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Guest blog for Rosemary Lucas

Is there a right time for a sibling?

I always thought I’d be a mum of two. I’ve got an older sister and I can’t imagine my life without her. I’ve learned so much from her and she’s shaped my life in so many ways.

When we started out adoption journey, we knew we weren’t cut out to parent a sibling group straight away. I take my hat off to anyone who does. I couldn’t get my head round how we’d be able to meet each child’s individual needs as well as developing a bond and getting to know them.

We were approved for a single child, but thought we’d adopt again when the time felt right. In my head I thought the best scenario would be if a full sibling came along. It’s funny though how reality turns out to be very different from how you imagine it will be.

The first sibling

The week after I’d gone back to work from adoption leave with eldest, I got an email from our social worker. Birth mum had turned up at hospital 35 weeks pregnant. The plan was for adoption because her circumstances hadn’t changed. Our social worker wanted to know if we’d like to be considered.

Eldest had started nursery about a month before I went back to work. She was really struggling to adjust to being there so drop offs were very stressful. She was fine once we left, but leaving her in tears was just awful.

I was finding being back at work very hard. Not only was I having to try and remember how to do my job, but because drop offs at nursery were so stressful, I often ended up in tears as I drove to work.

I’d played over in my mind how I’d feel if a sibling came along. Eldest is birth mother’s sixth child so we knew it wasn’t impossible for there to be another.

My gut reaction when I read our social worker’s email was that the timing was completely wrong. I was struggling massively, eldest was struggling and it felt too much putting a new born baby into the mix (at that stage, the plan was fostering to adopt).

But my heart wanted to say yes. I wanted eldest to grow up with a sibling. They’d be able to support each other in a way I couldn’t because of their birth connection. Saying no was making a conscious decision that eldest wouldn’t grow up with a birth sibling. That felt wrong.

I was worried what our social worker would say if we said no. And what our friends and family would think. On paper it was the perfect way to complete our family. A young baby who was our daughter’s full sibling.

Why it felt wrong

But that’s the thing. Just because something is right on paper, doesn’t mean it will be in real life. The most important thing was eldest’s welfare. She was our priority. She was struggling and it felt like bringing a sibling into the mix would make those struggles worse. Our bond with her was still developing and it just felt like the wrong time.

My biggest concern about saying no was whether eldest would agree when she was older, that we’d made the right decision. Making the decision felt like a huge responsibility

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  My husband tends to be black and white about things. He knew it was the wrong time and said so from the start. I spent a long time trying to convince myself we could make it work, even though I knew it just wasn’t right for us as a family.

I actually made myself ill agonising over it, which is when I realised my first instinct was right. It wasn’t the right for our daughter. Once I’d let myself accept that, it felt like a weight had been lifted.

I was really nervous about telling our social worker as I was worried she’d try and convince us to change our minds. She’d always had faith in us and our parenting abilities and it felt a bit like we were letting her down by saying no.

As usual though, she was absolutely brilliant. She was so reassuring and accepted our decision without question. That made me feel a lot better. I knew we’d made the right decision for us as a family, but I needed her to see that too.

Guilt

It took me a long time to come to terms with what had happened. I felt guilty and, to a certain extent, I think I always will. Not because we made the wrong decision. We didn’t. Seeing how much our daughter thrived the second year she was home showed us she needed that time with us on her own. But I will always feel guilty that the decision meant she couldn’t grow up with that sibling.

We spent the next few years enjoying being a family of three. A lot of people had said to me that saying no to the sibling didn’t mean we couldn’t adopt in the future.

For a long time, I didn’t believe that. The more time we spent as a three, the more it felt like that was how things were meant to be. I couldn’t imagine having another child and being able to love them as much as I loved eldest.

An email out of the blue

Then, at the start of 2018 I got an email from our social worker completely out of the blue. It was just over three years after eldest came home. I had a feeling before I opened it that it meant birth mum was pregnant.

We’d asked her to let us know if there was another pregnancy. At that stage, it wasn’t because we wanted to be considered if adoption was the plan. We just wanted to know so that we could feed that into eldest’s life story work.

As soon as I read the email, everything felt right. Previously, birth mum had disclosed her pregnancies late, but this time there was a few months until she was due so we’d have some time. Eldest was very happy and settled and although she was starting school later in the year, the timing felt right.

My husband was less sure so we had a lot to talk about. The biggest positive was eldest would be able to grow up with a sibling. That would be a massive thing for her. She has two big cousins who she adores, but it felt like she would be in her element being an older sister.

Our concerns

The biggest concern was money and our ages. Because we hadn’t planned on adding to our family, we’d spent a lot of money on our house and garden. That meant we had no savings and some manageable debt. My husband was 54, I was 45 and he was worried he was too old for such a young baby.

In the end, we felt that the concerns weren’t enough to say no. We were both in relatively good health and not having much money doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to give a sibling a loving and stable home.

Once the decision was made, we both knew it was the right one. I couldn’t believe that after thinking for so long that’d we’d always be a three, we were going to have young baby.

We said from the start that we wouldn’t do fostering to adopt. Birth mum’s circumstances hadn’t changed, but there was always the chance she turned things around during the assessment and court proceedings. We felt it wasn’t fair on eldest if there was a chance baby wouldn’t stay with us long term, however small the possibility was.

Youngest has been with us for about eighteen months now. Seeing her and eldest together has shown that both the decisions we made about siblings were the right ones.

They are so happy together (most of the time!) and the love they have for one another melts my heart. If we’d said yes to the other sibling, youngest would never have come into our lives. That makes me really anxious because it does feel like this is how it was meant to be.

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Suzy Stanton

Wish Freelance Writing

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