It is my eighteenth anniversary of being a mummy. This time in 1999 I was desperately waiting for my first child to arrive. I was pacing the docks at Preston where I lived, buying changing mat and cot, blankets and toys, exhibiting them in the lounge with the greatest excitement. This was the culmination of a long held dream to become a parent. One which I feared might never happen.
I was a single person, openly lesbian and looking for a child with disabilities. I had always worked in special education and felt that I knew more about children with special needs than “normal” ones. I had attended a group in Manchester where lesbian and gay adoptive and foster parents met, and knew that this was still a relatively unusual occurrence, and the road to approval could be rocky. Having successfully survived the assessment process and gained approval in the June I wasted no time to scour the Children Who Wait publication and saw, for the first time, the bright eyed boy who would become my precious, beautiful son.
Introductions began on October the 5th and to this day, the feel of autumn brings back the feelings of joy, exhaustion, nerves and wonder of becoming a parent. I think it always will.
Timmy was already in my heart before he arrived. I had carried his picture around all summer while I waited for us to be matched. He became the centre of my universe. So beautiful that I once forgot to drive when the traffic lights turned green. I was gazing at his face! He had cerebral palsy with severe learning difficulties, but began to make progress once placed, and was sitting independently by new year. His health difficulties also began to emerge, and a lifelong battle with epilepsy began. He started special school part time which he loved. He continued to attend until the age of 19, a place he absolutely loved, and in the good times he flourished there. In bad times he and we were supported by a team of specialist staff who loved and knew Timmy so well.
Two years after Timmy arrived I adopted again, this time a baby girl with special needs. They enjoyed many activities together, swings, walks, drives, so much fun side by side as they grew together. Timmy’s health went through peaks and troughs, but a real breakthrough was in store when we discovered a complicated special diet for epilepsy aged 9, which although hard work, transformed his life.
Having discovered freedom from the worry of epilepsy I was able to meet and socialise more myself. I began a relationship with a wonderful woman, who a year later became my Civil Partner and second mum to Timmy and Chelsea. She loved Timmy from the moment she met him, and boy, did he love her!!! From that day on he roared with laughter every time she appeared in the room. He never failed.
The children continued to grow and flourish, as we faced various challenges with acquiring the correct support that they needed. We wrestled with agencies, endured battles, lived through housing adaptations and loved and laughed and cried together. Sometimes, in the tougher times, I thought of modern adoption as an extreme sport! It could be all about survival at times, but the rewards of seeing the children withstand and recover from medical treatment or other upheavals made it all worthwhile.
Shortly before Timmy turned 16 he began to scream. Every day. We lost control of his seizures and we knew something was very wrong. He had no speech and was unable to indicate what was wrong. The next 2 and a half years were spent trying to find out what was causing this deterioration in his wellbeing. It hurt our hearts so very much to see him so upset. Eventually we discovered that he had a very rare bowel condition that was extremely painful. We were so grateful to get the chance to have him treated, and we took it in turns to sit by his hospital bedside as he recovered from major surgery. Timmy was so much calmer for the next few months, it seemed his pain was gone and we rejoiced. We began to do family activities once more, the highlight being a holiday in Shropshire where Timmy had a fantastic day at Ironbridge museum, even riding on the merry-go-round.
Tragically within a few months his symptoms began to return with a vengeance and the last 18 months of his life involved much suffering, sadness and desperate grief for us all. But in this time Timmy continued to touch people’s hearts, and he made powerful relationships with carer’s right up to his death on 10th July. The crematorium was packed with people who had known and loved him across the years. His ever present smile and bounce in the toughest of situations had made a lasting impact on so many people. Born with severe brain damage, later to develop an unconnected illness that ravaged his quality of life, he gave every ounce of energy to living, full of love, until his body could take no more.
When Timmy was placed for adoption the agreement was for indirect contact with birth mum and direct annual contact with his birth dad. He was “accommodated” due to the traumatic birth that had caused his brain damage, and I was fortunate to meet both parents during the introduction period. The placing social worker came to the first contact meeting with birth dad, and I remember him telling her that he would never abuse these meetings. He was as good as his word. He met with us every year religiously, always showing care for Chelsea and later to Barbara too. We all learned to enjoy his visits over the years, which changed from a neutral location to him coming to our house when it became too difficult for me to get out with both children.
In addition the indirect contact continued with mum, who didn’t always manage to reply but never lost touch completely. For both parties we reached the unusual place of passing the point where official letterbox social workers would be involved. Timmy had turned 18, an adult, but unable to facilitate contact himself we all agreed to continue, using our home address. An informal meeting took place with the worker, mum and myself to cement our relationship, and I was grateful for the chance to meet her after so many years.
As Timmy’s health declined in the final few months of his life Barbara and myself were able to keep both birth parents informed. When the end became imminent birth dad chose to come to see Timmy, and he spent an hour at his bedside with us, on the day before he passed away. I spoke on the phone to birth mum the day after we lost our beautiful boy, she was very supportive.
Birth Dad came to the funeral. He and his partner joined the cortège, passengers in my brother’s car. His sister and her partner also attended the funeral, not pushing themselves but just being there, a part of our and Timmy’s very large and loving group of family and friends.
The social worker who was involved in our contact arrangements during the past years of his life said the following on his passing “your situation was quite unique. I haven’t come across this level of openness and inclusion in such a sensitive case at any other point in my role in the service and I feel privileged to have been part of this”.
Timmy did not recognise or understand the significance of seeing his birth dad annually, and was unaware of the indirect contact with birth mum. However, these events formed an important part of our family life over the years, and gave us many opportunities to understand Timmy’s background. We were able to laugh about Timmy’s funny habits – birth dad blamed mum for them, and could ascribe his love of music to birth dad who has always played in a band.
Both birth dad and mum wish to stay in contact following Timmy’s death, which can only be a bonus for us. A link to our perfect son who we mourn every day.
218 Tulketh Road
Ashton on Ribble
Tel: 01772 732313
Fax: 01772 768726
PLUNGINGTON COMMUNITY CENTRE
Tel: 01772 827840
110-118 Church Street
Centre for Adoption Support (CfAS)
T: 01925 534 118
Innovation Forum, 51 Frederick Road,
Salford M6 6FP
T 0161 743 3698
Concurrent Planning (Babies 0-3years)
T 0161 743 3682
2 Long Lane
Tel: 01228 595937
23 Sedgwick Street
Tel: 01772 561323