Saturday, February 28, 2015

Baby Baby!

It's hard not to compare Birdy with Baby Girl. Two gorgeous baby girls, both brought home directly from the hospital, both born around Christmas time. The routines are so familiar, even down to the ubiquitous snow suits to ward off the winter cold.

And yet, in reality, they are very different from each other. Their features and colouring are completely different. Birdy is a much bigger baby. In fact I thought she was a real whopper until her height and weight assessments placed her only between the 25th and 50th centiles. That brought home to me just how tiny Baby Girl was at her regular spot on the 2nd centile! I kept back some of Baby Girl's outgrown clothes and find myself amused that her 3-6 month collection will be mostly useless to Birdy as it consists almost entirely of cotton sundresses and short-sleeved t-shirts, so late was Baby Girl in reaching that size. I have had to go out and buy some more appropriate winter clothing for Birdy (such a hardship!).

Other things are different too. At this age, Baby Girl was still struggling through tiny feeds, many, many times per day, and through the night. Birdy has been sleeping through since virtually week 1, and prefers her milk infrequently, but in massive portions. Baby Girl had early problems with her vision and still wasn't smiling and interacting much at this age - although she made up for that later. No such problem for Birdy who smiles, laughs, coos and follows everything with her very healthy eyes.

Really, there is little in Birdy to remind me of Baby Girl, and yet I think of Baby Girl all the time. During Baby Girl's introductions, I wrote that the hardest day would not be the last day with Baby Girl, but the first with a new placement, and it has proved to be so. The hardest day, and the hardest months, because this new little one is a constant reminder of the one I used to care for, play with, love and nurture.

So I was delighted yesterday to receive an email with up-to-date photographs from Baby Girl's new family. There she is, celebrating Christmas, her birthday, at playgroup, with family and friends, in her bedroom, lounge, high chair, toybox. I haven't heard from them in a while, and seeing these pictures was just what I needed to create a new image of Baby Girl, not with me here, but with her family, there. She has taken her first steps. She can say a few words, including the name of the family dog. She looks as though her elusive teeth might finally be on the way. Her life is with her parents now. Her milestones are theirs to enjoy. And it turns out that I'm happy about that.

It's time to let Baby Girl go and to let Birdy out from under her shadow.


And in other news:

I saw THAT dress (despite being off social media) and it definitely looked white and gold to me. Then, when I found out it was actually black and blue, I looked again and really screwed my eyes up and found it became black and blue. When I relaxed my eyes, the white bits stayed blue, but the black bits went back to gold. Conclusion? Eyes are weird!

I was full of high hopes for OB's swimming lesson last week, and regaled his teacher with tales of his new-found prowess. Unfortunately he then made me look an idiot by reverting totally to type and spending half an hour vaguely flapping his feet around and mostly sinking! Ah well, back to the drawing board!

Having said that, his new skill of dressing himself is apparently here to stay, which has pretty much revolutionised our morning routine. The only problem is that after four years of delighting in dressing him in carefully chosen co-ordinating outfits, I now have to smile sweetly at whatever crazy outfit he's chosen each day. Today it was red MUFC socks, grey joggers, a long-sleeved russet t-shirt, and a navy-blue knitted tank top with Postman Pat on it! Aaargh! Thankfully we didn't have to go out today!

Birdy weighed in at nearly 12lbs this week, thus justifying all the huffing and puffing I'm doing when carrying her around in the car seat.


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Rolling Stone

If you've been following along, you'll know that the dreaded swimming lesson has loomed large in mine and OB's lives over the past, well, around 15 months now. You might have read about our rocky start here. We didn't start out with high hopes, to be fair, as I knew that OB's deep-seated terror of water would be a major inhibiting factor. It's a legacy of his past. I don't know what happened at that overnight contact at his birth mum's when he was only just a year old, but I noted in my foster carer's log that he suddenly became terrified of going in the bath, and he's been struggling with that terror ever since.

So, yeah, I didn't expect quick progress, but it's been, frankly, glacial. They start them out with three circular floats on each arm and remove them one by one as their swimming gets stronger. Eventually, when they can confidently swim widths without flotation aids, front and back, then they are promoted from red hats class to orange hats class. I know that it can take lots of children over a year to graduate from the red hats. We have been going for longer than that, and OB has gone from three armbands to two. The nirvana of orange hats class seems very far away at this point! 

Every half term, the leisure centre runs daily intensive courses for learner swimmers. It's not easy to find out about these courses as they don't seem to be advertised at all, and it's even harder to actually get your child a place, but this half term I managed it, and so OB has been swimming every morning for five days. It's been a 'two birds with one stone' sort of event as not only was I hoping to help OB with his swimming (after all, it's hard to make progress at anything on only one half-hour lesson per week) but also it filled every morning of the void that is half term with a meaningful activity which doesn't involve any paint or glue. Win-win!

And it's been amazing. By the second day, OB was trying out a load of new skills, including swimming on his back without the teacher holding him, and the longed-for moment where he let go of the side himself, first on his front and then on his back! Previously he has demanded teacher support before he would move a millimetre from the safety of the poolside. He has swum through the hoop twice, which has involved putting his whole face under the water, and, today, he attempted to float on his back. He couldn't really do it, but he attempted it! For his final width of the day, the teacher removed one of his arm floats and he swam all the way across with only one float on each arm. I don't mind saying, my eyes filled up!

