We found out that we couldn’t have children which I never felt particularly upset about because I always knew I wanted to adopt. I rang our local borough and was told I’d have to wait. I was desperate to get a move on but it took us three years between making that final decision to adopt and us adopting the girls.
After we were approved they sent us details of various different children. Lily and Megan arrived on our fax and we knew they were the ones. They have the same birth mother but different fathers. Our daughters were four and five when they were placed with us and they’re now aged 17 and 18.
We met them in 2004 and then they moved in. We were ready for them to move in as we’d done our socialising so we were a bit ready to have a change in life and we wanted it. I was 40 when they moved in. It was really overwhelming.
It was such a weird experience because suddenly we’d got two fully formed human beings coming into our life and into our house who were very able to look after themselves. They could go to the cupboard and make themselves a sandwich. It was like having mini adults. They were traumatised but very compliant which made it very odd.
We always felt at that time – and things have changed – that things went against us
Whenever we look back at photos of Megan during this time she looks frightened. It was extraordinary – you don’t know how to behave towards children who have been moved from their mother, to their aunt, to foster carers, to us. We were not equipped with how to deal with it and at that time there was no support for us. We always felt at that time – and things have changed – that things went against us, that we were not supported at all and that we had to manage on our own.
Everyone said to us at the time: ‘Oh my God, don’t take older child they’ve got too much baggage – your life will be ruined!’ But whether you adopt a baby or an older child there’s no difference...that’s the nature of adoption. In an ideal world no one should be adopted but we thought we could make a real difference to an older child.
How would I describe adopting? Extraordinary, amazing and very challenging, but not because they’re challenging, it’s the situation that is challenging – their birth family and the consequences of neglect. Lily was very badly neglected which affected her academically. She has difficulty with language and is behind for her age but they’re both really amazing girls. We’ve had a lovely time and it’s so rewarding but it has been difficult.
If you’re thinking you’re going to get a perfect baby, then adoption isn’t for you
The big things stand out like Megan passing Grade 5 at piano, the girls going horse-riding, but the main achievement was when Megan was contacted by her birth father’s family and came running down and told me. To have such an open and close relationship to a child you’ve not given birth to, especially when they’ve come from one of the worst possible backgrounds...that’s the biggest achievement. To be able to laugh around the dining table and for them to be able to tell me their feelings... that’s the best achievement.
What would be my advice to prospective adopters? If you’re thinking you’re going to get a perfect baby, then adoption isn’t for you because if you’re thinking it’s all going to be smooth-running, it won’t be.
If you do want to adopt you have to really, really, want to do it. It can’t be a case of ‘oh, I quite want to’ or ‘it’s a good second option’. You need to be driven as it’s such a challenge. You have to be desperate to do it. It’s certainly not an easy option.
adopting siblings was the best thing we did
People are worried about missing ‘the firsts’. But if the children have been neglected they won’t have experienced a lot of ‘the firsts’ yet, like getting on a bike, swimming, going on a plane, watching TV with you and cuddling up together on the sofa.
There are also advantages to adopting older children. You can tell what they’re thinking and they can tell you. I think I’d find it very difficult to have a baby who didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them – whereas older children can tell you what they’re feeling. So when they’re having a terrible nightmare, you can’t make it totally better but you can talk about it.
Their best support was each other so even though as teenagers they’d sometimes get on each other’s nerves, they are also each other’s greatest support. Keeping them together was their saviour, even though they like to have a bit of time apart from one another now.
I really feel that adopting siblings was the best thing we did – although I accept that some siblings have to be separated. The girls have had contact with some of their birth family over the years but not with the birth mother, just the siblings. My adopted daughters are each one of nine - so they have seven other maternal siblings.
To read Regina's adopted daughter's story, click here