Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Nicola and Ian
What a strange title for a story about our adoption journey, you might think? All will become clear as the story unfolds.
It is a story of births, deaths, marriages, miscarriages, cancer diagnoses, unsuccessful IVFs, ectopic pregnancy, and it started over eleven years ago. But that is too long a story for today. This story will tell you about our adopted son, M.
We were approved as adoptive parents in June 2016. Not long after, we were approved as a match with Baby M. At the time, we were told he was a perfect match, and as we discovered when we met him on the 31st of August, that was true!
Our attachment was instant and unconditional, and he was so like us, it was unbelievable. The next six months were amazing and we had so many adventures, filling every minute of every day. We identified his needs very quickly and responded as best we could to all of them.
But every story has a twist in the tale.
M became critically ill on the 19th February 2017 and died on the 21st February. The staff at our hospital in the UK told us that, for those few days, he was the sickest little boy they had ever treated. From that moment, jigsaw pieces fell into place, and we realised why we had all bonded so well and so quickly and why he had wanted to do so much… because M just did not have time to waste.
There is a quote about butterflies living by moments, not months, and that is how we feel about M. He had a whole lifetime of moments in his short life; he was loved very much and loved us very much and he was very, very happy.
We have since been told that M was always going to die young and feel it was fate that brought us together. It is an understatement to say we were heartbroken when M died. The speed at which he became ill, the way the illness affected him, and the restraints of the adoption system — all compounded the heartache.
Whilst we appreciate it might be difficult for some to understand, we have been able to process M’s death and feel we are at a point where we can consider the next steps in being an adoptive family again, although many think it is too soon. Let us explain how we got to this point, and in doing that the idea of “It is okay to be okay…” should become clear.
We viewed M’s arrival as one of the chapters in the story of our lives, and whilst it is a short chapter, it is an amazing one. The reason we talk about the chapters in our lives is because it is our previous chapters that contribute to who we are, why we are and how we will be. The adventures and characters in our story over the past eleven years have enabled us to cope with the death of M, and our experiences allow us to be in a place where we can contemplate the future with more children.
One such adventure and character in a chapter of our story was Yiannis, the manager of our hotel in Crete, where we were on holiday in 2014. We had been told Nic would not be able to get pregnant, so we went to Crete, planning in September to start the process of becoming adoptive parents (please remember the notion of ‘adoptive parent’, as we will revisit that later).
Nic fell ill in Crete, and after a few days took a pregnancy test, which was positive.
But it was an ectopic pregnancy, and Nic had life-saving surgery in Crete. One evening, after Ian had returned to the hotel from his daily hospital visits, he sat with Yiannis having a coffee and a chat. Towards the end of the conversation, Yiannis said, “You know, Ian, life is short…” and after a thoughtful pause, he added “but life is life.”
Yiannis ended by telling Ian that everything would be okay, and you know what – it is! It is okay, it is okay to be okay, but you know what, it is also okay to not be okay.
It is this mantra that “life is short, but life is life” that we wholeheartedly believe. This, amongst other adventures, has shaped our shared philosophy. Why do we tell you this part of our story? Because that is how it is – life is short; in some cases, too short; however, life does go on and we keep moving forward.
We became adoptive parents because we want to support an adopted family to flourish and grow. That has not changed. M’s impact on those he met was phenomenal, and we believe he came to us for a reason.
And we are grateful for that.
But remember we asked you to hold on to the notion of being an ‘adoptive parent’, well actually we feel Micky was our adoptive son – he chose us. And the three of us had an amazing time. But life is short and life is life.
This chapter in our lives has come to an abrupt, painful, yet life-affirming end. We are asked about (or receive apologies) for our loss regularly. In fact, our unique beliefs around the loss of Ian’s Dad were explored extensively during stage two of the adoption process.
We cannot stress this enough – we have not lost M. And for anyone who really knows us, they would understand that this may well be a problem of semantics. But we honestly do not think we have lost M. He died, and it is so very sad, and it will be sad at different times for a long time to come, but M is not lost. We cannot find him like we could find our misplaced house key. Nor is there anything we can do to bring him back. And that is okay.
