Mum’s the Word

Hello! If you’re considering step parent adoption in Ireland and you find yourself here, please note that our experience described here happened between 2013-2015. There has been significant changes in Irish law around step parent adoption since, the most notable one being today’s announcement that birth mothers will no longer have to surrender their rights and adopt their own child

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/law-forcing-mothers-to-adopt-their-own-children-is-quashed-1.3160446?mode=amp

My husband and I are delighted at what this means for future families. We are hopeful that it will lead to a speedier, less invasive process that assists families in securing their children with their true parents. While we are still deeply hurt by the experiences we had to endure to adopt our own child, I am thankful that the needs of these families are finally being given due consideration.

Wishing you the best ❤

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Shared Heartbeats

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I took a step back from blogging over the Summer. I felt like there wasn’t much left to say. Our adoption had finally been approved and we were enjoying the chaos of a normal family life without that dark cloud hanging over us. I wanted to leave my blog public for anyone who may be going through the process of step parent adoption in the hope that what we experienced may offer some support or practical information to others.

Before our son was legally secure within our family, I would often have nightmares of losing him to an unknown force. They shook me to the core. Even now, the thought of one day having to say goodbye to either of my children is almost too much to bear. It is every parents’ worst nightmare. This nightmare has recently become a reality for far too many people. Children of the conflict in Syria have been bombed, tortured, orphaned and murdered. I can only imagine their terror. Waiting for a superhero that never arrived. Their only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Those who survived have been forced to flee their home and reach their hands towards the unknown for help. They have taken desperate risks that no one would dream of taking unless their life and their family’s life was in danger. Many have died while trying to reach safety. Those that have survived the journey are now depending on our ability to understand. To be able to consider for a moment what they have endured. To see their children and recognise their heartbeat in our own children. To take a moment to wonder how what we would expect if we were the ones asking for help from those who could easily offer refuge.

Our family’s story had a very happy ending. Others have reached their final chapter far too soon. And there are stories that parents are desperately trying to re-write. If we can offer a fresh page, absent of pain and fear, why wouldn’t we?

The wonderful Irish Parenting Bloggers have created a blog hop to generate support for those families caught in the current refugee crisis. Although my blog has been dormant for a while I wanted to add my voice to their chant. We need to start acting and we need to keep talking about this. We need to be constantly asking ourselves what we can do both as an individual and as a nation. We cannot continue to pretend that these people are not real when they are sitting at our train stations or drifting precariously in our waters.

It’s difficult to sit with the frustration of not being able to offer practical assistance. But there are ways you can help today.

  1. Sign the petition to ask the Irish Government to do more to help. Just click here.  For anyone in the UK you can sign a similiar petition here
  2. There are numerous charities helping the refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea. Please, please donate even a few euro to Medecins Sans Frontieres, Amnesty International, or Trocaire.
  3. Alternatively, if you’d like to be part of a very worthy organised event the Irish Parenting Bloggers have organised a virtual coffee (or tea!) morning – check out and ‘like’ the Facebook Event page here  –  to help raise much needed funds for the Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity Campaign. On Friday, September 11 just pour yourself a cuppa; go to http://www.irelandcalaisfund.ml/ and make a donation to the fund (we suggest €5 per person but please give what you can) and upload a screenshot of your donation plus a pic of yourself enjoying your cuppa to your Facebook page or other social media channels and tell your followers all about it.  Then just link to this event to encourage your friends and family to take part too.

Click on the link below to read the other Irish Parenting Bloggers posts and please feel free to spread the word by sharing on social media platforms using the hashtag #ReadFeelAct.


Butterflies and Being an Irish Parenting Bloggers Finalist

I have been walking around today with a secret. It wasn’t a heavy, dark burden like those I used to carry with me before the adoption. This one gave me butterflies every time it sprung into my mind. Yesterday evening the finalists for the 2015 Irish Parenting Blogger awards were announced. My little blog, Adopting My Own Son, stood among four other writers for both the Most Inspirational Blog and Best Special Interest Blog. I had to read the words a few times over before I allowed myself to believe it. I was honoured, amazed and more than a little emotional.

