23 02 2010

Lolly’s birth-parents named her “Lollo-Rosso” (lets say), and this is what she was called by the Mostly Functioning Parents and their extended families, until they found out that her foster carers had shortened her name to “Lolly”.  Little Miss Loud was given pictures of her younger sibling, when the Mostly Functioning Parents decided that they could adopt her, and all these pictures were referred to as “Lolly”, so that is what LML has always called her, although her full name is still used by other members of the family on occasion.

Two days ago, as clear as day, LML shouts “Lollo-Rosso” down the stairs.  She has been calling her that about 70% of the time since then.



Introductions Review Meeting

24 06 2009

The living room rapidly fills – three social workers, one foster carer, two adoptive parents and Little Sis, happily playing, smiling and gurning in the middle.

When CD tells the chair of the review meeting that the plans were altered slightly, Pat, the foster-carers almost chokes on her tea, knowing that she and GM sat down early on in the introductions and completely re-wrote them. The chair doesn’t notice though, as she says “but you’re supposed to tell me about any changes to ‘the plan’.”

“Oh, we just thought that Little Sis was ready to spend more time here” says CD, Pat nodding in agreement and adding that “it’s helped LML and Little Sis no end.”

The chair draws out her check-list, “so” she begins

“You’ve both given Little Sis a bath at Pats?” … check (and here too actually, every night for the past three days)

“You’ve both put her to bed?” … check (we started doing that on the second visit at nap times, and have been doing bedtime routine for about four days now)

“She’s eating ok here?” … check (except we just aren’t willing to give her white chocolate with her mash!)

“She’s due to spend the day here tomorrow. Everyone is comfortable bout this?” … check (well, we’re now on our sixth day of Little Sis being here for most if not all of the day)

“We are usually reluctant to move children on a Friday, are you all still comfortable with the move going ahead this Friday?” …

“More than ready!” bursts out of GM before she can stop herself.

The meeting concludes positively, with agreement that everything is going very well indeed.

The mostly functional parents are so ready for Little Sis to come home that the next two days feel like they will last a week each – roll on Friday.

The Gallery

9 06 2009

Not long after GM and CD moved into their current house they began a gallery of their friends and family on a wall in their hallway. The gallery has grown and changed over the years and is often a talking point for visitors. Many people stop to admire some of the photos and work out the relationships.

When LML arrived it became a tool to place her within the family, ‘Look’ the mostly functional parents would say, ‘Who’s this?’ Or, ‘Here’s grandma and granddad’.

The wall has been bare for the past few weeks after redecorating the hall. Last night CD and GM worked their way through cleaning their frames and replacing and refreshing some of the photos. There is quite a lot and it took a few hours to complete, so it was midnight before they had finished.

“Shall we put them up now?” enquired CD

“It’s a bit late” replied GM “the neighbours won’t be too happy with us banging nails in at this time of the day. We’ll have to put them up tomorrow, but if we do it when LML is up she’ll want to ‘help’. Maybe we should put them up tomorrow evening after LML has gone to bed.”

The next morning it’s CD’s turn for lie in. He stumbles downstairs at about 7.30 and wanders into the kitchen where GM is washing up some dishes. “The tea is a bit stewed, so you’d better make a fresh pot” states GM after saying ‘good morning’.

As CD goes through the routine, still half asleep, GM says, “I’ve decided that I can’t wait … I just have to put the pictures up this morning.”

needs analysis

9 05 2009

When I asked Big Sis earlier today what she thought her needs were when Little Miss Loud (LML) came home to us, she said she didn’t have any!!

She did of course and it took a little exploring before we got around to them.

She needed everything explaining to her. She needed to know where we were in the process. She needed to have an opportunity to discuss some of the more complex issues that LML came with. This would often mean Big Sis discussing issues with us then coming back a couple of days later and wanting to discuss it more.

Though she was a bit blasé about it, she was going to lose her no1 daughter status and needed to know that we were still going to be there for her. She needed some reassurance. In fact, one of the things that came out of our discussion was that she wants to go out for a meal with us – just us, without LML. As a family we have always put an emphasis on eating together and we would often take Big Sis out for a meal in a restaurant as a celebration of one thing or another. We have continued to do that with LML included – but to be honest, she just isn’t quite ‘civilised’ enough for it to be relaxed yet.

One of the things Big Sis identified was that she needed to think about her relationship with LML. Big Sis has a little sister that lives with her mother. Big Sis needed to establish a new relationship with LML and to understand that it would be different to that of her birth sister. That, like us, she had to learn who LML is.

