After unsuccessfully attempting IVF, Andrew McDougall and his wife adopted their two-year-old son in January 2013. Here Andrew describes their adoption journey to date and shares his tips for other new adopters.
"When my wife and I discovered that we would struggle to have our own children, adoption was always on the table. We tried IVF first, simply because in our area we had one free attempt.
"We started IVF in September 2009. The experience was incredibly difficult for both of us, but probably more so for my wife. IVF is very much weighted against women in terms of what each party has to go through. I found it very hard to see my wife go through the process of IVF when we understood that the fertility problem lay with me.
"After our eggs were harvested we were hoping for about four or five decent embryos. We had only one, and it didn't cleave properly, which meant the attempt was unsuccessful. This was one of the hardest things we have dealt with as a couple and it was a really low point for both of us.
"Communication and understanding got us through it. My wife and I talked a lot and discussed our feelings regularly. There was never any blame apportioned as we shared the view that it was a battle for both of us together, and, if anything, it brought us closer."
Our decision to adopt – taking back control
"We decided to adopt a few months after the IVF failure. I remember to this day the feeling of relief I had when we finally made the decision.
"We wanted children so much, but seemingly had no control over whether we would have any. We saw adoption as a way to take back some of that control, with a much higher chance of a positive outcome than another attempt at IVF.
"The physical weight of anxiety lifted, it was incredible, and breathed a new life and motivation into both of us. Although our adoption took nearly three years, from first enquiry in April 2010 to placement in January 2013, our own situation was quite unique and I know the adoption process is getting much quicker."
Our adoption medical
"As part of the adoption assessment process, all potential adopters have to undergo a health assessment, which should be fairly straightforward. The doctor looks at your eyes, ears and mouth, and checks things like your blood pressure and BMI. My wife also had her breasts checked, and although my private parts were not checked, we have friends for whom it was the other way around, with his parts checked and not hers. It may depend on your medical history.
"It lasted about an hour, a lot of which was the doctor filling in the paperwork and asking questions. The actual physical examination lasted around 10 minutes."
Read more about the health assessment for adopters.
How it feels to be an adoptive parent
"The general feeling of being a parent is wonderful, with the obvious exceptions that a typical rowdy toddler can bring. Being an adoptive parent of a child who has experienced trauma specifically brings its own challenges, and feelings.
"My son is very healthy physically, and the signs at present show he is emotionally and mentally age appropriate, so we are very fortunate from that respect.
"However, we realise that psychological problems caused by a child's early experiences can appear several years down the line. Our son was removed from his birth mother at a very early age so avoided major trauma after birth, but the fact that he was separated from his mother may cause him some problems later down the line – we will have to wait and see.
"Behavioural challenges raise a lot of questions, and I find myself second guessing why he does certain things. Most birth parents think: 'Is he teething, is it the terrible twos, is he tired?' We have the added complexity of asking ourselves, 'Is this something to do with his adoption or past trauma?'
"When he is older, we'll have the added pressure of talking about his adoption with him, but we're fully aware that this is part of the adoption process, and will address these challenges as they come."
Our post-adoption support
"Professionally we have had very good support from our local authority. Our social worker organised Theraplay sessions [where parents are shown how to play with their child in a structured and nurturing way, helping to form healthy attachments], and we had a lot of communication from our social worker, our son's social worker and his foster carer.
"As well as being on the end of the phone, we were invited to a lot of courses. One such course before placement was the TAPPs (Trauma, Attachment and Preparation for Placement) course. This was very well delivered and touched on the effects of trauma in adopted kids as well as Theraplay ideas. The courses were all free to attend.
"Friends and family have been incredibly supportive. It helps to have a good support network where you live, which we have, and as well as their physical presence, we often ask them for hints and tips of how we can deal with certain situations. It's good to talk to friends and family about your adoption experiences, and to have someone available that you can vent to."
Parenting strategies for our adopted son
"My wife and I try to have a lot of one-on-one time with our son, and also family time. For example when my wife and I hug, we always invite our son to join in, simply to reassure him he is part of the family.
"Theraplay was used a lot at the start of our placement. We have had a couple of visits from a Theraplay specialist who showed us some great techniques to help our attachment with our son. I am absolutely certain they have helped.
"Apart from Theraplay, we adapt more conventional parenting strategies to suit our child. For example, we don't have a 'naughty step', but we do have a place in the kitchen that he goes to for some quiet time. We don't leave the kitchen though – one of us will remain nearby.
"We do a lot of eye contact as well, games, reading, playing – we always ensure eye contact is used. This comes naturally to most parents, so it is strange that we have to think about something we do as part of everyday life, but we need to make conscious efforts to reassure him."
Andrew's tips for other adopters
- Before your child is placed with you, don't put your life on hold. Visit friends, go on holiday and do all the things adults who don't have children do, and enjoy it!
- Find out what therapeutic parenting courses are available to adopters, and get details of anything you think is suitable.
- Try to get contact details of someone within the agency who deals with access to Theraplay, as early as possible.
- A lot of people want to get the formal adoption through the courts as soon as possible, but when this happens some post-adoption support can come to an abrupt end. Bear this in mind, and if you think you need more support it is worth delaying it.
- You may find it helpful to keep in touch with your child's foster carer, if they had one. We are on very good terms with our son's foster carer – she has dispensed a lot of advice that has been brilliant.
- Remember, you can always phone your social worker for advice. They are professionals and have a duty of care when it comes to looking after children who are placed for adoption.
- If you are in a couple, communicate with each other regularly. This helped us a great deal when dealing with the challenges.
Read about the new, quicker, two-part adoption process.
Learn about your health and wellbeing as an adopter.