I was recently asked to write a piece about our adoption journey now that we’re over ten years in and it really got me thinking about the choices we make.
Thirteen years ago I was working on a well-known long running TV drama. I was regularly taken to the theatre by agents. I had a nice life – there were visits backstage, meeting actors, red carpet events, premiers and celebrity friends. I worked long hours but it didn’t seem like ‘work’ as I loved it. I was happy but something was missing. A child. A ‘proper’ family.
So, my partner and I decided to adopt and now, with two young boys to keep me busy, ‘before’ feels like someone else’s life.
I knew things would change, of course I did, but I didn’t realise by just how much. Back then the adoption process was quite lengthy. It took us over a year to complete the preparation training and assessment but as soon as we were approved a match was found.
Pix, (a nickname we gave him) was eighteen months old when he trotted into our house like he owned it. He had his tea – tinned Ravioli as we’d been advised to keep things similar to how they’d been at his Foster Carers and they were his favourite.
There was a bit of ‘In The Night Garden’ (the start of far too many years watching Iggle Piggle!) and then he went to bed quite happily. I remember us looking at each other and saying, ‘That was easy’. We’ve learnt a lot since then…
For us this ambivalence at him leaving his Foster Carers and the ease with which Pix settled in was actually the first sign of Attachment Disorder and we missed it.
Whilst we’d learnt about attachment issues in Adoption training, we never thought we’d have to deal with them ourselves. Special Needs and Trauma affected children ‘happened’ to other people, not to us. We’d not specified it on our tick sheet!
As he grew, the emotional differences between Pix and his peers became more apparent. At playgroup if I left his side he wouldn’t look for me, he wouldn’t find me and climb up onto my knee for a cuddle like the other Mams kids. You wouldn’t walk into a room and think he was my child, he was just off in his own little world, doing his thing and looking after himself.
If someone else gave him attention he’d happily have gone off with them. I loved him unconditionally but I don’t think he was that bothered with me. It was hard and even though I knew it wasn’t his fault I constantly felt rejected. This wasn’t how I thought motherhood would be.
Then around the time he was three we wanted a brother for him and by the time Pix started Reception, ‘Squid’ had arrived (don’t worry it’s another nickname!)
This time during Introductions we witnessed him grieve for his Foster Carer. We watched as every time she left a room he screamed and physically fought us to get out of our arms. He was just twelve months old but he was heartbroken at her leaving.
It was awful to go through but we realised how healthy this was for him and how wrong the experience had been for Pix. The emotional connection hadn’t been there.
Squid came to us with ‘uncertainty’. He had medical needs – some things we knew, some we didn’t. He had a diagnosis of Global Development Delay – and no one could actually tell us what that meant for his future, they still don’t really know. We play a waiting game with that one.
He was having physiotherapy once a week and there was talk he might never walk. He would most likely need surgery in his near future, they even hinted at kidney transplants. It was a lot.
So whilst I was dealing with his physiotherapy sessions, GP and consultants appointments and settling Squid into our family, the school SENCO mentioned the word Autism for Pix.
Oh c’mon I thought! Seriously? Anything else?
I learnt very quickly how to juggle ever faster spinning plates with Squids surgery, the start of seizures, hospital stays, therapy, medication and fighting for Pix an assessment – we finally got his Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosed in Lockdown 2020, four years after I started requesting an assessment. A year later Squid was diagnosed with ADHD!
My daily life turned into something a million miles away from what I was used to. In my work there was always pressure but it was to cast the ‘right actor’, ‘cast a famous person’, ‘No, cast a really famous actor’.. do it quicker, do it now, get me what I want, even though it doesn’t exist.’ I spun very different plates and sometimes I was asked to find the impossible.
But without doing those that work in that industry a disservice, because frankly where would we be without our soaps and our TV dramas, my work soon began to mean less and less to me. At home, my boys, that was what mattered. They were my priority and they deserved all of me.
Adopting my boys changed me. They taught me how to fight for something, how to never give up, how to be strong, how to ignore the disapproving looks of strangers, how to wait for love to be offered and most importantly how to be a Mam.
Today my boys have challenges, every day brings something else to add to the list and I’m constantly advocating for them, constantly fighting for fairness and support and the nearest I get to a red carpet is when the youngest throws his jam sandwich on the floor but that’s ok.
I never saw being a Special Needs Mam as in my future but that’s what I became. I look back and I think how different my life could have been and actually I’m alright with the choices I’ve made, they brought me my family.
Thirteen years ago, I thought I had a voice but looking back, my voice then was just a whisper compared to what it is now.