Food for thought

5 05 2009

In the preparation for a child being placed with us, during the completion of the assessment form, the training and in discussions with our Social Worker, friends and family we talked a lot about what our needs would be. One of the things, on reflection, we didn’t spend enough time on was thinking about our need to communicate effectively with the child that was placed with us. Maybe we made an assumption that this wouldn’t be an issue.

In those first few weeks and months we had to learn a lot about LML, her needs, her routines, which was difficult when she had such a significant communication delay. On a very basic level we needed to learn how to communicate with her, to understand what certain actions meant. For instance there were lots of issues about LML’s eating. For months we tried to get LML to communicate when she had had enough at meal times. Her way of communicating this was to throw the plate or bowl at us. We spent months dodging accurately aimed forks and spoons. We had to learn the signals so that we could whip the plate and cutlery away before it came in our direction. Then we spent months trying to teach the sign for ‘finished’, without much luck at all. Eventually we came to an accommodation with her, which took her lead, and she began to push the plate away rather than throwing it when she’d had enough.

Birth parents may have similar challenges with their child but as adoptive parents we didn’t have the opportunity to develop that relationship with LML over the first 18 months of her life. Even though we did keep in touch with the foster carers and did talk through strategies with them we still had to work it out ourselves. We had no strategies, no experience or knowledge of what motivated her. No idea what those little signals, which indicated that she’d had enough, were.


29 04 2009

We have moved so far since Little Miss Loud came home to live with us both emotionally and intellectually. When we sat in the adoption preparation group three years ago, it felt as though we had made such a lot of progress to get where we were, made so many big decisions and we were learning so much.

Since LML came home to us we have had to learn so much more. Really, it is where our learning really began.

There is the intellectual journey. There’s the practicalities and medical stuff – learning about child development, medical conditions, speech therapy, what the hell portage, Hanen and Makaton were and how to use them.

Then there’s the emotional journey – as we have bonded with LML.

We had to get to know this stranger, who has now become the centre of our life. It didn’t happen overnight. We’ve had to work at it, grow and develop the relationship. If you asked Grumpy Mum when she felt that she had bonded with LML, when she felt that she was really ours, then she would say that it was the day we adopted LML. Which is such a symbolic gesture and didn’t take place until 15 months after LML had came home. For Crap Dad it was sitting on the settee, at something like 6am one morning, with LML snuggled up on my lap watching cbeebies; again well over a year after she came home. Adoption, for us certainly, didn’t mean love at first sight. How could it have been? It was something special but it wasn’t that deep and emotional bond. It had to develop with time and care.

We are aware that LML has had to, and will continue to have to, deal with a sense of loss. The loss of her birth parents and her foster carers. When she came home to us there was this look of confusion which would cross her face regularly and this lasted for months. It’s not there now but it was clear that she felt disconnected from everything she knew.

Adoption certainly is a journey which will continue to enthrall and surprise us as we continue along its path.

Waifs and Strays

27 04 2009

Crap Dad and Grumpy Mum had lived together for about a decade when Crap Dad’s daughter – Big Sis – came to live with them. Big Sis arrived about 6 years ago, about the same time as our cat, a stray we named chico and Little Miss Loud arrived 21 months ago.

Crap Dad has a brother, who has two children and four step children, two great nephews and a great niece. Grumpy Mum has 6 siblings and 14 nephews and nieces, some of which are step children.

Little Miss Loud (LML) comes from a large family.

LML has two full brothers, a sister and four half siblings. They are all adopted or in foster care. Once or twice a month we meet up LML’s bothers. Grumpy Mum and their mum also talk regularly on the phone. The kids are always really excited to see each other and are starting to develop a bond.

In the past year we’ve met up with all the siblings and their families twice. The first time was really weird. We started from the point that this is LML’s family and we wanted her to feel a part of it. To see them all together, too see the similarities, too meet them and their parents – nothing in our adoption preparation could have prepared us for that. We met at a Museum, this big incongruous group. There were four families, eight adults and 10 kids. There are strong similarities between the kids – you could see the confusion on peoples faces as they tried to workout the relationships that existed.

Throughout our adoption preparation we were open to contact with the birth parents and family, but in LML’s family’s case it was felt, by the social workers, to be inappropriate. We have had letter box contact with her birth dad and her maternal grandmother. This hasn’t gone entirely smoothly as the grandmother put her address on one letter and on another her mobile number. It is difficult, we agonised over the content of our letters, wanting to get the tone just right. We sent old pictures and talked in general terms about LML, trying to give them some idea of her new life, and trying to be as sensitive as possible. It isn’t easy but it feels like a valuable thing to do and the family seem to appreciate the information we’ve provided.

