This week I took my first official step to becoming a parent.
First, a little background for those of you not in the know…..
I’ve always known that I wanted to have kids. Having a family and being a mum is something I’ve always known that I wanted – even when I was 16. As a teenager planning my potential/future career I even looked for jobs that related to working with kids, such as social worker, teacher, etc, and did a lot of summer jobs working with kids in summer camps, or with my mum’s research with children. I always took it for granted that by the time I was in my late twenties, I’d be married with kids.
By the time I was 29, I realised that wasn’t likely to happen – I’ve been pretty much single for my whole life, and I realised that waiting around for Mr Right might mean I miss out on being a mum, and having a family, and for me, that’s too important. I realised that if I wake up one day and I’m 50, and I never had kids, it would be my single biggest regret. So I started thinking about doing it alone instead.
I’ve always liked the idea of adoption, but honestly had assumed from my badly misinformed perspective that it would be impossible. You hear stories/on tv shows about couples who are perfect waiting years to get a child, and paying thousands of dollars etc. It seemed impossible that as a single woman I would have any kind of chance at all.
So I started looking in IVF options. I was around 30 when I discovered the London Women’s Clinic, who are willing to offer free IVF for women if you are willing in return to donate your eggs to a couple that cannot have their own children. They have some restrictions – you have to be under 35, a non-smoker, and have a healthy BMI etc.
I did some research and thought it seemed like a reasonable plan, and at the time when I was 30 I figured, I’ve got a few more years to think about it, and I was starting out on an exciting career that I had wanted for a long time, so I decided to focus on my career for a while and revisit it when I was nearer to the cut-off age.
As 34 approached I started looking at the process more closely, and looking at sperm donors more specifically, realising I would have to pick one. I was scrolling through the list, White, Caucasian, 6 foot 2, blond; Bangladeshi, 5 foot 10, dark hair; when I was suddenly struck by how beautiful my potential half-Maya, half-Bangladeshi baby would be. And this was following immediately afterwards with a dilemma – how to decide if I should have a white or mixed-race baby? And then it hit me that it all somehow felt wrong, it felt too much like playing god, choosing what colour skin my potential child has. I really strongly felt that, if I wanted to have a Bangladeshi baby, there are plenty already out there who need mums, and creating one out of nothing seems weird and alien and unnecessary.
(Now of COURSE I don’t want to diminish anyone out there who is going through an IVF process either as a couple or alone – I am completely ok with IVF a a concept and it is right for many people, and I fully support their decisions to do so. For many couples, it is their own sperm and egg, and for some single women it’s what they want or need to do, and that is completely fine – It’s just not the right choice for ME.)
So with this dilemma in mind, I had dinner with a good friend, M, who happens to be a social worker in Oxford, to talk it out, and she informed me that my preconceptions about adoption were frankly, codswallop. She told me that I could definitely adopt as a single parent, it doesn’t take THAT long, and doesn’t cost loads of money (unless you are adopting from overseas). Over dinner she explained the whole process to me, and the fact that these days, huge changes in the system have been implemented to try and ensure that it doesn’t take years, and that all potential parents are reviewed equally, whether they are a heterosexual couple, gay couple, or a single parent. The average time from beginning the process to being placed with a child is about 18 months. It can sometimes be as little as a year, and sometimes up to 2 years, but that’s about it.
So I left the dinner feeling uplifted about my options, and went off to think about it for a while, read some books, and attend an information day on adoption. I spoke to someone from Oxfordshire Council Adoption team on the phone to ask questions and start to understand more about what the process entails and what I might be looking for in terms of a child. Lots to think about!
Then I had a dream. This is going to sound a bit hokey, but it really stayed with me. I dreamt that one day, the doorbell rang, and there was a social worker outside with these 2 kids. The social worker looked at me helplessly and said “I’m so sorry to spring this on you unannounced, but I had to bring them over because these are your kids.”
I was all flustered and panicked, and said “What about the interviews and selection process? I haven’t prepared or bought a pram, or a child’s bed, and I haven’t gone through the home study and all the checks!” The social worker looked at me glumly and said “I know – normally we have to do all of that, but the thing is, these are YOUR kids.” I looked at them then, and the kids’ faces were blurred, so I couldn’t see what they looked like, but as soon as I looked at them I felt that it was completely right and that they were the kids I was meant to have. Somehow I knew they were MEANT for me, and they were mine. And the social worker was all “See? That’s why I had to bring them here”.
It was a silly dream, but when I woke up I remembered that deep feeling if it being right, and I knew deep down in my subconscious that I was making the right choice in deciding to adopt. That despite the panic and the paperwork and checks and processes, this is what I want to do.
So then I started thinking more about what I might need to do to prepare – such as settle into a more permanent job in Oxford, on a decent salary with less travel, and focus on getting my loft converted into a 3rd bedroom so I would have more space for kids. I started investigating child benefits and grilling my friends with kids on how they afford child care and different options for working, how much I would need to save up for maternity/adoption leave, and so on. I started wondering how I will manage school holidays with my 30 days annual leave per year, calculating how many weeks of unpaid leave I will need to take off, and whether that will be cheaper than paying for activity camps in the holidays. I talked to my mum’s neighbour, who recently adopted a child and was able to share some useful books and links, and I had lunch with a friend’s mum who is a social worker, and who introduced me to another single adopter and her son. I wished I had more questions for them, but I’m so early in the process I didn’t quite know what questions I should be asking yet!
Any finally, this week, I had my first official Adoption Interview – the first step in a process that will likely take 1-2 years to complete, and is both the most exciting and the most challenging thing I have ever done.
I hope it went well – so hard to know, although all of the advice I have been given was to be as open and honest as possible, as the 6-month home study investigations will usually dredge up most things anyway, so the more honest you are at the start, the better. As I’m pretty much an open book most of the time, this wasn’t hard, although there were a few moments when I did wonder if I had perhaps over-shared….
For a first interview it was intense – I was asked a lot of questions about my childhood, and any traumatic moments or events that might have shaped who I am now, and how I might be as a parent. They wanted to know a lot about my relationships with my own parents and siblings, and how an adopted child might fit into that. I have a pretty deep mine when it comes to family history, so that went on for a while! At the end of it all, she seemed vaguely impressed that I have done so much self-reflection already, and have managed to work through and resolve some difficult issues (such as the fact that about 10 years ago, I stopped speaking to my dad for about 9 months, but we were eventually able to rebuild our relationship and I believe it’s much stronger now as a result).
As she was leaving the social worker commented that I had been “refreshingly honest”, which I hope is a good thing, but it’s so hard to know!
Next she will write up her report, and discuss it with her manager. If I am approved for the next phase, then I will be officially on the road to adoption (this was the sort of pre-check phase where they check I’m vaguely the right sort of person)
To be continued….