seven ways in which adopting is different from bringing home a newborn

1. Newborns have their pictures all over social media, within hours, sometimes minutes, of their birth. Adopted children need a much higher level of security. Whilst we hope that our adopted children will enjoy a positive relationship with their birth family one day, this has to be done in a safe way, through the professional agencies involved – we want to minimise the risk of birth family searching and finding the children in an unsafe way. If you think I’m over-reacting, you could read this harrowing article, published by The Guardian in May 2015.

2. Newborns are spoilt by visitors. Adopted children need to be very carefully settled into their new ‘forever home’ before visitors are allowed. They also need to time to switch attachment from their foster carer to their new adoptive parents – this is a significant event in the life of any adopted child and no, it doesn’t make much difference how old the child is. Sure, a child adopted when younger will have fewer/no memories of their past life – but that doesn’t mean they haven’t attached to the one who has been feeding them, changing their nappies, putting them to bed, comforting them, getting them dressed, playing with them, and all the other countless ‘tasks’ which, to even the youngest baby, mean ‘love’. So, this awareness of who loves them, who is taking care of them, who is keeping them safe, needs to shift securely to the adoptive parents before other significant people are introduced.

3. Newborns get cuddled by everyoneLike the above point, for the first few weeks/months, all the main care-giving tasks (including lifting, carrying, cuddling) are supposed to be done by the adoptive parents. How else will the children learn to feel safe in their care? You don’t need to be quite so careful with a newborn, as he will have been developing an attachment to his parents in the womb: through hearing their voices, and living inside Mum. There will be plenty of opportunities for his parents to bond with him in the early weeks through feeding, sleeping (or lack of) and general caring. This is what we’ll need to do with our adopted children, even though their age might indicate that anyone can carry out these tasks for them.

4. Newborns are portable: you can pretty much take them anywhere, and make them fit into your life. Again, adoptive parents need to be very careful with adopted children, making sure that they don’t take them anywhere which could be unsettling or confusing. Imagine what will happen when we eventually pitch up at the school gate with our new offspring – friends will flock round like pigeons. From an adopted child’s point of view, suddenly there are too many people you don’t recognise, all getting way too close (are they about to become my new mummy or daddy?). So, for this reason, we will wait awhile before taking our adopted children on the school run. (And if you’re a member of our church, please don’t feel offended if I arrive late and disappear early for a while – it’s not because I don’t want to talk, I’m just trying to protect my children.)

5. People want to ask questions about newborns – and parents are happy to talk. There are lots of things we can tell you about our adopted children. Lots of things we will love to say. But other things that we just can’t. Their early life history, their birth family, and the circumstances which led to them going into care are not things that we will be sharing with anyone other than them, and the harrowing details will be left until they’re old enough to take them. It’s their story, and they may choose to share it with you when they’re older. But, for now, please don’t ask about their pasts. Why not ask about the present, or the future?

6. Newborns need an awful lot of milk. I won’t lie, I’m pretty happy about the fact I won’t be physically attached to my adopted children for the next few months. I never found the lack of adult contact and social life particularly easy in the first few months of having my birth children, so am looking forward to being able to nip out for the odd evening in the early weeks. In fact, I think we’ll both need this breather.

7. Newborns meet you at your least attractive. The other day, I started wondering what I’d wear on the day we meet our adopted children. I’m not a dressy sort of person, but I do try to make an effort when meeting new people, and the fact that we’re likely to have 45 glorious minutes of child-free time before we have to leave means that that effort is more likely to happen. But then I remembered how un-made-up I was when I met my birth children. Wet hair, years-old nightshirt, unshaved legs. Yeah, really attractive. They didn’t seem to care, though, and I’m pretty sure neither will our adopted children. But at least it’s nice to have the option of looking OK.

For more I’ve written on adoption, please click here.

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adoption: am i excited?

We’re preparing to adopt. (For more I’ve written on adoption, click here.)

People keep asking me “Are you excited?” or pre-empting with “I bet you’re excited!”. Usually, for a quiet life, I respond with a simple “Yes, I’m excited!”, and that ends an otherwise awkward conversation. Apologies if you’re one of the friends I’ve fobbed off in this way – please understand that it’s only because the answer is so very long and so very complicated that you’d be at risk of missing your flight for next year’s summer holiday if I actually gave you the honest truth.

But I feel you deserve a bit more of an explanation, so I’ll attempt to explain how I’m feeling. Overall, I guess I’m excited – we chose this path, after all, and the arrival of new members of the family is always exciting. But this emotion, for now at least, is clouded by so much else.

I’m busy. Writing emails, taking phone calls, filling in paperwork, answering the same questions over and over again to myriad professionals.

I’m shopping. Planning what we need, what we can borrow, what to ask for. Scanning eBay and Gumtree for second hand bargains. Comparing prices, sizes, colours, efficiency. Reading reviews.

I’m preparing. Laminating family photos, shooting a DVD, sleeping with cot sheets and soft toys, recording our voices onto special toys. All crazy stuff I’d never have imagined would be part of welcoming children into our family.

I’m mothering. Preparing our birth kids, chatting to them, dealing with their emotions, asking questions, picking up on their clues. As well as the usual routine of school runs, clubs and groups, playdates, mealtimes, bedtimes, endless tidying and cleaning.

I’m nesting. Yep, you read that right. These children may not be growing in my tummy, but they’re growing in my heart. I’m painting, assembling, moving, re-housing, washing and arranging. Preparing their bedroom makes my heart skip every time I’m in there.

I’m catching up. By phone and in person. Coffees, lunches, dinners. Trying to make the most of my friends while it’s still easy to make time for them. Knowing that the next bit of life will be chaotic, that it won’t be so easy to get out in an evening, that my child-free daytime hours will reduce to zero.

I’m nervous. Nervous of meeting them for the first time, nervous of being watched by the social workers, nervous of how our birth kids and adopted kids will get on.

I’m clueless. How will we cope with four kids? Will we cope? Will I be able to ask for help when I need it? What will mornings look like? Bedtimes? Can we really protect our adopted kids from over-interested parties?

I’m naive. I know there’s lots that I haven’t thought of. Will I regret not having prepared more? Will it matter? Will we be OK?

And, I’m excited. Overall, I am. I promise. But perhaps, at this moment in time, you are more excited than me. Because you see the bigger picture. You’re not caught up in the detail – you don’t have to be. And, friends, please keep being excited for us, because it is this which sustains me through the long, long to-do list, and reminds me to keep focused on the end goal: the huge blessing of the children God is giving us to love for the rest of our lives.

And yes, I’ll hand it to you – that is exciting.