In the 2 years since the children have been home (and in fact for the year before they came home), I think I read every book on adoption going. When you are pregnant there are a myriad of books you can read – every question you might have has an answer somewhere within these books. But when you adopt? Well, it’s almost as though you are entering a secret world where no one really tells you what the truth is – and you only find out when you are in it! The first few months of any parenthood are difficult I would imagine, but the first few months when you are a parent to 2 walking, talking, opinionated children…it’s a different world altogether. I so desperately wanted to know what I was feeling was normal – what we were doing was OK – and how I was reacting wasn’t as extreme as I feared. But there was nothing like that on the shelves. However, in the last month a wonderful book called ‘And Then There Were Four’ has been published, which sheds a bright, shining light onto the whole adoption process, from the starry eyed beginnings, through the almost impossible first few months, to the calmer waters beyond. I am delighted that the author, Emma Sutton, is joining me on The Newby Tribe today, to talk a bit more about those first few months!
So, Emma, I’m wondering how you felt on those first nights and days when you brought your children home? I remember driving home after picking the children up, with Little Miss wittering away in the back about all sorts of nonsense, and Little Sir just grinning at me when I turned around, feeling completely fulfilled. It felt as though I had completed our little family, and the journey was over. Well, that feeling lasted for all of about an hour once we arrived home. I guess, looking back, we were quite lucky that first day and night. The children settled in with us so quickly and went off to bed really easily (which was a huge surprise as it was their first night in their own rooms for over a year and a half.) They seemed to sleep really well – unlike me who had the baby monitor turned up really loudly listening for any sounds of distress or upset. It felt really odd though – even though we knew they would soon be legally our children, it felt so much as though we were baby sitting. I’m not sure I slept much that night!
Emma: That first day, Cherry, was like walking through a whole new world, where everything was brighter, shinier and I too had that feeling of “we’ve made it” and that the journey was now over. We went to a playgym and had lots of fun and as I went to bed, with the kids fast asleep, I thought that the hard bit was done and now it was all going to be easy. After all the kids had both been very settled and independent at the foster carers’ house, so I presumed they would be the same at ours, just with us as parents. But Nibbles didn’t make it through that first night – he woke up distressed and nothing we could do would calm him down – we tried everything and in the end, it was lying in my husband’s arms half way up the stairs where he settled down after 45 of the longest minutes of our life. That is when we realized that perhaps the children we had been told we were adopting might not be the children we had bought home. When did you start to realise that perhaps the first few weeks weren’t going to be quite as easy as you had imagined Cherry?
Cherry: Well, it wasn’t very long until I realised how very very hard things were about to get! Because of our difficulties during introduction, we ended up with a 3 week intro rather than the 2 week one. The original plan had been for Paul to be off with us for 3 weeks – 2 for intros and then a final one when the children came home. That didn’t happen! Instead, the children came home on the Friday, and he went back to work on the Monday. That was pretty much when life became almost unbearable! At 7am on the first Monday morning we were all up, dressed and had breakfast – and I realised I had to be a parent for the next 10 hours – and had literally no idea what to do! By the Tuesday, I decided to ignore all the warnings of the social workers and took the kids to meet my mum – I desperately needed help. Even by then, I was so tired – Little Sir was up screaming most nights and I just wasn’t sleeping. It wasn’t until I snapped at Little Miss during dinner that I realised how out of control I was beginning to feel. For the first month at least I would wait, watching the clock, until Paul arrived home at 4pm – and as soon as he walked in the door, I would walk out. It was all just too much to do on my own, with no plan, no friends around and a very very long summer holiday to fill. Being a mum in those first months really wasn’t what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t enjoyable! How’s about you Emma? How were the first few weeks for you and how did you keep yourself going?