These awards are judged by fellow peers, bloggers who I admire and who have pushed me to be a better writer and braver person over the past few years. When I first shared the existence of this blog with the group, their support and encouragement was overwhelming. It has almost been two years since I started writing about our progress and I still haven’t shared the blog with friends or family (apart from my husband, of course). I shared with the group a photo of our beautiful boy the day he was adopted because I felt such support and positivity emanating from their words every time I spoke about what we were going through. I have such respect for their opinions that to be considered by them for an award, never mind two, is an absolute honour. I had the privilege of being able to vote in the awards too and the standard was so incredibly high that some fantastic blogs that I love and read regularly did not get a place in the final. I consider myself very lucky to be a member of such a special group and I am so proud to display the IPB awards finalist badge on my page(top hand right of the home page!)

The downside of an anonymous blog is that instead of shouting from the rooftops that I had received such wonderful news, I had to keep quiet and carry on as normal! This blog will always remain anonymous because my son’s story and my own story are forever intertwined. He has the right to decide how much of his story he wants to share as he grows older. The purpose of this blog was to share my experience and give as much insider information as possible to families who are also going through stepparent adoption. It became a great space to heal and I am in a much better place now than when I had written my first post.

That internal darkness is getting steadily brighter and this gorgeous secret is another light in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Child and Family Relationships Bill 2015

A few weeks ago a new bill was approved by the Irish government. It was the Child and Family Relationships Bill 2015. This was of particular interest to us because amendments to the adoption process were on the agenda for this bill. Although our adoption was made legal back in January, we were curious to see how things would be different had we only begun the process after the bill was introduced. It amounts to over one hundred pages and also covers assistive reproduction and surrogacy issues. The document itself is complex at times and I found the explanatory memorandum much easier to digest. Here are a few of changes that have been introduced to the adoption process since the bill has come into effect.

  1. Civil partners and co-habiting couples who have lived together for over three years are eligible to adopt. Previously only a single person or a married person could adopt a child (for both stepparent and intercountry adoption)
  2. The husband, civil partner or cohabiting partner of a parent can apply for guardianship if they have cared for the child for two years. This was not an option for my husband at the time of our application and its lack of availability was the driving force for our stepparent adoption. Although a step forward, there is an uncomfortable ambiguity with this aspect of the law. The guardianship has “limited rights” only concerns the “day-to-day” matters of a child. As a guardian, my husband would not have a say in the following scenarios: the right to make decisions on the child’s place of residence, the right to make decisions regarding the child’s religious, spiritual, cultural and linguistic upbringing,the right to decide with whom a child is to live, the right to consent to medical, dental or other health related treatment, the right to consent to the issue of a passport to the child and the right to place the child for or to consent to the child’s adoption.
  3. An unmarried father will automatically become the guardian of a child if they are living with the mother and playing an active role in raising the child. I think that this provision should have gone further to include unmarried fathers who are not living with the biological mother but can prove that they are actively taking on the responsibility of caring for the child over a considerable length of time.  The relationship between the parents should be made separate from the welfare of the child.
  4. Children’s views are now taken into consideration with regards to court proceedings on guardianship, custody and access. The court may consider the child’s best interests in the context of relationships, psychological, emotional and spiritual well being.  I thought that this was a given!

I was a little nervous that the changes made in the bill would have rendered the past two years pointless for our family. While I am delighted that there is some effort being made by the government to keep up with the modern Irish family, we are certain that we would have undergone the same process and adopted our son together anyway if the bill had come into effect earlier. While my husband would have gained certain guardianship rights after two years of caring for our son, he would legally have no voice when it came to the important aspects of our son’s upbringing. The bill also does not address the lack of involvement of an absent parent. A biological parent can still effectively abandon their child for years and apply for guardianship, access or custody if they have a change of heart. Stepparent adoption severs the rights of an absent biological parent and gives control back to the adoption applicants who are actively caring for the child.

