Ali (38) is a mum to two little firecrackers. She’s suffered from illnesses in her younger years which has led to infertility. She and her husband chose adoption over fertility treatment and she regularly blogs about her journey and mental health, as well as her ‘winging it’ approach to motherhood. I recently caught up with her to ask about this journey
Hi Ali, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about your journey. If you can, please can you talk me through the illnesses you suffered during childhood and what this consequently meant for your journey to motherhood?
Thank you for the opportunity to share how I became a Mum. When I was 7 I had appendicitis and the operation didn’t go well. I ended up having 3 further operations due to an infection and was poorly for a while after.
A few years later I had to have more surgery due to severe adhesions around my bowl which caused a severe blockage. I then had ME for 2 years.
When I was 26 I started vomiting after eating certain foods and got extreme stomach pains regularly, I had gallstones. I lost a significant amount of weight as I couldn’t eat fat and as I lost the weight I noticed my stomach was strangely distended under my scar. I had cysts caused by a dormant infection. My Gallbladder was removed in the December and my cysts 5 months later.
It was after that operation that the surgeon told me I would struggle to conceive. I was told that I needed to try quickly to get pregnant through IVF or my chances would steadily decrease.
My relationship ended, I met my future husband a year later and we enjoyed life. We loved going to festivals and holidays spending time with friends. I didn’t want to rush starting a family. I was also career driven and I just didn’t feel the time was right.
How old were you when you were first told your chances of having children naturally were slim? Are you able to put it into words how you felt?
I was 26! I do remember, I was on a morphine pump and had had an epidural for my cyst operation and I remember feeling quite drugged up! The surgeon came around, he was a really lovely guy, he touched my foot and I thought that was weird as I couldn’t feel it and he smiled and looked sad at the same time. I don’t really remember the words he used. But he was kind. I just remember feeling like I’d been physically kicked in the stomach. I can only really compare it to how grief feels. It’s sudden and all-consuming and I took a moment, nodded and thanked him. Then as he walked away, I started sobbing. My Mum who has been by my side through everything was there, I started panicking about telling my partner. I made her tell him. I physically couldn’t say the words out loud.
This seems like an awfully personal question, but I know you have done a blog about this, so I’m going to ask the question… why did you decide not to try IVF?
A few reasons; I think spending so much time in hospital played a part. The biggest reason though was the fear of it not working or worse still getting pregnant and having a miscarriage.
I know we are probably stronger than we can ever imagine but I just didn’t think I’d cope with losing a baby. I’d always thought about adoption and it just was the first thing I thought about when we decided to start a family.
You’ve spoken about how adoption for you both was not an afterthought, it was your preferred choice given your circumstances. Can you briefly talk us through the process? How long did it take?
Yes, it was never an afterthought. Infertility sucks there are no two ways about it, I would have loved to feel and be pregnant but I’ve thought for a long time way before we started the adoption process that I wasn’t meant to be pregnant, that probably sounds a bit mad, but I do believe in fate and I think this was the path we were destined to go down.
The process from having our first meeting with the adoption agency to the children moving in was 16 months. We decided to go with Adopters for Adoption rather than our local authority, there wasn’t a reason for that, I just really liked the lady I spoke to when I contacted them.
We were allocated a social worker who came and visited several times. We had lots of paperwork to complete and had lots of discussions with the social worker to create our Parenting and Accountability Report (PAR). This is basically a life story of the both of us, to pass to social workers of potential children.
We were approved as adopters in November 2015. The thought of sitting in front of a panel is terrifying, but the actual process was ok, they are extremely supportive, and kind and it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.
Once approved, the matching process starts. You can join sites like Link Maker and view children’s profiles online, I found this difficult. Sometimes there are adoption days, there are also magazines. Once you have found a potential match. You can let their social worker know you are interested, it can be quite a long process waiting for a response and sometimes you don’t get one, if they respond that they are interested then you exchange PAR reports.
Then you may be chosen as a potential match, you then meet their social worker, then their foster carers, we had a child appreciation day where any professional or foster carer that had supported the children was invited and all shared information about them with us. We had a meeting with their paediatrician and then we went to the matching panel.
Again it is completely nerve-wracking but a much better experience than I anticipated. We then had about 4 weeks until the introductions. We had to record videos of us in the house and take photos. We used a talking photo album for each of them. We also sent them a cuddly toy each and the albums in a Gruffalo Trunkie as my son loved the Gruffalo.
You are now a mum to two beautiful children, whilst you did not physically carry these children yourself they are your children and part of your family. How old were they when they came into your care? Can you talk us through the early days? How did you settle into motherhood?
My son was 4 and my daughter was 18 months. The first night I slept outside their room because I convinced myself they would stop breathing, this maybe sounds crackers but it was just surreal that a few days before we weren’t parents and now we were.
The first two weeks were blissful, the children’s behaviour looking back was strangely perfect, they slept from 7pm to 7am. Then they began to settle into our home. The early days were by far the best and hardest days of my life to date. My husband had two weeks paternal leave and then went back to work full time. My Mum lives with us so she was a massive support, I fell in some ways into motherhood easily, I felt in many ways so fulfilled that I was a Mum but was also taken aback by how hard it was. I know people tell you, but you really don’t know what something is going to be like until you experience it yourself. Mainly because you cannot imagine the emotions that come with parenting. I’d been a nursery manager and worked in early years for over 10 years, so I honestly I thought I was prepared.
You must have people ask all sorts of questions, what would you say has been the strangest question? The most inconsiderate question? The most common?
Ha, ha. Yes a few times, but I know people don’t really mean it in a cruel way, and some things are quite tricky topics. I get a lot of comments regarding my daughter’s hair colour and how I am so dark. The most inconsiderate comment is that at least I didn’t have to go through labour.
What would you say has been the hardest part of the journey?
Realising that I didn’t have to be perfect. It took a while and a bucket load of anxiety to realise that I couldn’t live up to the ridiculously high standards I had created for myself. I always thought I would never shout at them or swear around them. I thought they’d never eat sugar and hardly watch any television. I thought id want to do lots of educational but fun activities with them. I thought I’d lose weight and give up alcohol. I’m not saying shouting at your children is the best way to support them, but it’s inevitable. You and your children are so in love and dependent on each other, that gives them the advantage of knowing exactly what presses your buttons. I couldn’t believe in the early days that my 4-year-old son could wind me up to the point of wanting to run outside and scream and swear. We tried our best but it soon became clear that we would need additional guidance to help him. That was so hard, I felt like I wasn’t strong enough or good enough to support him appropriately. I know now that it takes strength to ask for help and to open up to friends and family.
Mummy Social believes that mummy friends are vital during motherhood, have you had support around you during your journey?
I have had amazing support. I’ve struggled to make new friendships with other parents that I didn’t already know since adopting the children, I don’t know if it’s because my son started in Year 2 at his current school, so those school Mum friendships had already been established. I also work full time so rarely do the school run. I have amazing support from my family and a group of friends that I’ve had before the children came along. I can speak to them about anything and as I have been friends with them for a long time they really get me. I’ll be honest, I think there is a lot more support for Mums who have children naturally than adoptive parents. I’ve found a fantastic support in that way through social media. I’ve connected with people online that I truly believe will be lifelong friends. The #ukadoptioncommunity is amazing. I’ve made some friendships with other Mums that have adopted and we share our parenting highs and lows.
Interview by Danni. Mummy Social Team