This story’s a bit different. A bit different because Helen is my job-share partner, my partner in crime for my corporate job. She’s not on social media, she doesn’t sell anything, she’s Helen. But I can’t tell you how much love and respect I have for Helen. Read this to the end, the poem Helen shares is beautiful.
Our story is a funny one, because the first time I met Helen was to cover her adoption leave, that was in 2008. Back then we talked about one day we’d work together as a job share (children weren’t even on my radar back then!). And then in 2015 that became a reality.
I always remember how inspired I felt by Helen, not able to have children naturally she created her family adopting two beautiful girls. And now she helps other people do the same. Totally modest and probably would even wince at me calling her strong, but she is, and amazing too.
Tell us how you came to adopt your two girls.
Like a lot of women, I just took for granted that when the time came, I’d be able to have kids the natural way. I’d spent a good few years making sure I didn’t get pregnant, so it was a real shock when I didn’t fall instantly. Undefeated, my husband and I threw everything into trying to have a baby. We chased the IVF success rates moving from Harley Street clinic to clinic, but without joy. It was a really tough time. Emotionally and financially bruised, we finally started to listen to my mum who’d gently been suggesting adoption for some time. When we started the process, it was like some-one had turned all the lights back on in our lives. We were finally on a path where the odds were stacked in our favour and we’d get the family we so longed for. We found the adoption process quite cathartic. Rather than focusing on trimesters and baby names, we were exploring the type of parents we wanted to be – talking about what would we re-create from our own childhoods? After nearly 2 years of training, assessments, panels and waiting, we were matched with Alicia our simply beautiful daughter, who was 2 at the time. She was and continues to be (now 11) the most upbeat and sunny child imaginable. Needless to say, we thought it was all down to our fabulous parenting, so we came back again to adopt a second time – and were matched with a 5 month old baby, Paige. She is complete contrast to Alicia – feisty and challenging, but also a real joy to parent. They both are such a blessing.
What got you through the most darkest days?
In short…wine (Nicky will tell me off for that), a sense of humour and my simply wonderful husband, Phil. It’s a bit cheesy I know, but he’s my rock and my best friend. Once we got past the fact neither one of us was to blame or responsible for this unfair twist in our lives, we learned how to help the other. When there were bitter disappointments (and there were many…losing a baby at three months, an Ovarian tumour, 8 cycles of unsuccessful IVF, our adoption social worker going off sick for 6 months). Phil let me grieve, let me be angry at the world and made me laugh endlessly through legs in stirrups, needles in buttocks and social services scrutiny. He also knew how much peace I got from being by water, so he’d often arrange walks by rivers or trips to the sea so I could re-energise for the next battle.
What’s the one thing that you learnt the most about what you went through?
That I should share more!! I guess I’d describe myself as a bit of a control freak. Up until kids, I’d got mostly what I wanted out of life. I’d got the job I wanted, married the man I wanted, got the house I wanted and then all of a sudden the one thing I couldn’t control, was being able to have a child. And so all I could control was who knew about what we were going through. So I kept IVF and adoption a secret from all my friends (and some family) right up until we were matched with Alicia. I’d disappear off to hospital appointments, do hormone injections in toilets…it was total madness…and completely unnecessary. Letting go, learning to share experiences and drawing real strength from others going through similar stuff is the biggest lesson I’ve taken away.
How are you different now that you’ve experienced what you have?
I’m a born problem solver – Nicky will vouch for the fact in our corporate lives I can’t help but launch into problem solving mode! And I think going through what I have has stopped me trying to always solve issues at home. Adoption is a journey and at every stage I’m learning new things about my girls and new things about being a mother. I can’t always solve the hurt that the girls feel about their life story. But I can draw on my own experiences and I can help give them the space to grieve, to be angry when they need to be, to grow resilience and self-worth and hopefully let them know they are incredibly loved. Both our girls are coincidentally from the same town by the sea and we all share a love of the water. I think as a family we feel our most connected when we’re by the sea, wherever it is in the world.
What would you say to someone going through what you’ve been through?
I do lots of voluntary work now for social services, helping out with adoption assessment, running training and sitting on approval panels. I get the opportunity to talk to prospective adopters all the time and it still gives me that fizz of excitement (perhaps a third is on the cards one day?). I try to get them to see the problems they’ve faced and the skeletons in their closet are often the life experiences that make them the best kind of adopters. There’s a real fear about needing to be seen as perfect. In fact it’s how people react in the face of adversity that’s the most important thing. It’s the strength they’ve drawn and the coping mechanism they’ve developed that are key. Above all you have to be honest. Being matched with a child is forever and they deserve you to present yourself as who you really are – warts and all!!
Your last word …
Not my own words, but a favorite poem I often share with the girls:-
Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn’t grow under my heart,
But in it.