The mixed emotions of adoption

The mixed emotions of adoption

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This week is National Adoption Week and as ever it has brought with it very many mixed emotions. I’ve been reading other people’s stories and comments online and my own experiences tell me just how complex this whole world of adoption can be.

It is not an ideal situation to be in. No-one wants to have to live with perfect strangers instead of their birth parents. Most parents don’t want to raise children who were born to other people. Parents do not want to have to accept that they cannot live with their own children and know that other people are doing that for them. None of it is right. BUT in the face of a fallen world where people, either through omission or commission, put their own children in danger of not having what they need to grow and develop, then something has to be done.

Adoption is a way of bridging that gap for children who cannot be with their birth parents for whatever reason. It’s not a fantasy happy ending fairy tale for anyone involved. Yes, as children they find a family that can try and give them what they need. As adoptive parents we are able to have a family where we may not have been able to in any other way. But it isn’t an answer to the trauma and loss that both children and parents (whether adopters or birth parents) may feel throughout their lives.

I was at the National Adoption Week Awards last night and it was great to see so many people who have been impacted by adoption in some way. It did however bring to my mind the mixed emotions that are involved too. My 15-year-old daughter came with me and it was her first event like this where it was totally about adoption. We enjoyed the time together but on the way home there were lots of stirring of emotions around the injustice of her situation and the life-long journey of healing that she is on. If only adoption were a magic wand that would take all that pain away?!

So for those of you personally touched by adoption I hope you take courage from the many other people who share those roller coaster of emotions every day. For those of you working with children and young people who have experienced trauma and loss whether looked after, adopted or in any situation I hope that you can appreciate the many facets of a person’s life story. They may not feel ‘grateful’ or ‘lucky’ to be out of their dangerous home environment when that was all they knew and they miss their parents. Carers and adopters may be overwhelmed with the needs of traumatised children and struggling to meet those needs with little or no support. And of course you may be supporting birth parents in the awful situation of not raising their own children.

I asked a few friends to answer some questions to give a broader perspective of adoption. Here is one answer from a friend of mine who has had a particularly challenging journey:-

Our journey to adoption followed around 4 years of fertility treatments in an attempt to have a family ‘naturally’. We reached adoption very much as a last resort and did not have any feelings of altruism or doing a good thing, only for us to find a way of having children and becoming a family. We applied to NCH (now Action For Children) in March 2006, were approved in March 2007, matching panel was Nov 2007 and placement of three children aged 5, 6 & 7 in January 2008.

Two highlights for me have been:-

  1. Seeing all three of my children flourish physically, creatively, spiritually and intellectually as they learn to be brave and try new things.
  2. Two weeks ago I enjoyed spending the whole day with my eldest daughter including looking at a Uni and shopping together, without an ounce of tension.

Two lowlights for me have been:-

  1. Being frighteningly close to disruption 6 months ago when nothing we could do was getting through to our eldest daughter, now 16, as she fought us every step of the way and none of us could continue in that way. Thankfully things changed dramatically and it didn’t have to happen.
  2. My own mental health being under immense pressure by the constant demands of children who have experienced neglect. The hyper vigilance and insatiable appetite for my attention is a constant drain.

What would I say to others considering adoption?

  • Don’t have more than 2, for your sake and theirs.
  • Be realistic about how much your life will change, there are no compromises with children who have been in the care system. They will need a lot (all) of your time and energy.
  • The trauma and damage will not go away with time and therapy, it will continue to evolve as your child does. There is no fix, just lifelong commitment.
  • Make sure you meet other adopters before, during and after the process. They will be your support network.

 Families are complex and for all of us they can be stressful at times. Keeping a realistic but hopeful perspective is essential.

This year’s theme for National Adoption Week was Support Adoption. The idea was that even those who aren’t personally involved in adoption can still support it in some way. Social media has been littered with photos of people holding a card with Support Adoption and the #SupportAdoption added. If you want to participate please show your support too on social media – you may not have a card to hold up but you can #SupportAdoption to join the party.

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