Our joys, trials and tribulations as parents of an adopted child

Ten years ago, Fiona and her husband adopted an ‘adorable’ six year old boy. In this honest and heart-warming update she describes adoption after IVF and life with a typical teenager.

There are only so many jokes one can crack about flatulence, or so many ways one can talk about it and I think my adopted teenage boy has exhausted every one – that’s if he can be bothered to communicate with us at all. The subject features in the many animated conversations at our dinner table which regularly include such other fascinating debates as who gets the extra-spicy chip in the bag of Doritos Roulette Tortillas or who should eat the last bag of crisps …

Moreover those moments can only occur if teen boy even deigns to come down to the table after managing to tear himself away from gaming online. This will have invariably provided us with an absolutely constant sonic background resonant throughout the whole house of ‘Kill ’im you sweat! Kiilllllllll! Shooooooooot you stupid idiot!’. We have yet to reach the goals of the Harvard University Dinner Club project that I enthusiastically signed up to when our boy was seven, which claimed to be able to help one’s family discuss social justice and solutions for world peace in a matter of weeks.

parenting mugs adoption after IVF

Adoption after IVF – Did we want to have a baby or did we want to be parents?

Our ‘fertility journey’ began in 2009. It ended with several rounds of failed treatments and considerable psychological and physical suffering which I outlined in an earlier blog series. These had to be worked through in order to clarify what the next steps should be to ‘resolve’ the difficulties we faced as a young couple trying to start a family. Like many patients in fertility clinics, we told no-one about our problems because we felt ashamed and preferred to struggle through in silence; and the whole experience brought us to our knees. Thankfully with the support of some great counsellors, we slowly unravelled the knot of problems that entrapped us and identified what we felt was the key question that would enable us to finally move forward: not ‘do we want to have a baby?’ but ‘do we want to parent?’ And the answer, we felt, was ‘yes’.

So began our journey with Coram’s adoption agency in 2011 and by summer 2012 we had adopted an adorable little boy who we took home on his sixth birthday. I still remember what I call my own personal ‘birth moment’: setting eyes on his face peeping out from his foster carers’ backdoor; taking him in our arms and giving him a loving hug which finished with an extra-warm squeeze as he stood on the doorstep and we realised he was ours to keep. This wasn’t the triumphant production of a baby from my womb in the delivery room that I had coveted so desperately throughout my IVF. But it is a special – if different – moment when ‘our child’ came into our world and we will never forget it. That he had inhabited someone else’s before ours has never been discounted by us either and it will always remain a part of our family narrative. Yet his entry in our lives and his continuing presence there makes him firmly ours and nobody else’s.

We knew we had made the right decision

So started a glorious time of playgrounds and playdates, soft play centres, Saturday-morning cartoons, football, drama and karate club, beach visits, fairgrounds, ice creams and other sweet treats as we oriented our lives to this little whirlwind of joyousness. If I say that we lost 28 lbs between us at that point, you will understand just how energetic this young boy was. Having had my last McDonald’s in 1992 way before I adopted, I am now embarrassed that the staff in my local drive-through recognise me. Our Love Bank was overflowing and abundantly in the black and we knew, looking back, we had made the right decision.

In particular, I was at long last in the new mothers’ club, facing the same fatigue, frustrations, scheduling difficulties, irritations and joys that all the other mothers had, and I felt a real sense of relief. Even pregnant women and new-born babies mostly posed no threat to my emotional wellbeing despite me seeing more and more of them because with my own child I was now around many mums adding to their families. Indeed, I found I had no time to ruminate on such issues anymore, for I was constantly on the move looking after my very own little boy.

I volunteered to write this update because, as the years have passed by and our son has grown into a teen, I have some observations about parenting which I think might be of interest given that we came to all of this after the pain of prolonged infertility. I am keen to briefly share one or two of those insights, especially if they help others who themselves are trying to move through fertility treatments and find the right path forwards. This is because ‘fertility stories’ often stop at the point of acquiring a child or baby, and seldom tell us much of what happens beyond that, or how those who have recovered from infertility look back on the years they struggled through.

A child’s ultimate aim is to break away from your care

First, there is no doubt that as time goes by, we have found that there is still much to enjoy about rearing a child and this does not stop as the novelty of having a new member of the family wears off: the triumphs in music or drama productions or any other hobbies or activities; the family trips, dinners and conversation; the football ‘player of the day’ and other sports team wins; the meeting of friends and the commendations from teachers and other professionals that work with youths.

football boots

However, just as the Love Bank can overflow into the black, so too can the amount of love available dip quickly and unpredictably into the red as time progresses. Whilst the junior years were certainly ‘idyllic’, a child – the coveted goal of fertility treatments and the easy outcome of natural fertility – constantly transforms and its ultimate aim is to break away from your care. Whilst it is difficult to perceive this on a daily basis, the rate of physical, social and emotional growth of our boy has been incredible and is especially noticeable the more we can look back two, four, and, at present, eight years.

