The highs and lows of adopting birth siblings

Emma and Andy had always wanted a family and chose to adopt after discovering they were unable to conceive. The couple brought home their two children 11 months after first contacting an adoption agency.

While she is aware of the importance of being prepared for some of the complex challenges adopters often face, Emma warns against becoming “too bogged down in it all”. She recalled how “you can get tied up in the process . . . having to jump through hoops”, while waiting to be approved. She said: “It’s important to stop and remind yourself why you are doing this – because you want to become a parent.”

The couple have encountered some obstacles on their adoption journey. The first couple of months proved to be particularly challenging. Emma told how she was “tired, frustrated and I felt out of my depth” in the early days, crying before breakfast one day because she was so exhausted.

Emma said: “Bubbles and Nibbles were not the same children we saw in the DVDs or met at the foster carer’s house. They went from being fairly independent for their age to morphing into kids who needed constant attention from us both as they were clearly struggling to deal with the upheaval of being adopted.”

Bubbles attached to Andy much quicker than to Emma. When asked at panel, prior to the children being placed with them, how they would deal with this eventuality, they simply replied “we’ll deal with it”. However, the reality proved to be more difficult than that. Emma recalled: “I didn’t realise how horrible it would feel to be rejected by your own daughter. You’re there ready to love a child who is using what words she has to tell you she doesn’t want you. It can test you as a couple and a family.”

With Andy due to return to work, the family had to face this problem head on. Emma recalls a major breakthrough in her relationship with Bubbles following a trip to the park. Whilst Nibbles was napping one day, Emma took Bubbles to the park to spend some time together alone. Emma pushed her on her favourite swing for a whole hour.

“It was worth the aching arms because at the end we had bonded”, Emma said: “Sometimes love can take time to grow.”

While acknowledging some of the challenges associated with adopting sibling groups, Emma said: “We love the fact we adopted siblings . . . they’re best friends.”

Emma believes Bubbles and Nibbles have become more independent of her and her husband than a single child may have because they have one another to play with. This also provides the couple with the space they need from time-to-time. Emma also feels that having each other has helped the children to develop their social skills and has taught them to share.

She said: “Their love for each other has helped us through some of the more difficult times. When Nibbles was at a low ebb, sometimes the best thing we could say was ‘Bubbles, can you give your brother a hug?’”

Having initially endured a difficult period once the children were placed, Emma is keen to offer advice to newly-adoptive parents. She said: “Cut yourself a lot of slack and don’t try to fight every battle from the get go.

“I tried far too hard to be brilliant from the start and was too concerned with setting a precedent early on. It’s okay for kids to eat spaghetti hoops, or watch a bunch of cartoons if it helps you all get through the day.”

She highlights the importance of self-care for adoptive parents and how this can produce better outcomes for the whole family. Emma said: “Knowing what I know now, in some ways I wish I could have those first few months back.” She advises newly-adoptive parents to “make it easy, make it fun” in those early days.

Emma is also a published author; she shares her adoption story in her book And Then There Were Four, which came out this year. Emma started writing the book a couple of years ago as she was conscious that she didn’t want to forget the “incredible highs” and the “pass-the-tissue lows” of the process.

She is eager to stress that the book is her story and no one else’s, not even her husband’s, who “remembers it differently”.

Further motivation for writing the book came from the fact she felt that the issues of infertility and adoption were “too secretive”. It was only after Emma and Andy began their own adoption journey that Andy discovered three other men in his office were adoptive fathers.

“I wanted to blow this world open and have open and natural conversations about these topics”, Emma exclaimed.

She also wants her children to understand later in life what is it was like for her and Andy when two became four – “the good, the bad, and the indifferent”.

It is only recently that Emma has come to feel that she belongs to a wider adoptive community – through writing her book and receiving positive feedback, social media engagement and becoming an Adoption UK member. She wishes she had been part of this community longer as it would have helped her understand she was not alone and others were experiencing similar challenges to her.

*The children’s real names have not been used in order to protect their identities.

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