Why having the courage to speak up and think ahead ultimately helped in better coping with the crap that life can throw at us.
For the last two weeks, writing a blog has been on my ‘to do’ list. Every time I have sat down to write it, the words wouldn’t come, or what did come would end up feeling fraught or not quite right. Thankfully I waited.
Here’s the thing. For eight months, my husband and I have been going through a quiet hell. Not only am I an artist and he a software designer, but we are also foster carers.
We always wanted a family. I always thought three children would be nice. Why wouldn’t I? As a product of the 70s and 80s, I had been conditioned to plan my life around getting married and having a family. When we got married and starting trying for a family, neither of us thought for one minute that we would have any issues. No one talked about that stuff back then so we were clueless. For us, biological children were not written into the bigger plan though. After 6 rounds of fertility treatment, we accepted that for us this was not meant to be and we thought about how we might approach that differently.
For me, it was never about carrying babies and giving birth. It was about having a family. Raising little people to become the most amazing human beings ever to roam this planet. Jake felt the same. We decided to go through adoption. We attended courses and started the process. At this point in our lives we had developed a close bond with our nieces and nephew and they spent a lot of time with us regularly and had done for some time.
My brother experienced the same upbringing that I did. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t meet a Jake and have the love and support of their family and so understandably he struggled to come to terms with what we had been through and turned to drink and drugs as a way of dealing with what it had done to him. Unable to be a part of his children’s lives, we chose to give them an opportunity to maintain a link to both sides of their birth family. It was and continues to be a privilege that words cannot really describe.
Often at weekends our home is full of their laughter and we have so many memories of holidays and their growing up. Anyway I digress slightly. As we explored adoption, it became clear that in order to adopt we would need to change our relationship with our nieces and nephew and the freedom that they had to come to our home whilst a new adoptive child settled in. Understandable as adoptive children will have been in fostering placements and the coming and going of other children could trigger many memories. We decided that this wasn’t appropriate for us at this time. That our focus should continue to be our nieces and nephew. They needed us more.
As we spent more time with the children growing up, I embraced the role of Auntie Bon. I am a very naughty Auntie who does crazy things. I love to enjoy life and I love to do that with them. I realised over time that I possibly never wanted to ‘have’ children. That I am quite happy as me. That I can make a difference in a child’s life without being Mum. Bonus points to this are that I don’t piss myself on trampolines and my boobs are still within 6 inches of my chin…
Joking aside we were happy. We decided to foster because we were happy with the comings and goings of children in our home and it fit. As a self employed person I had the time to give to children and my life experiences meant I understood a lot of where they came from.
I can’t go into a lot of detail about our quiet hell because a) I need to protect the identity of children who have been in our care and b) we are making a formal complaint against our local authority. I’m not writing this blog to talk about the ins and outs of it. All you need to know is that we endured 8 months of a very unprofessional social worker who dominated our lives and constantly set us up for a future of which we had given up hope. We jumped through hoops. We were ready. We were making the step to become adoptive parents with the support of our friends and family and our social worker. In December, right before Christmas this was taken away from us for reasons which will never make sense. Three of those reasons were stated as my PTSD, my husbands Aspergers and my weight. We have been powerless to change the outcome and it has left us scarred and hurting. Not for ourselves but for the little one who had been encouraged to embrace our life and not given another option as the outcome of the process. Who was settled and happy and doing so well. The system itself is to blame along with individuals within it. Only those closest to us knew what we were going through. It was such a rollercoaster. So many thoughts go through your head. One thing we know is that we will never foster again. Not because we don’t want to make a difference in the lives of children and young people, but because the system is seriously flawed.
Since my PTSD diagnosis 2 years ago I have worked hard to become a stronger me. To become someone who sets an example. From whom others can learn rather than make the same mistakes I did. That includes being able to recognise when I am struggling and seeking help from the right person. For me that is an emotional and performance coach with whom I can work through any issues. I take medication. I’m not afraid to say that. It means that I can overcome some of the after effects of my childhood and be stronger to move forward. That the anxieties related to it are far less. When you cannot physically have children, you go through a stage of guilt. Self-blame as it were. Thinking that you have prevented your husband or partner from having a family. From enjoying those moments that so many people do. You start to wonder if you just weren’t good enough to be a parent. You doubt yourself constantly. It took me a few years to understand that I am good enough. The universe just had different plans for us. I always said my life was complete the day that I met Jake.
