I have loved you Adoption Leave, you are so much cooler than your cousin Maternity Leave and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
My maternity leave is pretty much a blur to me, passed in a haze of sleep deprivation. I remember feeling a bit of a failure that I wasn’t able to maintain the yummy mummy meet for a spot of shopping and lunch while your docile baby sleeps image. For a good while I couldn’t organise leaving the house before 2pm due to Big Bear’s amazing skills at staying awake most of the night and feeding 300 times per day. Then when I did leave the house I had a pram which was brilliant for country walks but which was impossible to steer with one hand or in small spaces. So instead of gliding around shops, pushing a sleeping baby with one hand and carrying a basket or rifling through racks of clothes with the other hand, I was mostly getting sweaty from the effort of not mowing down my fellow shoppers.
Helpfully, Big Bear would only sleep in his pram if it was in perpetual motion, so civilised meals or coffee were out of the question. The very second I sat down his eyes would pop open and the need for CONSTANT entertainment would recommence. I think I must have spent most of the year walking (at least I got some peace and there was hope of getting my figure back) or snuggling a baby on the sofa. The lack of being able to place him down anywhere without World War 3 breaking out was tiring and also frustrating because days would pass without me having achieved anything. As in, not even the washing up.
Seven years on, I’m glad I spent whole days cuddling him because now time flies past and I can’t even pick him up any more. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t as long as it felt at the time. Then, the days and nights merged into one and seemed interminable.
So yeah, Mat leave was ok. I survived it.
Adoption leave started out seeming pretty similar. I was cast back into serious sleep deprivation, my days were full-on and exhausting and everything was fairly anxiety-provoking.
However, a few major things were different. Grizzly was off for longer and we had figured out how to parent as a team. Adoption leave has been much more united, supportive and not in any way isolated.
Also, as my hormones have not been through the soda stream of child birth, I am probably a little more rational this time and able to make wise decisions such as putting Little Bear into pre-school almost straight away (I would not be separated from Big Bear for ages and consequently never had a break). This has really been my lifeline to staying sane and enjoying my leave: I have had some me-time from right at the start. It is amazing what difference even a morning per week can make. My “free-time” has gradually increased over the year as we have built up Little Bear’s sessions to get him ready for full time school. This time I have managed a spot of shopping or two, met friends/family for coffee, had my nails done and eaten A LOT of brunch.
I have completely skipped the guilt too because I know that having some brain space helps me to be better at my mummy jobs.
I have still had loads of time to spend with my boys – helping them to bond as brothers, improving my own bond with Little Bear, working on Little Bear’s development and making sure Big Bear is adjusting to this huge change in his life.
There have obviously been some very stressful and challenging days but overall I have relished the challenge and it has been incredibly rewarding to see Little Bear blossom. I have been able to practise much more effective speech and language therapy than I ever have in my actual job, because as professionals we generally don’t have the luxury of time to give to the children referred to us. With Little Bear I can use strategies all the time and exploit each and every language learning opportunity that arises. It is ironic that I have done more therapy during my leave than I would have done had I been at work!
After the first 4 or so incredibly stressful months, things settled to a level that allowed me thinking time. I had the time and motivation to start my blog, speak at prep groups and approach our Voluntary Adoption Agency to suggest we work together to offer communication training to other adopters. I have loved doing all of those things and am hoping that I have laid a foundation that I can build on going forwards.
Latterly I have overseen the re-modelling of our downstairs, as well as decorating it. Being able to indulge my creative side has also been very satisfying.
But even better than any of those things, I think the single best thing about adoption leave is that I have finally found my parenting confidence. A close friend always says that when I delivered Big Bear, my confidence came out with him and for reasons that I still can’t fathom, I think she’s right. As a first time mother, a lot of people had a lot of advice for me, most of which I took as criticisms. I didn’t think I was doing anything well and any positive attributes in Big Bear I put down to nature, finding it hard to imagine that it could be due to my nurture. I couldn’t even ignore the opinion of those whose opinion I didn’t value. I suspected everyone knew what they were doing with this parenting lark better than I did.
Then came the adoption and somehow that turned everything on its head. Most people, aware that adoption was outside of their own comfort zone, couldn’t even begin to advise me. They were mostly speechless. It suited me well because I could read about Attachment Theory, about other adopters’ experiences, I could form my own (informed) opinions and go forth, doing my own thing, safe in the knowledge it was along the right lines. I could also see Little Bear transforming before my very eyes. He had not transformed before, so it must be due to something we were doing. And really, believing in the power of nurture is a crucial part of believing in adoption. Change was being driven by my parenting (and Grizzly’s obviously) and that was (and still is) a huge confidence boost.
So I’ll take a little credit now for Big Bear being the wonderful young man that he is too. *Does a virtual bow*.
I am not in any way complacent though – complacency in parenting tends to lead straight to disaster in my experience. Vigilance is key; expecting the unexpected and being prepared to try something different. The realisation that no one has it all sewn up helps too.
Yes, Adoption Leave, I have loved you for many reasons, but all good things come to an end.
I have been in complete denial about my return to work, barely allowing the imminent date to osmose my brain. Of course, the date came around anyway and I was soon staring into my wardrobe thinking that I had absolutely no idea what I usually wore to work, though I was pretty sure it didn’t involve jeans or Converse.
The next morning it was a miracle I even found my way to the office. There is a huge regeneration project taking place in the town where I work and the road I used to commute on has been bulldozed and replaced by an empty chasm. Following the many diversions, I snaked closer. It was such a strange feeling. I was passing landmarks I knew well, schools I had seen children in, a building I had attended training in. It was all so familiar, like wrapping an old patchwork blanket around myself, yet so surreal, as though I was returning to someone else’s life. I felt much better once I got inside the building and found some of my colleagues. It was lovely to see everyone and to catch up with them.
Before returning to work, I had made the decision that I wouldn’t stay. I would work the 13 weeks I needed to and then leave.
I have been in the same job for 13 years and it’s a long time. I have always loved my job (though naturally there have been ups and downs) and a big part of it has been my colleagues and being part of a truly lovely team. I do also like to think that my work is making a difference and feeling effective is crucial to me enjoying it. Over the years, my speech and language therapy family and I have been through several re-structures, the organisation we work for has had several guises, budgets have shrunk and contracts have been lost. Along the way, many of my colleagues have left or been re-deployed. What is left is small, watered down and completely different to how it used to be. We are being driven more by numbers than quality and I have been feeling disillusioned for some time. As much as I have loved it and am part of the fabric of the place, I do think the time has come to move on.
Knowing I am leaving has made returning a little odd. My boss has been kind to me and given me a defined, manageable task to do so that I don’t acquire an out of control to-do list whilst still doing something useful for the caseload. It means I have surprised myself by getting straight back into it and feel, in some ways, as though I have never been off. I am also enjoying it more than I thought I would and have started to wonder if I’m being rash in leaving.
However, back at the ranch, things have not been going quite so well. On Tuesday I returned home to Grizzly’s Mum looking uncharacteristically dishevelled after her day with the boys. She wasn’t helped by another driver bumping her car on the way over but the boys alone, in fact, just Little Bear alone is enough to warrant a lie down in a darkened room.
On Wednesday, my parents had visibly aged over the course of the day. Little Bear’s behaviour was slowly but surely escalating since I had been at work and they had had a VERY challenging day with lots of dysregulation. When I was home he was very clingy to me and he has not wanted to be alone anywhere. Understandably, the separation is not suiting him. He copes fine with being at pre-school/school but I think me going out and leaving him is subtly different. His behaviour is telling me he needs me around at the moment which has rather helped with making my mind up.
I have resigned. For now anyway.