It has been a total success in every way. He has made virtually no progress in the last six months and I just desperately wanted something, anything, that I could praise him for and make a great big deal of. I wanted him to see what progress looks like, and how it feels, so that he could enjoy it and want more of it. It's gone way better than I'd hoped. On Thursday he said, "Mummy, were you proud of me when I swam under the hoop?" Believe me, I was nearly exploding with pride!

And it seems as though success really does breed success. Like a rolling stone, OB has gathered momentum this week in more than just swimming. We have had incident-free toileting, voluntary undressing at bedtime and in the mornings, successful attempts to put on underpants, pants and swimming trunks, and great delight in using a jug to pour his own drinks. I have been concerned about OB's self care skills for a while now as he has shown absolutely no interest in doing anything for himself, but now, suddenly, the experience of 'achievement' has prompted him to seek out more and more. Internal motivation, what every parent dreams of!

In other news, here are a few things I have been unable to tell the world due to my self-enforced absence from social media during Lent:

Someone called OB a 'muppet' at Playgroup last week. I mollified him by telling him that muppets are nice and, to prove it, showed him a CBeebies show called 'Furchester Hotel', which he calls 'Furseshter'. I find that rather cute!

I thought I didn't care who killed Lucy Beale but have in fact watched every episode of Eastenders this week. I wasn't expecting that outcome!

My new boiler came with a wireless thermometer that I can carry from room to room. I am now a total heating nerd.

Birdy has dimples!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

I Still Believe in Adoption

Since becoming a foster carer and then an adoptive parent, I have learned a lot. My eyes have been opened in a very real way to all sorts of issues and complexities I wasn't remotely aware of before. In particular, I have gradually awakened to the staggering range of views on whether adoption is even a good idea at all.

I cannot go into all the differing viewpoints that I have been confronted with (sometimes quite literally) in the scope of a single blog post - it would probably take a book! - but despite everything I have heard, read and seen, despite the hurt and the loss and the struggles, I want to say that I still believe in adoption.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that I think it's acceptable that birth mums are coerced or strongly encouraged to give up their babies for adoption simply because of poverty, or because they are unsupported, or because they are poorly educated. I am uncomfortable with adoption as a business enterprise where money changes hands and agencies profit hugely. I am uncomfortable with international adoptions if it can't be verified beyond all reasonable doubt that the child in question could absolutely not be cared for by a family member. These situations need to be handled with care, and are not areas in which I have much experience or knowledge.

What I am talking about is what I am familiar with - situations where a child needs a new 'permanence plan' because for one reason or another it has been decided that they can no longer live with their birth parents or anybody in their birth family. Let's face it, this is the situation with most adoptions in the UK. In these circumstances I am wholeheartedly behind looking at adoption as the potential first and best option, whether open or otherwise.

I know, of course, that there are circumstances when adoption simply isn't an option. I blogged about some of them here, although I would add that the possibility of an open adoption might counteract some of those circumstances. But where a long-term permanency plan is being considered for a child and living with a close family member is not possible, my personal view is that adoption is a stand-out option. And I think this for one reason only:

Belonging.

I'm not talking about the child belonging to the adoptive parent. What child really 'belongs' to its parents anyway? No, I'm talking about the adoptive parent 'belonging' to the child.

When I adopted OB, I made a public statement about my intentions towards him. A legal statement even. I willingly entered into a new status where I would belong to OB for all of my life, regardless of what was to come. As I took on a new status in his life - that of 'parent' - he became an heir to all that this entails, with certain privileges, rights and expectations granted without any expectation of anything in return.

As his parent, OB can expect that I will love him unconditionally, prioritise him, put his needs before my own, fight for him, advocate for him, stick with him, nurture him, and much more. He has an absolute right to expect all of this because I am 'his person'. And if I let him down, then he will have every right to feel let down, to seek redress, to ask for better, to seek and receive comfort from others. It's a one-sided covenant that I cannot break. Even if one day OB chose to disown me, to cease to acknowledge me as his parent, it wouldn't change the commitment I have made.

Of course, a guardian or foster carer can love, nurture and advocate for children too. I live on that side of the fence myself, and I know how fiercely I fight for and protect and love the children who come to live in our family. But I don't think my status as a carer is the same as my status as a parent in the eyes of a child. I once heard someone say that children in care feel acutely aware that everyone who cares for them is paid to do so. It smarted, and it made me angry to hear that because I know my caring isn't motivated by money. But at the same time, without the money I wouldn't be able to foster. You can see why a child might feel that way.

I think that having somebody who you know belongs to you is incredibly important. I know that adoptions go wrong, as do biological parent-child relationships. I know that there will be research of all kinds on the relative merits of different kinds of permanence, and I have no research to support my view, except for what I know from my own life. But I will stick my neck out and say that, as a child matures to an adult, the security - the deep down, almost subconscious knowledge - of having 'their person' or people will make more difference than anything else I can think of. My time spent among Romania's 'orphaned' teens, and even with some of the mums of the children I have fostered have shown me the devastating impact of a life lived without that security. It is not one I would wish for any child.

OB has several people who belong to him. I do, of course, and our extended family. And also his birth mum and his birth family, even though things went so badly wrong. As he grows up, he will have to face what it means to have been let down by people who were supposed to belong to him. I hope that he will be able to count on the other people who belong to him to help him navigate all of that.

But he does not belong to his birth mum. And he does not belong to me. That's not how it works. If there are people out there who think I will never really be OB's mother, then that's fine. Call me what you like. But I will continue to belong to OB for as long as I live. He can count on that.