NB was just short of two years old when he came to live with me. Only six days after he arrived, OB's rehabilitation with his birth mother failed and he came back to our house. Just nine months apart in age, the boys would go on to live together as close as brothers for the next 18 months. A long time in a toddler's life.
As soon as we knew that NB would be getting a new family through adoption, I started preparing the boys for the changes to come. It was no easy task, although once the photos and introduction materials started coming through from NB's new Mummy, at least we had something to go on that made the abstract more concrete.
I hadn't moved a child onto adoption before. I was unsure what to expect. NB's family finder told me that his new Mummy (let's call her 'K'!) was wonderful and a lovely person, but even so I was amazed by the effort she put into making introductions as pain-free as possible for OB and me, despite the hugely emotional time she must have been experiencing.
When it came to week 2 of introductions, which involved travelling across country and staying with the two boys in a hotel, my parents offered to fly over and stay nearby to give us a hand. We agreed that they'd keep out of the picture so as not to add the the potential strain of the week. It was K who insisted that they stay in the same hotel as us, spend as much time with NB as possible, and visit her in her own home. "After all," she said, "They were a big part of [NB]'s life too." That was a special week for us all.
Since handover last June, K has been in touch several times through email and Skype. We all met up at a neutral half-way location back in November and had a great time at a soft play centre. That first meeting had me a bundle of nerves, but it went like a dream, with no significant fall out for OB.
During introductions we discovered that each year, K and her family drive across Europe for a skiing holiday. Their route takes them within minutes of my parents' home in France. So, earlier this year, the whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents and all, visited my parents' house so that they and my sister could see NB. Yes, really!
And today we spent another lovely day together, this time here at my house and at a local park. K also made sure to include some friends of mine who were a big part of NB's life when he lived with us. We finished off the day by planning a return visit at the end of next month as I will be travelling south anyway so it seemed opportune!
At my recent fostering annual review, I was congratulated on how well NB's transition to adoption had gone. Glowing things were said. I had to hold my hands up and say that this was, in large part, due to the generosity and open-heartedness of K, the preparation she had done, the understanding she displayed and her amazing willingness to accommodate the feelings and experiences of the others involved, despite everything that the process must have meant to her.
I know that contact with foster carers is not in the best interests of every child. I know that not every adoptive parent will want to connect with foster carers, and I respect and support those decisions. I hope those reading this who aren't in contact with their children's foster carers don't feel criticised - it's different for different families, and rightly so. I wouldn't initiate contact with an adoptive parent, and would always leave it to their discretion.
But I can hardly express how much it means to me, and especially to OB, that K has been willing to continue this contact with us. OB talks about NB quite often. He asks me if I remember him! We sometimes look at pictures together and share our memories. It's so helpful to him to be able to see NB in this new context. It helps him to cope with the loss of his playmate, and also provides a context for us to talk about OB's own background.
And K realises that it's good for NB too, provided it is managed carefully. It helps him to connect his past and his present. On his recent birthday, when he mentioned me and OB, K got out the scrapbook of photos I had made, and the two of them spent the first part of his birthday looking at pictures of his previous birthdays with us, and talking about his memories. On his first birthday with her, they talked about us.
K is not alone in this. I know of lots of other adopters who have maintained good and healthy links with foster carers, where this is right for their children. I want to say a huge thank you to you all. It takes an open heart to willingly share your child like that, and I hope you all know how much it is appreciated and valued.