When my children left home I decided to adopt

As the front door opened, all I could see was a mass of black hair and an enormous smile.

‘I know who you are,’ said Polly* excitedly, looking up at me. ‘You’re my mummy.’ 

That moment my nerves dissipated and my heart swelled with love for this gorgeous, bubbly little ball of energy. She grabbed my hand and led me inside her foster home then began charging around, pulling out a jigsaw and dominoes, and it hit me that after four years of waiting, I’d finally found my adoptive daughter.

I was in my mid-40s and already had two children when I decided to adopt.

It all came about when my eldest son left for university, and my younger one moved in with his girlfriend a few years later – suddenly I felt unbelievably lonely.

I’d been a single mother for most of my life, and it was a shock to be rattling around an empty house alone. Raising two boys, our home had always been filled with noise; of boys running up and down the stairs, playing card games, opening and raiding the fridge, having friends over for sleepovers.

Then suddenly I was alone and I didn’t know what to do.

I’d spend weekends with my two nieces, then aged six and eight, joining them for takeaways and shopping trips, but at home time, I’d drag my feet, knowing it would just be me and my dog, Bobby.

But all this free time also set me thinking. Here I was, with time, energy and love to give. So many children needed a home and I had an empty one. I spoke to my sons about the idea of adoption and they thought it was brilliant, as did friends. 

Only one friend registered their doubt, reminding me that these years were supposed to be ‘my time’ to do what I want and did I really want to give that up? ‘But what’s the point in me-time if it has no purpose or I have no one to share it with?’ I replied, and she could see I was determined. 

After doing some research, I registered with Barnardo’s, which has more than 100 years of experience of finding families for children.

What followed was reams of paperwork, health and safety checks, interviews (that delved into my own upbringing), and then finally, in August 2017, while I was on holiday in Wales, I received the call I had long been waiting for: they’d found a perfect match, five-year-old Polly.

Before we met, I gave her a book filled with pictures of my sons, nieces, Bobby, her new bedroom. Apparently she showed everyone that book, telling her foster carers and friends that I was her ‘forever mummy,’ which made me so happy.

Then finally, just six days after we met, Polly moved in. As I packed her clothes and toys into my car, and she hopped onto the backseat, chatting happily away, I felt like my life was about to start again. 

That afternoon she bounced on the trampoline with my nieces and I loved hearing the garden once again ring with the sound of children’s laughter; all the loneliness of the empty nest melted away. 

I knew that Polly had grown up in a large family and suffered chronic neglect – she’d been in foster care almost a year – so I’d braced myself for some hurdles, and attachment issues, along the way.

And those early months were indeed far from straightforward.

Polly was forever polite, her bedroom tidy, breakfast cleared away with no fuss; but she tried ‘too’ hard. To her, love wasn’t unconditional but something she had to work hard at; she felt it could be withdrawn at any time. 

It took me months of telling her that I’d love her, whatever she did, for her guard to finally lower. Her room’s messy now and she’s thrown a few tantrums, saying, ‘You’re not my mummy!’ but I’ve tried to remain steady.

Three weeks after the adoption, I had an overwhelming sense of suffocation.

I had this child who I didn’t really know, with me constantly; I was filled with guilt-ridden panic, but Barnardo’s support workers reassured me these feelings were normal and supported me.

Soon I began to enjoy each of our early milestones: our first dog walk, first cuddle on the sofa, first time washing her hair, first parent’s evening… As we were leaving, I felt Polly’s fingers encircle mine.  ‘Thank you for coming to see my teachers, mummy,’ she said, her little mouth set in a serious line. That moment I felt a fierce rush of love.

Today, four years after Polly moved in, I feel privileged to be her mum and I’ve never once questioned my decision to adopt her.

For anyone who is thinking of adopting, I’d encourage them to think about how it will impact their lifestyle choices, not just in the here and now, but in 10 years time and in the future. Adopting a child is a forever commitment, not just for the short-term.

While I’m hardly a young mum – I’m now 49 – I go to sleep every night feeling exhausted but happy, knowing the exhaustion is more than worth it. Polly is so upbeat and full of energy – during lockdown she even forced me onto a bike so we could go on rides together! 

Luckily, she went to school throughout lockdown because of my job as a teacher, so we were able to lead a semblance of our normal life.

Polly also idolises her brothers – and now her sister-in-laws too! The first time she saw a photo of her brothers she exclaimed “they are brown just like me!”

They have a really close bond and all enjoy pranking each other. They are all as daft as each other and are certainly well-matched.

And I love our normal life. It may be tiring but the house, once again, is full of life, and there is nothing more that Polly and I like than cuddling up on the sofa under a blanket and watching Tangled, competing to say how much we love each other.  ‘I love you,’ I say. ‘I love you more,’ she retorts. ‘I love you most,’ I laugh back. And I do.

My pot of love for Polly is overflowing. I can’t imagine life without her.

Barnardo’s, the leading children’s charity, is calling for more adopters to come forward and welcome a child into their lives. Visit www.barnardos.org.uk/adopt to find out more.

*Name has been changed

 AS TOLD TO LAUREN LIBBERT

Adoption Month

Adoption Month is a month-long series covering all aspects of adoption.

For the next four weeks, which includes National Adoption Week from October 14-19, we will be speaking to people who have been affected by adoption in some way, from those who chose to welcome someone else’s child into their family to others who were that child.

We’ll also be talking to experts in the field and answering as many questions as possible associated with adoption, as well as offering invaluable advice along the way.

If you have a story to tell or want to share any of your own advice please do get in touch at [email protected]

  • Why we’re talking about adoption this month
  • How to adopt a child – from how long it takes to how you can prepare
  • The most Googled questions on adoption, answered

Visit our Adoption Month page for more.

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