This week’s interview is with Ali. You can follow her on Instagram @thefizzykids and her shop is Fizzykids which sells organic products to challenge the perspective of hidden disabilities.
Introduce yourself and your family
We are Team Fanshawe. It’s a term we use a lot, to help the boys realise that regardless of where we started our lives, we are a Team! I’m married to Ed and we adopted our two boys, J and P, back in 2013. We also have an adopted cat called Tigger – the joke was always that if we could make it work for a cat, we could make it work for kids!
What area of the UK do you live in?
We live in Hampshire, having moved here from South Yorkshire in 2016
Was your agency a local authority or voluntary agency?
We worked with a local authority to secure the adoption.
Did you read any adoption stories before you started? If so where? (eg blog, Instagram, books)
We met with other adopted couples before we started. We also went to a few events that the local authority held to help get a better idea of what it was all about. If I am honest, we really knew nothing about it. We were both professionals at the time in the private sector and had very little knowledge of anything to do with social services or the kinds of issues facing children who may be placed for fostering and adoption.
What was your biggest worry before you started?
Looking back, our biggest worries at the start were about the process itself. Would we be accepted as an adoptive couple? Would we have to appeal if they said no? Would they think the bedroom we had was ok? Would they mind if we had a cat and a fireplace?!
It’s so funny thinking about that now. We are the most vanilla and boring couple and I don’t think there was a chance they would have said no! But at that stage it all feels so new and unknown.
How long did the process take from the point of deciding you wanted to adopt to your child(ren) coming home?
It felt pretty quick. We attended an event in the January, then by May we had been appointed a Social Worker. By the December of the same year we had been approved and early in January we were matched with J. And by April he was living with us.
I always said it was ‘around a year’ as that what it felt like. Although some parts of it felt a bit laborious, our lovely Social Worker always said that she ‘just wanted to get it right for us and our child in the future’. She dug deep and asked lots of questions, but I can see now that she wanted to be certain we up to the task.
What age and number of children were you approved for? Were you matched to a different age or number of children from this?
We agreed to one child under three years old, but said that we were happy to be matched to a child where there was a high possibility of a sibling. This is exactly what happened. When we were matched to J, we were unaware that his birth mother had just given birth to a younger brother, P. At the time of J coming to live with us, we knew there was a possibility we may get a call regarding his brother, and sure enough that happened three months later.
How did the matching process work? Did you look at lots of profiles?
Our Social Worker said she thought she had a perfect match. Regardless, she still brought three profiles with her that day. We only looked at the top one and knew straight away that J was wonderful. We didn’t even look at his photo to start with, just read his profile.
I remember my husband saying ‘but what’s wrong with him?’! It was an innocent and loving question, meaning that how could anyone possibly fail to care for this gorgeous and loving child. As it turns out, J has lots of additional needs that require our love and care, but that doesn’t make him in anyway less fabulous than the day we first found out about him.
Obviously, the match with our youngest child, P, was something we agreed without knowing anything! We read his profile and wanted to understand how his life story was different to J’s (J went into foster care at nine months, P was only a few days old), but we knew we wanted to keep the siblings together.
What has been the most difficult part about the process?
The most difficult part started when J started school, as that was when we realised he had some quite significant learning difficulties. And then again when P started school we realised that his attachment difficulties were a huge challenge for him daily. This coincided with us needing to move for work reasons and the upheaval of moving house, school, nursery, car etc. was enormous! We now joke that ‘we are never moving again’!
My two kids need so much love and support every day. Raising a child is a great task; raising children with additional needs requires a Herculean effort; and raising children with additional needs AND trauma requires some kind of outer-universe powers! I am working on the latter still….!
Also, the trauma bond between siblings cannot be underestimated. It makes life really challenging at home. If they’re not fighting us, then they’re fighting each other. Stress levels are high and it takes every ounce of energy to keep everyone regulated. I have had to give up work to care for them – I know it won’t be forever, but right now it was what was needed to keep our family together.
But goodness do I love them, even though they drive me crazy! I definitely drink more wine and have a lot more grey hairs, but if life is about experiences, then this is one heck of one!!
Have you needed to access additional help and support from your agency since your child came home? If so, what and did it meet your needs?
Yes, we’ve tapped into the Adoption Support Fund a lot. Thank goodness they’ve agreed to keep it going in 2020. It’s been a lifeline.
And we also switched Social Workers – this is key. Find a social worker that works well with your family. They’re a critical support link, and sometimes things just don’t click. You really need them on your side.
What has been your best memory since your children came home?
Watching them learn. I never knew the joy I could have from watching my kids learn. I’m not really talking about reading and maths. I mean the fact that from day one we took them to the beach and put them in the sea and now they can both bodyboard and are trying out open-water swimming and surfing.
I mean that J can now make his own salad dressing just from watching and listening to me (I had no idea he knew until I heard him teaching my Mum the other day!). I mean that they repeat therapeutic parenting phrases that I say over and over like ‘I can see you’re angry right now’ when talking to others!
We’re playing the long-game. Every day is so challenging, but I am their greatest advocates. I believe they will make it through and be awesome members of society even if others look sideways at them or dismiss them. I have to believe it, otherwise I wouldn’t keep getting up in the morning.
If you could go back and have a conversation with yourself about the process before you started, what would you tell yourself?
I recently read an article by an adoptee who said that they would like adoptive parents to be psychologically ready for their adoptive children before they turn up. I would love to think that I did this from day one. But I didn’t. And I’m not even sure if it’s possible.
I mean, despite ante-natal classes, do birth mothers REALLY know what they’re in for?! What if their own children have learning difficulties or emotional issues? I’m not sure they teach that! So I wouldn’t be too hard on myself for those first few years when I was learning to parent.
Also, although I wouldn’t change anything, these kids require so much 1-2-1 support – you have to be absolutely clear that if you adopt more than one child things are likely to be incredibly tough. They are incredibly tough with just one, but the dynamics won’t be there and you won’t be managing the relationship as well as the individual. Of course there are pros and cons to both, but it’s worth thinking really hard about that.