Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Layer Cake of Mothers Day....

Stop if you will, just for a moment.  Close your eyes and take a breath and ask yourself...

"What does Mothers Day mean to me?"

What emotions do you feel in your stomach and heart and mind?  Do you feel peaceful and full of love?  Do you feel irritated or sad?  Are you conjuring up happy memories or are your thoughts more complex?

The word "Mother" is an emotive word in adoption.  It's a big word for everyone, as is the word "Father".  I'm going to focus on "Mother" today because on Sunday it's Mothering Sunday here in the UK.  It's the annual day where mothers everywhere are supposed to be dreaming of having breakfast in bed, along with a home-made card and some flowers and card makers; flower sellers; restaurateurs and publicans are hoping to turn a good profit.  Facebook will be awash with pictures of these flowers and cards and Hallmark-esque pictures with sentimental quotes about how wonderful mothers are will be liked and shared by the masses.

Mothering Sunday in the UK sort of has its history in the Christian Church.  A High Anglican called Constance Smith (1978-1938) was inspired by a campaign in the USA by Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) to introduce a day to honour Mothers.  Anna Jarvis was motivated by honoring the death of her own mother on 9th May.  Constance Smith believed a day for mothers was "was fully expressed in the liturgy of the Church of England for the fourth Sunday of Lent".  This link went back centuries to the Pre-Reformation connotations of Laetare Sunday on which the Introit, the first prayer of the Mass, says: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her ... and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”  Constance wanted the day to be spread throughout all the different church faiths and this then spread via the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, along with emotional feelings from mothers who's sons had been lost during the First World War.  As an addendum The Telegraph noted that neither Constance Smith nor Anna Jarvis ever became mothers themselves. Anna Jarvis regretted the growing commercialisation of the day, even to disapproving of pre-printed Mother’s Day cards. “A printed card means nothing,” she said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

That's quite a history and it sends a powerful message about honouring our mothers.  But what if we don't want to honour our mothers or think fondly of them?  What if the word "mother" is too emotional and complicated to be able to link with hearts and flowers?  What of the people in the world who have been abused or removed from their mothers? What if your mother has died? What if someone doesn't have a mother but has two fathers? What if someone has two mothers? What of all the single parents?  How might they feel on this day?

For adopted children, during their life, it might be a day of very mixed feelings.  On the one hand they may love their adoptive mother deeply and want to be involved in all the traditional ceremonies.  They may have spent the past week in school making their beautiful card (I know Katie has!).  What if they were adopted by a single male adopter or have two fathers? Does that cause untold anxiety for the teachers trying to work out what to do who are probably panicking about getting it right for the parent(s)?  I know I will treasure that card but how might Katie feel in years to come about Mothering Sunday?  Might this day be one that raises sadness and questions about her Birth Mother?  It does beg the question of whether both Mothers Day and Fathers Day have gone the same way that Christmas has and become more about cards and presents and a picture postcard image of what a family "should" look like.  Many of the people I know now have non-stereotypical family life.

I have no issue with Katie or Pip asking me questions about their Birth Parents and TCM and I will answer their questions to the best of our ability but I do wonder how this day might make her feel in years to come.  You can't hide from painful emotions really but having a day to really highlight them is really tough on so many people. I also wonder what this may all mean for me as their Mum.

Mothers Day is a cake of many layers for me.  It is a day I dreamt about with hopeful yearning for many years whilst we were trying to start our family.  It was poignant that we were having our introductions with Katie over the Mothering Sunday period four years ago.  It was so special spending our first Mothers Day together.  Yet the day is bittersweet for me.  It highlights that my own mother and I have not seen each other or spoken in over 20 years and the reasons for that.  This year it is also a reminder that my Mother-in-Law's memory is deteriorating and we don't know how long it will be before she is unable to hold onto the memories of her life and her family.  Throughout my life I've probably spent more days trying to avoid the day than I have actually celebrating it.

When TCM asked me what I wanted to do on Mothers Day this year I looked at him with some confusion in my eyes.  I realised it wasn't about what I wanted.  It was about honouring his mother.  The only way we can do this as a family is with a family meal at home.  Nana isn't able to really eat out these days and I've written before about the stress that is created between Katie and Nana when we eat together so the meal probably won't exactly be a cheery affair but it's TCM's mum and I want to try and ensure he has those last few memories of his mum whilst she is still able to enjoy the meal with us.  Don't go thinking I'm all altruistic though. It's taken me all week to stop feeling childish about my own feelings of loss of what I might want to do on Sunday (yay for the lingering feelings of depression!).  I childishly just want to just be able to do something "normal" on Mothers Day but the universe moves in its own little way and things are what they are.  I do feel like I've spent a lot of my life having to make the best of situations though and I would love to be able to celebrate this day with my rosy-tinted glasses on.  Even writing this blog post has brought up a myriad of emotions in me from anger and sadness to bitterness and all the way up to love and happiness.

