A Mini Crisis

Well this isn’t quite the blog post I had planned to write this week and it’s also a few days late. As usual life at Bear HQ has not been straightforward but we are all okay now.

On Friday evening Grizzly was meant to be going skiing with work, Big Bear had a play date and Little Bear and I were having a quiet night in. I picked him up from school and nipped into our neighbour’s house to pick up their post. I was just fumbling with our door key when my mobile rang. It was a lady from my Mum-in-Law’s work telling me that she had collapsed and they had called the emergency services. This wasn’t something that had happened before and though my mind was racing I tried to remain calm. I did speak to her on the phone so I knew she was relatively okay but uncharacteristically when I offered to go to her, she did want me to. Obviously I said I would be right there.

What to do with Little Bear I wondered? I briefly considered taking him with me but I had no idea how this was going to pan out and the thought of him in an ambulance or a hospital definitely didn’t conjure up a positive image. I would undoubtedly be more focused on him than Gary (that’s what she is now known as: it’s meant to be Granny but Little Bear couldn’t say it, saying Gary instead and it’s kind of stuck!).

My parents I thought, they always help in a crisis and I could drive past their house on the way to Gary’s work. Shit. No, I couldn’t. They had gone for a day out and it would take too long to wait for them to come back.

Now I was panicking a little bit. Who else did I feel comfortable leaving him with??

I thought about our neighbour across the road. I have looked after her children before and the Bears have played at her house quite a few times. Yes, I would feel ok to leave him there. I rang her but she wasn’t home. Bloody Nora. She did answer her phone though and told me she was at another child from Little Bear’s class’ house, why didn’t I bring him there? Ordinarily, taking your adopted child to a relative stranger’s house and kind of dumping him there is not really a good idea. However, I was pretty much out of options and I really did need to go to Gary. I know the child’s mum a little bit and she seems very nice and my neighbour would be there too so I made a snap decision to do it. I knew my parents would be able to get there soon and that they would then take over.

In my haste I did make sure I took the time to get down to Little Bear’s level and to explain the rather complex plan to him. He surprised me by seeming to fully understand what was happening and by taking it completely in his stride. He was just excited that he was going to play with his friends and didn’t bat an eyelid when I dropped him off.

I got to Gary just in time to see her being wheeled on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance. I don’t think anybody was too sure what was wrong but she certainly couldn’t have got up from the stretcher so a trip to A and E was needed. Somewhere amidst the chaos I managed to alert Grizzly that maybe skiing wasn’t going to happen tonight. Later we realised that Gary should have been going to Grizzly’s Gran’s house that evening and that we had better let her know she wouldn’t be coming, yet somehow without alerting her about the hospital situation as she would be extremely worried. Grizzly’s Gran has not been too well herself and is pretty frail at the moment. Grizzly rang her and discovered that she too was unwell and in pain and needed someone to come. We ended up with my parents looking after the Bears, me with Gary in A and E and Grizzly with his Gran. You couldn’t have made it up.

Once again I was extremely thankful that we are all near to each other and that these situations can be managed with minimal stress.

Thankfully Gary’s condition improved and all the tests came back negative so they let her go in the evening. We decided she should come to our house so we went past hers on the way to get her a couple of things she needed. I think she was getting a little ahead of herself with her recovery and we ended up sitting on the bottom step with the door open for cold air, trying not to repeat the events of the afternoon.

Eventually we were all home and Gary was safely tucked up in bed.

Little Bear woke me crying at 6am. He wasn’t bothered that I was there, he wanted my Mum. He went on to have a difficult day and the worst bedtime we have had in months. There was a lot of hitting, kicking and screaming. Today has been calmer but with moments of aggression and defiance.

I don’t really know whether his behaviour is connected with the other events of the weekend or not. Big Bear isn’t well and Grizzly doesn’t feel brilliant either. It is possible Little Bear is also under the weather. It is also possible that abandoning your adopted child (as necessary as it was) at a near stranger’s house is still not a good idea, no matter how calm he seemed about it at the time.

We have had several chats today about the fact that Little Bear is never going to live anywhere else and will be here FOREVER. He keeps wondering if we might swap him with a different boy we know. We have tried to explain that we love him and as nice as this other boy is, we don’t love him at all, we just like him. It’s hard to know how much he absorbs of this and what his real worry is.

Gary is still not feeling well and is still staying. Little Bear has been pretty understanding about that and has given her lots of cuddles. He has not been rude to her as he can be sometimes which is a relief. Big Bear has spent hours snuggled up on the sofa with her.

