Friday, 26 October 2012

Bedtime Blues.....

My little lady almost broke my heart last night after a difficult bedtime where she wouldn't give us cuddles or goodnight kisses.  She does this every now and again and we say goodnight and I love you's and then head downstairs and wait for her tears to start indicating that she really does want a kiss and a cuddle.  At the moment, as I've mentioned in previous blog posts, she is missing me so much during the day whilst at school that she is holding on tight to me when she's home but pushing Daddy away again.  It is so difficult for poor old Daddy but he is so mature and understanding about it all (I'd be a wreck by now if she kept doing it to me I think!).  It must be so hard for him though.  I try to create times for them to be together so that Katie receives lots of experiences of Daddy meeting her needs and being there for her.  I sometimes hold back when she hurts herself to let Daddy tend to her and dry her tears (that is sooooooo hard for me!).  I have faith that it will right itself again once she settles into school but it's hard to watch and also to know how best to handle it.

So back to last night...........

I waited at the foot of the stairs to hear the tell tale signs that she was ready for me to go back up. 

Sobbing gently she asked me if Daddy loves her and I said "Of course he does darling. He loves you to the moon, stars and McDonalds and back".

"I love Daddy too" she said.

She then asked "Will you love me forever Mummy?" 

I replied "Honey I will love you forever and more. I can't imagine my life without you in it and I will always always be your Mummy." 

She then asked "Will you be my Mummy when I'm grown up?". 

"I will always be your Mummy, even when you're grown up and I have white hair - just like Nana and Pops, because they are Daddy's Mummy and Daddy" I said.

"Really?" she replied and then she threw her arms around me and hugged me tight.

"That's good Mummy.  I love you.  I miss you when I'm at school all day.  It's not like when I was at (pre-school name) because then it was only for a little time and I was with you all the other times.  It's too long when I'm at school".

Mega internal sob going on here in my heart at this point. 

With a lump in my throat I replied "I love you too sweetheart and I miss you too when you're at school but next week, because it's half term, we'll get to spend the whole week together.  Isn't that great?"

"Really?" said Katie

"Yes really" I said.

"Oh good" she replied.

We had our goodnight kiss and cuddle and our little routine that we follow then I went downstairs and sent Daddy up for his kiss and cuddle.

He got a lovely one this time and it put a big smile on his face.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Farewell My Furry Friend

Last night, a very special member of our family died in my arms after a hard and bravely fought illness against high blood pressure; a dodgy heart and finally a tumour in her paw.  Sophie-Cat was a very special little lady who taught me much, in the 11 years that she lived with us, about courage and trust and love.

We first met Sophie 11 years ago after a stray Tom cat turned up at our door one day.  He was in a sorry old state and very bedraggled and riddled with fleas.  We didn't want to risk our 5 other cats catching any illnesses so we took him to the Cats Protection League for help.  They took him in and we said that, if they were unable to find him a good home, we would bring him back to live with us.  A few weeks later we went to visit him but he was at the vets (and looked likely to have found a home) so the lady showed us all the cats she was caring for around her house (and pens in the garden).  We already had 5 cats and I didn't really want any more (I have enormous respect for  the people who look after all these animals but was attempting to be realistic about how many we could look after whilst both working full-time) so I resisted the cute little kittens and bolder older cats mewing "pick me pick me" but Daddy was taken with a very sorry looking black cat who sat at the back of her little pen with manky, gooey, eyes.  She had been found in a shed with her kittens and was estimated to be around 4 years old.  I think it would have been unlikely that anyone would have ever chosen her to be honest.

"Can we have Sophie?" Daddy asked  "She really looks like she needs a home".

That was probably the understatement of the year!

He's a soppy old sod isn't he?  OK...... I am as well....shhh.... don't tell anyone.... We couldn't leave her there.  Sophie wasn't the sort of cat most people would have been drawn to at that point.  She was (and remained) the tiniest cat I've ever seen with legs that were so short they looked like someone had sawn them off.  Her fur was matted and dull.  Her eyes were leaking this sort of green, gloopy, stuff that was rather horrible.  In short, this was a cat who needed a lot of care and love.  So we arranged to go back and collect Sophie and bring her home to live with us to live happily ever after.

