It's been three years now since Little Fish joined our family, four years since I first heard about her. Mog's been here for seven years, and I first met Goldie ten years ago now. If the girls had been born to me on the dates when they moved in, there would be the same age gaps between them as between my brothers and I. And in a neatish twist, I was the same age when each girl arrived as was Mum when we came along.
So far, so parallel.
But my parents did not have to prove their ability to parent before they were allowed to take their children home from hospital. They didn't have to stand in front of a panel and be asked questions about their reasons for wishing to parent, valid questions perhaps about why I was choosing to adopt after years of fostering, but inane questions too about why I take children camping. I don't mind being asked, but I did mind having to dress up in my best clothes, leave my girls with a relative stranger to sit in a room in front of a judicious looking panel, a panel with the right to approve or disapprove my application to adopt, only to be asked how I pitch tents.
I'd say that all my parents had to do was get (and stay) pregnant, except I know that's not necessarily easy or possible, and I'd hate to appear flippant about something which causes so many people such heartbreak.
But there's no requirement for birth children to have their own bedroom. The hospital midwives don't come to visit prior to discharge, ensuring you have plug socket covers (which may actually be more dangerous than having uncovered sockets, at least here in the UK), keep your wine in a locked cupboard, and have no foxgloves or other dangerous plants in your garden. When you go for your 22 week scan, the scanner doesn't insist on interviewing your parents and best friends before giving you the results and the photograph.
Try growing your family without giving birth and not only are there hosts of rules and regulations*, you're also regulated by the opinions of those who have the power to make the decisions. People who look at the paperwork and not at the family, who have their own ideas about why I might be doing this or what our lives must be like, rather than knowing us and seeing how we are.
Imagine being told you're pregnant, and three days later discovering you aren't after all. That's pretty much how it feels when you're told a new placement is coming and then the situation changes, or people change their minds, and there's a brief phonecall saying "Thanks, but you're not needed any more". It doesn't matter how little information you had about that particular placement; for those three days you were juggling bedrooms, sorting clothes, checking through the diary to see what might need tweaking. And then you're left with an empty cot and a box full of newly cleaned and organised popper vests. And yes, of course there will be a next time, but there's no timescale, no guarantee it won't happen again next time, only the ache that it wasn't the case this time around.
But more than that, there's the knowledge that nothing I can do can change this. There are no vitamin supplements I can be taking, no routines to follow, getting more rest or losing the stress isn't going to change the outcome. It's all down to a group of people, most of whom have never met me, who look at the information on the paperwork. And I know, on paper, we're never going to be the first choice. Single parent, two high-need children, what on earth is she doing even thinking she could take another?
The really important things get somehow lost; they're not so quantifiable. I'm actually pretty good at this, or at least I think I am. Sounds arrogant? Perhaps. But then, this is what I was made for. This is what I do; it's my job and my life and my love. It's not easy - nothing worthwhile ever is. That doesn't mean I shouldn't be doing it.
Little Fish would love a younger sibling, for however long or short a time. Mog just thinks small children are funny, especially when they cry. I know what I want. And I know there are so many children out there, surely one at least must be in need of our kind of fruit-loop family? It's been nine months since we were needed for anything more than a very planned respite; three years before that. In those three years, my girls have had two new first cousins, two second cousins (with a third on the way), and have seen friends' and classmates' families grow by one or sometimes two siblings. And yet we wait, knowing we will always be at the bottom of the list, only used once there aren't any spare beds anywhere else, and the "Mumma, why I not have a baby?" question gets as hard to answer as the "Mumma, why I not got a Daddy?"
It is of course right that the child should go to the best possible place. It is right to have more than one family under consideration; children should not be placed by defaultbut after careful consideration of all the options. Plans can and should and do change at the last minute. And decisions should always be based on what's right for the child. But another time, I'd like to see "Thanks for your kind offer, but you won't be needed" replaced with "I'm really sorry, but..." I didn't offer; you asked me, and I said yes. Now you're saying no, please be aware I might find this somewhat disappointing. And please don't prolong the phonecall by talking about something non-urgent which could wait for a while.
*I'd here just like to say that any regulation which actually works for the good of the child, which keeps the child safe and is genuinely child-centered, has my full support.