In some ways it has been good for both boys as we haven’t been anywhere all weekend and we have had some quality time together; some time just snuggling and lounging and some time playing Lego and doing craft. I think they are at the exhausted-as-it’s-nearly-half-term-stage and we will probably be dragging ourselves through the next week, hopefully without too much regression from the little dude… A girl can hope anyway.

As for Gary, she is seeming lots better but we had another near-relapse earlier on so I don’t think we’ve quite got to the bottom of things yet.

 

 

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A Mini Crisis

Support Networks in Adoption

There is good reason why a significant amount of time is spent checking out your support network during the assessment phase of the adoption process. It’s because, well, you really need one.

We are very lucky because the boys have 3 grandparents and they all live close by. They are certainly the key players in our support network. They have provided emotional support every step of the way through the adoption process.

Grizzly’s Mum had to come with us for introductions because we were staying far from home and we needed help with Big Bear who wasn’t meeting Little Bear straight away. As introductions were very stressful and eventful for us, we leaned fairly heavily on her for emotional and practical support. Meanwhile, my parents were in constant text/phone contact and made sure we had food in the fridge to come back to.

Once we were back, the grandparents tried hard to stay away until we felt Little Bear was ready to meet them. During that time they continued to check in and make sure Grizzly and I were ok. They brought food, took away washing and were on hand to give Big Bear a bit of quality 1:1 time whenever his new brother got a bit too much for him.

As time has gone on and Little Bear has formed bonds with them, the grandparents have been instrumental in our childcare arrangements. Sometimes they have taken one Bear out so that we could spend quality time with the other one. We always swap over another day so that they both get the same. Sometimes they have looked after them both so that I could do practical things like go to work or get us ready for holidays. They have received several phone calls asking for unplanned child care help when I have needed to be in two places at the same time e.g. take one to school and the other to the doctor or when I have needed to be in a meeting and Grizzly has been stuck in traffic. They are basically always there, at the end of the phone and will unquestioningly appear if we need their help. We are very lucky because not everybody has parents on hand and have to rely on friends or neighbours for this type of help.

Having a reliable source of childcare available is crucial for adoption to work in my opinion. Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you and your partner need to get out of the house on your own and have a bit of grown up time.  It helps you to be better at the parenting bits.

Early on in our adoption, we had some support from the Centre for Adoption Support. We had some consultations with a very experienced post-adoption support worker. We were able to speak with her openly about our worries over Little Bear’s behaviour and sleep issues. I remember her asking me if Grizzly and I were getting out enough. I don’t think we had been out at all at that point. She told us we should and that even if we came home and both boys were crying and so were the grandparents, it wouldn’t matter because we would have been out! Her directness meant that we felt able to do just that and not worry too much about how things were at home. Thankfully nobody was crying in the event and we have tried to get out on our own every now and again since.

We have also drawn on support from our friends, both locally and further away. I think the biggest thing we have asked of them is their understanding and acceptance. We have not asked directly but through our choice to adopt and through trying to stay in touch with them and do normal everyday things with them. In the early days this meant them having to accommodate routines we were sticking to rigidly and dealing with any behaviour meltdowns they might witness. It is with credit to our friends that they have just got on with it and accepted Little Bear for who he is right from the start. They have welcomed him into the fold as they would a new-born baby.

I have used several friends as a listening ear at times (you don’t want to keep harping on at the same person!), mainly to regale them with tales of what he’s done now but sometimes because something is worrying me and I need to talk it over. I’m lucky to know other Speech and Language Therapists, an OT and teachers, who I do approach for more specific advice if I need it.

Finally, another source of support for me is other adopters. Usually there are issues we have in common and I find the online adoption community very friendly and supportive. If you are having one of those days or you aren’t sure how to get the wee smell out of school shoes or you want some tips on helping Little Bear to count when you feel you have tried everything, there is always somebody out there in the Twittersphere who will respond, advise and reassure.

I have previously written about the support provided to us by our social worker. You can read that blog post here: Our Social Worker

Support Networks in Adoption

National Adoption Week

This week is National Adoption Week – an opportunity to raise the profile of adoption and some of the issues surrounding it. The main theme this year is #SupportAdoption, meaning both to get more people behind the adoption cause but also to highlight the support that is required for adoption to be successful. That support can take many forms, from personal support networks made up of friends and family to that offered by formal post-adoption services to financial support provided by the ASF (Adoption Support Fund). The support can have a whole host of functions – from practical help with meals to childcare to training to psychotherapeutic input for children and families.

