Being Asian and Christian meant there weren’t any matches for Ranji and her husband when they first tried to adopt. But they persevered and were given a son and daughter. She talks us through the gruelling process, difficult early days and their more recent relocation to Paris…
Ranji , 46, and her husband live with their adopted son, nine, and daughter, seven, in Paris.
“The reason we got into adoption was that we originally wanted to have a baby of our own but couldn’t – we tried IVF, had a couple of miscarriages and then decided to call a halt to all that fertility treatment and just think about our options. We knew we wanted to have a family but it didn’t matter how. For us, adoption was the natural progression so we started to look into it.
It was a whole new scenario – way of thinking – looking into how we could get those children. We went to agencies, local authorities, charities, voluntary agencies. We realised it wouldn’t be that easy for us, as we’re both Asian but from Christian backgrounds (though we’re non-practising).
They put barriers in our way because at that time, over five years ago, social workers used your ethnic and religious background to match you with kids, so we were getting screened out – they said: we don’t have children with your background. It was very disheartening.
Find the right adoption agency
But eventually we signed up to TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust). They were really good, really positive; they seemed to like us. We were assigned someone who asked penetrating questions about our life, relationship and asked for references, people who could vouch for us, who were asked whether we’d make good parents. We spent over a year – about 18 months – signed up with TACT.
It didn’t affect our relationship but it did make us think: what kind of parent could I be, what kind of children could I deal with. Then they asked if we wanted babies, older children, siblings. All these kids are damaged by their background – whether it’s mental health, substance abuse, alcohol, sexual abuse, domestic violence. It really starts to hit home what you’re taking on: what experiences they’ve come through and what they’ll throw back at you or challenge you with.
It makes you think: what can I cope with? You have got be really honest. In the end, we decided we wanted siblings… it seemed more practical because we’d then only go through the process once. We decided we’d like older children – under the age of eight but over two years old. I was heading towards my 40s, I thought: baby? Not sure I want to deal with all of that. Also, my peer group had children around three-five so it seemed quite a good fit having kids around that age. When they’re a bit older, you can understand their developmental issues – what you’re dealing with, what you’re taking on. They can talk to you; engage with you.
Adoption is like dating
Finding the right match is a bit like dating. You have a little profile about yourself – a snapshot of you on a piece of paper. Here we are, this is what we like, there’s a little picture. My husband likes football, I do this. You have profiles of kids sent to you and you’re looking through those, deciding: do I like the look of them? Social workers are matching you up behind the scenes. Our kids’ profiles came to us – a girl and boy, the right age, relatively undamaged. But with past experiences that meant they were having more emotional issues than physical or learning issues. I thought: I can deal with that.
Their social worker liked us, we liked them. It then triggered whole new set of checks. They came to interview us; to look at our house, they’d go off and have meetings then there was another approval process. We were matched and approved and once that’s done you go and physically meet your children. This was three years after the whole process had begun.
The first meeting is quite surreal. You’re going up as a couple, when you leave, you’re leaving as a family. We met them over the course of a week, while staying in a hotel near to their foster parents. The meetings are called introductions so you meet them for an hour, the second day it’s a bit longer, then half a day, breakfast, half a day, afternoon and evening and put them to bed, then a whole day. And so that extends. We did things like take them to the park, activities, have lunch out. And if everyone’s getting on, seems to like each other, you get the green light to take them home.
Their foster mum packed their stuff into suitcases, our two little kids, then we drove home with them and that was it. They were really excited. From day one they called us mummy and daddy. Some kids can’t actually call their adoptive parents mum and dad so it was really good. But for everyone, it was totally overwhelming. It all starts with excitement then that initial euphoria falls away, and I think then I was in shock – like having a new baby. You think: what have we done. There’s no turning back. The next day they’re still there. And the next. For me, it was quite unrelenting that early parenthood.
They bonded with my husband first more than me, which was tough. I’d done all the driving, pushed the adoption through. Then they wanted to sit on dad’s lap. As a mum, I was doing all the cooking, getting them up in the morning… you’re exhausted, you’re tired but just have to keep going. You don’t get a break. Slowly, it gets a bit easier then you’re a bit less tired. So normal parent stuff. But layered on top are their emotional issues.
