Monthly Archives: November 2013

Applying to adopt a little brother. Sam says “the same colour as me”.

By the time Sam was six, we realised that the years had flown by and we had failed in one aspect of our family plan.  We always intended to adopt another boy so that Sam could have a little brother “the same colour as me”.

We began the process when Sam was six.  He was ten by the time we were finally allowed to adopt Joshua.  I am sure this cannot be regarded as quick by any standards.  It was entirely different from when we adopted Sam as a baby.

To set the new adoption in process we contacted the society that placed Sam with us.  By the late 1970s there were far fewer adoptions of black and mixed race children by white families. There were still many children who needed adopting but the policy was changing.

Research had revealed how hard some black children found it growing up in white families.  In some cases it was particularly difficult if they grew up in all-white areas. Sometimes they only fully realised that society saw them as black by the time they were in their teens.  We knew this and one of our key concerns was to help to support our young son to develop a healthy racial identity.

It is obvious that placing a black or mixed race child with a loving black or mixed-race family is easier for the adopted child, but we hoped the adoption society would look favourably on us, as we already had Sam.

One day at Sam’s school, an adoptive mother of a mixed race son turned up with a pram.  Inside was a mixed-race baby whom they were hoping to adopt. Perhaps we had not left things too late?

pram

We went ahead and applied to the adoption society.  All sorts of references were sought before we could be invited for an interview.  Some of our friends thought that this was ‘outrageous’, since Sam was obviously happy and well integrated into the whole family.  We thought, on the contrary, that it was absolutely proper and necessary.  If we were inspected as a family and passed, this would show that the society thought we were still fit people to adopt.  Circumstances and people can change.  An official approval would be welcome affirmation of our suitability.

We passed all the references.  We passed a home visit.  We passed a fairly gruelling interview when all five of us came to be questioned at the London Head Office.

Then there was only one hurdle left.  This was the Final Panel Meeting.  We adults were pretty excited on the evening of that Meeting.  I had prepared everybody’s favourite food – shepherds’ pie followed by fruit jelly and ice cream.  We had not told the children that the panel was meeting that day, but we adults were only too aware.  We were expecting an evening of great celebration.

red telephone

Then the phone call came.  The Panel could not agree!

There was to be one more meeting in a few weeks’ time.  One member of the panel was querying our ability to manage financially with a fourth child.  D. was a full-time minister of a church and she knew how badly they were paid.  She was worried..

We had our favourite food but did not mention our set-back.

ice-cream-jelly-cream

We would have to wait and see and hope that a re-convened panel meeting would give us all the ‘go-ahead’.

It did.  We were finally approved as would-be-adopters of an older child.  They said that there was a greater need for people to adopt an older child.  They felt that a child around the age of three or four would be more suitable for our family than a baby – more of a companion for Sam.

There were still many months before we heard of a child who might fit into our family.  This was to be a long waiting game.

 

Woo! Hoo! A good feeling from dance.

Our elder daughter has always loved dance and made it her career.  It clearly gives her a good feeling. And we get a good feeling watching.

dancer f

Our younger daughter was more into doing handstands up against the wall.  She wanted to be her own person and not copy her big sister.

Little Girl Doing Handstand

 

 

Now to the boys.

I can’t help thinking that the whole Hip Hop movement made them feel good.  Just at the time they were growing up in secondary school, black music and dance were all the fashion. It did a lot for their self-esteem.  They spent many hours outside our small house, with a piece of lino or carpet on the pavement practising and practising their moves.  The other children down the street were impressed.  Hip Hop was popular with everybody, black and white, but above all the boys knew that this popular kind of dance originated from the black community and it helped with their sense of identity.

Hip Hop boy small copy

One year we went camping in France.  Five of us were crammed into a small Fiat camper van.  I remember how the whole campsite echoed with Michael Jackson music.  Campers came from a wide variety of countries.  It was interesting that so many people were all choosing to play his music.  I think “Thriller” was the most popular.  Sometimes youngsters would be outside their tents practising ‘moonwalking’.  There was a competitive element, but this was a goodnatured competition.

As parents we knew that we had to encourage a sense of black identity in the boys.  We all shared delight in the thought-provoking words of Bob Marley’s songs and thoroughly enjoyed Michael Jackson’s songs and dancing. We were grateful for these aspects of the current culture that inspired our children and made them feel good.

2 dancing silhouettes

Our adoption experience long ago. Was it very quick?

