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  • Writer's pictureNicole

Two months ago, I returned to work after taking Adoption Leave. I thought my main dilemma would be navigating working and childcare. As it turns out its been a very emotional journey of reflection.

I wasn't looking forward to going back, I was worried about the logistics, childcare and my children being ok with the changes, its something they struggle with. Deep down, I was also filled with dread.

My relationship with work is closely entwined with decades of heartache. Work has been the backdrop to all the most difficult moments in my life. None moreso than my fight for motherhood. The link between them is so tight, that work has felt like a silent partner on my journey. A partner I wasn’t keen to see again.

Being at work through infertility, recurrent babyloss and the adoption process was gruelling. It also seemed to be a place with unnaturally high pregnancy rates around me. I guess because most of our working years are our fertile years. Pregnancy announcements; bumps; collections; baby showers all led to tears in the toilets and so much shame that I couldn't just be happy for everyone else, why was I crying? I stayed quiet, kept my head down and focused on what I needed to do during the day, using all my energy to be 'ok', when every evening I was having to scrape myself up off the floor to fight on.

My whole life was a build up to motherhood. A promise of a future with a crescendo of my family at the end. My every career move, or non-move, focused on this future. Safety first was my motto, progression or enjoyment came in as secondary considerations. Its difficult to plan when you are trying to get pregnant. Your life becomes pockets of time, of enthusiastic ‘this month is the month’ to hopeful ‘might-be’ to devastated ‘am-not’. Following loss, you have the added pocket of, ‘will this one make it?’ But these are not things you can bring up honestly in a development 121. You can’t sign up for a training course if you will need to be having daily scans ahead of an egg-retrieval. You can’t look for another job when you know you are pregnant. But then the cycle fails, or you lose your baby, you are then in the pits of grief and not really in the right place to be hunting down a promotion.

I stagnated and this started to impact my confidence at work, together with the shame I felt, at failing something everyone else seemed to be managing. I became a shell of the person I was and maintaining an air of nonchalance cost me my mental health.

The commute was a different story. On the journey in, my mind was like a pre-match coach, gearing me up for the day, carefully choosing songs to listen to which didn’t trigger me. Avoiding looking around me for what I might see. The journey home, my guard came down and it took the final reserves of energy to not fall apart. Some days, it wasn’t enough. When the infamous “Baby on board” badge came close, or I spotted or heard a baby, a sound which tears at your soul when you’ve just lost your own. Travelling to and from work became my very own personal torture.

I could feel the tightening in my chest at the thought of returning to the office. Working from home before I left on Adoption Leave had allowed me to not need to muster such gargantuan effort to put on my 'office face'. For years holding it together was all I had the energy for. Some days taking the stairs instead of the lift, to give me just a bit longer to catch my breath, before smiley Nicole resumed her performance. Then the journey home, my façade would crumble. I was that person, pretending not to be wiping away a tear on a busy commuter train, whilst my pain just kept escaping through my eyes.

Adoption is not a cure for infertility, it’s a choice. The two do not cancel one another out. The decision to move away from carrying a child is a painful one, it’s a huge loss. Yet another disenfranchised grief on this journey. The process to adopt is an emotional rollercoaster, similar to fertility treatments. There are so many unknowns, you cannot plan. Once you are approved as an adopter you then need to be matched with the right child or children. This is dependent on so many external factors you have absolutely no power over. This matching can happen really quickly or take years, again making planning anything close to impossible. The heartache of remaining childless in that time also does not lose its intensity.

The matching process is painful, as you look through profiles of strangers, you feel that perhaps no child will ever feel right. Will that ever feel different? And then it does, you see a profile of a child and something clicks. They are yours. Then you learn a little about what they have been through and the lasting emotional; physical and developmental impacts this may have caused. Self-doubt creeps in. This wasn’t what I had dreamed motherhood would be. Can I? Should I? What if I can’t?

Adoption is something everyone knows exists but very few really understand. It only directly impacts so few families. Only 2,950 children were adopted in the UK in 2022.

Many didn’t understand why I’d need a whole year off, since I didn’t have a newborn and had nothing to physically recover from.

Adopted children are traumatised children. Every single grown up they knew, home they lived in, routine (or lack of) they were familiar with has changed. Sometimes several times.

There is no trust, you have to earn it.

There is no love, you have to build it.

There is no sense of permanence, this is something only time, consistency and routine can provide.

Mummy and daddy were words which had belonged to others. They are a name to call you, but they have no meaning.

People are not the same with an adoptive mum, or certainly the people around me. I knew we were matched with our children 2 weeks before starting Adoption Leave. I didn’t have excited conversations about my upcoming motherhood, because at no point was this a certainty. No discussing symptoms, scans or nursery preparations, there was not even a congratulations card. Because I didn’t carry my baby? Because my motherhood isn’t worthy of being celebrated? Because there is discomfort around infertility? They don’t sound like much, but they are rights of passage into parenthood I have watched everyone else have the privilege of.

Even outside work, one of the first interactions I had as a new mum outside the school gate was with a lady who started coming over to stand with me every morning and chatting. Very early on, the subject of breastfeeding came up and she asked what I’d done. I replied my girls are adopted. The next morning she did not come to stand next to me. Coincidence maybe? Perhaps she'd done enough to befriend the new mum in town, but I couldn't help but feel this was because I’m not a ‘real’ member of the mum club.

My children moved in one year ago, but we are still in the process of becoming. Their grief over leaving their foster family has weighed heavily during our first year. As a new mum it is hard to deal with your child’s grief because they have moved in with you. Strangers.

We are also still facing unknowns, legally we have yet to have our Adoption Order granted. The uncertainty of this means none of us have really relaxed into just being a family yet. We still have regular contact with Social Services and visits from Social Workers, we still have to tick boxes and all too often I am treated like a foster carer, not my children’s mum.

Infertility, childlessness and trying desperately to create a family are life-impacting. If we want people to bring their whole selves to work, if we want people to succeed and feel empowered at work, then we need to be willing to see and support a whole person.

1 in 7 couples in the UK struggle with infertility. IVF is an extra push but not a cure. Many walk away from treatment without a baby. Whether you then chose to continue pursuing motherhood by other means or decide its time to stop, your heart WILL break.

1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. It. Is. Devastating.

The trauma of years of infertility and of losing my seven babies is something I still carry.

I am lucky that my team at work have been incredibly supportive and I am able to work flexibly which has removed a lot of my worries about navigating childcare, but also, indirectly helps me manage my trauma and grief. But how much easier would this journey have been, had I felt able to be honest about what I was going through. How much less splintered would my relationship with my career be if I’d have felt protected by policies. If I hadn’t had to use sick leave or sneak out at lunch for fertility appointments. How much easier would my grief have been to bear if I had had time to process my losses.

Infertility, baby loss and creating a family are work issues, whether its recognised or not. All organisations will have colleagues going through this and their daily lives will be impacted. The less they have to pretend its not, the more energy they will have to be fully present.

My relationship with work is something I need to rebuild. Although it often felt like the enemy it did also provide me with the only thing I could rely on for a long time, somewhere I could hide from my personal life for a while. I suspect thats why I loved being busy and often found myself volunteering for side-of-the-desk projects. Unfortunately my personal life more often than not followed me there. I still struggle on the commute and I suspect traumatic memories will remain for some time yet, however, I feel like I am ready for more from work. I want more from work now. I have more of me available to invest in it.

For so long motherhood felt out of reach, now I'm a working mum. Its such a pleasure to be included in this group which escaped me for so long.

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  • Writer's pictureNicole

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

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 ( 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:

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  • Writer's pictureNicole

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

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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