Emma Sutton and her husband Andy adopted a sibling group of two. Their daughter is now nine and their son is eight. Emma has written this brilliant book about their journey to parenthood and shares an honest account of it in this interview. Her website Nibbles and Bubbles contains lots of great help and advice for adopters.
What area of the UK do you live in?
We live in the glorious rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire.
Was your agency a local authority or voluntary agency?
We adopted through a local authority, now part of the One Adoption region.
Did you read any adoption stories before you started? If so where? (eg blog, Instagram, books)
We read some books by Nancy Thomas (recommended by our social workers) and started a rather dense tome called “The Incredible Years”. Whilst we researched attachment dutifully for our assessment process, we hadn’t read any adoption sorties before we adopted.
What was your biggest worry before you started?
At our preparation groups, we were asked to share our biggest fear on cards with the rest of the prospective adopters. Mine was that my child would yell “you are not my Mummy” at me.
I think I was too busy being worried that we wouldn’t be approved, or we wouldn’t find a match to think much further than the hurdles and milestones in front of us.
How long did the process take from the point of deciding you wanted to adopt to your child(ren) coming home?
It took eleven months from me ringing the local authority to express an interest in adopting to meeting our children for the first time. We met them just nine days after going to panel. We were approved as adopters and matched at the same panel, making the final event a bit of a whirlwind. Our original panel date was two months’ earlier, but our original social worker left and we had to start again. This was very frustrating at the time.
What age and number of children were you approved for? Were you matched to a different age or number of children from this?
We were approved for two children, and I think we had suggested ages up to school age. As we went through the reflective processes with our social worker, our original age range (four to seven) evolved, and we decided that younger children, who were pre-school, would have a better chance to settle and adjust to us as their family.
Initially Andy had considered up to three children. I was very surprised that none of the other seven couples on our preparation group were considering more than one. Gradually we decided together that perhaps two would be more than enough to handle at once.
How did the matching process work? Did you look at lots of profiles?
We started looking at matching before we were approved, when our social worker brought profiles to our house to review.
We only looked at three sets of profiles, all on one momentous evening. It was hard to know what we were supposed to be looking for, they all seemed nice enough, but somehow two sets didn’t click and one did.
Both Andy and I felt an instant connection to the final set we reviewed. It was a powerful and unforgettable moment that still sends shivers down my spine. It just felt like these children were meant to become part of our family.
Our social worker told us to sleep on it, not wanting us to make a rash or hasty decision, but I think we both knew at that moment that these two children were going to form our family.
What has been the most difficult part about the process?
In the first year I would have said the hardest part was the utter exhaustion and relentlessness of being an overnight family. I cried a lot in those first months from tiredness, loneliness, frustration and more.
Now? I think the hardest part about being an adopter is the lack of understanding about adoption, about trauma, about neglect on the part of family, friends and most frustratingly of all, from teachers.
We’ve had a steep learning curve ourselves, when after a few relatively settled years, it became more obvious that our children’s behaviour was impacted by their early experiences and that there was a widening gap between their capabilities and those of their peer group.
School has been a huge issue for us – as our children struggle with regulation and when they are not calm, their brains are unable to learn. Yet some teachers seem to struggle to understand even the basics of the 3Rs (regulation, relate, reason). We have battled for two years but are hopeful that a move to a new school will create a more supportive environment for them both.
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?
Last year we asked for post-adoption support and I only wish that we had requested it earlier. Andy and I have attended two training courses, learning a great deal more about Theraplay and Sensory Development, both of which have helped our family to weather the storms of parenting adopted children.
We are hoping to obtain further funding through the ASF (Adoption Support Fund) for more work and therapy this year. However, the future of the funding is uncertain.
What has been your best memory since your child(ren) came home?
There are far too many to mention.
The moments of sheer love that they express – everything from homemade cards, to gifts of sticks or sweets that demonstrate their love for me, or buying me my favourite chocolate bar when they pop to the shops with Andy.
One night, as I tucked my son into bed, he started singing the song Remember Me from the film Coco and my heart burst with love for this precious little man and this moment of intimate connection snuggled under his duvet.
My daughter writes me lovely notes, telling me she loves me, or misses me, or if things didn’t go very well, that she is sorry. She also takes charge of my birthday, to make sure it is special (because Andy isn’t very good at those sort of things).
And pride, oh the tears of pride I have shed, when they lost their first tooth, or mastered a bike with pedals, or gained a new swimming certificate, or competed in cross country races for their school, or received an award at school.
Despite all the difficult moments, the mornings where screams and rage are the order of the day, when I feel incompetent and hopeless and I have no idea what I am doing being their Mummy, I wouldn’t change any of the adventures we have had for anything.
They are incredible young people and I can’t wait to watch them grow and develop and I will do anything and everything in my power to help them blossom and flourish.
If you could go back and have a conversation with yourself about the process before you started, what would you tell yourself?
You’ve got this.
It’s not going to be easy (you might want to lose a bit of weight and be a lot fitter because these bundles of energy are going to be exhausting), but it will be worthwhile in ways you cannot even imagine. Your children will steal your heart and your last chip and you will gladly give them your last ounce of energy at the end of each day.
But prepare yourself. Read everything Dan Hughes, Bruce Perry, Sally Donovan and Sarah Lloyd have ever written. Educate yourself on sensory development, therapeutic parenting and Theraplay so that your parenting toolbox is already bursting with relevant ideas before the children arrive.
And enjoy it. Especially that first exhausting year. Whine less. Wine less. Sleep more. Eat proper meals and look after yourself. You will be brilliant.