All adoptive families are different and we all have different sets of needs. Equally, our needs can change over time, depending on circumstances and events.

As an Adoption Social Media Champion I have decided to get behind National Adoption Week by releasing a mini-blog each day, covering different aspects of support from my point of view:

Tuesday: Why support adoption?

Wednesday: Support networks for adoptive families

Thursday: Ways to support your child/ren through adopting a sibling

Friday: Speech and Language Support for adopted children

 

I would be really grateful if you could help me to support National Adoption Week by sharing the mini-blogs far and wide. Let’s get everyone talking about adoption!

National Adoption Week

The Bears go on holiday

Up until now we have only taken Little Bear away from home once since he moved in. I wrote about it in Our first post-placement holiday. That time, I figured out through my lack of preparation that Little Bear is anxious about holidays and has previously not had a positive experience of them. This time I started talking about the holiday earlier and because it involved the beach he was pretty keen on the idea. I had also told him that on the way back we would be visiting the friends we had stayed with last time. The previous trip to their house had been a very positive experience for him so I knew he would be keen to go back (not least because they have a Nerf cross bow they let him play with!). The difficulty this time was getting him to understand time scales. I tried saying how many sleeps there were until we went but as numbers remain arbitrary for him this didn’t help at all. In the end I went for a very simple timetable, showing how many more sleeps until we went, how many nights we would be there, when we’d be at our friends’ house and crucially that we would then come home.

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*I have to apologise for that being the wrong way round, I’m too tired to figure out how to rotate it!

Little Bear grasped it well and enjoyed crossing the days off each morning, though he did need some help to cross off the NEXT one and not just ANY one.

The day before we went, amidst the packing chaos, Little Bear got his hands on Grizzly’s battery shaver resulting in this situation (!!):

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Big Bear managed to trap his fingers in the car door. Was this setting the tone for the whole holiday we wondered?

The evening before we travelled, Little Bear really struggled to get to sleep. He said he didn’t want to go to the beach and every time I went into his room he wanted the world’s biggest cuddle. I kept reassuring him that we would all stay together, we would have fun and we would come home together. I hoped he would be ok once we were there.

Grizzly’s Mum stayed over as she was coming with us.

In the morning, having sorted out last minute cat sitters (we know, bad pet parents!), packed the car, got everyone into the car, gone back into the house to find Big Bear’s cuddly dog, then to find DVDs, then to find the dog again and double checked that Grizzly’s Mum’s car really was locked, we finally hit the road.

As it was our first proper holiday together since having Little Bear and we had no idea how it was going to go, we had chosen to keep things easy by going somewhere we had been to before and knew well. We passed the few hours to Tynemouth without major incident.

On arrival at our self-catering apartment, Grizzly’s Mum undertook the customary nosy sweep of the place AKA seeing what is in all of the cupboards. Within 30 seconds a cupboard door had come off in her hand! Not ten minutes later, she was waving a drawer handle that had mysteriously come loose. Later on we added a broken lampshade and a screw missing from shutters to the litany of mishaps. What with doesn’t-know-her-own-strength granny and miniature monk it was turning into comedy central.

Little Bear fell in love with his pint-sized but perfectly formed bedroom straight away, especially as there were toys in his wardrobe and in particular a cuddly dog that barks and wags its tail. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Once we had settled in we headed to the beach to make the most of the sunshine and there the strangest thing happened. The children busied themselves digging and trying to dam the natural spring and, wait for it, the grownups sat on a rug and did nothing. It was very hard to get used to. The sun was shining, I was lying on a beach and the children were entertaining themselves. That is not life as I know it. It was quite a strange sensation. I believe it’s called “relaxing”.

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We have been to the beach about 4 times now, a couple of times spending pretty much the whole day there. Big Bear has entertained himself almost the whole time and made some friends in the process. Little Bear has coped exceptionally well. On the first day he managed to join in with the other children as they worked collaboratively to build a dam from the sand. Previously he would not have coped in that situation and would have purposefully sabotaged the building. It was lovely to see him working side by side with Big Bear, having fun and really playing together. It was also lovely to see him interacting in a friendly way with other children he met and not immediately viewing them as a threat.

As the days have passed and Big Bear has continued to dig (the child has some stamina), Little Bear has grown a bit bored and needed more adult help to entertain himself. Apart from running up and down the beach a few times pretending to be a horse with him on my back wielding a stick (“speer”) and paddling with him, I still haven’t had to do much. It has been very surreal but very welcome.