We have some pictures of LML’s birth parents and a video, which we show her periodically and although she is pre-verbal her family, both birth and adoptive, and her position within it are part of our everyday discourse.

Our family, from just the two of us, has now flowered in a way we never imagined only a few years ago. And it’s bloomin’ marvellous!

Decisions, decisions

26 04 2009

We decided to adopt for a whole host of reasons. Although we were not fixed on what sort of child we wanted, we decided very early on that we wanted two children and when we were approved to adopt it was for two children under 5.

Eventually our Social Worker (SW) came with the sheet of paper, which was literally three quarters of a side of A4 giving an outline of Little Miss Loud’s (LML) circumstances. It was both exciting and really, really scary. As soon as she left we were on the web looking up some of the medical terms she had talked to us about. Looking up stuff around premature birth and child development. We were faced with complex medical problems, an uncertainty about her development and a difficult family background. Four other adopters had looked at LML and decided to not pursue the process any further and we had to think long and hard before we said yes.

We decided we could provide LML with the significant amount of support she would need initially due of her developmental delay and understood that there was uncertainty about how long this would continue. We also welcomed LML into our lives knowing that we would probably still be addressing some of the issues around the circumstances of her adoption throughout her childhood and into adulthood.

There were the decisions about how we were going to look after LML. We made a decision to reduce our work hours and both now work part-time. Crap Dad works the first part of the week, Grumpy Mum works the latter, therefore LML only needs to go to a children’s centre one day a week. Of course this means that LML gets loads of input and support, but we have had to learn how to live on a reduced income as it it now half of what it was.

Once we had made the choice to go ahead with the match we had to consider who and what we told about why LML was being adopted. Because of LML’s background we decided that we would only disclose everything to our teenage daughter, Big Sis,. For everyone else we decided that we’d just tell them she has a complicated background which meant that there were limits on what we could tell them about it. We decided that LML’s background is her own, to disclose or not as she grows up and understands more.

One of the decisions we had to make early on was how we were going to deal with those “so your child’s adopted” questions.

During the first week of LML coming home Crap Dad took her to the park and was pushing her on the swings. LML was very unsure about what she needed to do and it was clear that having been at the foster carers since leaving hospital LML had rarely, if at all, been to the playground. A mum, with a child that was about half of LML’s age, placed her child in the swing next to LML’s, the child was confident and knew exactly what to do. LML, who was 18 months old and had no words just squawks and squeaks, was clearly nervous and struggling. The mum watched as CD started to teach LML how to hold onto the swing. The mum started to talk to CD about LML, asking how old she was. CD started to explain about LML being born prematurely but panicked because he hadn’t got the ‘script’, hadn’t yet rehearsed his responses to such questions and he soon fled the playground, only to return once we had talked more about how we would deal with these inevitable conversations.

People make assumptions that your child is a birth child. CD met someone who he used to work with and they asked, ‘is she your daughter?’ When he replied ‘yes’, they said ‘I thought so, she has your eyes.’

Grumpy Mum was once at at playgroup and one of the other mothers made a comment about LML’s delay. GM responded by saying it may be due to LML being born so prematurely. The other mum said that must have been hard and GM responded, ‘I wouldn’t know, I wasn’t there!’

We soon made a very concious decision and effort to be open and honest to everyone about LML being adopted. It’s now a part of our every day discourse.

After LML came home to us we made the decision to wait to apply for the adoption order because there were a number of issues where we believed we and she needed support. Until you have that adoption order form the court, your child is still classed as a ‘looked after child’, and this means that you can get better access to services as they are given priority. For example her delay meant that she needed a full team assessment – which is where different medical disciplines, health visitors and social workers meet to assess the child’s development and agree what their support needs are. One of the support needs identified for LML was to access portage. When we met the portage manager she asked if LML was still looked after? If she hadn’t still been a looked after child then it would have been a three month wait as it was we had our portage worker three weeks later.

The decision which took the longest to make? What surname to give LML once she had been adopted. Grumpy Mum and Crap Dad are not married, and never likely to be. The question of what surname spun around and and around for months before the inevitable compromise of joining their surnames together with a hyphen. LML has become double barrelled!

We are consciously aware that the decisions we make affect LML and how she is perceived by the people around her, so we try very hard to make decisions with care and a great deal of thought.

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