Emma: Our introductions lasted two weeks, and my husband had six weeks paternity leave, so at least I had him at home for the first tricky month. It was still difficult – I hadn’t realised just how much the presence of toddlers in the house would impact my sleep. Every sniffle and movement would set off the baby monitor and wake me up. Everytime I had to get up in the night, I would stay awake for ages, meaning I was quickly running on nigh on no sleep, which was horrendous. And the vigilance during the day was exhausting. But when Andy went back to work, I was scared, very scared especially since we’d been potty training Bubbles for ten days and it had been a disaster of dysenteric proportions. Andy didn’t get home until 6pm every evening, by which time I was ready to burst, cry, and go to bed. Those first few months were a far cry from the dreams I had of being a mum and I think one of the hardest things to cope with was the realisation that I wasn’t going to be the amazing, cope-with-anything, flour bombs in the kitchen style mum that I had aspired to be. And being shadowed by my children, so I never had a second to myself, even on the loo was a shock that no-one prepared me for. What do you wish someone had told you before you became a mum Cherry?
Cherry: I think it isn’t so much what I wish someone had told me before I became a mum, but I wish that I had listened! None of my friends had adopted, but they did have children, and did give me lots of advice. Everything from, listen to my gut, to don’t take too much notice of books, to don’t expect your 3 and 5 year old to sit down and do crafts without mess! Looking back now, the advice was all there, but I wasn’t in a place to hear it. Ultimately, I found that when the children came home, I was so busy fire fighting, and generally just making it from day to day, that I had no room in my brain to think about the advice. But, if I were giving myself advice back then, I’d tell me to do a lot more self-care. I didn’t realise it at the time, but self-care is probably the most important thing any adoptive parent can do! I found myself very alone during these moments, but I know that you had some special moments during your first few weeks and months. How important did you find these to your own self-care Emma?
Emma: I know what you mean about fire-fighting, mostly I was just trying to get through the day without totally losing it and screaming at the kids (not always successfully). I wish I had given a single thought to self-care in those first few months, about the most I ever did was text my husband (usually on a Thursday, which was always my hardest, end-of-my-tether-day) and ask him to buy a bottle of wine on the way home.
I wish I had gone to bed earlier and made sure that my sleep was the number one priority, as being tired made me a much crabbier mum than I could have been. And I also tried to hard to be the perfect mum from the getgo – instead of letting them eat spaghetti hoops for a month whilst I found my feet. I felt so guilty if I let them watch too much TV or if they didn’t eat a varied diet, and that put far too much strain on me when I was learning how to parent, and having to catch up fast.
The only real self-care I had was nap time. I wish we’d have had grandparents who were local and able to look after the kids, for a little bit of time off, but we didn’t so had to do it all ourselves. We quickly realised that our 2 YO Bubbles also needed a nap in the day, so after lunch I would have about an hour’s respite, to relax or watch TV or have a short sleep of my own. I honestly don’t think I would have got through those first months if I hadn’t had that break. It just about kept my sane. And a weekly play date with another adoptive mum, helped enormously, just for a few snippets of “grown up” conversation – even if all we talked about were the kids.
Cherry: Your experience sounds so very similar to mine Emma. Those first few weeks and months really were so incredibly hard. I know that you are now 4 years into adopting, and we are 2, so I was wondering when you felt that there was a light at the end of the tunnel? I think it was probably when the children first went to school and nursery for me – and I had 3 hours of time that was just for me. I found I was a much better, more patient parent when I’d had some time to just sit and breathe. I think though, it took us until probably the children both went to school full time that family life became more normal, the children understood the rules and boundaries of the house, and now it just feels right!
Emma: Ah the light at the end of the tunnel. I remember that it wasn’t a Ta Da moment, but more like a light coming on gradually, like with a dimmer switch. Andy and I would look at each other and smile and think “we have this sorted” and our shoulders would relax. At four months in, Bubbles went to pre-school and I saw how much easier it might have been with one (but I have never regretted having siblings for one second). At about six months things felt a little easier, I wasn’t tired so much, I didn’t feel constantly out of my depth and we had all bonded with each other. I remember watching the children play and thinking that finally the children we had met at the foster carers were now here, at our house. After four years, I can barely remember a time before children and it feels like they have always been our children, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They make me smile every single day, and the love and happiness they have brought to our lives is incalculable.
I loved chatting to Emma about our experiences, and it is surprising how similar themes often come up again and again with adopters. If you are interested in hearing more about the process or a true life recount of what actually happens when the children come home, I can’t recommend Emma’s book more highly! It’s not only honest and insightful, but it’s also incredibly easy to read! I’d also suggest taking a peek at Emma’s blog nibblesandbubbles.co.uk to find out more about her adoption story and her wonderful book!