Written by Cariad Martin

Voices

Empty nest

In July, the world as Cariad Martin knew it fell apart. Now there’s a great big, stinking elephant in the room.

empty baby's cotI thought I understood the phrase ‘elephant in the room’, until I experienced something so impossibly, intimidatingly huge, that the only thing I could do was ignore it.

It took more than two years of paperwork, interviews, training days and cross-country meetings to get to the point where we finally met our adopted children. Then four days later, we came home without them.

The lengthy, complicated and painful story of why it happened is for another time, not least because introduction breakdowns are rare and going into details could identify the children, and put any future adoption plans for both parties in jeopardy. Even if I wanted to, I’m not sure I’d be able to concisely explain the events that led to the collapse of my universe as I knew it.

Writing about shit things is the only way I’ve ever processed them, and I’ve got to do it now, because all the time I don’t I feel like I’m pretending it didn’t happen. Like I’m standing with my arms splayed in front of a three-ton elephant that I know everyone can see, but I’m acting like it’s not there. It takes up space in my office, pulls up an extra seat when I go to dinner with friends. And I want to talk about it but I don’t know what the fuck to say. So maybe I’ll just try to say it all.

“We made their beds. They called me Mummy. Actually, they called me ‘New Mummy’. Now they don’t.”

It sucks. It sucks so hard that this happened, I can’t even believe it. The narrative that I played in my head for the first few months was that I nearly had something, and then it was snatched away from me. But then I realised that’s not true; I did have it. I was a parent, and now I’m not.

I gave everything to the adoption process, everything I had. Both my husband and I changed jobs and moved house (three times). I gave up hobbies, volunteer roles, promotions. Every book I read for almost a year was a book on how to parent traumatised children. We spent hours in children’s clothing stores stocking two full wardrobes; dresses, leggings, socks, pyjamas, towels. We decorated bedrooms, scouted boot fairs for cheap toys, stocked our medicine cabinet full of Calpol and Doc McStuffins plasters and baby Bonjela. We made their beds. They called me Mummy. Actually, they called me ‘New Mummy’. Now they don’t.

I dreamed about them every night for weeks after we came home, then less frequently. The other night I dreamt I visited them on the day they were due to meet their new parents; two dads I was convinced they weren’t going to like. They clung to me until their dads turned up, then ran to them, adoringly. I left quickly through the back door. My not-so-subtle subconscious telling me to let go. I’m trying.

Most of the time we’re alright now; we’re beginning to move on. We bought a house, mostly because we just had to get out of the home we had made for the four of us, at any cost. But some days, things tackle me down to the ground: finding a book I’d hidden in the back of the wardrobe for a Christmas present, a notification for a pocket money app I signed up for, a neighbour we’d been avoiding asking how the kids were getting on.

“I’m not over it, not at all. How could I be? I’m still so angry that it happened. I’ve got to give it at least a year before even attempting to ask questions about who I am or what I’m going to do next.”

For a long time the thing I grieved for most was my direction in life. I didn’t, and still don’t, have any idea what I’m doing. I didn’t just bypass tangible career opportunities, I also gave up all my professional ambition. No Masters degree, no published novel, no small business. The next 10, 20 years of my life had been reserved for raising two traumatised kids, and making sure they had everything they needed. Suddenly, not only had that reality disappeared, but so had my motivation to have it.

I gave myself a hard time over that, trying to force myself to make a choice straight away; either get back on the horse or don’t. But I slowly came to the realisation that it wasn’t that my life goals had dissolved overnight, it’s just that my body and brain and heart need time to recover.

Because I’m not over it, not at all. How could I be? I’m still so angry that it happened. I’ve got to give it at least a year before even attempting to ask questions about who I am or what I’m going to do next. For the first time in my entire life, I’ve just got to focus on the present, and follow the age-old advice to take it one day at a time.

Possibly the hardest thing to swallow is the fact that, like any turn in the road, I know that this will never go away, or be overwritten. It will always be true. Whenever/if I have children in the future, those will always have been my first. I can’t change that, and I’m done pretending it wasn’t a huge fucking deal. That’s not to say I’m going to find the words or the strength to talk about it often, or even at all, but at least I’m looking that damn elephant in the eye. And that will do for now.

@cariadontoast

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Written by Cariad Martin

Cariad Martin is a feminist writer and former reviews editor at For Books’ Sake. She is also a Rainbow, Brownie and Guide leader and trash TV enthusiast. She blogs at www.cariadontoast.com.