I am deeply disappointed that the bill did not remove the need for a biological mother to adopt their own son. They could save hundreds of families so much heartache and stress if they made the necessary changes and addressed this bizarre and unfair law.

But when what would I write about? 😉

Our Adoption Story

As our son grows older, we want him to understand how he was created and what role each person played in bringing him into the world. Because he was so young when we undertook stepparent adoption we promised ourselves that we would always be honest and upfront with him about his origins.  We want him to understand that his biological father and I created him while his Daddy and Mammy are the people who have cared for him since birth. Our son loves reading so we decided to make a little storybook for him. We did stick figure drawings and wrote short sentences that we read to him every night. Within a few sittings he could tell us who made him, who made his little brother and who his parents were. Everything was presented in a positive, happy light. After the adoption we wanted a proper book that he could sift through during his childhood years and ask questions as they arose for him. Our artistic skills weren’t up to the task so a wonderfully talented young man named Thomas undertook the challenge. We sent him our scribbles and sketches and he sent us a beautiful depiction of our family’s story. With his permission I’d like to share a few of his intuitive images.

The story begins with two houses; mine and my husband’s as children. We explain how our parents looked after us when we were young. We use the terms ‘Nana’ and ‘Grandad’ so that our son will start making the connection. Then my husband and I are shown going to separate schools but still being best friends throughout.

The biological father gives me a “present” and my son grows in my tummy

We present my pregnancy as a wonderful present from the biological father. He then returns home and his part in the story is complete. We don’t explain why; at the moment no explanation is needed.

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Mammy and Daddy wait for the baby to arrive

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At home with the new baby

We bring our son home from the hospital and we describe all of the things we do to care for him (eg nappies, baths, walks, cuddles).

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Daddy, Mammy and our son wait for the little brother

In the next part of the story my husband gives me another present. This time it is a little brother. Again we take him home from the hospital, love him and care for him.

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Our family portrait

The final image is big brother and little brother playing on the see-saw together, a favourite pasttime in our house. Although this blog is anonymous, I can assure you that the likeness in these drawings is uncanny! We are forever grateful to Thomas to his sensitivity and talent in creating these gorgeous drawings for us.

 

After the Adoption

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Our daily reminder

Once the stepparent adoption had been made legal at our hearing, my husband and I were expecting to feel a rush of joy and relief. We didn’t feel either in the days following the big event. Our little boy continued on happily as usual, but we both felt at odds with the experience of adopting our own son. We continued on as normal, or at least we tried to. One morning, two weeks after the hearing, I found myself unable to stop crying. I felt as if I could no longer go on. I rang my husband who had just left for work and he returned home straight away to care for the children. I saw my doctor later that day and explained what had been happening in our lives. She advised contacting a counsellor and booking myself in for a session. I was reluctant to do so but I knew that I needed to reach out in some way in order to move forward. I had to be a mother to two young boys, after all. There was no opportunity for breaking down and being unable to cope.

There were many, many tears during my first counselling session. I recounted the events from discovering I was pregnant until the present day. The therapist was shocked that at no point had anyone, friends, family, or professionals, advised that I seek counselling. She acknowledged the huge amount of stress that I had been under since my son’s pregnancy and said she wasn’t surprised that I had ended up at this point of distress. She noted our bravery and integrity with regards to the adoption, but stressed how important it was that I learned to let everything go now that it was over. When she asked me how I could move on, I was stumped. I had been carrying this weight for so long that I felt I would hold onto it forever.

Over the next few sessions, I began to make sense of my thoughts and feelings around the adoption. If you attend therapy while you are in the process of adoption you must disclose it and have a letter from your therapist stating that you are still fit to parent. I was terrified to approach counselling during our application because of this. There is still huge stigma around mental health in Ireland today and I had no idea how the HSE would perceive my need to seek out help. I held off, therefore, and was the worse for wear because of it. Once I had the space and time to sift calmly through my experiences, I realised that I was holding blame for the actions that were not mine. I was carrying the burden of the biological father’s absence when I had made the decision to continue the pregnancy and raise this child. His refusal to be involved was not my fault. Our actions were separate. I realised that I could have never walked away from my son and therein lay the inherent difference between us. It was no wonder I could not understand his actions, but now I no longer felt as hurt by them. We perceived, and loved, differently. I did all I could to enhance my relationship with this amazing little person. He did not do the same.