But then, having said all that, I am the person that I am because of all the experiences I have had and without those experiences I wouldn't have walked along the path that brought me to the two wonderful children that I have in my life and who I love with a love that is the fiercest I have ever known in my life.  Mothers Day is more than just a meal with added portions of stress on the menu.  It's not about a Hallmark snapshot of perfection.  It will be about feeling the love in the card that Katie has made and kissing my gorgeous son on our first Mothers Day together and giving thanks for the many blessings that my children bring.  I know I won't be getting a lie-in or breakfast in bed on Sunday but that's OK.  I will light a candle to acknowledge the journeys that brought them to us though, both theirs and ours.  Before you say it, I recognise that I am an over-thinker.  It's a blessing and a curse (as my lovely remedial massage therapist says of her ability to incur the most awful yet healing pain on me).  If I didn't think as much as I do then I wouldn't write this blog and reflect on our lives in the way that I do.  I would sometimes like to just be able to go with the flow, without the baggage of questioning and thinking; to not carry the "what if" with me and just enjoy this specific Mothers Day for all that it brings. I take the world onto my shoulders and try and understand everyone's point of view and feelings and that's a tall order to cook up.

Now I've gotten all my thoughts out of my system and out into the ether I'm going to try to celebrate being a Mum and enjoying all that that brings because I'd actually hate to miss out on all the good stuff because my head is too busy thinking about the bigger stuff.  

What does Mothers Day mean to you?  Do you want to share my layer cake with me?

Monday, 24 March 2014

The National Fostering Agency: Part 1

Today I am presenting the first of three blog pieces written by the National Fostering Agency.....


A Few Things Foster Parents Would 
Like Other People To Know......

When you tell people you’re a foster parent you can usually expect a reaction. These reactions can vary greatly but almost everyone has something to say, a question to ask or an opinion they want to express. These can range from the knowledgeable and interested to the sometimes rather ignorant and offensive.

As a foster parent, you learn to expect some kind of reaction from people because the job you’re doing is different. It’s just that sometimes you really wish some people would think a few seconds longer before they open their mouths and say something silly.

It would actually be wonderful if more people were able to understand why it is we do it and try not make assumptions based on their own lives and value base. But by talking to us about our role people can really begin to see what it is like and why we want to do it. If you’re reading this and you’re not a foster parent, then here are some things that most foster parents like for you to know:

We’re not special....

Honestly we're not!  It gets a little frustrating being told that you’re a saint or an angel just for doing something you really enjoy. It’s simply not true and it can feel a little embarrassing although we do understand that mostly people mean this as a compliment. If the postman enjoys delivering letters in all weathers you don’t tell them that they are an angel, so why us? The majority of foster parents do it because they love having the kids around and get just as much back from the relationships with their foster children.

What concerns us is the more we link fostering with sainthood, the more it puts ordinary people off doing it. And that is a real shame because the truth is that we’re far from saints, we’re actually just like you.

Please don't assume the worst about Foster Children....

Many people assume that because the kids are being fostered that they are somehow troubled or flawed in a serious way. Of course they are not perfect but then in reality no-one is. We’re all people and we all have problems. Our aim is to help the children recover from their problems so they're not held back in life. It might surprise you that, despite some of the trauma in their lives, foster kids are some of the brightest, funniest and kindest people in the world.

Please don’t judge our children.....

People make a lot of judgements about the kids we foster and they're mostly inaccurate assumptions. Many people have no real idea what life is like for these kids or indeed their parents. Making judgements about people when you don't know them or their situation really doesn't help, and it especially doesn't help the kids.

Letting go is really hard.......

Part of the fostering role is that the children move on sometimes. They may move on to adoption or back to their birth family or another relative.  This is hard for us and it isn't something you get used to. It doesn’t ever get any easier over time and please don’t assume that we somehow become desensitised to it. When you say that you could never do it, it might surprise you to know that it can make us feel like we are somehow uncaring – and nothing could ever be further from the truth.

Fostering is actually a hard job .....

Some people have been known to make comments about fostering being ‘easier than having a real job’ or ‘getting paid to babysit’. These folks really don't know how wrong they are. Fostering can be challenging, emotionally draining and very, very tough. And many of us often do this while having other full time jobs to hold down too. It can be really hard to juggle all the different roles. It can be tempting to challenge the people who make such comments to a job swap for a few days!

This is small percentage of the things we wished other people knew about fostering and us as foster parents and there are also a lot of rewards in the job we do. It’s ok to ask us about being a foster parent but if we could ask just one thing.....please, don’t make up your mind before you do or make assumptions about what it must be like - you simply don’t know until you have tried.

Would you like to be a Foster Parent?

If Fostering is something you are interested in doing or you would like to talk to us further then come and check us out at: 

NFA Website at  or
Email: or
Phone: 0845 200 4040


Editors Note from Gem at Life with Katie: 
This post was written by the National Fostering Agency

No fee or recompense was received for sharing this post.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

ReMoved and the NFA

Over the next few weeks I will be hosting some guest blog posts from the National Fostering Agency about fostering and Foster Carers.  The aim is the raise awareness of the role that Foster Carers perform and things Foster Carers might want others to know in a series of posts and my aim will be to tie it all together with some experiences of my own.  I would love to hear your experiences as well.  Please share them with us all.