It wasn't an instant happy ending.  Introducing a new cat into a household of 5 cats is not easy and we also didn't actually realise quite how timid Sophie was.  Would you believe me if I told you that she hid under a bookcase for around the first year she lived with us?  She'd stick her head out for something to eat; we managed to hold her for long enough to put endless amounts of eye gel in her eyes that were full of infection; and she used the litter tray.  I will be honest and say that I wondered what the hell we had done on many occasions for that first year.

After about a year she started to venture out more and started to let me brush her.  Her eyes had cleared up by now and she seemed to be feeling a tiny bit happier.  She would hide instantly the moment anyone else came into the house though so no-one really believed this cat actually lived with us.  One day, not long after this, she slinked up to me in the lounge and suddenly jumped up on my lap and snuggled up.  I could barely breathe and was trying to whisper-shout to Daddy to come and see what had happened.  From that day onwards Sophie claimed me as her Mummy.  Every night she would jump up on my lap and snuggle with me.  Slowly she started climbing further and further into my arms until she eventually found her favourite place of sleeping with her head under my chin; snuggled in my arms with her paws stretched out in front of her.  It was like having a warm, purry scarf.  That remained Sophie's favourite place to sleep until a few weeks ago.  We called it her "Super-Cat" position.

Sophie remained extremely timid and anxious for most of her life.  We think something must have happened to her whilst she lived the feral life.  She remained mistrustful of most men although made an exception for Daddy (she never liked men's shoed feet though).  She loved being out in the garden but didn't trust humans generally, although in later life she learned to make exceptions for houseguests who offered her food!  When we moved to our current house she loved our new, enormous, garden and would spend all day outside, sunning herself on a patch of earth or sleeping in the gazebo.  It was only over the past few years that I would say that she started to say hello to people who visited our house frequently.

Once she settled in we realised that Sophie was a real character.  She would eat almost anything and particularly loved crisps, prawn crackers, chicken, lamb bones and would love to lick a plate clean of anything that had been on there (including Thai green curry or baked beans!). She was a little hoover!  She used to slink around the house with this cute little bottom wiggle and earned herself the nickname "The Dark Destroyer" and "Slinky".  She was so black that when she closed her eyes she would almost disappear.  It was quite disconcerting seeing these beautiful eyes suddenly appear in the darkness.  Up until quite recently she liked to sleep near me at night and would often be on my pillow or even asleep in my arms when I woke up.

Sophie was one of the best behaved cats I've ever met in my life.  She never complained about anything.  She seemed to understand that her bread was buttered well with us and never went far from home.  On her collar she had a huge pink love heart with her name on it.  When I chose the heart from the pets shop I pushed the button for a little gold one but this enormous dog-sized one was engraved.  We decided to try it out with her and she kept it on until this day.

About 4 years ago a routine visit to the vet revealed that Sophie had a heart murmur and further tests revealed that she also had high blood pressure.  This explained her skittishness.  The vets weren't overly optimistic about how long she would live with this condition but started her on Istin and Benazecare to help her blood pressure and Asprin to thin her blood.  After a few months of tinkering with the doses her BP came down and it was like having a different cat around the house.  She was so much calmer and far more chilled.  She even started to show herself when guests were in the house and people finally believed that she lived with us (although she never did feel comfortable around children). She took her medication like a total trooper when I crushed it into her food (although she totally refused Tramadol!).  I have spent the past 4 years cutting tiny Istin and Asprin tablets into quarters (and more recently eighths when we had to add an additional dose in the morning as well).  Sophie had to go to the vets once a month to have her BP checked and she recovered so well that eventually she only had to go once every three months.  She literally blossomed.  It was wonderful to see.  Other than needing a few teeth removed as she got older she was in great health.

Last year though she developed a tumour on one of her toes.  In January this year the vet amputated that toe.  Sophie was amazing.  She had this heavy pink plaster/bandage on her foot for a week that she coped with so well (except for trying to shake it off when she was in my arms and punching me in the face with it constantly).  The toe healed up well and for a few months things were OK again.  We knew though that the tumour may have already spread around her body and that the amputation might not be a long term solution.  Sadly ii wasn't.  In May this year the tumour came back on her foot and grew really large.  We knew that we were now in the territory of having to weigh up her quality of life versus her health and this has worried me constantly since then.  Sophie was the last of our original 6 cats so we have been in this position 5 previous times and knew that we would help her until we felt she was telling us it was time for her to go.  For as long as she showed us that she was interested in life we would fight tooth and nail to help her.

