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  • Nicole

Updated: Feb 28


Today is my first official day of Adoption Leave.


It’s a day I’ve been waiting for, a long, long time. Time off work to be a mum, to get to know my child. Time I had planned during every one of my pregnancies. I had counted out the start date each time, only to lose the baby and instead, have to go into work every day, pretending I was ok. This is a day I felt would never come


However, applying for Adoption Leave ended up not feeling great. I think because of the lack of understanding of adoption. Let alone, in my case, any acknowledgement of the heartbreaking infertility journey which came before it. Adoption is such a well-known option. I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know it's a thing. It’s so often used to placate those facing infertility with the infamous 'why don't you just adopt?'. However, very little is actually known about the process unless you are involved.

From my own experience, it felt that adoption leave was considered more like special leave, just requesting a little longer than the expected 2 weeks leave, like you would take for a honeymoon perhaps. The timing was questioned, as if, maybe, I could work it around other leave already requested and approved for others on my team. I was told it would be useful to have more cover back on the team for when I’m off. I was surprised by this comment, since cover on the team could not be guaranteed for a year, there would be other peak holiday times. There was a pause, but I didn't respond. Our start date was based around the fact our oldest would be on half term and this would be a good time for her to leave the school. Its not a date which could be negotiated. Besides which she has languished in the care system long enough.

I was then asked how long I would want to take? I responded with “the full year” and there was silence. An uncomfortably long silence. This was clearly not the response which had been expected.


I felt quite shocked by this reaction. By the fact my request seemed to be a surprise. I am becoming a mum, my children need me. This is the very reason the adoption policy is in place. Social services will always recommend taking as long as you can in order to support the transition for your children. Traumatised children. Who have very often lived experiences no one should. Lost people they loved (regardless of how those people treated them). Lost homes. Lost connections.

I have been honest at work and had said we were working towards adoption and warned it could all happen very quickly once we were approved. I had this conversation a couple of months before we were approved. We were approved 15 months ago now. At the time we were still considering fostering to adopt, where sometimes very little notice is received. We were told it could happen within days of being approved and I let my boss know this. I then also shared that we were hoping to be matched with some siblings back in late autumn, but at the time and with the pace of things, I suspected that my leave wouldn't start until March and I had shared this information also. None of this was new information. Only the date I would actually be off work from, was yet to be confirmed. 17 months is a lot longer notice than most employers get for Maternity Leave. However, I certainly felt that my request for a year off came as a surprise.

A couple of weeks later, during a meeting, I was asked how long I would be off for, by a colleague and when I responded “one year”, there was an audiable intake of breath and one person said “wow, ok!”. Perhaps I am naive to be surprised by this reaction? Why would anyone know? But why would anyone assume my motherhood does not also warrant a year? My boss then mentioned in passing that I was leaving for a year, and, at very short notice. I sat there thinking, I said we were adopting and it could all happen very fast, 17 months ago. I have updated, with any news since then. I gave 5 weeks notice of the actual date I would be going, which is more than you would get if I had handed in my notice and yet I was left feeling I had sprung this on work, that I was somehow asking for too much.


Adoption is well known, but it still remains a misunderstood word by most. We are creating a family, building something amazing, but there is a lot of loss with it also. My children are losing foster parents and a wider family and friends, which they have come to love. They have already lost their birth family and that easy link to their past and heritage. They have lost so many early experiences they should have had, being cared for in a responsive manner, having their feelings validated.

As a mum, I am gaining so much, but adoption after infertility comes with a lot of hurt, sometimes trauma, sometimes losses. There has often been some surgery, many medical examinations, akin to having a chronic illness. Having to accept I will never carry a baby to term is still something I find hard. Knowing I won't have carried my children is hard. Knowing I have missed so much if their lives is hard. Knowing I didn't protect them from being hurt is hard. Its not an easy way to start a family.

