Thursday, 26 May 2016

Lifestory work

We recently received Peter's lifestory book from the local authority. These days they aren't so much a "book" as a "chapter", covering the child's story from birth to adoption. The adoptive parents are encouraged to add a chapter of their own to the beginning and end to soften the impact of the difficult information in the middle. This is vaguely how they should go:

- Peter is a kind, loving and clever boy who lives with his Mummy and Mama and their two dogs Lady and Nana. He is seven years old and he enjoys playing tennis, going on adventures in the woods and drawing. His favourite colour is green and he loves to eat spaghetti! Here is a photo of his family out on a bike ride together.

- Peter was born on 01/02/2010 in Newtown Hospital. He weighed 6lb 5oz. Peter's name means "rock". Here is a photo of Peter as a baby.

- Babies need to be looked after properly so that they can learn and grow. They need to be kept safe, they need enough food to eat, nappies, toys, a warm bed to sleep in, and lots of play and cuddles. Babies need grown-ups who love them, keep them safe and give them all the things they need. Love is not just a feeling, it also means giving someone what they need to be safe and happy.

- When Peter was a baby he lived with John and Christine, his sister Lizzy and his brother Harry. John and Christine loved their children, but they were unable to keep them safe, give them enough food to eat and help them learn all the things children need to learn. Sometimes XYZ happened (age appropriate explanation.) John and Christine were given lots of help to stop, but it's very hard to make changes and XYZ kept happening.

- Peter, Lizzy and Harry went to live with Dave and Helen, who are foster carers. Their job is to make sure children are clean and safe, have enough food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in. They love the children, and help them learn and grow. The children couldn't stay there forever, so a wise judge made the decision about where they should live. He chose a very special Mummy and Mama for Peter. Here is a photo on the day they became a family.

- Here are photos from the day Peter first met his Mummy and Mama. (Bit about how we felt and what we did in the first few days and weeks.)

- Here are photos and descriptions of events and milestones since Peter moved in - first time at the seaside, first day at school, first lost tooth, birthdays, Christmasses, Summer holidays etc.

- Mummy, Mama and Peter are going to be a family forever. When Peter grows up, he wants to ride water slides and be a train driver!

Peter's seventh birthday is approaching, and to help him with his understanding of time we went back and looked at some photos of Peter from when he first moved in with us to now, including his fifth and sixth birthdays. Peter actually came into care (to different foster carers) the day before his fourth birthday, and the other day he asked me if he was going to move to a new home when he turns seven. Due to his autism, developmental delay and speech delay we're not sure how much he understands or remembers about his past but this was heart breaking. We reassured him that he'll be staying with us forever and make sure we openly talk about plans we have for the future together ("when you're eight we'll...", "when you're thirteen we can...") to help him cement that in his mind.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Butterfly baby

We've been raising butterflies from caterpillars again this year, and today was release day! Peter has been so excited to watch the caterpillars grow from tiny skinny caterpillars to big fat hairy caterpillars, and to change into chrysalises before emerging as butterflies. He knows the butterfly lifecycle well as butterflies are a special interest of his and we have several books on the subject.

We gathered up Russell and his ventilator, and everyone went outside into the garden for the big release. Last year when we did this Peter sat up on his garden slide to get a better view so this year he was adamant that nowhere else would do, and he needed to sit up on the slide again. Unfortunately none of the butterflies wanted to land on Peter's hand, so we didn't get the lovely photos we'd hoped for, but it was wonderful to see all four of them fly away to start their adventures and hopefully lay eggs of their own.

The butterflies were content and happy in their little habitat on top of our fishtank - they had everything they needed to grow, they were safe and well cared for and they weren't missing the world outside because they didn't know it existed. The metaphor of being raised in a small space and not knowing any different, and then one day being released into the big wide world wasn't lost on us, and it's one we'll perhaps share with Russell as he grows up and starts asking questions about his babyhood and long hospital stay. He's loving his newfound freedom and is grasping every opportunity that comes his way, as I expect our four little butterflies are too!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Life story memories

After nearly sixteen months in hospital and nine months in our family, Russell is home! We're so pleased that he's finally here, and our family and friends are queuing up to visit and meet him.

As we were packing up his hospital room we came across lots of items that we had no idea where they'd come from. Teddies, toys, blankets and even clothes regularly appeared in his room when we weren't there, we'd ask the nurses who'd left them but they often didn't know.

