This is Cassie, my little sister …. she’s adopted!
Sara and Tony* knew they wanted another child. They already had their biological son Harry*, and discovered getting pregnant again wasn’t going to happen naturally. In their 40s the couple were considering their options in terms of growing their family and a little brother or sister for Harry. Sara and Tony decided they didn’t want the challenges of IVF, especially as there were children out there that needed a new family. We join Sara as she looks back on how she and Tony prepared Harry for the arrival of their new member of the family.
‘We knew what becoming a parent was like, going from a couple to a family. As a twosome, we only needed to focus on ourselves; our careers, our social life – but we knew we wanted more. So, the arrival of Harry was wonderful, it took some getting used to, like it is for most new families, and it was an amazing journey. Being parents meant thinking about another being, putting Harry first and managing his life and wellbeing above our own. We learnt a whole new set of skills that meant we were well prepared for our next step – which was adoption.
Looking back, we thought our experience was enough – we’d raised Harry – quite successfully – he was three years old, happy and a great little boy. But the social workers, were saying, ‘yes, that’s great, but for adopted children we need you super-prepared with experience of spending time with children who perhaps haven’t had the background Harry had. We need you to research being ‘therapeutic parents’, an altogether different style of parenting’.
As we went through the process, our social worker helped us think about the child we’d like to join our family. Gender was important, adopting a girl wouldn’t seem – in Harry’s eyes – a challenge to him being our son. Adopting a younger child would mean our parenting could be a bit different so we could support her development in light of her early life experiences. Our social worker talked a lot about having a spare room. It was most likely her sleep routine would be different, disrupted as she moved from a birth family setting to foster care, and from her foster home to us. We wanted the process to be as smooth as possible without interrupting Harry’s routine. There was, actually, so much to think about. We set about preparing our spare room for the new little girl we hadn’t yet found.
One afternoon, Janet, our social worker spent a little time with Harry. They sat in the garden. Tony and I sat by the back door. Harry knew Janet, as he’d met her lots of times, but this afternoon, she came to see him specifically. Janet wanted to check how he felt about ‘sharing’ his parents with a new little sister. She asked questions – all age appropriate – to get his views, as this was really important. All children already in the home will have a ‘chat’ with a social worker. I have no idea what he said, as we were out of earshot. Of course, now Harry is expecting a little sister immediately and it was quite something trying to manage his expectations. He kept asking – ‘when’s my sister coming?’ He announced at nursery that he was getting a sister, which was very interesting to his friends and the nursey staff. Then after a few more weeks, eventually he said, ‘I’m not getting a sister am I?’
Months later, we completed the adoption assessment and were an approved adoption family. It took another 12 months before we were eventually matched with an 11 month-old little girl called Cassie*. We made a ‘talking book’ for her that featured photographs of us – selected by Harry – and our voices, with some amazing words of welcome from Harry. There were a few books we read to Harry – one or two, but mostly we played games using the well-known Sylvanian Families range of toys as a way of helping him welcome his new sibling.
At the time of introductions, Cassie was living with her foster parents – miles away, so Harry, Tony and I, with my mum, went to stay in a rented house nearby for the 10 days of introductions. This gave us a chance to meet Cassie in her foster carer’s home and get used to her routine. Harry was part of the introductions as much as possible – he was her big brother after all, and then my mum looked after him while Tony and I were able to get more details about caring for Cassie and her needs. When Cassie came home with us, she and Harry got on really well, he was around four or five years old by then, and very much loving his role as big brother; sharing toys, organising and generally helping settle in his new playmate.
Fast-forward five years and my two are typical brother and sister. Siblings will always be different from one another, whether by birth or adoption, but together they and we became a new family. The separate bedrooms was worthwhile, as Cassie did indeed have a different bedtime routine, and sleep was – and sometimes still is – a difficult time for her.
Generally, life is life. We get on with it, and deal with the challenges, and the fabulous times together. At home, adoption is part of the conversation; it’s never been an issue, it’s part of all our lives, as it must be for her birth family. There are developments, and we get the support and training we need from our Adoption Support team – they are there whenever we need them.
Sometimes people ask, ‘have you told her she is adopted?’ And I smile to myself, because all those years ago, on the first day of Cassie joining Harry’s school nursery, he proudly announced – ‘This is Cassie, my little sister …. she’s adopted!’