Just the fact alone that I need to request adoption leave, rather than maternity leave, is hard. When I am leaving, to be a mum. To very literally, BE maternal. I will finally be the mother I have dreamed of, for so long. To not be able to request maternity leave in itself feels like a slap in the face. My children may have come to me via adoption, but I am their mum. Plain and simple. I need to get to know them, they need to get to know me. Its true that they don’t need hourly feeds, but our lives have still been turned upside down. Our routines are completely new. Nothing we are doing on a daily basis with our children is familiar. We need time. Time to bond. Time to learn and adjust. And, perhaps most importantly our children need time to trust. Something most children feel instinctively. That their caregivers will provide what they need, be that love, warmth or food. Children trust their caregivers, until such time as they realise they cannot. Our children came to that realization and now need to re-learn that its ok to trust again. This is not something which can be created by having a few short weeks off with them.


I want to raise awareness because behind every assumption or misunderstanding is someone left smarting. Someone wondering what else they could have done? Someone feeling hurt and sad. Employers should have greater awareness of adoption. I speak as someone adopting after infertility, but this is not the only reason people adopt. Our right to found a family is one of our basic human rights. Adoption is one route to this. I think most employers have an adoption policy but its not something which is really known about. I do understand that in the grand scheme of things, the number of people leaving on adoption leave is considerably smaller than maternity leave. I would argue they are one of the same and should be treated as such, to remove that sense of surprise when someone asks for a full year.


I am grateful however that my employer has a decent adoption leave policy, even if individuals are not aware of what this is. If I were self-employed I would not receive any statutory payment, which, highlights the fact that little is understood about adoption, nor the trauma the children go through and need support managing.


For some understanding of what a neglected child may feel, take a look at the Still Face experiment (https://youtu.be/apzXGEbZht0). This lasts 2 minutes, children who come to be adopted have often suffered various degrees of neglect their whole young lives.


I’ve seen quotes, about women being expected to care for their children like they don’t also work and to work like they don’t have children. Juggling motherhood and work is difficult enough, without an unwritten hierarchy of motherhood. I didn’t carry my children, but I have battled years to have them. I have lost so much to get to this point. I have been through more than most to achieve motherhood. My children too, have been through too much, just to be a family. The fact that we need time together should not be a surprise. To anyone. Ever.


🤍



Still face experiment:

https://youtu.be/apzXGEbZht0

Article explaining findings:

https://www.psychhelp.com.au/what-does-the-still-face-experiment-teach-us-about-connection/





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  • Nicole

As my dream of motherhood approaches, I am finding it hard to know where I fit.

I have yearned for this for so long. It has been something I have fought for, one way or another, for half of my life. It dominated my thoughts, it drove my decisions. It’s the reason I lost love but also the reason I found love.

The complete shock of infertility and the heartache of Childlessness shaped me. It opened my eyes to society's presumptions and pressures. It led to me feeling so incredibly isolated for so very long. It led me to seek others, who understood and have soothed my heart in ways no one else could.

Losing my little ones along the way, this journey became not just a quest for what was not in my life, but an acceptance of losing what had been, almost.

Grief then also, has changed me. A loss not only of my babies but of the life I had anticipated and the me I thought I would be. Loss became expected, joy to be mistrusted. Grief seems to undo you. I felt hollow and was unsure what kept me upright. And sometimes I simply wasn’t and all I could do was fall to the ground with my heart so broken I thought I must surely not be able to stand up again.


I had to unlearn everything I had thought to be true. That I would be a mum. That a positive pregnancy test equalled a baby. That when you try and try again you succeed. That good things happen to good people. That you get back what you put in. That effort is rewarded. That we have any control.

I always maintained the hope of motherhood, but somewhere along the line, lost my expectation to achieve it. Its pursuit drove me forwards but I realise now, remaining childless felt familiar, felt tangible and real. Childless was what I related to. How I felt. How I was perceived. Childless was how I lived. My identity as I hit my mid 40's was childless.

