For many of us growing up there is an expectation of a “natural order” of events: grow up, find a job, find a partner, career and then family. It is such a presumed course of events that makes infertility so difficult to navigate.
But How do we proceed when the familiar terrain disappears?
As a couple we had experienced first-hand the grief of infertility and the demands of IVF. We were hugely lucky after six years, five rounds of IVF, two miscarriages and huge amounts of investment (on every level) to have our two children and yet had always wanted to explore adoption also.
For us, the actual process of being matched with a child was relatively easy. It took far longer than it should have done. 3 years in total from start to finish when these days it should all be well under a year. However, the process felt positive and hopeful, the absolute antitheses of fertility treatment. There were certainly huge amounts of forms, home visits and hurdles to go through but there was an end goal in sight and for a couple who had spent so long navigating uncertainty this was a huge relief.
Adoption is not just the same as normal parenthood
However, I would now challenge our initial assumptions that it was basically all the same and just another route to parenthood. Adoptive parenting is so much more demanding than that, and as Krish Kandiah CEO of Home for Good adoption charity so rightly puts it: “Ultimately adoption is not about family completion but the flourishing of vulnerable children“
Our son came to us age 15 months, a tiny bundle of energy, wonderful but scared and angry about the change in his environment. We faced months of barely any sleep and days when we were all exhausted and overwhelmed. It was a lonely time when we felt we really should be coping well but, each day felt like just scraping by.
Our son will require extra support and care
Our son was diagnosed early on with Foetal alcohol syndrome, a lifelong debilitating condition which means he will always require extra support and care. It was a gradual process of coming to terms with this and has involved battles on many fronts, it still does and always will.
Parenting a child with additional needs has challenged us far beyond what we thought was possible and at times has stretched us to breaking point. Adoptive parenting is certainly equal in terms of value but not in terms of demand.
A new way of being a family
After a time, we discovered however a new normal. A new way of being family. We found the support we all needed in terms of educational care, medication and a new tribe of people who would carry us through. We have learned to persevere, to lower expectations and to love unconditionally in a way we had never had to previously.
Adoption has completed our family and we have a lively, funny affectionate bundle of craziness to call our son and brother who we love equally to our birth children. We would not change it for the world although the process of arriving at this statement has been more costly than we could ever have imagined when we started.
Adoption is incredible but not for everyone
What then have we learned in all this? The first thing I would argue is that Adoption is an incredible option but not one for everyone and certainly not one that should be continually the domain of the infertility community. To do so demeans both the child and prospective parent.
The average age of a child up for adoption in the UK is just under 4 years old and almost certainly will have a history of neglect abuse and probable special needs associated. The realities of parenting such a child mean that “normal “parenting is often not the most helpful route and a new therapeutic model of parenting will be needed almost certainly.
We found our support
Since becoming an adoptive parent, I know now this is not just true but vital in making such a family work and holding onto hope during the almost inevitable turbulence. As with Infertility we have found sadly that some people will just not understand or be able to empathise with your experience. However, there will be others who do and who stand in the gap for you when life just seems too difficult to navigate. We will always be grateful that we found our tribe and for the amazing support we have found along the way.
Ultimately then adoption can be a wonderful option for becoming parents but perhaps even more importantly can be an incredible option for the child. It is not as I stated earlier for everyone nor is it a second-best prize.
Finally, then to return to my original question: How do we proceed when the familiar terrain disappears?
With fertility treatment, with adoption the answer is that we build a new terrain, slowly, at times uncertainly but we build, and we make something new. We make our own definition of family.