Today’s interview is the first half of two pieces by Sarah Almond. In this piece, she shares her journey to meeting her two children. The second part shares the best and worst parts of their journey, and Sarah explains why she’s been inspired to create a wonderful business to help adoptive families connect through the power of nature.
Introduce yourself and your family
My name is Sarah, I live with my husband and two children.
Tell us a bit about your adoption journey
My husband is an adoptee and we’ve always had very open discussions about adoption. In 2013 after some fertility investigations, we decided to give IVF a go. We didn’t put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves as we knew we wanted to adopt. So, we approached IVF with a sort of ‘we want to try everything let’s just see if it works’ attitude.
Even so, I found it surprisingly difficult and the whole process took an emotional toll. We went through the process twice. The first time we received a call from the clinic a few days after collection to say that we had no viable embryos. Our second round was successful but resulted in an early miscarriage which was not discovered until we went for our scan at the hospital.
After our experiences we decided we wanted to move on with our journey to build our family through adoption. I immediately felt a huge sense of relief and a renewed sense of optimism about making a family together.
Moving on to adoption
We did some research into pathways to adoption and decided that Coram would be the best fit for us. I still remember standing in the kitchen talking to the duty social worker who then turned out to be the social worker who was assigned to us.
We attended an information evening at a library in London in September 2015. I think we’d already decided this was the path and agency for us so they would have had to say or do something pretty horrendous to put us off!
We began Stage One in November 2015 and processed onto Stage Two in April 2016. I remember quite enjoying the meetings with our social worker and the chance to talk about how we would parent and what sort of child would join our family. Every time we met, everything seemed more real.
Looking back on it now, I can also see that we were in so much of a rush. We were desperate to meet our child and doing everything as quickly as possible – reading all the books, completing all the homework. Everything in our lives revolved around the process, learning as much as we could and moving it along.
We joined LinkMaker as soon as we were signed off for Stage two and I began checking it most days. In May our social worker showed us the profile of a five-year-old child and we knew straight away we wanted to know more about them. They had so much in common with us and shared interests with my sister’s children. We could imagine them thriving in our family and already felt a bond.
Our social worker contacted their local authority but despite her chasing up several times, we heard nothing back. She gently told us that they must’ve been matched already. I began checking LinkMaker most days again and to my surprise at the end of June, the child’s profile popped up again!
I called our social worker immediately. She cheered – “hit the show interest button, hit the button!” (I already had of course!) It turned out the family finder had left and the contact details had not been updated. A discussion began between our social worker and theirs and we read the CPR in our social worker’s office.
We were approved at panel in July and our social worker recommended that we go on our ‘last holiday as a couple’. We dutifully followed orders and treated ourselves to a week in the sun in Santorini. While we were away, we got an email saying that the child’s social workers wanted to meet us. I will never forget that holiday. It was filled with such excitement and joy that we were one step closer to meeting our child.
In September their social workers came to visit us at home and showed us lots of photos and videos. We talked about how we’d cope parenting an older child, how they would fit in with the wider family and what the local schools were like.
The next day they contacted our social worker to say they wanted to move forward. We met then foster carers who were amazing. They were very open and welcoming and we got on so well with them.
We began introductions in November. They were exhausting but thrilling. I remember lying in the hotel room the night before we were taking our child home forever unable to sleep a wink. I kept making up various scenarios and playing them through my head. What would we do if they didn’t want to leave the foster carers?
I needn’t have worried so much. We were very well supported by both social workers and the foster carers. There were lots of hugs but no tears and many reassurances from all of us that we would keep in touch with each other and meet up again soon. We’ve done this many times.
I sat in the back of the car and we played top trumps all the way home. Our biggest drama happened just as we joined the motorway. Our little one decided they were desperate for the toilet so we turned off and I frantically searched on my phone for the nearest petrol station in the hope they would have a toilet. Luck was on our side that day and everything else went smoothly.
We lived in a happy little bubble for the first few days. As we all got to know each other and began to relax we discovered that tiny things could trigger a big emotional reaction. I remember them screaming and crying because we gave them one of my husband’s old shirts to wear as an apron for a crafting activity. They were unable to verbalise why it was so upsetting so instead we settled on them changing into some older clothes that they didn’t mind getting messy.
This was how things continued over the next few months. Most of the time everything would be running smoothly and then something out of the blue would trigger an outburst. We got better at predicting what might cause them distress and we definitely got better at picking our battles!
Our first Christmas was fantastic but extremely full on. We rather ambitiously decided to host Christmas for my husband’s family, without really thinking about the fact that our child could not be left alone for more than 5 minutes. Our little one wanted to be with us all the time so they ended up doing lots of ‘helping’ in the kitchen. We also took it in turns to play with them and their new toys in-between basting the turkey and roasting vegetables.