I am becoming a mummy. Not to a newborn. Not by TTC or IVF. Not through my own body. Not through my genes or his. I won't bring a child to being. My children will have had their own beginnings, without me. Its not the way I wanted to start my motherhood. I won’t hear that first cry, feel that first little body against mine. I won’t have achieved the greatest miracle. I won’t see the admiration in his face.

But, I will have bought my family into being. And that is a birth which should not be dismissed, because it doesn’t comply with what we imagine birth to be. Maybe I didn’t physically push, but oh man, did I push for this family.

I am filled with thoughts now of, 'then what?' Logic tells me I will be busy enough adjusting to a new life and my new children, to not need wonder.

But emotions aren't logical and I'm not there yet. This battle has raged in my head for decades, when this battle has concluded, then what? What does a soldier do after a war? How do they blend back into civilian life as if nothing ever were? Maybe that's the crux of it, you can't go back to who you were. Grief, solitude, despair and a constant need to fight my reality can't just be shelved. I can’t pick up where I left off. I am different. Older. I can't be that young woman, who just had faith it would happen because she wanted it, oh so much.


My purpose for so long was this fight for motherhood. I felt entirely outside of society, firstly as a single woman in my 30’s when everyone else was married with children, but later also with my losses. I didn’t know anyone else who had been through this. People were kind, but they didn’t get it. I felt alone. The people I needed to find had a shared experience, had battled the same war alongside me or been there before. Had watched their dream fading. I found my reflection in them, my voice. I felt seen. Some still trying to achieve motherhood, some who have acknowledged this is no longer their path. These voices I have leaned on, to regain strength when I had none. Learned from when my view of the world and what ‘should’ happen was so deeply challenged.


My motherhood in some ways feels like a betrayal of those who were able to give me the strength to face another day. I now feel that I no longer belong, whilst also not feeling like I belong in the ‘mum’ group either. I haven’t been through the rights of passage, the initiations which make you one of them. But I will have those additional names to sigh on my Christmas cards, I will have the family meals and the school run. I’m not, not a mum either.


My infertility remains. The intake of breath when I see a newborn. The unexpected lurch of my stomach when I hear a baby cry. The gut-wrenching agony of a pregnancy announcement. They still exist alongside my new-found motherhood.





Now I need to re-learn what my journey made me unlearn. It's complex. I am finding the thought of it ending is still difficult to process. Unbelievable a lot of the time. I don't know how to not be fighting for this end goal.

Like any transition, I need to feel my way into my new way of being. What I do know, is that all the feelings of longing, pain, heartache and sorrow won't magically disappear, but I believe, that sense of searching I felt in my soul, will. My soul will feel at peace, as it did for such a brief time, when I was pregnant. That sense of something missing will go.

Maybe now my fight becomes my childrens'. I'll fight for their voices, their lives, their happiness. Or maybe I can just stop feeling this need to fight all the time. Maybe I can try just enjoying the moments. Maybe I need to allow the sense of relief to flood over me. I was overwhelmed with it on the day we were officially matched, but since then, I have not allowed myself to feel it. Quite honestly, it feels wreckless because they are not home yet. But it also feels like an extravagance.

I know my blog and Instagram account will change. It will include motherhood and I know that will be too painful for some and I hate that, because I have been that person who finds some accounts just too hard to follow. I still am that person. I still find that some days I’d rather not look than face anything I’m not strong enough to see that day. There is no way to sugar coat years of pain for a lost dream, a lost hope, a lost baby.


I am still a mum grieving her lost babies. I am still a woman who reached mid-life without children. I am still infertile.


I am still all of the things I was. But I will also be a mum.





All images taken from Pinterest

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  • Nicole

Adoption is making me have to revisit a lot of how I anticipated my parenthood would be. Not only in how the children actually come to be with me but in how I will be with them. Things I had just assumed or taken for granted. One of these is linked to my language. This is something I've not seen talked about in any of the adoption information available.