From 25 kg and 120 cm at our adoptive ‘birth’, he’s now tipping the scales at around 70 kg and is 175cm! Just like the satirical character Kevin the Teenager our child has changed overnight and that reserve of dedicated affection we developed in the younger years has certainly been drawn upon and has sunk to almost empty before being refilled and re-used multiple times!

Details of those occasions do not need to concern us here. It would be dishonest to say that they were not bewildering, scary, perplexing, frustrating and, on one or two occasions, frightening and upsetting. If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, some teens are from another universe altogether. There are rare moments of lucidity when they reconnect with Planet Earth, but unfortunately at the time of writing, I can’t actually recall any of them at all!

‘Mum, what’s for dinner?’.

‘Son, you’ve just eaten it. That was dinner’.

‘Oh, then what’s for pudding?’

‘Darling, you’ve just eaten that too’.

Perhaps the reassuring thing, though, is that every parent of every teen will be able to identify with this and certainly the mothers that I have been able to confide in, and who have been truthful about things, have confirmed that this is a time when our skills as a parent and carer with unconditional love are tested. As formerly infertile, adoptive parents, we’re still very much in the ‘parents’ club’ and the range of emotions, difficulties and challenges we face are those that every parent experiences to varying degrees.

The job description of parent is the same however you arrive at that role 

Whilst I have been driven to tears of frustration on many occasions recently, so too have I still felt very much a mother, someone on whom my son depends as he develops so astoundingly fast. Thus strangely, whilst it has not always been particularly pleasant, I’m still very proud to be sharing my frustrations equally alongside other parents who feel the same things. We committed to obtaining a child through adoption rather than conception, but the job description is the same and fulfilling the role requires the same skills.

It is interesting, though, that, determined as I might have been never to become a ‘spoilt’ parent who flaunts her child before the childless-trying-to-conceive, recently when a 40 year old friend finally became pregnant with her first, it was truly difficult for me not to ask her, ‘Do you really want to bring all of these parenting traumas you may well eventually encounter into your nice quiet marriage? The cute turn evil at 13.’ Hearing this of course would not have been helpful, and yes, it would never have stopped my husband and I in our desperate quest for a family a decade ago.

Second, although the amount of love one feels for one’s child clearly waxes and wanes, the strength of that emotion does appear, thankfully, to endure. Amidst all the chaos and perplexity that parenting a teen brings we have experienced extraordinary moments of tenderness where the whole family has been bathed in feelings of love. Admittedly these are indeed far and few between … but they are real and fulfilling. These include numerous trips to A&E Departments where various bits of the football pitch were fished out of the teenage eye; or a suspected broken nose was investigated after an assault at school. They encompass the burning tears that flowed on the trip home from school on Valentine’s Day in Year Seven when every other boy in the class appeared to get token of lust from the girls except him. They are present in the (very occasional) moments when we enjoy a ‘family sandwich’ and a momentary group hug (but now with mum, as opposed to small boy, in the middle).

The instinct to nurture and care will never go away

So what would I now say to myself, as I was, over ten years ago, struggling with the hopelessness of infertility and the challenges of treatment and the many decisions that we knew were to follow? It would be to reassure myself that yes, the right question that clarifies the path to be taken still appears to be ‘do you want to parent?’. Because all that you are going through is not just about acquiring a child or obtaining a pregnancy. Whether that occurs through natural conception, or via some form of fertility treatment, or indeed through adoption, you become a parent and it is that which you are striving for when all is said and done. This means that you must be prepared for the whole range of prospective joys, trials and tribulations of this role as they unfold over the years. If IVF or surrogacy does not supply it, then adoption definitely can. Yet if this job (rather than product) is really not what you think you want, then you can also decide to live child free. This too would be a valuable and valid choice and a meaningful way to live out your lives.

As for us, we will continue to muddle through to our adoptive son’s 18th birthday when we can help him step away from our household into young adulthood and his future life. At least then nobody will keep nicking my hair gel, mousse and hairspray to preserve his ‘fresh trim’. No doubt this will entail levels of empathy, understanding and patience which we know on occasions we will fail to provide. But we do know that the circle of love that holds us together will remain intact and our instinct to nurture and care will never go away. Luckily on the rare occasions that he speaks to us, he seems to think that’s OK.

More information

Read Fiona’s original series of blogs detailing her adoption journey: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

See more about different routes to becoming a parent on our blog.

Related articles