One of my main roles has been wrapping him up in a towel and various other blankets and clothes and snuggling him back to warmth after his many ventures into the sea – a role which I have been more than happy to carry out.

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I am feeling pretty spoiled by this holiday in general. The fact that Grizzly’s Mum is here has meant that we have been able to go out (hold your breath) on our own. One evening we put Little Bear to bed then took a little trip to the Metro Centre for a spot of evening shopping. We have been out for an evening stroll. Now, please don’t think that I’m bragging when I say this, but we have also had some lie-ins. I know: it’s AMAZING.

On Tuesday, my parents came to join us for a few days and I became further spoiled when they took me out for tea and Granny and Grizzly fed the boys and put them to bed. My parents offered to babysit the next night but in the end it was raining and we thought it would be more fun to stay in and have a bit of a games night all together. We played Uno Attack and had a great time.

It is certainly a strange sensation for the week to be so easy and to have virtually no jobs to do. The grandmothers keep telling me it’s only right that I should have a break on holiday but it has felt pretty indulgent. I do feel very lucky that we have such a good support network.

So, what else have we been up to? We had a little drive out to Whitley Bay to find an ice cream parlour and ended up having a play in the amusements too. We took all the grandparents into Newcastle to go to The Discovery Museum. Little Bear had a great time playing in the water in the Play Tyne section and we had to change his clothes again (I actually don’t think a day has passed when we haven’t had to fully change him at least twice).

One day we found ourselves near the boating lake and I was somehow persuaded to get in a pedalo. As a non-swimming water hater I thought I was quite brave. It was good fun, though I would warn against trying to operate a pedalo in a skirt, especially if it’s windy. Grizzly said it didn’t matter if I flashed my knickers though as I’m on my holidays!

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Today the Three Bears and Granny have been to Wet’n’Wild. Needless to say I didn’t join them. I sneaked off for a while to have a mooch in a nearby outlet shopping place then joined them for lunch. On my return it was quite easy to spot them amongst the crowds – I just looked for the little bald patch bobbing around!

After lunch I sat in the café of Wet’n’Wild catching up on my writing. It was quite possibly the hottest place I’ve had to sit in and I bonded with a fellow Mum over how hot we were. She tore me a strip of her newspaper to use as a fan and in the end I resorted to pouring little bits of water onto myself (too much information there, sorry). The Bears had a fabulous time though and everyone was ready for a rest afterwards. Granny and I took our chance to explore some of the little shops in Tynemouth.

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The week is flying by. Just one more day left then we are off to see our friends and shortly afterwards, back to reality..

 

The Bears go on holiday

Our adoption journey: what if?

Getting The Adoption Order has caused me to reflect a little on our adoption journey. As I look back, it’s strange to think how things could have been different.

What if we’d had a reply to the first enquiries we made about a child? A little girl with FASD. What if we had pursued that potential match?

What if the potential adopters before us had agreed to have Little Bear?

What if Karen and Bob (my fictitious names for Little Bear’s foster carers) and Little Bear’s Social Workers had been more honest about his behaviour? What if they had provided a detailed list of all the behaviours we could expect? Would we still have gone ahead with the match?

What if our Social Worker (I call her Anne) had not been able to persuade Little Bear’s Social Workers to look at our details, despite them having closed the process to expressions of interest? What if she hadn’t advocated for us so strongly?

What if those Social Workers had not listened to her and had not kept an open mind?

What if we had decided that rushing through the process to get Little Bear before Karen and Bob went on holiday was too risky? What if we had waited and it had taken another 5 months for him to get here? Would we still have agreed to the match? Would it have been too late to reach him and to start turning his development around?

What if the placement had disrupted during introductions, as it so nearly did? What if we hadn’t put all our efforts into making it work? What if we’d had to come home without him?

What if we didn’t have fantastic support from everyone around us during those first challenging months?

What if?

I know what if. I know that the first little girl we saw was gorgeous but she wasn’t meant to be with us. I wonder now whether we really would have been able to cope with her needs. I do think about her though – I wonder what happened. I hope she got her forever home and is happy and settled there.

I know what would have happened if things had gone more smoothly for the potential adopters before us. They too would have seen the gorgeous boy hiding behind the behaviour and Little Bear would be living with them now…

I know what would have happened if we had been given a full and frank account of Little Bear’s behavioural needs. We would not have pursued the match. On paper, in black and white, it would have seemed unmanageable. We would not have thought that somebody with those needs would make a good brother for Big Bear. We would have been wrong, but we would have thought we were right.