We are indebted to both Katie and Pip's Foster Carers for the wonderful job they did.  Both children were well taken care of both physically and emotionally.  They were loved as if they were members of the family. You can't ask more than that.  Both Katie and Pip were in foster care from birth.  Katie stayed for 2 years and Pip for 7 months.  We have stayed in touch with both sets of Foster Carers for several reasons.....

Katie was incredibly attached to her Foster Carers and the whole family to her.  We didn't feel it was in anyone's interests to sever contact with them as is often the advice to do.  We have not regretted that decision.  Katie often has questions about her birth family and her Foster Carers are able to fill in lots of blanks and I think this will prove beneficial throughout the years.  Katie does not feel rejected by her Foster family because we see them every few months.  They are a part of her life, not the focus as they were at the start of her living with us, but they are a constant.  She knows where they are and she knows they love her. In many ways, Katie's foster family were her first real family and we never wanted her to feel that she did anything wrong or that they wanted her to leave.  This is not to negate or miss out Katie's birth family but to support Katie's emotional welfare in recognising the bond she had with her foster family and honouring her memories.

Pip was only with his foster family for 7 months but he was a big part of the family during that time. Pip also lived with a large family with lots of children around.  It's one thing moving a child on from the adult Foster Carers but a whole different issue when there are children involved, I think.  We could see the impact Pip's leaving was having on different members of his foster family, particularly the children, and we offered to stay in touch to help their transition.  Our contact with his foster family is less frequent than with Katie's because he won't hold onto as many memories of living there but he does remember their house when we visit and gets very excited to see his Foster Carer and the children, and they him.  Pip's Foster Carer is also very important because she too had a relationship with their Birth Mother and can answer questions about that period in their lives when the time comes.

It obviously helps that we get along really well with both sets of Foster Carers.  That isn't always the experience for Adopters and I think it can be a strange time to meet someone for the first time i.e. when you're going to adopt a child that they have been taking care of; and loving; not to mention the fact that you spend an awful lot of time in their house during introductions. The Foster Carer may do things entirely differently than you might as a parent and there needs to be a lot of rubbing along together to make it all work.  The child might have been placed for adoption against the advice or wishes of the Foster Carer.  It's a very intense and emotional time.  The Foster Carer may be managing the emotional needs of the children who are remaining in their family be that their birth children or other fostered children.  That is a tough thing to do and must be stressful. The Foster Carer is the person who prepares your child to become part of your family.  It is their skills that help with the transition.  If a Foster Carer feels negatively about the Adoptive Parents or the fact that the child is being placed for adoption, for whatever reason, this can impact tremendously on the relationship both parties have.  I have heard many stories about the relationship between Foster Carers and Adopters over the past 5 years; some good stories and some not so good (a few were even downright concerning).

I do think our relationship gets very confused by the insistence from Social Services that you don't remain in contact with each other.  I personally don't get this unless it's what everyone feels is for the best.  I can understand the need to transfer the attachment from Foster Carer to Adopter and for this not to be confused but I believe that, in the longer term for the child, it is important to maintain those links if the placement was a positive placement within the Foster Carer family.

Anyway to kick off my link with the NFA I am sharing below a video that is currently bring promoted around You Tube and Social Media sites.  It is called ReMoved and tells the story of two children who are the victims of an abusive home and are taken into foster care.  The story is incredibly emotional to watch but I do think it's an important video for anyone who is involved with adoption or foster caring to watch because it raises so many different issues about foster care. You can see how a simple act of kindness can trigger a painful memory and understand why a child who has lived in an abusive situation might react in certain ways. Personally for me, the children look so much like Katie and Pip that I just cried my way through the whole video. I certainly don't ever underestimate the role that Foster Carers or Adopters perform but many people do.  Many people think that once a child is removed from an abusive situation that solves their problems but the truth is very far from that.  It's important to try and wrap your head around it though if you're planning to be either a Foster Carer or an Adopter and ask yourself what would you do to help these children?

Have a watch and let me know what you think.......

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Where we're at.....

I've been understandably a little self-absorbed just lately with how I've been feeling. It's amazing how having a little bit of sunshine make the world seem a brighter place isn't it?  I started and stopped antidepressants. I had a really bad reaction to the tablets I'd been prescribed after 6 days but am actually feeling OK now I've stopped them and without taking anything else. I am waiting to start some counselling though which I hope will help re-frame some of the thoughts and feelings I've been having about some things in my life.  I feel a bit more optimistic about where things are going. I'm definitely a Spring girl!

This week brings the anniversary of our panel date to be approved again last year and also heralds 4 years since Katie moved into her Forever Home. 4 years! I can't even begin to imagine where that time has gone. I'm so glad I write this blog because it all goes by in a flash and I can barely remember that little girl we first met.  Having this record of our lives is amazing. I'm re-reading lots of the posts as I am having to put all the images back into them after Google + removed them all.