We believe we have not lost anything from M’s death. We have only gained from our time together as a family. We gained from our love for each other. We made memories and we had so many amazing moments. We gained new skills. We made new friends. We experienced new things (and old things in new ways). In short, we only gained from this time.
Some of you may feel that we have lost a future, but we live in the here and now, and we do not believe you can lose something that has never been!
We have also asked, what would have happened if we had other children living with us? Would we have just stopped to grieve for a magical time-period and then everything would be back to “normal”? The experts tell us that the magical time-period to wait before moving on is ten months, but they cannot explain why.
We believe that only you could answer how you would feel or what you would do.
We are not all copies. We do not all take the same number of months or years to grieve. We have not all worked through seven stages of grief this way or that. We are all individuals, and that is a good thing. If we had had other children living with us, we would still have done exactly what we are doing, which is carrying on.
We embraced a new normal. We have been described by professionals as unique and unusual at times over these eleven years (and in fact M was also described as unique and unusual on occasions whilst he was with us) and maybe it is this that has allowed us to process what has happened more quickly and differently than the majority of the population.
In the time since M died, we have had a lot of love and support. We have had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people, including staff at the hospital (the bereavement support team and the consultant who was treating M when he died), our health visitor, our GP, our social workers, work colleagues, friends, family, other adoptive parents, play workers, and a counsellor. All these people have helped and supported us to get where we are and will be there in the future too.
Many of these professionals support us when we say we are feeling ready to take the next steps and adopt again. However, at this time, social workers feel we need to wait longer to be ready, and therefore the next chapter of our story is on hiatus until January 2018.
We have had the most amazing support of the play centre we attended with M (and where we have been volunteering for the last few months). Money was raised at M’s funeral and some of those donations have gone towards a sandpit being built in his memory at the centre. We have been asked to sit on the Board at the centre.
Most importantly, we have support from our family, our close friends and our dearest work colleagues. We have taken much needed time, over the months after M’s funeral, to be together, to talk, to cry, and to laugh. We have taken overseas trips to help with our healing. All of this gave us time and space to be together, and because of this, we felt able to return to work on 26th June.
In August, we went on holiday to Walt Disney World. M loved Ed Sheeran, “Photograph” was one of the songs we played at his funeral, the lyrics “we keep this love in a photograph, we made these memories for ourselves, where our eyes are never closing, hearts are never broken, and time’s forever frozen still” pretty much sum things up. And so we went to see Ed Sheeran when we were in Orlando. It was a total coincidence that he was playing there when we were on holiday.
Or was it synchronicity? This was introduced to us by a counsellor. Synchronicity is a concept which contends that events are meaningful coincidences if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. We believe that the events that led us to meet M, our amazing time together, and everything that happened were formed by meaningful coincidences. And we look forward to where the next series of meaningful coincidences take us.
We feel positive, happy and content with our life and feel ready to take the steps to start the next chapter in our lives. We believe this next chapter is one about being an adoptive family in the near future and we do not feel we need to wait any longer.
We do not think anything will change if we wait two months, six months or twelve months longer. And we leave you with the words we sent to the adoption panel when we had to write about our feelings:
“We want you to know that we are not trying to replace M (he will always be our son); however; we feel ready to be the best parents we can be, to create a loving and stable family and to identify a child or children’s needs and meet them as best we can. Whilst we understand you may feel it is too soon to have reached this decision, we hope you will view us as the individual people we are, who together make the adoptive parents we are approved and feel ready to be. We are happy to attend panel to speak to you face-to-face if you want us to.”
And we could tell them. It is okay to be okay.
Ian, 45 & Nicola, 43, live in England. They love the outdoors, road trips in their VW campervan and Disney. They are OK, and that is OK. Thank you to Carrie for replying to our email and then giving us the chance to tell you this chapter of our story.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter.