Updated: Feb 28, 2022
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:
Article explaining findings: