“Have you got a womb space for your son?”

I haven’t got a list of “questions that I thought I’d never be asked” but surely if I had, that one would have been near the top somewhere. I’ll put it in context: as I’ve said before, we’re doing two types of therapy: Developmental Dyadic Psychotherapy (DDP) and Sensory Attachment Intervention (SAI). The DDP is great. Some days Robbie is more open to talking and other days not so much, but we can see the use of it and we think we’re making good progress. The SAI has mostly involved Robbie swinging from a giant rubber tyre and all of us jumping on cushions so far. This gets recorded on video and then the SAI specialist gives us feedback on how Robbie interacts with us. Last week we had a feedback session and the therapist, given our obvious lack of understanding of what’s going on, went through the aims of the sessions one more time. Nope, still no clearer. I mean, we understand what it’s supposed to do, but we really don’t get how it’s supposed to happen by jumping on cushions and swinging. It really doesn’t help that we don’t seem to connect with the therapist either. She’s a bit earth mother-y for us. We keep thinking any time soon she’s going to give us a talking stick…

So anyhow, at this latest feedback session she said two things that first puzzled me, and then the more I think about them actually made me quite cross. The first was the question above. The answer? No, we don’t have a “womb space” for Robbie. By “womb space” she actually means a safe place that he can withdraw to when he wants, somewhere near us. The term is as inappropriate as it gets. Whoever came up with it obviously didn’t think that many adopters are infertile women who probably don’t like the idea of having to provide a “womb space” for a child that was born out of someone else. And let’s not get started on how two men might feel about the suggestion that their son needs “womb space”. Infuriating. The therapist suggested a pop-up tent in the living room would make a good womb space. We’ve looked at a couple and Robbie isn’t keen, but he quite liked a huge cushion that some friends have at home. We could buy a similar one and put in the living room. I’ll ask the therapist what she thinks…

The second thing she mentioned was our physical contact with Robbie. Robbie can be very baby-ish sometimes. He wants a lot of cuddles and kisses, sits on our laps and also climbs into our bed speaking “goo-goo ga-ga”. The therapist thinks we have to be careful that Robbie doesn’t get confused as to what appropriate contact with adults is, as that may make him more prone to sexual abuse. Like I say, I was puzzled by this at first: we’ve always been told that because of his trauma, regression was a typical stage, so we’ve gone with it. Also, after a quick survey of close friends (some of whom have children two or three years older than Robbie) I find that their kids also get into bed with them for a cuddle. The more I think about the comment from the therapist, the angrier I get about it. A small part of me also wonders if a heterosexual couple would have received the same advice…

Where have I been?

I’m sorry I’ve not been more prolific lately. I have not one but two excuses: first of all, I’ve had a cold for most of the past two weeks. It just won’t go away and it’s a pain. Second: I’ve lost my iPad. Yes, stupid me left it on a plane. It was seriously delayed and I had to literally run to get a coach home, so I bolted it from the plane and left it behind. Of course I rang lost property etc… but no success. I’m still kicking myself for it. Anyhow, I used to do all my writing on the iPad and without it I just don’t seem to get around to it.

The return to school was quite a non-event. Robbie adapted well to his new teacher and everything’s well. He’s been invited to a couple of birthday parties already. Even homework seems OK (well – until last Friday, more later), especially compared to how awful it used to be.

Therapy has continued too. More DDP (Robbie wasn’t particularly engaged for this latest session) and SAI (more jumping on cushions whilst being videoed – still not terribly clear what we’re getting out of this). The evening after therapy last week Robbie found an excuse to hit me. I think there’s so much that comes to the surface that he has to let it out somehow. Would rather it was with words, though, but it wasn’t a major eruption and we managed it quite well.

Last Friday was worse. Robbie got angry over homework and punched Glen very hard. Then he pinched him hard too. Glen was fuming (and hurting both physically and emotionally) and refused to acknowledge Robbie’s presence until I convinced him that his ignoring Robbie was only making Robbie feel even less worthy. As the grown-up, Glen gave in and there was a bit of re-connecting. There weren’t any further eruptions over the weekend.

And today… I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with this blog. What? No work today? Nope. That’s because I’ve reduced my hours to four days a week and shan’t be working Mondays for the next year. Everyone keeps telling me that I need to spend time doing things I want and relaxing, so that’s the plan. So far today I’ve been to the office once to pick up some paperwork I need to read before tomorrow morning and I’ve also done some housework. Me time? Hmmm. I’ve not given up 20% of my salary for this! Must try harder.

A fabulous day

I don’t often post about our good days, of which there are many. I guess this is because it’s the hard ones I need to get my head around and writing helps me do that. But last Sunday was such a great day I just have to write about it.

We went up to London, where Robbie was taking part in the sponsored Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research London bikeathon. He did amazingly well, riding his bike for over six miles in under 90 minutes. He got a medal as was very pleased with it. We cheered him on every time he completed yet another lap of the circuit (he went round 34 times in total) as when he finished we told him how proud of him we were. I also told him that he should be very proud of himself. For the first time ever, on hearing those words, Robbie didn’t shake his head. He didn’t nod either, but it’s a step in the right direction.

After the sponsored bike ride (Robbie raised £150), we took the Emirates cable car to the Greenwich peninsula. From the cable car we could see this huge ride by the side of the O2: the BT Infinity ride. Spinning chairs 40 metres high. Robbie wanted to go on it, so we agreed. The four-minute ride felt like an hour. Glen and I got off feeling rather queasy, but Robbie had loved every minute. After a walk around the O2 (thankfully you have to be 10 to climb on the roof) we took the cable car back, made our way home and went for a meal out at Robbie’s favourite restaurant.

Like I say, it was a great day out. We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and there wasn’t a single bad moment.

Elton John, homophobic parent?

I was on holiday when this piece of news came out and I’ve been meaning to write about it. Elton John recently said in an interview that it will be heartbreaking for his son to grow up without a mum, and he worries about homophobic bullying.

You can read the story here.

I was quite angry that Elton appears to take the view that growing up with two dads is somehow a hindrance, especially coming from such a public out gay figure and one that is a gay dad (by surrogacy, not adoption) himself.

I was going to write a long text about it when I found the responses from a gay and a lesbian parent. Of all places, it was published in the Daily Mail. They say everything I wanted to say and more, so I leave you with the link here. As usual with all Daily Mail articles, whatever you do, don’t read the comments or have a look at the voting on how they are received.

Contact with siblings, therapy, meltdown and home therapy

On Monday we had contact with Robbie’s older sister and brother. As always it took place on “neutral ground”, a park in a city that’s more or less within equal distance of the three families involved. Robbie was very anxious about it the night before, worried that they wouldn’t get on or that he’d be challenged about past behaviours when the three of them lived together with their birth parents. He feels so much shame about it. He was also sad about not being able to see his siblings more often and once again queried the reasons why he can’t live with them. As it was, the kids got on very well. They played together without needing much supervision and enjoyed each other’s company. Because of this, we extended the contact time beyond the agreed two hours, which wasn’t a very wise thing to do as the kids started to annoy each other and returned to previous negative interactions.

We expected Robbie to externalise some of the things that might be going through his head afterwards, but he didn’t. When we got home we had a lovely afternoon and he went to bed just fine.

Yesterday we had two appointments with the post-adoption support agency. The first one was just Glen and I, and we got some feedback on our Sensory Attachment Intervention assessment. Some of it we expected and some of it was surprising. They offered some good advice and we found out more about the sessions to come. The second appointment was another DDP session with the three of us. We talked mostly about the summer and contact, since it was such a recent event. Robbie was quite engaged during the session, which we were pleased about.

Once again we expected some sort of outburst straight after, but Robbie appeared to be fine. It was only at bedtime that things went very wrong very quickly. There was a lot of violence. We were punched and I was beaten with cushions. I remained calm and supportive, asking Robbie what was going on and trying to empathise, until he threatened me with a pair of scissors. I then had to remove myself as I was really shaken.

When he eventually calmed down, Glen had a long chat with him. Robbie burst into tears and then blurted out a lot of revelations about how he feels, including feeling that we hide his past from him, his fear that he’ll have to go after 3 years with us (the same way he had to leave his birth parents and his foster carers after 3 years), thinking that he’s just like his birth parents because he hits, and saying that everything (the violence the kids had to endure, not being able to live with birth parents) was all his fault. He also uttered the line we’d hoped we’d never hear, or at least not until he was a teenager: “You’re not my parents”.

Glen listened and tried to address his concerns, but Robbie was too disregulated to listen. Eventually, Robbie fell asleep. The three of us had a long chat this morning and addressed all of the issues Robbie had mentioned. Amazingly, he allowed us to talk for a long time without any avoidance techniques, and he engaged with what we were saying: replying and asking questions. I think some of what we said went in. We also told him we’d probably have to discuss them with the adoption support agency too, which he didn’t like.

School starts tomorrow and I’m a bit sad about it. With the exception of the bad moments, I’ve enjoyed the last few days with Robbie and having a chance to do fun things as opposed to having to do routine school and homework stuff. I hope the return to school doesn’t lead to any more anxiety and negative behaviour.

His heart belongs to Daddy

As I mentioned on my last post, I was somewhat concerned about how Robbie and I would get on while Glen was away for three days this week. I needn’t have worried: it was fine. Actually, it was better than fine. We got on really well, did lots of stuff together and really enjoyed each other’s company. He was kind, considerate and very affectionate towards me, as was I towards him. It was just lovely to spend time having fun together.

As we drove to the station to pick Glen up, I told Robbie how pleased I was that we’d got on so well while Daddy was away. He agreed. Then, as soon as Glen came into view, he ran out of the car and into his arms. As they hugged, Robbie turned to me and gave me an apologetic look. It seemed to say “I know how well we’ve got on, but it’s Daddy I love most”. I smiled and winked, trying to convey that it’s ok. We both know his relationship with Glen is safer and a lot more stable, and bound to be interpreted in that way.

Back and forth

Glen and I took three days off parenting while our friends Jonathan and Stuart looked after Robbie and went away to Sweden, where we enjoyed some sightseeing and just catching up with each other. It was lovely to reconnect and have some “us” time. Having said that, we both missed Robbie a lot and everywhere we went we kept thinking of things we’d love to be sharing with him.

After three days, Glen went back to the UK and I stayed in Sweden for work until Saturday. Once again I really enjoyed being a professional and not a therapeutic parent for a few days. In the meantime, Glen and Robbie went to the New Family Social camping event. Robbie had a whale of a time with all the other kids and enjoying total freedom from scheduled activities for four days. I joined them on Sunday when I got back to the UK. When I saw Robbie, he was playing with other kids and he just about acknowledged my presence with a quick hello. I asked for a kiss since I hadn’t seen him for a week, and he reluctantly came over to give me a quick kiss before rushing away again. We spent the afternoon and evening catching up with friends and had dinner before getting ready to go home. Since we had two cars, Glen and I arranged for Robbie to come back home in my car. Robbie refused to, and wouldn’t explain why. I felt very rejected but told him it was fine if he wanted to go home in Glen’s car. Robbie changed his mind, but I told him by then it was too late and he should think before he speaks. Robbie got very angry and tried to hit me with a pillow. I drove off and left Glen to it.

Yesterday Robbie found it hard to adapt to being home again. After all the freedom and being surrounded by kids, he was bored being “alone” with us again. He watched TV for hours, and when we said he’d been watching it for too long and he should find something else to do, he got angry again. Soon he was kicking me in the back, whacking me and slapping me in the head. It was the same as when I got back from Spain a few weeks ago: all my relaxation and rest went out of the window and the stress of being a parent to a traumatised child came rushing back. I found an excuse to leave the house because I couldn’t cope with it.

Glen spoke to Robbie and things calmed down. When I returned he apologised, but he was still claiming that he cannot and won’t play on his own with any of his toys. After his bedtime Robbie got up and told Glen he couldn’t stop thinking about his birth parents. He also told Glen that he’s worried he’ll turn out like them. He feels so guilty about hitting me. He said he doesn’t know how to stop.

This morning he was fine again. We played in bed and had a brief chat about last night. I told him that we have to work hard at getting on and reminded him that’s why we go to see Adam at the adoption therapy centre. He didn’t particularly engage with me (he was covering his ears), but he heard me. Glen is off on a work trip for the next three days, so I hope we can get along without him.

Happy contact with foster carers

Last Wednesday we had contact with Robbie’s foster carers, Annie and Peter. We saw Annie last year, but we hadn’t seen Peter for over two years because he’s not been well. On other occasions we’ve met on “neutral ground” or they’ve come over to us, but this time we went over to them. They’ve moved since Robbie lived with them, so there wasn’t an issue with going back to the house where he used to live with them.

Robbie was looking forward to seeing them, but also nervous about it. I think he was worried they wouldn’t like him anymore. He was very quiet on the drive there. He wouldn’t even play on his DS. Whatever worries he had were dispelled as soon as we got to Annie and Peter’s house. Peter came outside when he heard us pull up and Robbie ran to him and gave him a big hug. He also hugged Annie as soon as he saw her. It was lovely that Robbie didn’t feel he had to hide his feelings or play it cool for our benefit.

Annie and Peter are currently fostering four babies. Robbie, who was used to living with babies and helping out with them, soon was interacting with all four. We had lunch and then went for a walk to a nearby play area. Later we went back to the house and looked at our photo albums. We’ve been making an album for each year that Robbie’s been with us, and he was keen to show them to his foster carers. He also insisted on taking his school work with him, which he proudly showed to them too. Annie and Peter made all the right noises, telling him how lucky he was to get to do all the activities that we do together and praising his school work, how neat his writing is and how clever he is. Robbie, who usually shakes his head when people praise him, soaked all these comments in. He also accepted the comments Annie and Peter made about how tall, handsome, polite and helpful he was.

We sat down and reminisced about the time Robbie spent with them. We also looked through some old pictures. This wasn’t done in a sad or melancholic way, but rather reminiscing in a positive way and laughing about funny things that had happened. Both Annie and Peter told Robbie how much they think about him and miss him. Again, this wasn’t done in a sad way or in a way that might make him feel like he “abandoned” them or they might want him back.

We ended up spending five hours there. Robbie had been playing with the babies throughout the visit and by the time we had to leave he wanted to take one of them home! Annie gently reminded Robbie that the judge said he needs to be in a home where all the attention can be given to him and that’s why he and his siblings had been placed separately.

We said our goodbyes and drove home. Robbie was chattier on the way back than he’d been on the way there and seemed happy. There were no outbursts when we got home, which we had expected, although he did become very baby-like. He obviously felt he had to reconnect with us and make it clear that despite the afternoon at his foster carers’ we are the ones who nurture him. It was lovely and such a positive experience for all of us.

During the visit we also discovered something we hadn’t been aware of: while we were in the play area and I kept Robbie entertained on the swings, Glen had a chance to talk to Annie about Robbie’s fears that his birth parents are looking for him and will take him. Annie replied that she wasn’t surprised as during contact both his birth parents used to tell Robbie that they’d “come for him”. That explains that. Maybe we can address it on one of our therapy sessions when they resume after the summer.