I was born in the UK but my mum didn’t speak very good English at that stage, having only recently moved over and spoke to us in French at home. It was also really important to her that we be able to speak to our family in Switzerland. This became a bit of a chore as my sister and I started school and spoke English all day with friends, and at home with each other and with our dad. English just became easier. My mum would insist “speak French” and although it was a battle for her, we always did speak French with her. I’m so glad she persisted and fought us on a daily basis, because of her, we were fluent. We would have fun conversations switching from one language to the other in one sentence between us, but always French to my mum.


My mum also spoke Swiss German but was told when we were babies that learning two languages would delay our language skills and reduce our vocabulary. As if you only have a set amount of words you can learn and if you learn a certain amount in one language, you can only learn a certain amount in another. Obviously now we know this isn’t true and actually the reverse, learning a second language can boost your vocabulary and language skills, but at the time, that was the advice. Since my family lived in the French Speaking part of Switzerland, she decided to stick to French.



I don’t know my English family, so for me, family = French. I always thought I’d do the same for my children, so they too would be able to speak to my family in Switzerland.


When I was pregnant, I spoke to my babies in French. It was our thing ❤


Now we are adopting. We will have young children, possibly not yet able to talk but certainly aware of words and intonations around them which sound familiar. They will come and live with us. Complete strangers. They will need to learn to trust us. Trust we are constant. Trust we are safe. Trust we have their best interests at heart. Part of this trust is to recognise the language we use. Who am I to then try to bring in something unfamiliar? Something not part of who they are, but part of who I am.


I want my children to feel part of my family. I want to bring them to Switzerland to meet the people who mean the world to me. The people who shaped me and will help shape them. I want them to feel that connection to the family which will become theirs.


Language is a huge part of identity. I think I have a different energy when I’m speaking in French. Its my mother tongue. It’s the first language I was able to communicate in. It’s the language I spoke to my mum in, still speak to my mum in. It feels like home. French is my connection to my childhood, my safety, my past. It reminds me of summer holidays visiting the extended family. I miss hearing it. I will sometimes seek out a French film or radio just to hear it. Its not just that it sounds different, but that it sings a different tune to my soul. I feel almost like a different part of me is awakened when I hear French. This is actually a known phenomenon and research has shown some people may have entirely different personalities when they speak a different language.



I so want to share this special connection, this different part of me with my children but at what point are they ‘settled’ enough for me to bring in a whole new language which they’ve not heard before? Will that make them feel unsafe? Will they feel a change in my energy and feel I’ve somehow betrayed them? That I’ve not been honest and congruent in who I am? In which case I need to introduce that part of me to them straight away, so it doesn’t then become a hidden part of who I am which they won’t recognise.


Languages are also so much easier to learn before you realise you’re learning them. When you are just immersed in it. So the younger the better.


There is so much emphasis in adoption on supporting your child to understand their heritage, which I absolutely will. My heritage may not be part of theirs, my DNA may not be theirs, but they will be my children. They will be members of my family. A family I want them to be fully involved with. A family who are waiting impatiently to welcome them.


This makes me sad. That I even need to question at what stage I will be able to speak my language to my children. Part of me is also scared that if I don’t do it straight away, then I won’t. Its needs to become a habit quickly because introducing it would be harder. Much like when I was at school and continuing speaking the same language was just easier. I speak English to my boyfriend. I speak English to my friends. I speak English at work. I speak English if I go to a shop or the dentists or the hairdressers. Its easy. Sometimes if I’ve not spoken French for a few months its rusty. For the first half a day I struggle to find the words because my brain is in English mode.


My children’s wellbeing has to come first, but I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules. I think I’ll know when its right when I’ve met them. Perhaps it will be fine straight away to bring in a few words, maybe a story at bedtime. Or maybe it will be a slow introduction after some time with us. I suspect their French may not be as fluent as mine and that is something I need to make my peace with. I have not carried them, they won’t have heard French from within the womb. The first time I speak to them will be in English. They will need to grow accustomed to the sound of it, but also to me speaking it. It is also down to me and how much I’ll have the energy to push and argue for them to speak a language which won’t come naturally, not even to me anymore.

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