So how are things generally - frustrations at Google+ aside?

Well things are generally ticking along reasonably well in the Katie household.  Katie had a brilliant report at her Parent/Teacher meeting last week. We are very proud of how well she is doing in school this year.  She is reading and writing beautifully and she is finally starting to grasp some of her number work.  She has had success in the swimming pool when she gained her 100m swimming badge and also gained her BAGA Badge 6 for Gymnastics last week.  She seems happier at the moment and full of cheek and spark and those Elsa boots. She doesn't always put that spark to good use, but then she is a 6 year old girl who is always going to be a bit of a whirlwind and someone who knows what she wants and isn't stopping until she gets it. I'm not saying I don't have days when I dream of bedtime and a glass of wine, because I'm not going to lie. We've had a few days this week where both she and Pip are whingeing constantly and tears seem to fall very readily and tempers are flying at the turn of a dime but generally, looking at the bigger picture, things are really settling down and Katie and Pip's relationship is really blossoming.

Pip adores Katie.  His face lights up when he sees her and he saves his best kisses for her.  I have to beg for mine but Katie just has to look at him and he'll toddle over to her for a kiss which is utterly adorable.  Katie and Pip are also starting to play together more.  They love playing hide and seek and chase and they love having a bath together. I'll be sad when Katie is too old for them to have their bath together.  Pip is too young to grasp the concept of hiding when playing but he loves to seek and he's really quite good at it.  It has also been a way for me to check his hearing because Katie will make sounds to give him a clue and I've been watching his responses to see if he is hearing well.  It all looks good from where I'm standing.

Pip himself is coming along in leaps and bounds.  He is nearly 17 months old now.  He is walking and running well and trying to speak.  He babbles away with me and I do understand some of what he is saying but there is one word that he says over and over and I have no idea what he is trying to say.  He says something that sounds like "baden".  To me that means "bath" in German so I am totally clueless. It doesn't help that he points to almost everything and says "baden" so he's not exactly giving me help to work it out.

Pip is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde though at the moment as he has entered into the "almost Terrible Two's".

He HATES having his nappy changed.  

I can't write the word HATES in big enough font to really explain how painful a process it now is.  It takes ages to change him because he fights and kicks and screams and cries his little heart out.  He eventually calms down and we can change it in a jiffy but every single nappy it's the same - actually every single nappy except his bedtime one after his bath.  I've tried singing; I've tried a dummy; I've tried giving him a toy but he just launches that back at me.  I often give him a cuddle to soothe him but as soon as I lay him back down he kicks off again.  It's the same story when I'm putting him in the buggy.  I spend a lot of my day with my hand on his chest forcing him to do things he doesn't want to do. Not good for the soul. I remember a lot of this with Katie though although I've never had a child as young as Pip before so I am learning as I go along. He also has the cutest, most pitiful bottom lip you ever did see.  When he is sad or hurt or feeling slighted out comes the lip with a real story book wobble attached to it.  It is heartbreaking to see.  He'll often then call "Mama" in a sobbing voice and run over to me with his arms outstretched for a picky-up cuddle.  It has to be a picky-up cuddle, not a crouchy-down cuddle though.  He's quite insistent on that and gets very grumpy if I sit down with him which is all very well and good but he's quite heavy and I've managed to strain my back so carrying him is currently a painful challenge and a half.

Speaking of being quite heavy I will just write a bit about Pip's weight.  When Pip first joined us we felt under enormous pressure to reduce his weight.  He weighed almost 2 stone at 7 months old which is way too heavy.  I've not had him weighed since I mutinied after his year weigh-in but he looks like a normal toddler now.  He's a wee bit squishy but he now has normal shaped legs and only a little tummy and only one and a half chins.  Everyone comments on how great he is looking.  I feel vindicated now because I said he would lose it as soon as he started walking and I was right.  We have been very careful with his diet as well though and watched his calorie intake carefully.  He's not been on a diet though by any stretch of the imagination.  I think by the time he is 2 years old he will be a regular sized chap and everyone will wonder what all the worry was about.  It is a relief though I will admit and I do think we were put under far too much pressure by health professionals and our adoption team regarding his weight.  It was a wonderful feeling when our IRO (Independent Reviewing Officer) commented on how slim he was looking a week or so ago.

Speaking of IRO's we still don't have a court date for the granting of our Adoption Order.  I think my prediction of it being in May may well be accurate at this rate.  The last we heard the DWP had been contacted (after a delay) by the courts to seek the address of Pip's Birth Mother. If that request comes back with an address then the courts will need to write to her again letting her know about the court date.  Our IRO was very perplexed by our delay because he knows of many other cases, with similar circumstances, where the Adoption Order was granted immediately. I can only think the Judge has had his fingers burned at some point in his career and his being very cautious.  It's all frustrating though.  We just want to get on with our lives now.  I've spent far too much of my life in the adoption process now.  We were 15 years trying to start our family naturally and have now spent 5 years of our lives embroiled in our 2 adoptions plus a gap of 2 years in the middle when we first adopted Katie.  It's a long old time and with both those matters in mind I think it would be nice to spend some time just being a family with nothing else going on.  As I write those words I am laughing to myself because I know that there's no way that will ever happen because life rarely ever gives you time to be idle.  There is always something that is going on.

