Well the day finally arrived!
We had a placement planning meeting on the Monday before introductions started and the foster carer, who had an awful bout of flu just burst into tears and wept through the whole meeting. She’s been looking after my little girl for 14 months and is extremely attached to her, so she was just devastated to be saying goodbye.
It was a good reminder that just because I’m feeling bouncy and excited and over the moon, I need to manage my emotions a little bit and be aware that her relationship with my daughter was ending, so it was a strange place to be in.
All of this made me even more nervous about the big day – what if the foster carer is in pieces the whole time? Kids pick up on that stuff and the little one would be even more clingy and upset if she senses her foster carer was upset or nervous.
However the foster carer is very experienced and has been looking after children and moving them along for 22 years – she and her husband have lost count of how many children they’ve looked after! She was nice, polite and calm on the first day. She had warned me that my little girl is very shy and wary of strangers, so tends to be quite clingy with her if there are strangers about (this is a very good thing actually as children with attachment issues can sometimes be overly familiar with strangers!).
I was given a very carefully written-out introductions plan, that laid out what times I would arrive and depart each day, what we were doing that day (playing at home, going to the park) and who would be watching the other kids when we had one-on-one time together etc. Everything was planned with military precision based on past experience with kids this age, and factoring in the various other children’s movements to and from school, and so on.
So here is my introductions diary for those of you following the adoption process who want to know all the details blow-by-blow!
Day 1 (Thursday 4th July), 2pm – 4pm
Arrived at the Foster Carer’s (FC) house and was so excited about meeting my daughter for the first time! We had all assumed that for the first day, she wouldn’t come near me, so the plan was for me to just sit and observe at first, so I sat next to the FC. However after her initial shyness had worn off, she was hiding behind a chair from me, and I started playing peekaboo with her, which she loved and got some big smiles.
Later while the other grown-ups were busy doing something, I went over to the water table in the garden and she cautiously approached me and let me sprinkle water on her hands and feet. After a while she put her tiny hand into my hand so I could pour water on it, and it was just so magical that she let me do that after only 2 hours together! Both the foster carer and the social worker were astonished that she had warmed up to me so quickly and said our first meeting had gone brilliantly, as it could have been a lot more tentative.
The first day was a little complicated as the foster carer has 3 other foster children with her at the moment. The oldest was at school and the youngest was mostly napping all afternoon, but the 4-year old was desperate for attention and wanted to do whatever I was doing, and to drape herself over me, and had some really challenging behaviour, so it was hard to focus on spending time bonding with my little one. However we managed a few little moments and I went home walking on air – I met my baby girl! She put her tiny hand in my hand! She’s totally amazing!!
Day 2 (Friday 5th July), 10.45am – 2.15pm
On the second day I went for a bit longer, around 3.5 hours, and in the morning instead of the afternoon. When I arrived at the foster carer’s house, my little one was still napping, so I had some time to chat to the foster carer before she woke up. As expected, on waking up she was very shy and cautious of me again, but within about 45mins she had warmed up to me, and was playing with me. The foster carer’s husband got out some blocks and stacking cups, and we played together in the garden until she was settled, and then he tactfully moved away so that I could play with her on my own. The foster carer’s daughter and granddaughter had come over so the other girls were playing together for a while, though sometimes they wanted my attention too! The grown-ups were busy baking a cake for another child’s birthday and I’m not sure if the foster carer was deliberately staying out of the way so I could bond with my little girl, or if she was finding it difficult to watch and was keeping out of sight for self-preservation reasons.
Either way, after a little while the grown-ups were all inside and I was outside with the kids, and my little one let me pick her up and hold her. It was so special to hold her for the first time, and we walked around the garden looking at things, and later when I sat down she stayed on my knee and we played row, row, row your boat together.
Day 3 (Saturday 6th July), 4.30pm – 7.30pm
On day three I went in the evening to observe the normal dinner/bath/bedtime routine. The kids were supposed to have been out all day at a birthday party for the FC’s grandson, so I was expecting them to be a bit tired and over-stimulated, however when I got there, it turned out her husband had to go to a course for work so she’d stayed in with the kids all day instead. The 4-year old had been acting up and really winding everyone else up, and just having a really bad day, and by the time I arrived the foster carer was tired and stressed and cross so all the kids were out of sorts and my little one was anxious and tense and wouldn’t let me go near her.
