in order to ensure a successful adoption placement.
3. The things you are worried about might not be an issue
I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to adopt because of my weight. I know people who are convinced that their long-term health issues, unhappy childhood, past relationships or previous mental health issues will prevent them from adopting. I also know people in all those situations who have been able to adopt.
The things that you expect to be hard might be easy, and other things might turn out to be harder than you’d ever thought.
Be open about your concerns from the start and ask the agency how they are likely to view your situation. You might not be accepted, but the assessment process is long and expensive, so it’s in the authority’s interests to tell you sooner rather than later if they don’t think you’ll be successful.
4. Adoption is not the same as having a biological child
This is hard to write, because I don’t mean that you will love or value your adopted child any less. But it’s best not to enter into the adoption process without exploring the differences that you can expect, so that you can prepare for these rather than gloss over them. When you give birth to a baby, your body is flooded with hormones that help you feel instantly attached to him or her. The same hormones aren’t at play in adoption, so the attachment process takes a little longer (although you will end up in the same place).
5. You need to be OK with a birth family
Children adopted in the UK will know that they’re adopted; you’ll be expected to tell them this and help them understand their past (although you’ll get a lot of help and training to do so). Most children will have some contact with their birth families. This is usually through letters sent via social services, and it’s increasingly common for adopters to have a one-off meeting with the birth parents before the adoption. Emotions like anger, pity, guilt and jealousy towards birth parents are absolutely natural, but you are responsible for keeping these in check. For the sake of your child you need to have a positive, caring and understanding relationship with their birth parents; you’ll think of them every day and they will always part of your life.
6. You’ll learn to live with uncertainty
Social services will share with you everything they know about a child and his/her experiences. However, there will often be things that they don’t know for certain, or at all. This may include what a child was exposed to during pregnancy or in early life (e.g. drugs or alcohol), medical information about one or both parents, or the identity of a child’s father. Even when they do know some information it’s never possible to predict how experiences may affect a child as they grow up. Though some of this uncertainty exists for biological children, there can be more unknowns for adopted children.
7. You need to be clear why you are doing it
Adopting is not about “saving” anyone. It’s not heroic. Social workers are rightly suspicious of people who want to adopt for philanthropic reasons. If you’re capable of having your own biological children, expect to answer a lot of questions about why you are choosing adoption. This is not to say you won’t be approved, but you will need to provide a clear rationale for your choice. Adoption is not a charitable undertaking. It’s about growing your family.
8. You will need to be ready to talk about EVERYTHING
Your social worker is going to ask you about your life, your views, your past, finances, pets, health, coping strategies, experiences with children, experiences as a child, sex life (yes, really) and everything in between. It can be tricky to answer these questions, especially when you know you’re being assessed, but answers to these questions are also part of how the social worker will help you find the perfect child for your family. The sooner you give in and bare your soul the better.
Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.