What it’s like to… become an adoptive parent

“The door opened and in walked a huge bunch of flowers. As they tottered towards me, I could see my daughter underneath and she said ‘flowers for my mummy.’ Even now hearing those words makes me cry.” Emma Sutton on becoming an adoptive parent…

Emma Sutton, 47, lives in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, with her husband Andy, and their two adopted children, aged six and four. Here, she shares her journey from trying to conceive, undergoing fertility treatment and then finally becoming an adoptive parent in her 40s,,,

“We adopted our two children three and a half years ago, when they were two and one years old. They share the same birth parents. We tried to conceive and went for fertility treatment before realising that adoption would be our only route to having a family.

The adoption process was pretty good. It was all consuming, and there was a lot of writing to do to prepare the report for panel. It took about 11 months from initial contact with our local authority to taking the children home and could have been quicker but we had to change social workers mid-process.

The handover day, when we got to take them home forever, was a very surreal and odd day. We were excited, glad to stop travelling to their foster family 40 miles away every day, and also nervous about the responsibilities and ramifications of now being their parents. We naively thought that we could relocate the children from their foster family to our house and they would be the same (we were wrong). It was also horrendous as the foster family were wracked with grief at losing these children from their lives.

Both our children attached more strongly to my husband initially, and we had to shift that deliberately before he went back to work

The early days were incredibly hard. Tiring beyond belief. A total shock to our systems and routines and everything. Interspersed with this “pinch me” type feeling that you are walking through a dream that has far more nappies in it than you imagined when we were dreaming of being a family together.

Both our children attached more strongly to my husband initially, and we had to shift that deliberately before he went back to work. We decided that if we got our daughter to fall in love with me, her brother would probably just follow suit, so during one of his naps, I took her to the park and swung on the swings for over an hour. That hour changed everything, for both of us.

The biggest challenge has been accepting my own limitations and fallibilities as a mum – I dreamt of being this laid back mum who inspired them with songs and dance and baking and craft and stories and giggles and more. Not of being so tired I shouted at them or found it impossible to bake because they were too young to help.

The most annoying comment people would make was not so much because they were adopted, but because they are quite close in age – just over a year (it seems more in September because it is between their birthdays). People kept saying “that was quick” and I kept having to bite my tongue because it wasn’t even my choice.

The first time we met our kids was the most amazing hour. We were nervous, out of our depth and we sat in the lounge at the foster family’s house. Then the door opened and in walked a huge bunch of flowers. As they tottered towards me, I could see my daughter underneath and she said “flowers for my mummy.” Even now hearing those words makes me cry. I welled up at the time and cried for all the years I believed I might never hear those words because we were having problems conceiving.

Both my husband and I felt something for our kids when we first saw their photos during matching. It was as if there was something “meant to be” about them, that they were ours already. And whilst we were thrilled to have them in our family, at least initially we were in love with the idea of them, rather than in love with them. Which provided some difficult times as we became tired until we learnt to love them for all the good, bad and tantrums.

I would feel protective of my children, but I am open to them finding out more about where they come from

I’ve been surprised about how hard being a parent is. And I don’t think that is anything different because I adopted, it would be hard on anyone, but taking two children into your home overnight was a big shock to us both. I think initially I found it hard to know how much of a secret it was that my children are adopted. It was hard to tell new friends or parents at the school gates, but now I feel much more able to tell people because I have yet to receive a negative reaction to that news.

The kids know their life story, they have a continuing relationship with their foster family and we take every opportunity to reiterate who gave birth to them, where they lived, who has looked after them and gradually introduce more information as and when it is relevant or they are old enough to understand a little more.

I would feel protective of my children, but I am open to them finding out more about where they come from (I have delved into my own family history for a few years and find it fascinating). I am glued to “Long Lost Family” and would like to think that when the time comes, I will be utterly supportive of their need or desire, or lack of interest in finding out more and perhaps meeting their parents. We were offered the opportunity to meet them before we adopted them, and said yes we would, but the meeting never happened.

Our children’s upbringing has been hugely different to my own. When I tell them there was only live TV and no mobile phones and less choices in food, and no washing machine or dishwasher, when I tell them my mum had four children under five with no central heating, my children cannot believe it. They think I am ancient.

Adopting has been the answer to our dreams

They are more restricted in some ways – at my daughter’s age I was already walking to school with my twin on my own, whereas they are not allowed to go on their own. We have more money than my parents did, as parents are generally more affluent, plus we are older than my parents were, which means we have to huff to keep up with them.

Advice for another adoptive parent (to be)

Adopting has been the answer to our dreams. It has provided us with the most gorgeous, giggly, insanely funny, unpredictable, frustrating, loving children we could have ever hoped to have given birth to. The adventures we have had in these last three years are utterly irreplaceable and there are times when I am glad we could not conceive, for we have been lucky to be given the most incredible children through adoption.

When you are adopting, get fit, lose weight and be ready to run a marathon, because being a parent is the most tiring, exhausting and energetic thing that I have ever done in my whole life. If there is one thing I would change is that I wish I had been fitter at the start of it all, so I had enough energy to enjoy those first few months more.

For me, adoption has been the answer to a prayer to become a mum and have a family. When I dreamed about it, my dream was of skipping through the wild-flower meadow hand-in-hand, laughing in the sunshine. My dream failed to realise that the wild-flower meadow has some poo to slalom around, bees that sting and that I might even get hayfever such that I feel rotten and can’t sleep at night. Even so, I am very, very glad I did not know how hard it was going to be, or I might not have done it, and I would have missed out on some of the most remarkable and unforgettable experiences of my life.”

Have you recently become an adoptive parent? Or are you considering this route to parenthood? Let us know in the comment section below…

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