Thursday, 23 June 2011

First day of training

Today has been a good day! Our journey has kicked back into action having had a few months in limbo, with the first day of our four days of adoption training.

We're just back from a great holiday, during which I got lots of reading in about therapeutic parenting and dealing with attachment and trauma for 'looked after' children. I learnt lots and G and I had lots of conversations about the topics we were reading about. However G didn't really want to talk about the course that we knew we had today, two days after our return, because he was so nervous about it. I thought I would be fine about it, I am quite used to both participating in, and delivering training courses, so I didn't think I would be nervous at all. So I was quite surprised when I woke up at 4.30 this morning, belly feeling very tingly and unable to get back to sleep because of how nervous I felt. G and I sat and watched TV for a couple of hours to keep our minds off it, but we both agreed that we felt very sick when driving to the training centre this morning!

We arrived at the training course at 9am and headed to the canteen to wait for the course to start. Other couples were arriving who we assumed were for the same course, but everyone sat on separate tables, no one really spoke, and everyone looked as scared as we did. I suppose it was probably because this is so different to any other course I've ever done before. This has a lot riding on it - it is literally life changing and therefore it means so much more than anything else I've done before. In addition, the joining instructions clearly stated that we were expected to fully participate in group work, and that we would be being assessed, so every thing was over analysed in our minds (were we too smart/too casual, did we arrive too early or too late, had we had a close enough shave this morning, was our breath fresh, did we look friendly, what was our body language - you get the picture!).

We were called through for the first session at 930am and went straight into ice breaker games to start to learn the names of our fellow hopeful adopters. There were six couples on the course in total. The pressure started to ease and the people all seemed really friendly.

The trainers introduced themselves, two senior social workers running the programme, and another that was there to 'observe our interactions.' That plunged us back into nervousness as we again re assessed our body language, how much we were saying, how many names we remembered in the ice breaker exercise....

The overall theme of todays session was about motivation and loss. The first session started to look at why loss was such an important part of the process. Essentially there is a triangle of loss involved in any adoption. There is loss that affects the child - the loss of their birth parents, the loss of their home,
the loss of a normal childhood etc, there is also loss for the birth parents, the loss of their child, their self esteem and their family routine, and finally the loss that the adopter experiences, the loss of the chance to biologically parent.

We split into three groups and each group had to consider one part of this triangle. Despite our promise to stick together, we were straight away separated as no one was allowed to work with their own partner. So G went off to look at the loss of the birth child, whilst I was tasked with the loss of the birth parents. It was a great exercise for me, as to this point I really hadn't given much care to the birth parents feelings, and it was useful to explore this and to perhaps gain a bit of empathy for their potential situation.

When it came to feedback, I was really proud that G stood up to present his group's work, and seemed really confident in the subject, and in talking to the group. He was clearly conquering his fear of group participation!

The day continued with exercises that included the 'river of loss' where we had to identify all of the key losses and traumatic events that we have experienced over a timeline of our own lives. G and I were
amazed at how many  funerals we've been too, and how much has happened in the last decade. One of the most common causes for an 'adoption disruption' (the name given to an adoption placement that fails) is when the adoptive parents have not acknowledged and resolved their own life traumas, as having a child with their own extensive traumas often turns any cracks the adults may have in their life story, into chasms that disrupt relationships. G and I were happy when reviewing our own 'rivers' that we really feel that whilst we've both dealt with loss and trauma in our lives (most noticeably G's dad's death last year), we have not ever felt like we've suppressed any of the emotions around those incidents, and we don't feel that we've papered over any cracks that may later come back to haunt us.

One of things I also realised, is that in the past, I've perhaps avoided discussing hard to talk about topics, in a very British way, but for me, one of things I learnt when G's dad was so ill last year, was that it was okay to talk about things that may be upsetting. This is because it's not the conversation you're having that is upsetting the person you're talking to, it's the thing that you're discussing that is upsetting, but talking about that 'thing' is okay - in fact it's healthy, and it's okay if that makes one or both of you cry, because it's healthy to be open with your emotions.  I really think this is a skill that will go on to help me in parenting a child that has been through a traumatic start, as it has made me feel more confident in talking honestly, and directly about emotions and loss.

As the day went on, the group relaxed and it became clear that the group of people on our course could well become important members of our support network as our respective journeys progress.

We reviewed the adopted child's loss issues. The social worker described adoptive parents as being 'super parents' she went on to explain that we will have to deal with all of the same difficult things that any parent has to deal with, but in addition we will have to help the child to come to terms with their early years experiences. She also explained that loss can start pre birth, and even adopted babies will have their own loss experiences and traumas that will need to be dealt with over the years.

We watched a video of an 8 year old boy in a therapy session, describing his experiences of being taken in to care and later adopted. He was quite young when he and his older sister were removed from their 'tummy mummy' as she was physically abusing them. He talked openly about his hatred for his tummy mummy, and described how over time he had come to realise that his new mummy and daddy wouldn't hurt him, and would love him, and would give him great experiences. He said that it took him some time, but he had learnt to trust and love his new mummy and daddy. However he also said that we was still looking for a little bit of him that seemed to be missing. But he didn't know what exactly that missing bit looked like. He said that he didn't really think anyone could help him to know what the missing bit was, bit maybe his tummy mummy knew. This was really though provoking. It certainly made me realise that assuming we are successful in this journey, we can only hope to be the best parents we can possibly be. We can give love, affection, support, life experiences, extended family and we can help our children to grow into hopefully loveable, well adjusted adults, but ultimately we will also have to accept that there will always be something that we can't put right for them, and we can only hope that the something we can't make better, doesn't engulf their lives.

It was a powerful video and ensuing group discussion - not at all negative, this little boy said that he loved his new life and saw no bad points of his adoption, but it's healthy to be reminded that we must always be open and honest, truthful and realistic, that we can try to be good parents, but that we must accept that which we cannot change, and that to fail to acknowledge that, and to help our potential child to deal with and understand their background, would be catastrophic.

The good news is, none of this puts us off! We are fully aware that we will have perhaps more challenging issues to deal with as parents of a looked after child, and that there will be difficult stages on the journey, but as the social workers said today, the result of that commitment is that a small child can really thrive from experiencing a loving and supportive family that they would otherwise never have experienced, and that whilst there will  be tough times, this can be the most rewarding and special thing that will happen both to our lives, and that of our prospective children.

So, a good day! It all feels real now - things are underway and we have started to work with the team of people that will ultimately decide what our future family will look like.

We've come home with some homework to complete, as well as our formal application to adopt to fill out, and we go back in three weeks time for the final three days of the preparation training.

We've survived the nerves of today, we both feel we participated fully and we met some lovely people. We've come away feeling excited and optimistic! Roll on stage two in a few weeks time!

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