As foster carers, one of our most important tasks is helping a child to keep track of their life story whilst they're with us and beyond, and a big part of that is tangible memories such as little outfits, presents, photos, artwork etc. with an explanation of their meaning. A teddy near a hospital cot could be a gift from a nurse, it could have been left by a charity who provide little presents for children in hospital, it could have been passed on by a social worker from another relative, it could have been brought by a parent during contact, or it might not even be Russell's! We had kept a particular blanket early on that said "My mummy loves me" in the corner, feeling sure that it was from Russell's mother, and then had found a tiny label that proved it was just one from the hospital store cupboard.

Thankfully, the play specialists on the ward where Russell spent the most time were very good. They took photos of him every week, made little hand and footprint paintings every couple of months, and compiled these together into a folder as a record of his time there, including bravery certificates for his various procedures. As he grows up he'll be able to look back on these and see how tiny he was as a premature newborn, how quickly he grew, how much he smiled even with tubes and machines everywhere, and will hopefully realise that even though he had a long hospital stay, he was very much loved and cared for first by the nurses, and then by us.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

New adventures

It's been a couple of months since I updated the blog, because we've really just been rolling along as a family and haven't had anything interesting to talk about - Peter is progressing well and delighting everyone he meets, and Russell is adorable but still in hospital. I'm not going to lie - it's been hard, because this exhausting life of driving back and forth for 4 hours every couple of days and building up our hopes for discharge only for it to be cancelled at the last minute has already been more than double the planned number of months. Thankfully Russell is healthy and the issues with discharge are mostly logistical, so we will continue to wait, and hope that it won't be too long before he's home.

Our big news is that Peter will soon be our legal son! We first expressed interest in adopting him nearly two years ago. We've been assessed and approved as adopters, the placement order we've been waiting for has now been granted with a plan of adoption by us, we're going to matching panel next month and will put in our application for an adoption order straight away.

He was placed with us age four years and three months, having had a failed foster placement already and carrying a label of "unadoptable" due to his severe autism and extreme behaviours. His social worker has always had a soft spot for him and could not be happier for us all which is lovely. It feels like an exciting new chapter in our lives is starting!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

It's the most overwhelming time of the year!

It's been a strange Christmas this year. Esmeralda's mum has been staying with us as usual, but we spent half of Christmas Day with Russell in his hospital room, and the other half travelling to and from the hospital (on lovely quiet roads though, that was a definite plus!) Russell enjoyed the experience and we took some lovely photos of him with his stocking full of presents, sitting in his new jumperoo, and surrounded by shiny wrapping paper! Even though we only took five presents to the hospital for him Peter became overwhelmed after about two so we stopped there. The room is sweltering and small, the lights are very bright, there are so many different smells and nurses coming in and out so we can't even keep the door closed and dim the lights. He also absolutely hates it when young children or babies cry, and unfortunately there are a lot of crying babies in hospitals!

Peter did very well considering but spent much of the time on high anxiety alert staring into space and talking nonsense, zoned out watching Tractor Ted and having mini meltdown after mini meltdown. He has barely slept since Christmas Eve and hasn't really been able to enjoy anything. He really needs life to return to normal so we'll be having some quiet days, taking down the decorations, ignoring the rest of his presents until he is better able to cope, and eagerly awaiting the return of his clubs (he does running, horse riding for the disabled and swimming lessons) in a week or so when term starts again.

We're looking forward to next year when we'll all be together at home and we'll be able to relax and celebrate in a way that meets all our needs. We've had enough of hospitals - Russell included!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mary, did you know?

We have two Pentatonix Christmas albums in the car at the moment, and a song that has particularly struck me recently (whilst belting it out at the top of my voice on the motorway to and from the hospital to see Russell) is "Mary, did you know?"

It makes me think about the little ones we're privileged to care for, and their futures. I feel for the birth mothers who were the first to hold these newborn bundles of potential but won't be there for the rest of the journey. We don't know what the children's special skills will be, how they will make a difference in the world or anything about the men and women that they'll become, we just try to do the best we can whilst they're with us. I'm sure Mary wasn't a perfect parent all the time, but she raised an amazing man!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Another special one year old

Little Russell is nearly one! This is a huge milestone for all babies, but especially for Russell as there were more than a few moments in his first year when no one was sure whether he would make it through. He's stable and doing well now. The doctors would like him to put more weight on but he's not underweight for his corrected age and he's stopped frightening everyone when he gets a cold! He's still in hospital, but we hope to have him home in the New Year and then his life can really begin!

We have presents, bunting, banners, helium and normal balloons, a wooden cake if he's not in the mood to play, a chocolate cake if he is, a big foster brother keen to "help" with the cake, a birthday vest for him wear and a builders tray to contain the mess. All the ingredients for a memorable 1st birthday party! A good friend of ours with awesome camera skills is coming to the hospital to take photos. Russell won't remember any of this of course but he will be able to look at the photos in years to come and know that we celebrated his special day in the best way we could!