One of the first comments I had when I started the blog was that the reader could ‘hardly believe’ how quickly we were allowed to take baby Sam back home with us in 1971. She was sure that it took much longer nowadays.

I do not know how the procedure goes today but perhaps I did not make it entirely clear how things were arranged for us.  I shall list below the procedure as I remember it.  (Don’t worry.  Future blog posts will not be this long!)

The process in 1971

  • We received an initial letter describing a baby who was about to be released for adoption.  We were encouraged to ring the adoption society if we were interested.
  • We rang.  This was followed by detailed information about the baby’s birth mother.  Less information was given about the birth father, as he did not know about the pregnancy.
  • We arranged to go down from Tyneside to South London and see the baby.  If we “took to him”, we should then sign all legal papers and bring him back home with us.  Our status would be foster parents who were hoping to adopt the baby.
  • We had to write a report each week on how the baby was doing.  Also, if we had to take him to see a doctor, we should report that immediately.
  • We don’t remember receiving any visit from a Tyneside-based social worker, but I assume we must have done.
  • After three months we should inform the society whether we were ready to set the adoption process in motion.  This would necessitate signed documents by a doctor.
  • At this point the birth mother would need to sign confirmation that she was happy with the arrangements.  (She had asked that her baby should be placed with a family where there were already children, so I imagine she was happy to hear about the two adoring big sisters!)  We had to provide her with a photo that she would receive after the adoption order.

Everything went to plan UNTIL I took baby Sam to our local GP.  He picked up the baby, mumbled that he was very small and that the notes did not indicate how many weeks premature he was. He could not sign the papers himself.  He made an appointment for us with a paediatrician.

The appointment with the paediatrician came really quickly.  She was a young woman, but rather than appearing friendly, she looked concerned as she read Sam’s medical notes.  She picked up the baby and mumbled.  Then she looked at me intently. “I assume you do know that a premature baby could be deaf, blind, or have learning difficulties.  I can’t just take the notes from the London hospital.  I shall arrange for tests to be made here in Gateshead.”

I left that appointment with my head swimming.  Actually, with the ignorance and confidence of youth, I felt that baby Sam was absolutely fine.  He was our third child and he felt just right.  And furthermore, if he did suffer from any of the problems she mentioned, we loved him and would still want to adopt him.

baby on tummy

The tests were interesting.  First a doctor explained that he was going to drop the baby a short distance to see whether he still had a vestigial reflex action. (We looked this up recently. It is called a Moro reflex and babies lose it after a certain number of weeks).  If he still had this reaction, this would give a clue as to how many weeks premature he was.

Next a doctor and nurse rolled out a green baize carpet and rolled white balls from one side of the room to the other.  Baby Sam was supposed to follow the ball with his eyes.  He did not.  He sat on my lap happily and calmly, as is his nature. He let the adults get on with their little game.  Result: Failure.

Next Sam was thoroughly examined and while still naked sat on my lap.  He was presented with little bricks on a table at his level.  He was supposed to play with the bricks.  Again he took no notice.  Result: Failure.

The doctors looked apologetic and sympathetic. “We shall have to test him again after Christmas.  Please do not worry.”

We did not worry.  We still felt all was fine and that he was just more premature than had been originally thought.

Christmas bells

After Christmas baby Sam passed every test with flying colours, documents were signed, a photograph was taken and we were able to attend the local County Court.  The judge said that baby Sam was now officially ours, not just for his childhood, but he was our son for life.

This procedure took six months.  I must ask a practising social worker  whether this happened quicker than would happen today.

Three cheers for cousins!

Our granddaughter Mia has twelve black cousins, one white cousin and two who may look white, but have Caribbean and white heritage.  She also has three second-cousins in Scandinavia.  Two of them are very blonde. The third has gorgeous dark brown hair.  Her mother is originally from Romania, such is the wonder of human relationships across country boundaries.

One generation ago in the 1970s, when we were being interviewed about becoming prospective adopters, we were asked how our family and friends would welcome a baby from a Caribbean background.  We answered that we felt confident they would welcome the newcomer.  This proved to be entirely true.

Now fast-forward to 20I1. Our elder son is now a proud father of daughter Mia.  Family members have stayed in touch in England, France and Sweden.  I cherish this photo of Mia and two of her Scandinavian cousins.

cousins

They had not seen each other for one year and were so happy to be together again.  They fairly raced along the pavement on the way to Kew Gardens, where they played and walked for hours.  (Each of those little girls usually complained about long walks, but they did not notice the distances they were covering, as they chatted and chased each other.)  Three cheers for cousins!