I've known that we were reaching the end for the past few weeks.  The vet started her on a course of steroids to try and reduce the size of the tumour in her foot because it was literally growing out of her skin and bleeding.  Amputating the leg was out of the question because we didn't know if the cancer had spread and it was unlikely she'd survive such a big operation.  She was still cuddly and loving and eating well at this time though so we thought it would help keep her comfortable.  We had kept her quiet during the day in the spare bedroom though so our two younger Maine Coons would leave her alone and also to try and keep the blood confined to one place.  She perked up considerably for about 2 weeks.  She was back to sleeping in my arms again and it was almost like having our old Soph back.  Over the last two days though she wasn't eating so much and it was getting harder to get her to have her medication.  I planned to take her to the vet today and felt that her time was probably drawing to a close now.

Last night I brought her down to spend the evening with us and she was so quiet.  She lay under the table but then decided to jump up onto the sofa.  At this point she suddenly had what I think must have been a heart-attack.  I called for Daddy to come and help but I could tell she was gone. I huggled her for a long while and then wrapped her in a towel to keep her safe overnight and buried her this morning in the garden.

I feel so sad that Sophie is no longer in our lives but relieved that her fight is over now.  She was the bravest thing I have ever met in my life and she overcame so much in her life.  She reminded me a bit of Princess Diana and would look up at your with her head down and her eyes lifted to make eye contact.  She taught me that you can trust again despite having difficult circumstances and a tough life.  She taught me how to be brave.  She was an amazing little lady and we will miss her tremendously.  My arms will always feel a bit empty in the evenings now my little chin warmer has gone.

RIP Sophie-Cat Aged 15 and a half (aprox).  
Rest peacefully under our apple tree.  
Have lots of fun in moggy-heaven.
We will never forget you or the lessons you taught us.  

I'm sure she will be forever sunning herself in our garden as happy as can be. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Life in the School Lane!

It's been a real whirlwind here of late.  I wrote about some of the reasons why in my last post "Dreams of What Might Have Been"

The biggest cause of change, and resulting chaos, here has been Katie starting school.  I can't quite believe my little girl is in Year R now.  Where has the time gone?  I have been looking at pictures of her when she was 2 and 3 with her little bob and she looked so young and small.  Now she is growing like the proverbial weed.

I was warned that Year R is a baptism of fire.  I was prepared (mentally at least I thought) that my little lady was going to be tired and be needing earlier than usual bedtimes.  I was even prepared for a worsening of the witching hour (or two).  It's been that, and more, though.

Katie is tired. There's no question of that.  But does being overly tired lead to her falling asleep earlier, or even at her normal bedtime, though?  Oh no!! My daughter is messing about until 9pm some nights, unable to mentally calm down sufficiently to fall asleep; getting out of bed; appearing downstairs; running around upstairs.  Tiredness has also brought with it major rudeness and belligerence and refusal to do anything when asked without the retort "Shut Up Big Fat!" attached to it and hands over her ears!  I'm not sure where she's got the "fat" thing from because we are careful not to even mention that word in our house.  She's twigged it can be offensive though (heaven help me when she learns the "F" word!) Our house has been renamed "Meltdown City".  Katie can go from happy to total meltdown in Guinness Book of Records time.  One minute she is fairly OK and then, if something is said that she doesn't agree with, she is on the floor screaming and kicking and shouting and crying.  It's quite phenomenal (if a little disconcerting; slightly dangerous; and a little bit funny) to watch.  It doesn't help that Daddy comes home from work just before bedtime so all the work I have put into getting Katie relaxed and quiet and ready for bed is blown away in 5 seconds flat.  On the plus side, Katie often sleeps a bit later in the morning than she used to.  I do a fairly good job of picking my battles but, some days, there are just far too many to choose from!

