*I have changed some names to protect privacy of individuals.
December 2012 and January 2013
We spent most of the day on Christmas Eve frantically preparing for the little boy to arrive with us. We bought extra presents as we didn't know what he would arrive with and we wanted him to have something to open on Christmas Day. We sorted out his room, made the cot up, bought nappies, formula and bottles and contacted friends to see if anyone had any clothes, shoes etc that would be suitable for him at such short notice. We spoke to family to let them know that we may have an extra little person to feed on Christmas Day. That afternoon the phone rang again with an update; the correct care order couldn't be obtained for the little boy so he would probably be arriving after Christmas. Following this phone call we carried on as normal and were excited to spend Christmas Day together. How different it was from the previous Christmas which was so close to Emilie's death. Although it did bring with it a sense of grief - a longing that things could be different - we were now at a place where we were more able to accept the path our lives had taken.
Boxing Day came and went and the following day we received a call from from our allocated social worker, Fran* to explain that the little boy we had been contacted about would not be coming to stay with us but instead he would be staying with his current foster carers. I was disappointed. We had spent a mere couple of days preparing for his arrival but we had been looking forward to meeting him and had been looking forward to the new challenge and new experiences it would bring. Fran assured us that we wouldn't be waiting long to have a child placed with us and advised us to carry on as normal. She emailed us some more paper work to complete and gave us lots of daily record forms to look through and familiarise ourselves with. Once again I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation at what was ahead of us.
Sam's fourth birthday was approaching and again I could feel the familiar sense of dread at the inexorable passing of time. I longed for a time when Sam's getting older could be something I was excited about and proud of but at this time it still felt too raw - too painful. I felt incredibly sad that Sam's birthday reminded me so starkly of how long we'd been trying for a baby. The happiness of Sam's birthday was juxtaposed against the sorrow of the 'should have beens' and this one seemed particularly painful as it coincided with what should have been my 28 week mark with my second miscarriage, and the point at which I should have been admitted to hospital for monitoring. I should have been so close to meeting our baby and instead they were still a distant memory.
We had planned to go away to Center Parcs for Sam's birthday. We had booked it just after the miscarriage and this had given us something to look forward to. A couple of days before we left, our supervising social worker, Fran, came round for a visit and to properly introduce herself following the chaos of Christmas' non arrival. She seemed lovely and both John and I were relieved. She made a fuss of Samuel and showed a real interest in us as a family. She also mentioned that she wanted to speak to us about a potential placement; a 13 month old girl called Molly* who potentially had some additional needs and needed a short term placement until an adoptive family was found for her. We tentatively agreed to the placement with view to speaking to Molly's social worker and meeting her and Molly when we returned from holiday.
Once again, Center Parcs surpassed our expectations for giving us quality time to spend together. I found the swimming pool much less emotionally painful than the last time we had been there and one of the things that really helped with this was the certain knowledge that I wasn't pregnant and that, at that time, we weren't actively trying for a baby. Safe in this knowledge I was able to do things that I hadn't been able to the last time we went to center parcs; I was able to use the jacuzzi and water slides. I was able to chase Sam safely around the swimming pool and sit him on my knee as we went down the water slides together. I was able to ride a bike through the forest and go cross country without having concerns of what the dangers might be had I been in early pregnancy. For these reasons it was a completely different experience and I returned home much more rested than I had been in a long time.
The day before were returned home I called Molly's social worker, Jan*, to make arrangements for meeting her. We planned to return home on the Friday, have a brief rest at home and then drive up to meet Molly, her foster family and her social worker.
