Interview: Adoption. "We become parents today!"
Today is a pretty big day in Katie & Fiona’s* house. Today, they’re bringing home their daughter. Showing her where all her toys are. Moving her possessions into her room. Unpacking clothes, shoes, books, or whatever she may be bringing from her foster home. Their baby girl is three years old. And they are finally welcoming her into their lives after a gruelling process that’s been all consuming for over a year.
“We count ourselves lucky though,” says Katie. “Some people don’t make it through the process, or wait for years for a match,” she states humbly. Then a pause. “The whole thing has been brutal, though. Brutal!”
I meet these two incredibly excited and open ladies in a local cafe to talk about adoption, while they’re in the thick of it, with emotions running high. I’m a nosy parker. Well, ‘curious’ might be a nicer way to put it – and, as I feel incredibly lucky to have had two children of my own, I wondered how on earth the adoption process even works. How long does it take? Do you get to ‘pick’ a child? What if they don’t like you? How does it feel to know you’ll need to tell them they’re adopted when they’re old enough?
A note about me… I like to ask basic questions, I’m never scared to sound silly. When the teacher would explain something complex at school then say “do you all follow?”, everyone would lie and nod quietly, but I would pipe up honestly “er, nope!”. And everyone would think ‘thank God she said that and not me’. It’s bode me quite well for interviewing people in my TV career…
So coffee and cake ordered, we got stuck in. The ladies have been together over 10 years, and were married in 2013 (photographed by the Royals’ photographer, nonetheless). They decided they wanted to adopt as they really wanted children and didn’t feel comfortable about just one of them being ‘real’ biological Mum.
“We went to an introductory meeting about adoption back in July 2015, where everyone tries to put you off, basically.” Fiona explains. The meeting is a first step for anyone considering adopting and is set to tell you much more. And weed out those who aren’t really serious about it. But even at this point, you have a one-to-one with a social worker and they rake through your situation – finances, work plans and personal life.
After that, if you’re still keen, there are two gruelling stages to the process. Stage 1 is a lot of paperwork – family trees, full medicals, writing your life story. They want to know everything, from your first day at school, any injuries you’ve had (“How did your Mum deal with it when you broke your wrist?”), whether you’ve resolved difficult things in your life. At Stage 2, a social worker builds your profile and essentially, your case for becoming parents over four months. “It’s like therapy”, says Katie and goes on to describe four intense days with a group that become your kind of ante-natal group. Like NCT but with less chat about epidurals and pelvic floor exercises. The subject of loss comes up a lot so that the potential parents seriously process the fact they may never have a tiny baby, and that their new child might not run into their arms.
After that, and an ‘Apprentice’ style Approval Panel of twelve people from social workers and medical advisers, to adoptees and child protection officers, the couple were finally okayed as parents. Amazing news!
When Katie and Fiona were quickly matched to little girl, they were thrilled. They read through her file, which was incredibly difficult to absorb because of the terrible ordeal she’d been through, but they still felt they would be able to tell the girl her story when she was older – something very important for all adoptive parents to do.
Katie remembers it clearly. “We thought this could really be the girl for us. We were really excited, and went quite far down the line thinking this is it! But suddenly the social workers realised that she lived a five minute walk away.” Their application was stopped as this was far too close to the family she needed separating from. “We were heartbroken. We had a lot of tears, it was tough. Our social worker was gutted too. We took a real hit at that point.” Needless to say after that, Katie & Fiona’s guard went up and neither of them invested too much emotionally into after that.
Trying to remain detached, they became very close to adopting a little boy, but in the end another family was picked over them. Another blow, but at least they were a little more prepared for it.
Then just a month or two later, came the most promising call of all. “I remember it well,” says Katie. “It was a Wednesday. The social worker called us and said ‘There’s a little girl. She’s three. She’s a feisty one…’ And we thought, yes! This sounds really good. But again, we tried not to get our hopes up. ”
Another difficult life-story read (the summary brought me to tears), more paperwork, a ‘blind-sighting’ where you go for a walk-by while the child is playing somewhere to bring to life what you’ve only seen on paper and yet another panel – and finally, the ladies are given the most incredible news that they will be Mummies to this feisty little lady.
“We both just burst into tears. And we still hadn’t even met her!”
In fact, they only met her this time two weeks ago. And it went really well. “That first meeting was promising. “It was incredible- she ran up to us and shouted “Mummy, Ma, Teddy!” – pointing to the toy that had been featured in a welcome book the couple had spent hours glueing, sticking, and writing in.
This last fortnight they’ve been visiting her at her foster parents’ and taking her out for day trips. “This weekend was tough,” admits Fiona. “As soon as we started putting boundaries into place we were rejected. Lots of ‘NO!’ and ‘I’m not coming with you!’. It was really, really hard. And it hurt.” But as soon as she started visiting their own house, the penny started to drop. These were going to be her parents. Saying ‘That’s my room upstairs isn’t it?’ And ‘is this mine now? Am I sleeping over here tonight?’ But she still had to be returned to the foster parents’ each evening.
Today is the first day of the rest of their lives, as they say. As a family of three. How are they feeling about bringing her home for good?
“Oh, we just want to get on with it. She knows where she sits at the table, she knows where the park is, where the bubbles are. She knows this is her home. We are so ready. And really lucky.”
As is their new daughter.
Thank you so much to Katie and Fiona for sharing their story, and I can’t wait to catch up with them once their little girl has settled in.
*Names changed for anonymity while the court process for official guardianship is ongoing.