On top of the tiredness, the other big issue is that Katie is missing me. The school day is long compared to life at pre-school. She is one of the older children so she is already full-time.  She is used to being at pre-school until 1pm.  Being at school until 3.15pm is a long day for her.  She is missing the life we had when we used to be together and go to play with friends in the afternoons. She is missing the stability that she had grown to know and trust. She had started doing a ballet class at her school but I have now agreed to stop this because she didn't want to be away from me for an extra hour a day.  There is so much change for this little person to cope with.  She has had to get to know lots of new people; teachers and friends.  She has become more clingy with me and has started rejecting Daddy again. It's almost like she feels safer being openly angry with Daddy because that is familiar territory than being angry with me.  We are having lots of cuddle times and snuggling up watching TV together or reading a book or playing a game after school.  Just trying to keep it all relaxed. She is also having school dinners, which has been a big (and majorly positive) change because she is now eating all sorts of foods she wouldn't entertain eating before (she copies the choices of one of her friends and now seems to have vegetarian things every day!!).

Katie had to have a day off school this week because she had spent Sunday with the Upchucks (there is a tummy bug going around the school which I have also now succumbed to).  Monday was the best day we've had together in ages.  She didn't feel particularly unwell so she helped me do housework and we sorted out her playroom.  She was polite and friendly and a real delight to have around.  It became apparent the following day when she went back to school that she had twigged that being unwell meant time off school, which in turn meant....time at home with Mummy.  I think I was being courted on Monday.  On Tuesday Katie was sent home from school after not quite reaching the toilet in time due to residue effects of the tummy bug.  The "delight of a child" that was at home on Monday certainly didn't come home from school on Tuesday.  She was a right royal grumpy-nut and hyperactive little wotsit!  On Wednesday Katie said she didn't want to do ballet anymore and didn't want to go to school.  She asked if she would come home if she had a pain in her tummy.  I twigged what was going on so agreed. after a bit of thought, that she could stop ballet for the time being but that coming home from school when totally well was not an option.  I highlighted to her (as I did on Tuesday) that being at home during the school day meant laying quietly on the sofa and that I wouldn't be playing games with her because I had my normal household jobs to do.  It would appear that being allowed to stop ballet has actually had the desired effect because she has remained at school now for the rest of the week (although did ask to stay home this morning).

There is no change to Katie's after-school behaviour and I suspect we will need to dig in with that for some time yet. If there are any ideas that people have for helping her calm this mental hyperactivity down I would be delighted to hear them. It would seem that being physically tired does not mean that Katie will simply fall asleep (I've already tried that one!). On the plus side, Katie is very well behaved at school.  Her peg has been on the Rainbow for the past week and apparently she even helped tidy up the other day (really? that was actually Katie?).

I will just add a little comment on how much I've had to get my head around since Katie started school as well.  Things like actually getting to school on time (we've not been late once yet which is a major miracle for me!). Which days she needs to return library books and homework (yes homework already!).  Who to speak to in the school about this, that and the other.  How to help with writing and reading practise. Not to mention having to face get to know the playground mums (I can foresee another blog post about that at some point!).

Just to end on another smiley note though, Katie brought home her first list of words to learn yesterday and she had already learnt them all when we went through them last night.  She is so excited about learning her letters and now plays "I-spy" like a pro.  She is keen to create words and practise her counting.  I feel so excited watching her starting to learn to read.  I can't wait until the amazing world of reading and writing and all that it brings is opened to her.

P.S. I should also note that I haven't made any progress whatsoever with my planned list of things I was going to achieve once Katie started school full-time (well other than ironing during the day and doing the odd bit of yoga).  I think I actually needed a bit of wind down time if I'm honest........ 

Dreams of what might have been....

It's fair to say that we had a pretty rough time becoming parents.  It's fair to say we went to hell and back with the loss of those 10 little ones that couldn't make it.  It took us a lot of heartbreak to get to the point where we are today.  In many ways moving onto adoption became a natural progression.  I knew that I couldn't use a surrogate.  For two reasons.  One because we didn't actually know if it was the mix between hubs and I that wasn't working right and two because I couldn't bear the thought of someone else carrying our baby and doing what I couldn't do. I don't think I could have gone through all that stress if I'm honest.  If I ever have to experience another pregnancy scan in my life I think it would be the breaking point for me.  Adopting actually seemed like the right answer for us, and it was.  Katie is absolutely everything to us.  She is our miracle. I cannot even begin to describe the love that I feel for her, that swell of love when I watch her sleeping (because that's the time of day when she isn't arguing with me!).  Having Katie in our lives has helped close the door on all that pain and heartache.  Apart from odd moments when a memory is triggered I don't dwell on what might have been or the pain that we went through anymore.  Life is too full of, well, life.  Katie brings so much life and energy into our lives that I don't have time to dwell on much else.