We were extrememly nervous as we drove up to Molly's foster family's house and were trying hard to explain the situation to Samuel who at the time seemed completely nonplussed! We briefed him on being a big boy in Molly's house and explained that we wouldn't be staying long. When we arrived, Molly's social worker still hadn't arrived and we were greeted by Molly's foster carer and family who welcomed us warmly, if not nervously too. We were shown through to the playroom where Molly was with her young foster sibling and were greeted by a tiny little toddler girl who was bottom shuffling across the laminate flooring with a dummy in one hand and a bottle in the other. Straight away a sense of relief washed over me as I realised that she bore no resemblance to what I imagined Emilie might look like. I asked Molly if I could pick her up and, when she didn't refuse, I bent down and lifted her into my arms. Her body was stiff and jittery and she did not nestle into me as I might have expected a child of that age to do but neither did she try to wriggle free. I noticed straight away that she was very agitated and although she was sat happily on my knee whilst we chatted with her foster carer, she was not sat still - or even close. She was constantly jiggling, bouncing and twitching and a number of times she even launched herself backwards laughing at my shocked reaction. However, she did come to both John and I voluntarily, something that I would come to learn was very unexpected and not in her nature at that time. We spoke for a while with Molly's foster carer before the social worker arrived and we began discussing a transition plan. Over the next couple of days we would go and spend time with Molly building up to taking her out on our own. The following Wednesday she was to move in with us.
The transition week was surreal and exhausting. We enjoyed getting to know Molly but it was difficult not being able to implement our own routines and only seeing her for short periods of time. Samuel seemed to be adjusting well and they seemed comfortable in each other's company. We struggled with getting Molly used to eating solids. Coming from a placement of a large number of children she had only been used to eating purees and jar'd baby food and hadn't experienced finger food in any great amount. She initially refused to take any food from us apart from weetabix and puréed spaghetti bolognese so this is what she lived on for the first couple of weeks she was with us. She also threw everything; food, toys, drinks, clothes, dummies and supporting her to relax and let down her guard sufficiently to trust us was a very long process.
The day Molly moved in was emotional for everyone involved. Her foster carer and I shared tears and hugs as we left the house but there was no reaction from Molly. I strapped her into to the back of the car and drove to pick Sam up from the toddler group that Faye had taken him to with Jasper. Molly clung to me for the rest of the day and cried every time I even tried to put her down. She was incredibly unsettled and had no idea what was going on around her. She would not, however, be cuddled to calm down. Instead she just wanted to be propped on my hip or sat on my knee - not being held as such but knowing that she was safe. Her sleep pattern was incredibly disrupted and we had an exhausting few months adjusting to her sleep disturbances and learning that she did not always need seeing to inspite of her noisy sleep patterns.
Her seeming detachment continued and although she would want to remain very close to me; in my arms or on my knee she did not want to snuggle up and would not allow me to be affectionate towards her. I had never experienced anything like this before and both Fran and Jan explained that it was normal for a child with Molly's needs and in her situation. Molly was obviously drawing comfort from her closeness to me and would simply not entertain the idea of going to anybody else but she did not know how to respond to cuddles and affection and these were completely out of her comfort zone. She would sit on my knee and take both my hands to ensure that they were firmly around her waist but would not want to be cradled or cuddled. We learnt very quickly that everything had to be on Molly's terms and we had to allow her to take the lead for everything - when she wanted to be picked up, when she wanted to be put down, when she wanted to be engaged with and when she wanted to be left alone. If we misread her signals we would be rewarded with the most tumultuous tantrums we had ever seen and one of us would need to sit on the floor close to Molly ready to intervene if she tried to hurt herself through rolling into something or pulling something on top of her. These outbursts could last for a good half an hour. We found responding to this completely alien to us as parents but supported her through it as much as we could. I was desperate to teach her how to be loved but I knew that this would take time.
When Molly had been with us for about four weeks she became ill. She started off refusing her bottle feeds which concerned me as she was still not eating any solids or finger foods and her bottles were the only thing sustaining her. Try as we might we couldn't get her to take her bottles. And then, after a day of this, she began being sick. Violently so. I called the out of hours GP service explaining that I thought Molly had a tummy bug but because she was our foster daughter I wanted her to be checked over straight away. I drove up to the walk in centre, gave in her name and went straight through to the treatment room. It was now approaching what was normally her bed time. Molly was obviously very weak and tired at this point and I expected her to become agitated and have a tantrum. Instead, as she was sat on my knee she turned to face me and nestled her head into my chest. She didn't go to sleep but remained perfectly still drawing comfort from the cuddle she was receiving. I am unable to put into words how much this gesture overwhelmed me but I knew at that point that we were one step closer to supporting Molly in learning to be loved.