Then the foster carer’s son, girlfriend and grandkids arrived (I wasn’t expecting that!) and the 6 kids all started racing about playing and screaming and it was all very manic and loud! I was supposed to be observing bedtime routines but frankly, it was mayhem! The foster carer was tired and cross so just told me to bath her and do her pyjamas while she did the ironing, but I hadn’t been able to watch her do it and my little one just screamed and it was all very stressful. I went home feeling a bit lost and unsure but assuming it was just a random bad day (it’s hard going to a stranger’s house every day and observing them going about their daily “normal” routines. i’m not sure how “normally” I would behave with a random stranger following me around at home all day!).
Day 4 (Sunday July 7th), 2pm – 7.30pm
The foster carer hadn’t told me that they’d decided to have a birthday party for her grandson at her house (there was nothing in the meticulously written introductions plan about it) so I wasn’t expecting 7 adults and 8 kids to be there! 15 strangers watching you trying to bond with your new daughter is quite a lot of pressure, plus all the relentless screaming and yelling and tears all day. I was supposed to have a bit of alone time with my little one so the plan was for me, her and the foster carer to walk to the park away from the other kids, but instead all 8 kids came to the park too and pelted us with water pistols so instead of quiet bonding time it was loud, stressful and difficult. The foster carer seemed to think it was all normal but I was a little overwhelmed by it all, and asked if it would be quieter the next day. She said it would. I also asked if I could just observe the bedtime instead of doing it myself this time, so I could see how she normally did it.
It was also tough when one of her grandkids who was about 5 or 6 came up to me and said “I don’t want you to take (my little one) away from us on Friday” – not a lot I could say in response to that, but it felt like a lot of added pressure!
My social worker, who was checking in on me almost daily, commented that this was all highly unusual and that foster carers are supposed to avoid having other visitors there during introductions, and make sure there is some calm, quiet alone time for us to bond. She was impressed I was coping so well with all the mayhem and mentioned that other adopters might have complained about this sort of thing, but it boded well that I was managing to take everything in my stride and go with the flow a bit. However my social worker stressed that this was not how normal introductions are supposed to go and had not been discussed or agreed on in the plan. She wondered if perhaps the foster carer was doing it on purpose to avoid facing up to the fact I was taking the little one away, or maybe was surrounding herself with her family to try and make the transition easier.
Day 5 (Monday July 8th), 7.15am – 1.30pm
On day 5 I was to be there at 7.15am to observe the breakfast routine, and I thought FINALLY it will be just the 7 of us (2 foster carers, their 4 foster kids and me). Still a lot of people to cope with at 7am, but calm compared to the mayhem of the weekend.
Imagine my surprise when I discover that her son and his 2 kids had stayed overnight for a sleepover and there were 10 of us in the house when I arrived! It was overwhelming, loud and chaotic and once again total mayhem – 6 kids screaming and running riot around the house completely feral. I felt a bit annoyed that she hadn’t mentioned anything to me the night before, as I had SPECIFICALLY asked if it would be quieter, and it was all a bit much. I took my little one out of the house up to the park by myself until the others had all left for school, but she was very cranky and grizzly. By the time we got back at 9am, she had a bit of a paddy so they put her down for a nap, so once the house was FINALLY quiet and calm she immediately went to sleep for over 2 hours! By the time she woke up it was time for lunch and then I had to go, so I felt like I didn’t really get a lot of quality time with her which I felt annoyed about – finally an opportunity to spend quiet, focused alone time with my baby girl without all the other children around and she slept through it!
I texted my social worker to tell her I was shocked about all the people and she said a sleepover was definitely NOT agreed with the social workers and was not ok at all – she said it should have been agreed in advance or avoided altogether. Later during the quiet nap time the FC and I were talking and she explained that her son had moved back in and was living there, which is why his kids sleep over sometimes to spend time with him. I was astonished that I’d been going there every day and she never mentioned the extra people who lived in the house!
I left feeling deflated and annoyed at the foster carer, and ended up having a little cry in my car on the way home. My social worker thinks maybe she’s upset about saying goodbye and is therefore keeping the house busy and full to compensate, but I have no idea – I get the impression the mayhem is normal there! It also turned out that the social workers had no idea her son was living with her, and that also should have been cleared with them first, so I may well have dropped her in it with them, but frankly, I didn’t care at that point.