Many years of miscarriages; infertility and becoming an adoptive parent has meant that I have had to close the door on some of those little subconscious dreams that I may have carried with me.  Primarily that of being a mum to a baby.  When I became a mum it was to a 2 year old.  she was still in nappies but definitely not a baby.  We didn't know Katie as a baby.  That time in her life isn't part of our memories of her.  It's hard to imagine her at that age.  I've seen pictures of course but it's almost like they are of someone else's child.   I've had to let go of those dreams of being able to feed a baby myself or even bottle feed.  That smell of a tiny baby, it's so distinctive so emotive. 

Lately though, circumstances have opened that door and we've had to reconsider whether having a baby might be something that we would want.  Circumstances within Katie's birth family have meant that we might possibly have a much younger addition to our family than we were previously considering.  In many ways this would be ideal.  For Katie to have a blood relation, sharing the same birth mother, living with us.  For about 10 days recently it was looking that this would be a real possibility for us.  We had to think about having an almost newborn living with us.  After an initial moment of panic (and me commenting that I'm quite fond of having my sleep time!) we thought it would be a scenario that would be good for us as a family.  Of course I am a much older and wiser adopter nowadays so I sent a list of questions to our Social Worker about the issues that we felt needed to be clarified before we could move ahead.  Those questions have highlighted that, at the current time (as I thought), there is still much to be assessed.  People within the birth family need to be consulted as to whether they would be able to offer the child a home.  This is as it should be, of course, but it will potentially tie up this issue for quite some time ahead.  What do we do?  Do we wait on the possibility of this happening or do we move ahead with our adoption plans as they were before this scenario was raised and see what happens?

We have actually decided to do the latter.  We have said that we would be very interested in discussing this particular child further, should that situation arise but we need to press on.  Katie has been waiting long enough for a sibling.  She wants to have a sibling so badly and we are concerned about the potential age gap between them if we leave it much longer.  Interestingly I have been informed that there are more babies available for adoption in our area at the current time so, who knows what the future may bring.  We had been pretty set on a child around 18 months - 2.5 years who would be a playmate for Katie.  We had also been set on adopting her a sister.  If nothing else, events over the past month or so have forced us to be a little more open in our plans and we have now decided that we will be open to the idea of having a boy (there were reasons why we thought having a boy might not be suitable for us but Katie seems to be growing out of her willy obsession now - finally!).

So who knows that the future will bring.  I do know that our adoption is moving forward very slowly.  As I commented to our Agency Social Worker only this week, the ship doesn't appear to have enough sailors up at HQ.  Information is not being followed up and our files are rather empty for a family who has been in the system for over a year now.  Our list of referees was misplaced so we've provided that again.  Our CRB checks are still not back despite being completed in June.  Thankfully our medicals are back and all passed OK.  So much for the 8 months process we were promised!

All good things come to those who wait....and wait.....and wait... eh?

As for the baby scenario.  Well, I know my life will still be amazing if I didn't have a baby.  It's not the end of the world for me.  It's interesting the emotions that this month have brought up though.  I just want a child that is right for our family.  That is the over-riding consideration here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Contact Letters

How quickly that time of the year comes around and it's time to write the twice annual contact letters again.  The anxiety that creeps in again about what to write and how to write it.  The delaying tactics that I use to avoid writing them.  I avoid, not because I don't want to write to them, not at all. It's because I feel like I have the lives of lots of people in my hands as I share news of the past 6 months and answer questions asked in the replies I've received.