I can dream though......

Friday, 7 March 2014

Moving Forward...

Firstly I want to say a big Thank You to everyone who has contacted me via the blog and via email and Facebook to share their stories of Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) after my post on PADS last week.  I thank each and every one of you.  It seems I am very much not alone in how I'm currently feeling which really does lend credence to the fact that this issue is a) not spoken much about and b) relatively common.  It is also saddening to think how many people suffer silently through fear of being seen as flaky or unable to cope and the potential over-reaction from their Social Worker.  In case you're wondering, no, I haven't talked to our Social Worker yet about how I'm feeling. I feel far too anxious about it and what might happen.  I may write about these issues but it doesn't mean I am a trail blazer.  In fairness I do think our Social Worker would understand and be supportive but the knot of anxiety I feel in my stomach even thinking about talking to her makes me feel sick.  I'm going to see how I feel over the next week or so but I do think I've been feeling like this a long time and our placement has been totally fine so I don't see the point in bringing it up now.  Depression is very common in our current time.  It is a horrible experience but it is mostly surmountable.  Having experienced depression previously I know I will recover.  I also know how I am effected by it and how best to help myself.  I am quite cross with myself for taking so long to recognise the symptoms though but I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  My life currently has a significant amount of stressors that are sapping my energy and I need to decide where to spend my energy points more wisely.  I don't feel that I'm not coping at home or need extra support but I do need to put my energy just into my family unit until I feel stronger and less invisible again.

So with these issues in mind I visited my GP this week and tried to talk at him for as much as I was able to
within my 10 minute appointment slot.  I would just stop to ask how the hell a GP can fully diagnose you with depression in 10 minutes?  I tried to help as much as possible.  I don't see the point in sitting there and saying nothing but it generally rushes out in a flood.  I have a lot of stuff going on medically that might actually be impacting on me as well as all the adoption related issues.  I'm peri-menopausal which can bring depression along with it plus being Coeliac brings it's own challenges.  I don't really feel that he sufficiently assessed my situation if I'm honest and admitted he was surprised that I might feel depressed at a time when I should theoretically be happy *holds head in hands at the lack of training GPs clearly receive on this issue*.  We discussed CBT counselling and anti-depressants and I've decided to do both.  We then negotiated the anti-depressant I would take.  I will just say that I hate anti-depressants with a passion and I know which ones I won't take.  Not because of the job they do but because of how I feel when I'm taking them however I know when the need is greater than the dislike so I'm now back in the world of the horrible taste in my mouth and yawning all day long.  It's not just a normal yawn either - it links right down in my stomach and makes me feel sick.  It will pass and I will start to feel better I know but it was with a heavy heart and a feeling of resignation that I opened that first pack.  My over-riding desire though is to be a good mum. It's more important to me than anything else at the moment.  I don't want to continue feeling flat or angry or put-upon or haunted by the past.  I realised that everything I was doing I did with a sigh.  I want to embrace life and enjoy each day. As a result of this I need a two pronged attack this time .....

There are things in my life that need to change.  One particular relationship that has been set with a long history attached.  It is a relationship that saps my energy and my mind and takes over my life on a daily basis. I have been trying to make changes within this relationship for over a year now and mostly it causes arguments.  The ripple effect of the changes is painful but necessary.  There is still a long way to go though and I know I need another insight to help me through it.  This is where the CBT counselling comes in.  I am learning to live with the guilt that I feel when I withdraw my attention and support to that relationship but it is tough and it erodes my self-esteem.  A close friend told me this week that I need to decide how I want my family unit to be and then send that intention out to the universe and if others don't like it those are their issues to deal with.  This is very true but I can feel a huge resistance in me at being so assertive, especially with this particular person.  I yearn for an easy life without daily confrontations. I am content with small things really and I hate dissent and arguments and I don't like avoiding phone calls.  I am not a mug or unassertive by any stretch of the imagination but I do go out of my way for other people and like to help but I often bend to what they want, mostly because I'm too tired to work out what I want.  Most of my energy is needed for my family unit these days whereas once upon a time I had energy to spare because we didn't have children. The trouble with that unfortunately is that relationships have to change as well.  People have to accept that when you have children your focus shifts and you can't be there all the time for them as well.  When people can't accept that you have a problem.  I also take responsibility for facilitating the difficulties in this relationship and have realised that endlessly helping someone isn't always the best thing for them because my help might be preventing them from standing on their own two feet. My rescuer tendencies need to be kept in check I think.

The time has come to toughen up and brave those ripples but I need someone to hold my hand whilst I do it because the fall-out won't be pretty. I'm hoping that counselling will help me with that.  Having this relationship to overhaul whilst continuing to manage Katie's behaviour and Pip's frustrations at being a toddler and not being understood plus worries about Nana and Pops and medical issues feels challenging; possibly a little too challenging in my current delicate state but I know I have to do this in order to get myself feeling well.  The anti-depressants are merely a prop to help me do that.  I rather suspect without all this peripheral stress I wouldn't have taken the anti-depressants but I'm wise enough to know when I need that added support otherwise I'll fall at the first hurdle.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Pawse for thought about PADS!