The relief that came from this realisation was immense. The guilt and doubt that weighed me down felt unnecessary now. It also started to sink in that I now had total say over who enjoyed a relationship with my son. If anything were to happen to me, I could rest assured that he would stay with his Daddy and his little brother until he was old enough to make his own decisions. We had arrived at a point where our son’s place with his family was secure. He shared our second names and we were both listed as his parents on his birth certificate. The struggle was over and he was left with two adoring parents and a cheeky, loud brother.

I wish that I had attended counselling much, much sooner. I regret not being able to enjoy my son’s early years as much as I could have without the unnecessary burdens. If you are currently in the process of adoption and are finding it difficult to cope, I would advise seeking help far sooner than I did. A friend made the very good point that disclosing this information to the HSE proves that you are invested in your mental health and have the self awareness to know when you require extra support. This is a rigorous, difficult process, and every person wading through adoption deserves the space and time to process what they are going through.

The Final Step: Our Adoption Hearing

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Little hands

We were relieved to receive a letter from the Adoption Authority informing us that our adoption hearing would be held at the end of January 2015. We had begun the adoption process in December 2012. This day had been a long time coming for our family.

My husband booked the day off work and we informed preschool why our son would not be attending his usual session. In the days leading up the event we would chat about it briefly, but life is so busy with two young children that we hadn’t really considered the levity of the moment until the morning of our adoption hearing. Our families expected us to be elated but we were stressed and tense from the moment we woke. We made our way to the Adoption Authority at Shelbourne house, where many other families were sitting waiting for their appointed adoption hearing.

We weren’t too sure what to expect at our hearing. We knew that during this meeting the adoption would be finalised and become legal, but we weren’t expecting such a brief encounter with those who officiated the act. Before we entered the room we were told that we would be asked some simple questions in order to verify our identity and our wish to adopt our son. The man briefing us said that we would have to be sworn in. He thrust a Bible towards us and asked “I presume this will be okay?”. My husband and I glanced at one another. We both answered with a definitive “No”. We were given the alternative of swearing an oath instead. I suppose it is typically Irish to assume that we’re all Catholic.

When we entered the room, there was a huge table separating ourselves and the Adoption Authority. There were seven or eight people staring back at us. We swore our oath and then sat across from the man who seemed to be in charge. The questions were asked and answered quickly. A statement was made. We were then handed a letter with details of how to get the new birth certificate. I was a little teary, but there wasn’t much time for anything else. Five minutes later we found ourselves walking around Dublin city centre, papers in hand. It was anticlimactic and very, very strange.

Our son was having a fantastic day, though. He knew that this was a day where “Mammy and Daddy made a promise to keep me and love me forever”. We explained to him that we were making this promise because although Mammy and (Biological Father’s Name) created him, Mammy and Daddy would be the ones to always take care of him. He was familiar with his biological father’s name from the special book we had created so none of this was a surprise to him. He kept singing “This is my ba-doption day!” and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the promised ice cream afterwards. We met his grandmothers for brunch where he was lavished with gifts and love. It was a very positive experience for him.

My husband and I were a little broken, though. As soon as we got into the car after the adoption  hearing my husband’s eye starting swelling and he developed conjunctivitis within the hour. He felt run down and remained in bad form for the rest of the day. I believe that his body was releasing the tension he had been holding in the lead up to the big day. I myself was expecting to feel this huge surge of relief and happiness when we were handed the papers. I just felt the sharp injustice of having just become my son’s adoptive mother. This was what we had worked towards for the past two years, and yet I felt the same anxiety I had carried with me from pregnancy.

Our happy ending was still a little way off.

You can read the next part of our story here