Our road to adoption began in a stark NHS room. A long awaited report revealed the results of a laparoscopy that confirmed I was infertile – such a cold lonely word. Next there was IVF. Two unsuccessful cycles of injecting huge amounts of drugs, numerous visits to the IVF unit insensitively placed in the maternity ward of the hospital and costing us £6000. IVF was not to be our saviour. A number of issues such as water in the fallopian tube, which seemed to wash away the embryo, meant that, no matter how many times we might say, ‘please God make this work’, it was never going to. It’s excruciatingly painful to look into the eyes of the person you love and realise that you cannot give what you once thought was a birth-right – that precious baby could never be born from me.
Life moved on but it stayed the same too. Friends had a child and then another. Young people joined the staff of the school at which my husband Steve and I were both teachers, got married and left on maternity leave. I smiled at the news of pregnancy and duly went shopping for yet another cute outfit, then returned to my career, working harder and harder because that way I could escape the baby talk or the knowing looks. Inside, the grieving was in full swing but I didn’t know it or wouldn’t accept it.
Eventually, we took the plunge and attended a meeting about adoption. At last, hope! I could be a Mummy. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t given birth to the child, it would love me and I would love it. Simple.
The road to adoption was a meandering route littered with emotional and physical pot holes. At every turning point there was a delay; staff shortages, bureaucracy, snow… And then, when things did get going it soon felt like we were walking along the high street naked – exposed, everything you have on show, every blemish, every inch of cellulite that you’d rather hide away, every lump and bump in clear, horrifying view! I was asked to write about infertility and then talk about how it felt; how it felt! How do you think it felt?
At last we made it to panel where we were faced with eight or ten strange faces, each of whom knew our most intimate secrets and each of whom had the power to fulfil our dream – a baby, our baby. After an agonising wait in a bland room, decorated in a hostile shade of grey, we were approved. Tears, but this time, tears of utter relief and I mean utter relief.
We began the process of having our baby come to live with us. After more than two years on the adoption treadmill, we were ready to agree to anything and that included a meeting with our baby’s birth parents. You may gasp in astonishment – so did we but it was explained that this may, at some future moment, be beneficial to our baby as we will be in a position to describe his birth parents and talk about them with greater authority. In addition, it is considered to be a valuable experience for the birth parents who have the opportunity to see the people who will take over their role in parenting their child.
We had read about our little boy’s birth parents; drugs, violence, prison – the type of life story we generally like to tut, tut at and make judgements about. That’s more or less what I had already done when discussing our baby’s background – they didn’t deserve him, we did. In any event, we were so close, we’d do anything to ensure that at last, we’d be a Mummy and Daddy and so, one dark night in November, we drove to a seemingly remote social services outpost to meet our baby’s birth parents.
We met our little boy’s social worker who began by explaining that birth mother was unlikely to attend as she didn’t feel able to face us. Perhaps the thought of coming eye-to-eye with the people who would have the baby you gave birth to in their home, in their lives, in their hearts was too much to bear. Perhaps she felt that we were a villainous couple stealing her child. It was at that moment that I recall the first feeling of immense guilt.
Eventually, the birth father appeared; he was late and clearly flustered. He apologised for the absence of his partner and quietly shook our hands. I sat opposite him and watched his every nervous move. Where was the evil beast of a man I’d read about? Here in front of me was a well spoken, humble young man who’d lost his way on life’s road. He was delighted that we were teachers; his baby would have a good education, something he admitted he’d wasted. He smiled at the picture of our garden, a place for his baby to play football and with his head bowed, he told us that he knew we’d love his baby and provide him with a life that he couldn’t. I was unable to take my eyes off him. He was a Daddy about to lose his baby and all that exuded from his whole being was a love for his little boy, a love that meant he knew he had to let him go.
Introductions began. Steve and I visited our child at his foster carers. Our baby’s foster Mum was tremendous; she guided us but never judged us and at times she must have wondered how two reasonably educated people could struggle so dreadfully to dress this little baby. Ten days later that long awaited day came; we were taking our baby home – our baby, our home – more than two years after our initial application, our baby was coming home.
We strapped him into his very own car seat and we set off – the three of us, our family. We decided to take our baby to see the ducks. At the time, it all seemed very normal. Now, there is some sense of the incongruity of the situation. When I think about it, I see it in slow motion. There we were, Steve and I and our baby, a family. But this baby didn’t know us and we didn’t know him. We called ourselves Mummy and Daddy but we were strangers playing at this family thing because we were so desperate to have it. Already, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel anything for this baby that we’d craved. A Mummy loves her baby. Why wasn’t I overwhelmed by a feeling of at least some affection for a baby that was now ours? In fact, why did I feel an emptiness creeping inside my guts?
