It takes a village….when you adopt: Karen and Allen’s story
My friends Karen and Allen adopted their two little boys in 2014 who were aged one and two at the time. Here, Karen tells the inspiring story of their journey into adoption and the support network they have relied on. Karen and Allen are part of our son's Life Village and have been a source of encouragement and support to us as parents.
“Your children are adopted?…Oh I see…Didn’t you want your own children?…Why? Do you have infertility issues?…That’s so good of you to do that for them…What happened to their real parents?…You’re so good - I could never do that!”
These are the kinds of comments I have got used to in my daily life as an adoptive parent. I've learnt to smile and deal with such responses gracefully, but I can’t get my head around why adoption carries so much stigma and why it can’t be seen as simply another way to become a family.
For me, adoption is beautiful and perfectly normal. It might appear messy and be full of uncertainty but isn’t any family? I know that some perceive adoption as a ‘last resort’ or a ‘second-class family’ but, as an adoptive parent, that’s not my opinion.
People have shared with me a number of reasons why they feel they can’t adopt – they don’t have enough time or money, their house isn’t nice enough or big enough plus it would disrupt their family dynamics and bring uncertainty. Aren’t these also reasons not to start a biological family too? Yet babies are born all the time!
Many of my friends have adopted following a period of fostering, being single, infertility, because they don’t want to go through IVF again or simply through choice; a choice to take in a child who needs a home and to create a loving family around them forever.
My husband and I made the conscious and exciting choice to adopt. It was the best decision we ever made, and we would do it again.
Yes, it was a nerve-racking time and we felt totally inadequate. What did we know about looking after a one and two year old? We child-proofed our house like you wouldn’t believe; stair gates and safety catches were everywhere. You couldn’t do anything without having magic fingers to open doors and cupboards. We bought up the whole of Mothercare plus Babies-R-Us. We read huge numbers of books and scared ourselves silly watching YouTube clips on how to change a nappy.
One night we went to bed without children, the next night we put our first son, a two-year old, to bed. This felt weird for us and him as we didn't really know each other yet. A month later we were putting both our sons to bed; one and two year old brothers. We now live in a loud, hilariously funny, manic household. Life has never been the same.
There are over 60,000 children in care in the UK desperately needing a family to embrace them with unconditional love and provide a permanent home. We knew we could do that. We are still learning and making mistakes but sometimes we are getting things right too.
Adopting a child can bring real transformation into the world. I know a middle-aged man, married with two children, who went to the shop for milk and a loaf of bread and returned home with a seven month old baby boy. This kind man wasn’t having a mid-life crisis, and was in his right mind. He couldn’t bear the thought that the baby would be taken to a children's home. So this man, intriguing as it sounds, eventually brought that little baby boy home to become part of his family - to care for, nurture, support and, most of all, love. That little baby boy grew up in a fantastic family, was happy, well adjusted, and is now….my husband.
Seeing first hand the impact adoption had on my husband made me see that adoption is a normal, natural and beautiful way to have a family. He grew up in a fantastic family, where he was given the support and love his birth parents were not able to provide at the time.
Unlike having biological children, my husband and I had to 'prove' we would be able to cope having children. How would it affect our lives, how would we deal with behavioural issues, how would we parent differently and handle awkward comments and conversations? When you get pregnant, you just get on with it without having to answer all these questions. When you want to adopt, you’re pushed and pulled in all directions to demonstrate your resilience, but the end result is so worthwhile.
It’s beautiful that we were able to choose two precious children who would become our sons. They felt like ours way before they became ours and funnily enough they look just like us! I hope that as our children grow they will know that their parents made a conscious decision to choose them out of the 60,000 children that needed a home. They were chosen. We hope our sons will realise just how special they are. We feel that they already do.
We need a support network
We need support around us as adoptive parents. Our support network is diverse and made up of family, other adopters, church family and close friends.
Our extended family are a huge part of this network and are invaluable in the help they give. They know us intimately, support us wholeheartedly, are there for us and can be honest with us. Simply put, they love us and are spurring us on.
Going from zero to two very energetic boys has been a steep leaning curve and we’ve needed a supportive community. It’s the first thing you learn at Adoption Prep class. Everyone can be involved, whether it’s advice, toys, or just being willing to amuse our children for a few hours so we can grab a coffee.
Other adopters are also vital to our community. My dear friend had her adopted son join her family just three months before our sons joined our family. The first time we met up together with our children we just hugged and cried. Words were not required because we both fully appreciated and empathised with each others’ journey into parenthood and had become part of a special community of parents whose children did not grow in their wombs but in their hearts.
And where would we be without our close friends, especially those with young children, already experienced at doing the ‘parenting thing’? There’s no manual that tells you how to prepare for one and two year olds; what they eat, sleeping patterns and “tips and tricks of the trade.” Friends offer a welcome insight into soft play areas, special hangouts for children, child-friendly cafes, travelling with a double buggy on public transport and companionship. Priceless!
As Christians, our church community plays a key role in our lives too. They offer spiritual support, friendship and amazing toddler groups. Since adopting we have become part of a wider community that helps to support and educate other potential adopters. We have had the privilege of being able to use our story to help share our passion for adoption with others and to encourage more people to consider adoption.
Our children know there are children without families, homes or parents. They understand adoption and they regularly ask if another little boy or girl can come and live with us and be part of our family.
It’s simple and normal to them. It’s simple and normal to us too. Adoption is just simple and normal.
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