There has been a lot more media interest and reporting lately of Post Natal Depression (PND).  This is in part to some very brave celebrities openly admitting that they have suffered from the syndrome.  Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtney Cox have paved the way towards acceptance and more understanding of this awful illness and this can only help other mums to recognise their own symptoms and hopefully seek help.

Post Adoption Depression Syndrome or PADS is very similar to PND.  The symptoms are the same but this is a condition that is not widely talked about.  It is in fact a condition that is very much brushed under the carpet and talked about in hushed voices due to the fear of disrupting an adoption placement and a child being removed from their adoptive parents and put back into the care system.

The symptoms of Post Adoption Depression Syndrome are listed in a Factsheet by Adoption UK as:
Either a consistently low mood or marked reduction in the feeling of pleasure must be felt, accompanied by some of the following symptoms.
  1. Feelings of anxiety, panic, inadequacy, being overwhelmed by responsibility, being slowed down, inability to get any enjoyment out of life, worthlessness, guilt, low self-esteem, loss of identity, loneliness.
  2. Physical symptoms: aches and pains, stomach problems, back problems, sleep problems.
  3. Tension headaches, lack of energy, fatigue, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, loss of or gain in appetite. 
  4. Mood: irritable, angry, despairing, pessimistic.
According to a survey conducted by Harriet McCarthy in 2007 and reported in an article entitled Post Adoption Depression up to 65% of adoptive parents experience PADS.  That is a very high proportion and a figure that needs to be taken seriously by adopters and by Social Workers.  It is a figure that certainly shouldn't be spoken about in whispers.  Adoptive parents need to know that this is something that can happen and that they are supported if it does.  I can remember being told about the possibility of feeling depressed post-placement but equally I know of second time adopters who have felt vulnerable during their home assessment for admitting that they have felt a period of feeling low after adopting. The general feeling amongst adopters is that we don't really talk about Post Adoption Depression but that needs to change.  We need to be able to support one another; to access treatment and support without prejudice or a threat to an adoptive placement.

So what can cause depression in an adoptive parent?  Reports suggest that it is the primary carer who is most susceptible.  Depression can effect men as well as women.  If you think about it logically though it's hardly surprising that the figure is so high......

Many parents come to adoption after years of failed attempts to start a family biologically.  They may have experienced significant heartbreak during that time.  For most prospective adopters there is a lot tied up in hearing a Panel give approval for them to adopt.  It may be that they are a same-sex couple who has experienced discrimination and has felt that becoming a parent was something that was out of their reach.  For me, after repeated miscarriages, hearing someone say that I was going to become a parent meant everything to me.  I was incredibly ill after our first panel after the enormous build up of expectation and anxiety.  I think I was literally holding my breath for many months and the relief just spilled out of me.

So what happens next?  You wait anxiously to be matched and have an emotional decision when a match comes.  Is this your child?  You decide yes or no.  Both outcomes are filled with emotion.  Once you are matched the anxiety continues because the match has to be approved by another panel.  Adopters are discouraged from bonding with their prospective child in case the match is not approved by panel.  Of course you're going to bond.  That bond is so important to you and your child.  It's ridiculous to discourage those emotions.  We're not robots who can turn their emotions on and off. 

After matching panel there is a scurry of activity whilst you make preparations to your
home to accommodate your new child and then, once you are feeling really tired after all the painting and buying and preparations, you meet your child.  The anxiety and excitement surrounding meeting your child for the first time is indescribable. You then have a period of generally 1 to 2 weeks of introductions where you tear up and down your local county (generally) having to arrive at some ungodly hour to greet your new son or daughter as they awaken or go to bed and generally get to know their routine and their likes and dislikes.  Slowly you take over that routine and try to absorb everything their Foster Carer is able to share.  You have to cope with being in someone else's house (and they with you being there) which can feel awkward (I am incapable of changing a nappy quickly with a FC watching!).  Then, when you are even more tired than you knew it was possible to be before meeting your child, you are allowed to take your child home.

You arrive home exhausted and excited.  The day has finally arrived.  You may have fallen in love instantly with your child or you may not know how the heck you feel.  All you know is that you are now a parent. That first night when your child is sleeping in their room can bring about emotions you didn't even know you had within you.  What you are expected to feel by those around you is excitement, happiness...all your dreams have come true.

Then the hard work really begins.  Helping your child settle in.  At this point you are probably so tired you just want to head off on a long holiday in the sun but you need to put all your energy into your child.  Your child is unlikely to be a baby who might sleep during the day.  This child is probably up and about and busy all the time.  You probably won't get a break from being No. 1 Entertainer as well as being a therapist and cook and washer of more clothes than you imagined it was possible to wash during a week.  Your child may be very unsettled and need a lot of reassurance.  You may already have another child who feels angry and unsettled by the arrival of their new sibling.  You will probably spend half the day wondering what on earth you are supposed to be doing.  You tie yourself up knots second guessing everything that is going on around you and hoping you're doing a good job.