Pretty much instantly they were reacting to us. There were tantrums, screaming, shouting, trying to get them in and out the bath, eating food: constant battles. We were told all of this is a good sign; that they can react to you. My son bonded to us more quickly. My daughter took a long time. After 15 months, she turned around and said: I know why I can’t stay with my foster mum – she was my foster mum, you’re my mummy. It took her that time to adjust. I was her real mum, the one who’s going to look after her, mother her, keep her safe. They have to learn to trust you, it isn’t instant as they’ve been let down so badly. So that was a real breakthrough.
Contact with birth parents is set up. We have the lowest level of contact: we write a letter once a year. Other parents have to have face-to-face visits, it depends on the circumstances of the child. I write a letter – quite factual, impersonal – about what’s happened with the children. It’s up to the parents if they write back. And then once the kids are 18, it’s up to them. We’ve had a couple of letters back from their birth mum, it’s very intermittent. I don’t know what her life circumstances are at the moment but I know they have chaotic lives, that’s the only way you can describe it.
Occasionally, the kids might talk about them. You can sense there’s a bit of anger there: mum wasn’t able to look after them. They love us so feel quite conflicted; they’re trying to sort it in their head. I’m dreading the teenage years that are coming.
To help kids through the adoption process…
Something you take from the agency is like a storybook, explaining to kids why they had to be adopted – it has pictures of birth parents, a family tree. So they understand their heritage then factually, child-centric language explaining why they couldn’t stay with their parents. Then where they’re living now and what adoptive parents do for them. It gives them some sense to their life.
They don’t have the same background as us – they’re mixed-raced Asian. I said to the social workers: you can’t pigeon hole us – my brother has mixed raced kids so just because we are who we are doesn’t mean you can’t open up the scope. Families are made in so many ways and they can get quite blinkered. They’re not of our background – we’re very open, say: this is who you are, this is who we are. My husband and I are relatively dark skinned, they’re much fairer but people are very accepting – no one questions it.
Last year, my husband was looking for another job and a secondment in Paris came to, for two years. He applied for it and got it. I’d thought: apply for it – you might not get it, then at end of summer, we knew we were going to go. By October we were here. This has been a massive change for us, for everybody – the kids, the wider family.
I was working in internal comms when the adoption went through. I had a year adoption leave then went back to work fulltime. Now I’m not working, I’m a fulltime mum. To be honest, I don’t miss work. When you get posted abroad you get quite a nice package, so our quality of life is better – we live in central Paris, take the kids to school, pick them up and help them with their homework, take them out. It’s nice to have this time with them – back in London everything was rush, rush rush; pressure, pressure pressure. We were always clock-watching – going from one activity to the next.
So it’s a bit more relaxed over here. It’s hard for the kids, as they’re in bilingual school so the majority of their lessons are in French but they’re doing brilliantly. They’re really coping admirably.
They were both howling when we first told them – they really didn’t want to go. It’s like pulling the rug from under their feet – with any kids, life revolves around friends and school. It’s not long, two years, but to kids, that’s an eternity. We feel we’re opening up their eyes to a new way of life. But it’s difficult for all of us, as it’s been a massive change. I realised I don’t have any friends, which is quite isolating and lonely. So you have to go out and make new friends.
The perception was that I’d be hanging out, drinking coffee in nice cafes, going to museums. I’m not. I’m cooking, cleaning, washing. But it’s a lovely city. We get to see the Eiffel Tower on the way to school every day. We have a different lifestyle.
We decided that we know the kids can cope, they’re really settled with us. We anticipated that there would be reactions/issues but decided we’re strong enough – and they are – to cope. The first two weeks were pretty horrendous, they were saying they wanted to go home, everyone was homesick. Friends say first six months is really tough but you just have to ride it out.
Relocation after adoption
We’re slowly getting acclimatised. The kids are still homesick, but they’ve had friends to visit, had playdates, been invited to parties. It will be good for their resilience, also – they’re learning French. With your own kids you’d have the same issues. Children like routine – all kids do – so changing that is just hard for them. And we have the added complication of them being adopted. But we took them skiing last week and they really loved that.
When we move back, we’ll resume our old life. Friends are still there, our house is still ours, our connections are in London. We’ll go back – but while we’re here, it’s not that far because we can Skype, have Whatsapp conversations. We’re four hours away from home.
The kids are really close to their grandparents, but the grandparents are less able to travel so we’ll go and see both sets at the end of April. It was hard on the grandparents when we moved but we said: we’re not that far away. They’ve always been really positive about the adoption. We haven’t had any issues around family members being negative – everyone’s been really accepting – they’re just our children.”
Main image credit: Yoni Alter