I had a very difficult question to answer this time.  Do we show Katie the letters we receive?  The answer is almost guaranteed to be painful for the reader but I can't lie.  No, we don't read your letters to her...yet....but we time, when she is older.  As much as I would love to simplify ours and Katie's lives and be her Birth Mother, the reality is that I'm not.  How I would love to spare her having to wrap her thoughts and emotions around this whole other family of people whose lives and histories are so very intertwined with her.  But that's like me being protected from some of the harsher realities of my own life.  Those events and experiences have shaped who I am.  They've shaped my choices and the life I have carved out for myself.  I can no more wish away part of Katie's life and heritage than I can my own so I want to ensure that the letters I send are informative but that they are also sent with warmth and kindness and generosity of spirit and responsibility.  What I write now may influence her future relationships with her birth family.  It may influence how the recipients are feeling when they read the letter and afterwards.  I feel responsible for ensuring they know that we are taking care of her and that we love her and that we are not busy bitching about them all the time.  I can't obviously pitch it to them like that as that feels a tad........ direct.  I want to reassure them that we are not dismissing their very existence; that we know they have feelings.  I want to do all that without actually saying all that, if you know what I mean?

Those who know me well will know that I try and take far too much responsibility for everything going on around me.  It's a part of my personality that was developed in my own, quite difficult, childhood.  I do try and control things so that I know what's coming and what to prepare for.  Of course my life has not been like that at all and I've had to learn (albeit reluctantly) to relax a bit on the reigns and let life just happen.  It's inevitable though that I feel responsible for these letters.  The written word is very powerful.  It stays around long after the writer has moved on to other projects.

Those who know me well also know that when I'm trying to be subtle it will take me about 1000 more words to say what I would like to say in one word!  I'm a real bull in a china-shop Taurean at times!  Writing the reply to that question was no exception.  I couldn't just say "No".  It is more of a softer "not yet...." but then I needed to explain why it's a "not yet" so that the reader can understand that there are solid foundations that my reasoning sits upon.  "No we haven't read your letters to Katie but we have shown her the photos you've sent and explained who's in them.  We don't feel that she is ready to face the reality that she is adopted, rather than merely the concept as she currently does.  We are concerned that bringing too much to her at the current time, on top of leaving her pre-school; starting school; and preparing for us to adopt a sibling, might be emotionally too much for her.  Eventually it would be good if she could participate in the letter writing."  I explained that this was our hope.  Of course, she may not want to but she might. I also have to try and explain this in an ordinary, non psychological, non adoptive-parent kind of way.  I'm sure my A'Level English Lit exam was easier to craft!

I don't want to upset the person reading the letter any more than they've already been upset by the circumstances that they are a part of. I don't want to be smug "look what I have and you don't parent".  I am a proud parent.  I am a delighted parent.  I am all the things that parents are supposed to be but I can't rub their noses in it. I can't be cruel.  Writing the letters makes me feel like the cruelest person on earth at times.  There you's a bag of salt to rub into your open wound!

But Katie is my priority in all this.  What's best for Katie?  Of course I don't actually know the answer to that. I don't know how she'll feel about all this when she is older.  Will she embrace it or reject it?  Will she hate me for sharing all this information and anecdotes and stories about her and her life?  Can you see why I put off writing these letters?  I am trying to get it right whilst knowing that I am writing as the person who is bringing up the child that they wanted in their family.  A child I am sure they love but, for a variety of reasons, weren't able to be the parents that she needed and deserved.  Feelings about birth parents aren't always clear cut for an adopter.  We can feel angry about the background of our child and want to protect our children from the harsh realities of that. We are usually parenting the damage caused by that initial parenting, or lack of.   It would be easy to villify them.  In our case I can see the wider issues around their circumstances and why things happened the way they did.  It doesn't change the fact that Katie was at risk but it does make me understanding of why she was at risk.

Once I've done all that I then have to pick the photograph to accompany the letter.  I have several letters to write.  One family member writes back and I feel we actually have a lovely letter writing relationship.  I am hoping that we might even be able to meet up sometime soon so that I can actually meet a member of Katie's birth family.  I want to reward all that effort and bravery with a lovely picture, but then I start to worry about what might happen to that picture.  I worry even more about the picture that is sent to a recipient who is on Facebook.  I would love to send beautiful and clear pictures but I daren't because I am concerned that they may appear on Facebook and Katie's anonymity be at risk.

Am I overthinking all this or do other adopters have this anxiety around this issue?

All I do know is this is why I'm going on an adoption workshop next week on the subject of.....


Who knows...I might even have some answers at the end of it!

Useful links: 

BAAF:               What is Contact?