I'm painting a dark picture and I don't mean to.  I'm trying to explain the emotions and exhaustion involved in an adoption.  This is also an incredibly happy time.  It is the best feeling in the world when your child comes home but there is so much more tied up into it than that.  Don't forget the fact that you will have weekly Social Worker visits, which will generally bring with them some mad and panicky cleaning to prove you are coping and on top of everything. 

Add to all this the anxiety around your child becoming legally adopted which can take many, many months post placement and I ask is is any wonder 65% of adopters experience a period of depression?  I wonder if the figure is actually higher?  The pressure and stress and expectation is very high throughout the whole process.

For me, all this has particular significance because I have suffered from several periods of depression in the past primarily linked to recurrent miscarriage and I was very anxious that this would prevent me from being able to adopt.  I recovered from each period of depression with the aid of counselling and anti-depressants but I was left with a susceptibility towards becoming depressed.  Add to this the fact that I am Coeliac and over the past few years have experienced periods of anaemia from malabsorbtion of nutrients.  Anaemia makes me feel very tired, not always ideal with two children around. I'm a fairly healthy and robust person generally though and get on with things to the best of my ability.  Whilst I was very tired after we adopted Katie and felt quite overwhelmed at becoming a parent whilst negotiating the adoption process, I wouldn't say I was depressed after she arrived at all.  It did take a while before I felt like I was back to myself again though.

A little over a year ago however we were going through the adoption process for our second time.  The process had already taken longer than it was supposed to.  I was feeling stressed and frustrated after our first panel date was postponed.  We also already knew about Pip being born and that there was a likelihood of being matched with him and were waiting for our panel date to arrive.  We didn't know what was going to happen with Pip and there was a wall of silence from Social Services on this subject after initially being asked if we would be happy to adopt him several months previously.  This was a time of possible excitement but also confusion.  What was going on?  We were also managing the fall-out from how Katie was experiencing the adoption process and life felt quite intense.  By the time we were approved and then finally officially matched with Pip I had started to feel quite disengaged from things.  I think I was probably on emotional over-load by that point.  Too many emotions to process and respond to.  Too much anxiety about Katie and how she would cope with having a sibling.  So much to prepare for Pip's arrival.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time we met him.

Once we met Pip we were in the deep end again of introductions and managing not just ourselves but Katie as well.  Katie had a long period of difficult behaviour during this time, which was not unexpected but was challenging and I felt torn between all the different needs and roles in my life.  In addition I felt under enormous pressure to resolve the issue of Pip's weight.  This really weighed (pardon the pun) heavily on me and was the topic of endless conversation with Social Workers and health professionals.  People constantly commented to me about his weight and I suspect I felt all this more deeply due to anxieties about my own weight which is currently increasing at a rate of knots.

TCM has a very demanding job so I am the primary carer for our family.  Life is very busy.  I don't have much time to reflect but was aware that I started to feel emotionally disengaged from quite a lot of my life outside of the home but assumed that I was just tired or anaemic again.  And that was how it felt, like everything was going on around me.  I wasn't really sure where I was in the whole picture but I did know that I was supposed to be the conductor of this orchestra. I was supposed to know the score and somehow manage to bring it all together.  A tall order and I suspect I was being overly tough on the expectations of myself.  I noticed that I started to become very unemotional about things happening outside of the home and I felt less empathy towards others outside our family unit.  I started to feel unmotivated about going to tap dancing and Reiki.  I started to feel unenthusiastic about seeing other people.  Actually there were very few other people to see because Pip napped during the day so we didn't see many people for several months.  My world became very small, just me and Pip during the day and Katie after school.  I spoke to a close friend most days and have always been honest with her about my feelings but I was distracted and struggling to feel interested in anything else going on around me.  My blog has kept me engaged though and I love writing about my family and the life we have, warts and all.  I didn't recognise that my feelings of being unmotivated and stressed and anxious and flat were depression though.  Things got a bit better after the summer holidays and we picked up and carried on.

I then went through an obvious depression in December and I wrote about my feelings  in a post called The Visitor. which was partly triggered by the time of year and partly by significant additional stress from a member of my family, which is still ongoing.  That depression lifted to a significant effect after Christmas but I've recently realised that those feelings of unmotivation and unenthusiasm and feeling flat have continued and that I've probably had them now in one form or another for the best part of a year.  I've noticed I'm eating and sleeping badly and questioning where my life is going a lot.  I'm lethargic and exhausted.  I feel like I don't fit in anywhere and have been feeling sensitive and invisible.  Things have certainly not been helped by a lot of stress surrounding Pip's adoption and lots of delays getting to court and now a postponement of his adoption whilst the location of a birth parent is established.  We have started contact with the Katie and Pip's middle brother, Kip, and, whilst this is very positive, it has not been without its stresses and concerns and it saps my energy significantly.