On Day 5 the FC gave me an ENORMOUS carload of giant plastic toys for my little one, so I could start putting them around the house so she will feel comfortable and at home here. She also gave me her memory box and talked me through her things from her birth mother, and which items came from who or were really special. Having seen how much stuff she has come with, I suspect a bit later down the line we might have to do a little gentle weeding of things, but not until I know what she likes to play with, and have sorted out a few of her favourite things (and once she is more settled and comfortable too).
I haven’t got any of her clothes yet but slowly we are transferring her belongings here.
Day 6 (Tuesday 9th July), 7.15am – 3pm
Day 6 was a complicated one. I went back over for another early morning, which was FINALLY just the 7 of us and MUCH calmer and relaxed as everyone had their actual routines and I was the only extra person there! I got my little one up and dressed and breakfasted, then we had a really nice long time to play in the garden with the other kids before they went to school, lots of cuddles and I took her to the park again on my own etc. She was getting more relaxed being on her own with me which was great.
Then we came back and I put her down for a nap, and the FC and I had time for a quick sit-down and a cup of tea before all the social workers arrived for our placement review meeting at 10.30am. There was a total of 4 social workers there (mine, the child’s, the foster carer’s and the family-finder who linked me and my little one). The FC immediately got very defensive, although no-one said anything or told her off, but it was clear she knew she had messed things up and managed things very badly. The social workers all knew at this point about the party and sleepover and mayhem but we all tactfully walked on eggshells around it.
We agreed on the current move-in plan and a contingency in case my girl wasn’t quite settled or ready yet, and then I went home, and shortly afterwards the FC brought my little one over to my house for the first time!
It was strange and surreal to see her in my house (OUR house from now on). She was initially VERY clingy and clung to the FC’s neck and was too upset to eat any lunch, though we tried. So we showed her around the house, and then sat in the garden next to my new water table, and she sat on the FC’s lap while I played with the water until she felt brave enough to edge closer and play. Once she warmed up, the foster carer quietly slipped away “to the loo” but also to try and give us some space. My little one noticed immediately and was a little anxious but I quickly distracted her and once she had forgotten we had a lovely time playing in the garden and I took her upstairs to play in her new room while the foster carer stayed in the living room.
We had a really good play and explored all the new toys etc before I brought her back downstairs when it was time for them to go home. It felt like a really good day after several awful ones and I needed that! I’m told introductions are always exhausting, but these seem especially so! I also realised that she’s fine once she settles and can’t see or hear the FC, so hopeful the rest of the transition will go smoothly!
Day 7 (Wednesday 10th July), 9am – 7.30pm
The moment of truth! On day 7, I was supposed to pick her up and bring her back to mine for the day so she could have a full day alone with me (the first time she’ll have been alone with me for any significant period of time away from the FC. The plan was to pick her up after the others had gone to school, and have her at my house for the day, give her dinner at mine, and I’d then drive her back home and do her bath and bedtime routine at the FC’s house and put her to bed.
I arrived in the morning and for once, the house was nice and quiet – kids were at school, her husband was back at work so it was just me, the FC and the two littlies at home. I had deliberately arrived at 9am so it would be after the morning breakfast rush but before she went down for her nap. The FC offered me a cup of tea and seemed to want to chat for a bit. My little one was happy for me to pick her up at first, but as she got more tired got more clingy to the foster carer. After a while I realised that the FC was trying to drag things out a bit as she obviously didn’t want me to take my little one away on my own, so I had to be a bit pushy and ask her to go and get the bag of clothes and show me how to fold down the buggy etc. The FC also made a pointed comment about how most children at this stage shouldn’t be clinging to her and perhaps it wasn’t enough time etc. Once the car was loaded, we got a bottle of milk for my little one and she settled into the car quite happily, and went to sleep on the way home.
Once home, she spent the first 30 mins or so wandering about looking for her FC, and not sure why she wasn’t there, so I popped her in the buggy and took her to the park. We had a lovely little play, and then came home and she was happy and settled so we played and explored around the house a bit more. In the afternoon she was tuckered out so she fell asleep in my arms on the sofa while I was reading her a story. We had the best day hanging out together! Lots of smiles and cuddles. After giving her some dinner I popped her back in the car. but at that point she panicked and started screaming, partly because she was tired, and partly because she didn’t know where I was taking her. Poor thing screamed the whole way back, and I felt awful I couldn’t comfort her as I was driving! Once home she was tired and cranky and upset, so clung to the FC and cried. Obviously I had no chance of doing her bath and bed routine (it didn’t help that every night when I tried to put her to bed her FC was doing the ironing 2 feet from her cot!).