When our little one had been home for six months, we went on a parenting course with Coram which we found invaluable. It was great to be in a room full of other adopters and hear their experiences. It definitely helped us feel less alone and less worried we were doing everything wrong!
Most of us used the first half of each session as free therapy recounting how our week had gone, which parenting techniques had worked and which hadn’t. The ones that were and still are most successful for us are ignoring as many low-level behaviours as possible. Or wondering aloud what might be bothering the child to cause them to behave in a certain way and special play.
Special play is where you spend 15 minutes one-to-one with your child and allow them to control the activity, the only rule is to be safe and kind to each other. We still try and do this now as much as possible. It really helped our child learn how to play imaginatively as well as cementing our attachment.
Meeting other adopters also helped us with something we had been missing – social interaction with other parents. As our child was already in Year 2 when they came home, we missed being part of the parent bonding that happened for other parents as they progressed from reception.
I’d watched lots of my friends form their own new groups of ‘Mum friends’ and assumed that would happen for me once my child started school. But it just didn’t happen. I joined lots of the PA activities and my husband and I turned up for every parent social organised by class rep. But there was always something holding us back from forming any real friendships.
I vividly remember one class social where my husband and I sat through a whole evening of birthing stories unable to add anything more than ‘Oh, that sounds painful!’ and ‘Poor you’ at the relevant points and then squirming our way out of the awkwardness of being asked if we had any ‘horror stories’ to share by distracting everyone with another round of drinks.
We have always been led by our children when sharing that they are adopted. Our oldest child was and still is very private about it, so we did not share the fact they were adopted with other parents.
We’re still in touch with lots of the other parents we met through the group at Coram. It’s great to meet up every now and then and it has been fantastic for our oldest to have friendships with other adoptees. We’re all spread across London, so we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. But it’s great to have that group there and know they understand our children and there’s no judgement or having to explain anyone’s behaviour when we meet up.
In 2018 we started talking about growing our family again. We spoke to our eldest and asked what they thought about being an older sibling. As they were super keen, we began some building work on our house to make sure we had enough physical space for another child.
We registered our interest with Coram again officially in early 2019. We really wanted the same social worker so we waited a couple of months for her to clear her caseload. As our agency had all of our historic information and knew so much about our family and how we’d been getting on, we were ‘fast tracked’ through most of the process. It felt much more relaxed this time around, so much so that I don’t really remember much of it.
We were approved to adopt again in September 2019. We knew it would take longer to find a match this time around as we had our oldest child to think of as well as ourselves. What was most important to us during the process was making the right choice for our family to ensure that our child didn’t go through any unnecessary distress from us adding to our family.
This made every decision ten times harder. We frequently felt guilty when looking at profiles if we didn’t think we were the right family for that child. But we knew we had to be honest about what would be best for our oldest child and for the child joining our family.
We joined LinkMaker and I was doing my usual checking every day. We looked at many more profiles this time and faced many disappointments. When we expressed interest in a child, we frequently didn’t get a response from family finders. I think the matching process was even harder as we had to manage our child’s expectations too. Having to explain that we still hadn’t found the perfect child to complete our family, month after month, was hard on all of us.
Finding our match
Finally, in February 2020 I found a profile of a sweet little 7 year old on Linkmaker who we thought we could be the perfect parents for. The social workers visited us and everything was going smoothly. Then Covid made its entrance and things slowed down a little. We had our matching panel on Zoom in May, I left my job in July and introductions began a couple of days later.
We met the foster carer online at first and then had a couple of chats over zoom with our child. Little one clearly didn’t enjoy it and the expectation to sit and talk to a screen, even with the activities we’d organised, was just too high.
Once we travelled to the foster carers, it was very clear to see the difference from our first experience of introductions which were incredibly well supported. Due to Covid restrictions, no social workers were able to be present when we met the foster carer in person. It was felt that as we were ‘experienced adopters’ we’d be able to cope with leading the introductions ourselves with a loose timetable drawn up by the local authority.
This made the first part of introductions a little awkward as we were all on egg shells trying not to step on each other’s toes. In hindsight, I think this was quite confusing for our child as there was no one to give the foster carer guidance on stepping back or support her with this very difficult transition. As a result it was harder than it could have been for them both to let go. We tried our best to support her but were not qualified to do so or probably the best placed people.
The second half of introductions went more smoothly as we’d got to know each other a little better by then. It was easier when we were in our house to assume more authority and begin some parenting.
At last, at the beginning of August, our youngest moved in and completed our family. The two children have an amazing relationship and such a loving bond. I think it was so helpful for our youngest to be able to just play with our oldest in the very early days with no expectations. It was like having a time out from all the big changes happening.
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