This second time adoption process has now been going on since September 2012.  That's nearly 2.5 years and an immense amount of stress in our lives.  The end result is wonderful.  I adore both my children and love being with them but it's not actually the end result yet.  We still haven't legally adopted Pip and we have no idea currently when the next court date will be.  There is still that anxiety that Pip could be taken back into care however unlikely it might seem.  At a review meeting this week our Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) commented that I seemed resigned to it all.  I asked him what else I could be at this stage?  I am resigned to the fact that I have no control over any of this process other than looking after my family.  Contacting the courts will not speed up the DWP's tracking process nor will it make the courts write a letter to the missing birth parent any quicker or bring about a response to that letter.  I feel powerless and that doesn't help me feel motivated.  I would ask why the issue of consent (or not) from birth parents is not tackled by the courts at the point when the adoption placement order is granted?  Surely all the paperwork relating to birth parents should be tied up by the courts before a child is even placed with an adoptive family? It shouldn't be resurrected at the point of adoption when a contestment at that point causes strain on so many more people? Surely the courts should make a decision as to whether the birth parents can challenge an adoption before the child is placed within another family? The emotional impact on the adoptive family of all these uncertainties is ridiculously stressful. 

I have realised that I'm probably suffering from mild to moderate depression and that
it probably is Pre/Post Adoption Depression but exacerbated by the amount of other things impacting on our lives.  I'm functioning though, I've not taken to my bed.  Katie is getting to school on time.  I play with my children and do all that they need.  I gain a lot of pleasure from engaging with Pip during the day and Katie after school.  We do homework and go out and do lots of things but I do have to force myself to put on my entertainer hat on many days.  I shower and wash my hair and even put make-up on and make an effort with my appearance (as much as you can make jeans look good!).  I have conversations with the other mums at school.  I am lucky to have some lovely friends I see during the week and their support has kept me going.  If you met me you'd probably have no idea at all that I was feeling depressed but I emotionally switch off as soon as I've finished a conversation with someone or get in the car to go home from somewhere.  I have nothing in me left for outside the home.  I have little interest in anything going on around me that isn't my immediate family or friends.  I'm fed  up with feeling like I have a foot stuck in mud waiting for our family unit to be legalised.  It's hard to make family plans when you can't just take off without approval from Social Services and we can't really get a passport (well not one in our name) for Pip to travel abroad and when you have to carry a medical consent card everywhere with you in case your son needs medical treatment.

I will just note though that I think the adoption process has really triggered how I am feeling.  The intensity; the expectations on adopters; the stress caused by delays; the emotional exhaustion both pre and post placement; the feeling of scrutiny which is important for the assessment but can feel quite intense when under the microscope; the anxiety of how already adopted children will cope with the process; did I mention the endless delays?  Oh yes I did.  It feels like we have been in the adoption process for forever.  It really shouldn't feel like this or take this amount of time surely?

I am not someone who seeks to be overly negative so this post has been difficult to write.  It's long so awards to anyone who's made it to the end!  My natural positivity is a real blessing for me and it keeps me going.  Feeling depressed is really at odds with the person I naturally am.  I am a spiritual person who enjoys the small things in life.  I want to be honest about our experiences though.  I can't paint a perfect picture if this isn't an honest picture.  There is much in my life I am grateful for and gratitude keeps me from disappearing into myself.  I am so lucky to have my family.  I waited so very long for my children that I still can't believe they are here.  I don't want to feel depressed, it's not something I've consciously become, but recognise that under so much pressure and stress that I've not been taking care of myself as well I should and those feelings have crept in and recognise it's time to take action.  I will be going to the GP as soon as I can and will be asking for some help.  I feel confident that I will overcome this period of depression just as I have in the past.  Being depressed does not scare me.  I am able to challenge my negative thoughts although some days they do feel relentless.  I do not feel that this is insurmountable.  I do not feel like I am unable to parent or be an effective parent but it does use energy reserves that are now dwindling fast.  I do recognise that I've allowed too many peripheral stresses to creep in though and need to feel strong and assertive enough to get everything back on track and for that I need some help (and for a significant person in my wider family to lead a less dramatic life!).  I'm actually glad I've recognised what is going on with me and that is mostly due to reading an article in this season's Adoption UK magazine which featured an article on Post-Adoption Depression.   A light bulb flicked on in my head and relief immediately followed.  This is why I've been feeling this way.  I'm not a failure or unwanted.  Now I can do something about it. 

I've decided to speak out and write about this although I do feel anxious at giving myself the label of being depressed particularly as our adoption isn't legalised but I feel it's important to speak out and let people know so that others can do the same and seek help.  I am very confident I will get better. I'm cross with myself for not recognising how I was feeling earlier and why but life is just too busy to focus much on myself these days.  In fact now I know I need help I feel more positive than I have done for months.

I'd love to hear other people's stories.  Have you been effected by Post Adoption Depression?  Did you feel able to let people know how you were feeling or did you feel too anxious about jeopardising your placement?