Sweet and Sour
Our journey to adoption of our first child was, in many respects, one that seemed to match sadness with joy at each step of the way.
We had taken some time to get through the application process, not least because we were the first male couple to apply to our chosen Adoption Services department.
I was also standing for Parliament at the time. I had a very high public profile and a relatively uncertain future dependent upon the outcome of the election. So quite rightly additional work had to be done to ensure that we had thought about and prepared appropriately for how we would manage the adoption of a child.
We approached our approval panel with some trepidation, but confident that everything would be OK. Our social worker was very positive. She had written a glowing report about us within which she unreservedly recommended us as prospective adopters.
Our confidence improved the night before our Panel appointment when we watched a timely documentary following another same sex couple through the adoption process. They didn’t appear to be nearly as well prepared nor have the same attributes we had and, as their Panel approved them unanimously, we approached the meeting slightly more confident of the outcome.
The questioning wasn’t as onerous as we expected and once it was over we waited nervously in an ante room for the Chair to report the Panel’s decision to us.
She entered the room rather brusquely and started her statement with; “Well we had some concerns and the decision wasn't unanimous, but I’m pleased to say you have been approved as prospective adopters.”
The Chair hesitated for a moment, scrutinizing our faces, “You don’t look very happy?” she asked.
“No, no, we are, I guess we just hoped for a more positive endorsement.” I replied.
“Oh, really? I thought that was quite good!” She said.
It’s all in the definition of ‘quite good’. And in the delivery.
Some weeks later our social worker asked to visit because they thought they had a match for us. Bringing a colleague with her we were introduced that morning to the little boy who would become our son.
The full details of what was the horrendous story of how he had been brought into the care system were shared with us, along with a comprehensive and very honest appraisal of the challenges he would bring.
Afterwards J & I sat holding hands across the kitchen table, silently contemplating the journey ahead. Excited and terrified at the same time.
“I have to go to work,” J said. So after only a brief period letting the news sink in together we separated.
“Will you call your Mum?” I asked as he left.
“Yes, make sure you call your parents too,” he replied.
I’d decided not to go to work that afternoon and therefore went to phone my parents. As I picked up the phone it rang, the display showing their number. Assuming it was my mum calling to see how we had got on I answered the phone jovially.
On the end of the line was my Dad, panicked, “you need to come now, mum has fallen over and I can’t get her up!”
And so began a long afternoon, evening and night in A&E. A period of time in intensive care, followed for her and I made long daily journeys between home, work, my parent’s home to collect my dad, hospital then back to return him to their home again. A heartbreaking period of 2 months the full story of which I’ll tell sometime elsewhere.
My Mum remained in hospital throughout the period during which we went through our matching panel, obtained more information and photos of our son and prepared our home for his arrival.
She was allowed out of hospital on Christmas Day to spend the day with us, where we were able to show her the DVD we had of her grandson and tell her about our first, surreptitious, meeting with him.
Christmas week passed, an outbreak of winter vomiting on her ward prohibiting us visiting my mum over the New Year holiday. A thick layer of snow fell and heavy frost lingered all day.
We began the week during which we would begin the transition of our son from the foster home to our own. Early in the morning on the last day I was due to work, 48 hours before we started transition, I received a phone call from my mum.
“Darling, I’m not feeling well, can you come and see me this morning please? I’ve asked the nurses and they’ve said it’s OK. Don’t tell daddy, just come yourself.”
I cancelled my appointments and went straight to the hospital. My mum was frail, but otherwise outwardly in good spirits. I enquired if anything further needed to be done to help, my enquiries being met with kindly reassurance that she was fine from the medical staff.
So, I just spent the morning, until it was time to go and collect my dad, holding her hand and making her laugh.
Upon arriving back at the hospital, my dad’s reaction was much more negative. He was concerned at how my mum seemed sleepy and how her breathing was shallow. “She’s just tired and has a cold,” I reassured him.
Dad fussed so much that mum eventually dismissed him. I led him away and as I did so my mum gave me a wink, her trademark conspiratorial act to let me know I was doing the right thing.
That night I awoke at 3am, unable to sleep I went downstairs to do some work. Unusually I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep so I dressed.
Around 20 minutes later the phone rang, a kindly doctor on the end of the phone explained briefly, efficiently and calmly that my mum’s life was drawing to its close and that it would be best, she thought, if we could come to the hospital immediately.
J and I drove to my dad’s, rang him from the drive, to find him awake and partially dressed. He too had awoken and felt he should dress and be ready.
Driving along treacherous roads we arrived at the hospital to be met by the kindly doctor, a former colleague of J, who explained with enormous compassion that we were too late and that my mum had passed away a few minutes earlier.
In shock we took my dad home. Waiting until a decent hour to make the necessary phone calls to immediate family and close friends.
J and I discussed immediately the implications of our loss on our transition plans, due to start the following day. Our son had been told to expect us, was waiting for his move to his ‘Forever Family’ and had been counting down the days with his Adoption Calendar.
The last phone call to friends and family was to our social worker, leaving the news on her answerphone along with a reassuring commitment to continue with our timetable as planned, no matter the difficulties that might present.
The loss of any parent is often profound and numbing. All the more so in my case, as an only child with a very close bond to my mother. I hope and feel, in fact I know, J and I did the right thing, the thing that she would have wanted, in continuing with our son’s transition. Changing our lives forever, immediately shining a light through the darkness of loss for me and, in time, also for my dad.
So the sweet and sour moments end on a ‘sweet’, one that has just got better and better.
If you'd like to read my eulogy to my mum, you can read it here.