In retrospect I don’t think that anybody was purposefully duplicitous, but I do think that in their desperation to find Little Bear a forever home, they had considered his needs through rose-tinted spectacles. For a while I was upset about this: it’s dangerous to ask adopters to accept a child into their lives without furnishing them with all the facts. Nobody wants a disruption but this type of lack of transparency could all too easily lead to one.

However, now, with the benefit of hindsight, I have to be grateful for this error of judgement. Without it, we would not have got our Little Bear.

I know what would have happened if Anne had not persuaded the Social Workers to look at our profile. They would not have seen the very clear links between our profile and Little Bears’. They would not have been struck by how right the match seemed. They would not have agreed to meet with us or allowed us to get to the point we are at now: a family. Though there were failings on their part, I have to be grateful that they believed in us and invested in the match.

I think I know what would have happened if we had not have taken the risk to speed up matching and introductions and to meet Little Bear a mere 6 weeks after first viewing his profile. I know Little Bear would have gone to respite care while his extended foster family went on a very exciting holiday. I know this would have served to confirm to him that holidays were bad and not for him. I know he would have been confused and unsettled. Perhaps he would have felt rejected or abandoned. I think he would have returned to his foster placement some weeks later (though there was talk of them not accepting him back again) and after a period of settling, preparation for adoption would have begun. I know it would nearly have been Christmas by then and Little Bear would not have been placed until the New Year. I know he would have been nearly 4 at this stage and assuming things had continued as previously, he would still not be potty-trained, still not sitting on a proper chair, still unable to walk appropriately beside an adult, still unable to understand language or express himself. Still not doing any of the things expected of a nearly 4 year old. And he would have been stuck in this delayed limbo for 5 months longer than if we had taken the risk of speeding things up. How far behind would he have been by then? I think his behaviour would have been getting towards unmanageable…

We knew these risks at the time and we listened to our gut instincts to go ahead with the expedited match. I am grateful that we allowed our hearts to rule our heads and we forwent the leisurely build up and time “to rest”.

I think that had we not, there is a significant chance that the placement would not have happened at all or would have happened but not worked out. I know that we were Little Bear’s last chance of getting adopted and that had things been different, he would now be embarking on a whole childhood within the care system…

I can hardly bear to think about what would have happened if the placement had disrupted during introductions. Suffice it to say that I have a deep sympathy for those who have had to disrupt placements and can only begin to imagine the stress and heartbreak they must have incurred.

I am extremely thankful that we did find the strength to persevere. We were certainly well scaffolded by key people around us who listened, counselled and dared to hope, whilst never judging us. Grizzly’s Mum came with us for introductions as we were staying far from home and needed help with Big Bear. She was with us every step of the way and I know she felt our anxiety and stress as much as we did. I’m not sure we could have successfully navigated those agonisingly difficult days without her unfaltering emotional support. And her practical support too – she just kept making food appear as if by magic!

We also had long distance support from my parents on a daily basis, from our friends and of course Our Social Worker, Anne.

We have been very lucky that the support has continued since we have returned home and is ongoing. It is hard to imagine adopting Little Bear without the comforting shroud of our support network encircling us. Those who feel isolated or unsupported on this journey again have my full sympathy. I find it difficult when Twitter friends are clearly struggling alone: if only I were nearer or could somehow improve things with some magic words. It’s hard to know how much impact you can possibly have in 140 characters!

I know I cannot change the course of events that have passed and it is certainly not helpful to dwell on them either, but now and again a little backward glance can be enlightening. This little pause for reflection has made me feel grateful for what has been and relieved we didn’t need to face the ‘what ifs’. After all, if we had, we would not now have Little Bear. We would not have had the joy of witnessing his progress, felt his gorgeous little cheek against ours, been able to comfort and cuddle him, hear his tinkly giggle or be amused by his endless mischief. Big Bear would not have had the chance to be a great big brother or have his world irrevocably altered by the funniest playmate he can imagine.

I’m not really sure if I believe in destiny but there is certainly serendipity about our story. There are so many points at which things could have gone differently, junctions at which Little Bear could have moved away from us. But somehow, whether through the intervention of something greater or not, at each of these intersections he headed in our direction, to us. Where we feel he is supposed to be.

So, despite some less than favourable circumstances, misinformation and considerable challenges, I am truly grateful for our journey.

 

Our adoption journey: what if?