From the moment your first baby is born, your life is forever changed.
You learn as you go along, each new stage in your child’s life requiring you to find new coping skills, not to mention extra reserves of energy, commitment and patience.
When the next baby arrives, you know what to do. But being a mother of two brings a whole new set of challenges. As does the next child, and the next; but on you go, parental knowledge and experience juxtaposed with the ever-changing pressures,
Only, not for Sheffield nurse Glenys Taylor. She became mum to four children, aged seven to one, in just one day.
She and husband Jim adopted siblings – Sarah and her three little brothers, Ben, Jack and Harry.
“Talk about being chucked in at the deep end,” she grins, recalling the day that was the best and the hardest of her life.
It was 10 years ago. And yes, she can remember what life was like, pre-kids.
There were plenty of holidays, relaxing weekends and nights out.
But there was also a terrible, constant ache caused by the deep longing to be a mother.
“When the children came into our lives, it was the realisation of my 21-year dream,” says Glenys, now 55.
She and Jim, a father of three grown-up children, had longed to conceive, but Glenys discovered she could never have her own children. She was devastated, but undaunted; there had to be a way. Four times, they tried IVF with donated embryos, but still Glenys’s pregnancies failed.
“The heartache, the stress and the financial pressures IVF puts you under is immense,” she says, looking back. “We had given ourselves a time limit; a time to stop and accept that we would always be a childless couple and just get on with our lives.
“Then we realised that the answer had been staring us in the face all along. Why didn’t we adopt? What we had been doing was so illogical, Why were we going to such great lengths to create babies that weren’t biologically ours when children were already out there, waiting for parents?”
Jim was 48 and Glenys was 43; would they be too old? The answer was no; local authority adoption panels do not discriminate against older parents. But one adoption team put forward such a negative view of what life could be like, Jim and Glenys were put off. “We were warned we could end up with a problem child carrying lots of baggage and a very hard time could lie ahead. They were probably trying to ensure we weren’t going into adoption with a rose-tinted view. But it was so negative a picture, we didn’t go any further,” she explains.
A year later, though, a real-life case study brought them greater insight. They heard about two little girls adopted by the relative of a friend. “The girls were sisters and had been waiting a long time for someone who would take both.
“We learned that siblings rarely get adopted together and how few people there are out there who are willing to become parents to children in care, desperate to be loved. We thought that was incredibly sad and we realised that was what we wanted to do.”
They contacted Sheffield City Council, were appointed a “fabulously supportive” social worker who still helps them today, and went through the lengthy but vital vetting process.
“We had decided we wanted siblings; an instant family. At our age, it made sense. We thought we’d have two children; failing that, three. Our last choice would have been just one child.”
They were matched eight months later to four siblings, each taken into care at less than three years old because their parents had neglected them.
“Four did sound daunting, but we were shown a picture of them. They were beautiful, smiling children; the youngest just a baby. We instantly fell in love with them.
“Every night after, I’d find myself hoping someone was putting them to bed and wishing them sweet dreams.”
It was another five months before Glenys was able to do that herself.
She and Jim had been allowed to get to know “their” children during the wait for the legal process to be completed.
Says Glenys: “We lived for those meetings. As soon as we saw them it felt we had known each of them for a very long time.
“They were scattered across different foster homes; we couldn’t wait for the day when we could reunite them forever. We would arrive to see them waving through the window at us and we would leave fighting back tears.
“We did worry that the kids might not love us in return. But very early on, two of the children said to us: “We’ve been thinking we’d like to start calling you mummy and daddy right now. Is that alright?’ We had been accepted. Joy swept through us.”
Excitedly, they made each child a book detailing their new family, kitted out the three bedrooms at their home, bought clothes, stair gates, car seats and pushchairs.
Then came the day. The older children raced around the house, marvelling at everything. Three-year-old Jack got stuck into a pile of toys that went everywhere. Glenys sat Harry in his highchair and tried to feed him. Happy chaos reigned.
The new family of six had to work out a pecking order; who fitted in where, and how. Plus all the practicalities of managing a large family had to be swiftly sorted out.
“We got a routine going, set mealtimes and bedtimes, finding out their likes and dislikes along the way,” says Jim. “I’d had the experience of bringing up children but for Glenys everything was totally new. She had to think on her feet but she did incredibly well.”
The children brought shadows of their past with them. Jim and Glenys had been told by their social worker to expect a display of emotions ranging from anger and mistrust to regression.
“When the eldest wanted to be babied, that was the saddest. She was trying to recreate her lost babyhood and make herself our own baby,” remembers Glenys.
“Every now and again a memory would be jogged in the children and they would talk about something that happened with their “old mummy and daddy”.
“Once we told them we’d take them to the pub for Sunday lunch and their faces were a picture of misery. We didn’t understand why, until one of them told us pubs were where people went to get drunk while children waited and waited at home. We had to see things through their eyes. You realise that the suffering you go through when you are yearning for motherhood is nothing in comparison to what children taken into care have gone through.”
At other times, though, Jim and Glenys realised not every display of difficult behaviour could be hung on their children’s past.
“There are times when they are simply being naughty, like any other child,” says Jim.
Ten years on, they can look back and cheerfully admit there have been difficult times, more so with the elder children who had been more affected by their background.
Says Glenys: “There were nights when we would go out and stand in the garden, gaze up at the sky and ask each other: what on earth have we done?
“We’ve lost count of the times people have said: Are you mad? How big is your medal?
“But we have never once regretted taking on our big, wonderful family. The children are our lives. We love them deeply and take such delight in helping them to become happy, independent young people.
“Do they feel like ours? They did from the moment we saw that first snapshot.”
Setting the record straight
Thousands of children could be missing out on finding love with a forever family because people think they are too old to adopt.
New UK-wide research released by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering reveals almost a fifth of people believe that being over the age of 40 would barr their way.
But the worrying concern about age is just one of a number of perceived barriers to adoption, according to the research.
David Holmes, chief executive of BAAF, said: “There are some long-standing myths out there which may be preventing thousands of prospective adopters from coming forward. We owe it to children waiting in care to explode those myths.”
Some 18 per cent thought being single was a barrier to adoption
Almost a quarter thought having a low household income would rule them out
Well over a third believed that being unemployed was a barrier to adoption.
Over two-thirds thought that a criminal conviction would rule people out.
1 in 5 believed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are unable to adopt.
You don’t have to be married or in a civil partnership to adopt.
You must be over 21 to apply to adopt a child – but there is no upper age limit.
A prospective adopter’s health, financial circumstances and employment status will always be explored in an adoption assessment but health conditions, low income or being unemployed will not automatically exclude a person from being approved.
A criminal record will need to be considered but only certain specified offences rule someone out.
Borough’s urgent appeal for boost to prospective parents
THERE are 120 children waiting for love in Sheffield - all because of a dire shortage of adoptive parents.
The city council is urgently in need of more people willing to adopt.
But around a third of children waiting in care are with their natural brothers and sisters and that makes them much harder to place.
It currently takes between six months and a year to place a single child with a new family, but it can take twice as long with sibling groups.
The council is determined to do all it can to keep families together wherever possible and is backing National Adoption Week’s campaign.
Councillor Jackie Drayton, Council Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: “We often struggle to find homes for brothers and sisters that we want to keep together.
“This can be because prospective adopters are nervous about taking on too much responsibility, but the truth is that siblings often support and provide stability to each other while they settle into their new family.”
To find out more about adopting in Sheffield, call 0114 2735010 or go to www.sheffield.gov.uk/adoption