Just before Christmas our friends came to meet our baby. The Christmas tree was up, the lights were on, twinkling away. This was set to be the best Christmas ever – that’s what everyone said – we’d have our little boy, a Christmas gift. I made sure that we looked like the perfect family whilst trying to suppress the immense panic that seemed to be growing into a blazing fire. And that’s really when it all began to unravel or rather, when I did; a period in my life that is almost indescribable because it truly happened in a blur punctuated by moments of abject fear.
I couldn’t do it. This wasn’t my baby. This was someone else’s little boy, our baby could never come. My belief as to what I should feel was born of a romantic day dream of motherhood, but then so many people had told me that this would be the best Christmas ever because we had what we’d wanted for so very long – a child to love. However, with every second I seemed to become more desperate. This was a mistake. I knew it – the biggest and most grave mistake of my entire life.
My family arrived, to find nothing less than a shadow of the person they knew. Our little boy sat in the middle of the living room whilst I sat on my Dad’s lap and sobbed. ‘This isn’t my baby. I can’t love him,’ I told him. Eventually, our little boy went to bed and I could relax a little. He wasn’t there to remind me that I couldn’t have my babies with my husband. I’d had to rely on other people’s misfortunes and steal their baby to make me happy.
The day came for Steve to return to work; the door closed, the car started and he was gone. I curled my knees into my chest and lay stone still, waiting for a cry that would mean that I’d have to face him. In the meantime, Steve’s life continued. He was going back to life, the work that I had loved. His world went on, mine had ended. The cry came. I answered it; bottle, breakfast, wash, clothe. He looked at me, I couldn’t meet his gaze. I’m not your Mummy, you’re not my baby. I’d love my baby and I don’t love you. I set out toys and waited for the time for his nap when I could lie down and rest my head that could not quell the buzzing sound of the questions that plagued my every moment and the intensifying ache that could not be cured by any pill or any number of other potions.
And so it went on, the longest week of my life. When I could, I’d walk into the kitchen and stand still, holding the radiator, praying to God that this would end. As the days of that week bled into each other, my whole body began to turn itself inside out. As I lay in bed I’d feel surges of immense panic. I thought about how I must not lose sight of this baby. He was an innocent, gorgeous example of human life and he deserved to have kisses and cuddles and to have his eyes meet those of someone who wasn’t afraid to love him, who wasn’t afraid of him.
I telephoned our health visitor the next day. She came out immediately and arranged some further support. I met with two social workers, my doctor and a psychologist. By now I could barely look at our baby. What I did for him was per functionary – I explained this to each professional that came to see us through a haze of tears but still no tutting, no condemnatory glances to one another. Instead, merely a desire to make this work.
Sometime in the midst of that pre Christmas build up, two things happened that made me believe that this nightmare wasn’t forever. I didn’t understand it but perhaps, just maybe it wouldn’t always be this way. Talking with a psychologist made me realise my own need for everything to be perfect because that’s what I’d expected and that’s how I have always lived my life. I realised that I was not some evil mother figure brought to life from the pages of a fairytale but that, firstly, I was a human being experiencing very human feelings and secondly, that it was all right. Rather admit to this cerebral malfunction, than pretend until the pretence itself might engulf me in a manner from which there could be no rescue.
At the same time, I began to have short bursts of time when I could play with our baby, when I could pick him up, tickle him and blow raspberries on his belly. This, most frustratingly, would pass and I would once again be consumed by great angst. However, I’d had this moment, we’d had this moment. The house heard laughter again and just for that thirty minutes or an hour, the Christmas tree looked like it belonged to us, the three of us.
Slowly, the time spent playing became longer and longer. The time spent curled up in bed holding my body in case it fell apart became less and less. I will never comprehend my reaction to our beautiful boy and I’m not sure that that is so important now. What I know is that I will never forget my ghost-like figure standing in the kitchen, willing myself to be what our baby needed whilst afraid that in fact, I wouldn’t make it through the day. This isn’t about pity or self-absorption. I did what I did and I can offer no excuses for that. I had no control of me, which in itself is a scary place to be. However, I tried never to lose sight of the fact that there was a baby in our home. A baby who had already suffered the trauma of being separated from his birth mother and then his foster mother. He needed a home, security and care. Love could come later. I was human, not a monster.
Time is a great healer. It’s a clichÃ© but so very true. Now, our little boy occupies the centre of my heart and he always will. I will forever mourn the baby that did not come from Steve and me but this baby cannot be replaced by another – no matter where or from whom that baby was born. Adoption is not about replacing a baby but making a family with a different child and accepting and embracing the fact that this is so.
If you would like further information on the adoption process, visit Adoption UK’s website: www.adoptionuk.org or call our helpline 0844 848 7900.
*Names have been changed