It was clear to me that once she’s at home and settled with me she would be fine, but that the separation anxiety from her FC was heightened when the FC was around.
Day 8 (Thursday 11th July), 8am – 2.30pm
I picked her up at 8am after breakfast, and when I arrived the FC was clearly trying to distance herself from the process, she could barely look at me and hardly said anything. She said that my little one had not gone down to bed easily and she was tired and cranky and clingy, and clearly picking up on the anxious vibes from the FC.
I decided it was better this time to try and rip the plaster off, so rather than dragging the morning out I just picked up my little one, plus another bag of clothes to take with me, and headed off to the car. My poor little one screamed and screamed and it was hard to get her into the car seat. Poor thing was so worked up she screamed the whole way home, and once again I couldn’t comfort her as I was driving. However once we got home, she let me cuddle her and soothe her, and we pottered about. She didn’t go down for a nap so we took another little walk to the park and she helped me hang out the washing and played with the pegs. We played and smiled and cuddled and she was really lovely once she calmed down and settled.
Around 1.30pm I popped her in the car (this time she was less tired and had a bottle of milk!) so she went in without a fuss and fell asleep on the way home. I dropped her there so she could have one final afternoon/evening with her foster family to say goodbye, and ran through the final checklist of things from the FC that I still needed to collect (her medical red book, her swimming costume, etc.
FC commented that she has probably moved along over 60 children and she thinks this will be the hardest one she’s ever done. She is SO attached to my little girl and poor thing will be in absolute pieces tomorrow. I’m anticipating that my little one will be extra clingy due to the tense atmosphere and will once again be a nightmare to put into the car seat and will scream all the way home again – but at least it’s the last time I’ll have to do that for a while!
Spent the rest of the afternoon busy and knackered but so so happy my little one is coming home to me tomorrow!
Day 9 (Friday 12th July) 9.30am
We agreed I would pick her up at 9.30am and one of the social worker’s was there to help. I had a bit of a stressful morning – the timing meant I had to battle through the school-run mums on my street, which I usually try to avoid, and there are roadworks causing traffic mayhem this week in my neighbourhood. Then I got onto the ring road and there was a nasty car accident 2 cars ahead of me – very shocking! Thankfully they were all ok and up and walking about calling for help, so although I felt bad for not stopping as I edged past them, I didn’t want to be late today of all days!
Got there a bit early so I made sure the Social Worker had arrived before I went in. The Foster Carer was holding it together much better than I thought she would actually, but we didn’t chat much – I was told these things are supposed to be quick, so I loaded up the car with the final bag of her things and off we went. She kicked and screamed when I took her from the foster carer (the forced separation is so hard!) but once I gave her some milk she calmed down enough for me to get her into the car.
She was fine initially but started crying about halfway home and poor thing screamed the whole way back.
Once we got home she did calm down, but was clearly anxious and stressed the whole day and kept pointing at the door and grizzling – although she can’t say many words she clearly wanted me to take her home. I felt awful that she was so stressed and could hardly get her to eat anything. Bathtime was ok, but bedtime she was anxious and upset, so we sat and rocked together in the chair for a while until she stopped crying, but then she just lay there with wide eyes, looking scared and on high alert for danger, and I felt so bad i couldn’t explain that everything was ok.
After about an hour I put her into the cot, and she just lay there looking at me with sad, scared eyes, so I sat down next to her cot and just sat with her until she dropped off.
Saturday 13th July – The first day of the rest of our lives…
I’m happy to report that after a stressful last day of introductions, we both woke up together on Saturday morning bright and cheerful, and relaxed and calm, and we had the BEST day together, full of smiles and giggles and cuddles and fun. We played, we drew, we went to the park, we pointed at the cats a lot, and we ate food together, and our first proper day together as a family was really special and wonderful.
It’s been a really emotional and tough 10 days, with lots of ups and downs and plenty of firsts – the first time I saw my baby girl, the first time I held her tiny hand, the first time I picked her up, the first time I made her smile, or made her laugh, the first time she fell asleep in my arms.
It still feels totally surreal, like I’m playing at being a mum, or watching her for someone else – part of me can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that she’s mine and I get to keep her and love her and play with her forever. But she’s totally and completely amazing and I am already besotted with her.