The strangest part of this whole situation has been knowing that an end was coming. That we had no control and that it had to happen. I guess it’s almost like when someone has a terminal illness. You know you have to say goodbye and you know that’s going to feel so sad. You know it’s coming soon but you cannot prepare yourself. It is impossible to.
We had 8 weeks in which to prepare ourselves. That is a shit way of saying it really. You just cannot prepare yourself. I text my close friends this week. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to let them go. The day after, I wanted to get in the car, drive to where they are and take them away. Hold them tight. Make everything ok. But I can’t. The hardest part is that this little one you’ve had to say goodbye to is still alive. But you have no right to know how they are or just pick up the phone and talk to them. You can’t make it alright. You are forced to let go.
I knew that when the time came, the separation would cause us much pain. For Jake it is hard. He doesn’t feel things like we do. He won’t cry. He says he gets this tight feeling in his throat and he feels very tired. I can be fine and then suddenly it hits. Grief. A big wave of it. The tears come and they sting. My heart hurts. You can’t put a time limit on grief. That’s one thing I have learned. But I knew I didn’t want us to fall apart because of something we had no control over. We will always hurt for the little one we had built a life with but we owe it to ourselves and those around us to find the strength to be Bon and Jake.
Our best friends are really family to me. All of their children are amazing in their own way, but the youngest one and I have a special bond. We bonded over a shared understanding of anxiety when we first met. Since then we have developed this lovely relationship. I have to say, she really put things in perspective from the minute we knew what would come next. Her emotional maturity outweighs a lot of adults I know and I honestly cannot wait to see the difference she makes in this world because she is nothing short of fucking awesome.
She reminded us of the times we had before we fostered. The parties, the games nights, the walks in the forest, the running, the holidays, the fun. She reminded us who we were underneath who we had become. She urged us to focus on becoming those people and better.
On 1st February her mother asked me to drop by in the morning. She passed me 9 envelopes. I was to open one each morning in the run up to the day of the little one leaving and the 2 days following. Xanthe (with a name like that you KNOW she is going on to awesome things) had made me a little card each day with an inspirational quote and on the back she had written reminders of who I am. Things we’ve done. They made me cry every day I have to admit. Her insight and compassion is just amazing.
From talking to Xanthe I realised how important it was to think about how we would cope with this. To be gentle enough to allow ourselves to grieve, but not lose sight of what we have and what can be. Prior to this my go to would have been fall apart, let everything go to shit and then figure out a way back to normality. I’ve come so far in the last few years, I didn’t want to do that.
So we made plans. Some plans were also made for us. As I type this, I am sat on an airplane on my way to Finland. Finland is my second home. When you’ve all bought enough of my art, I’m going to buy a little cabin here and rent it out to you all for bugger all money so you can fall in love with this place too.
This situation hasn’t just affected us. It’s affected everyone close to us in ways we could not have imagined. So for us we do not feel it is just us going through it. The weekend before little one left us we had a rainbow party. Everyone got together. We had fun and held on to each other when needed. It was beautiful. In the days leading up to the big day, we spent good time with those we love. Then, when the time arrived we made sure we had our plan ahead.
Planning ahead, I have to say was a very hard part of all of this. It felt horrible to make good plans. But we have to. We set them into sections.
1.Immediate after care.
Boy am I glad we did. Immediate after care was so important. We took the time and allowed those who wished to come and spend time with us. We also did things that help us to remain strong. I immediately went for a run and although I broke down a few times on the way, it was the right thing to do. We spent some time turning the spare room back into a guest room. We both enjoy entertaining and so it should be a space that can be used for good. Friday night we spent time again with those who matter. We made sure that our home was our home as it was before we fostered. Then today we boarded a plane and have headed to Finland to stay in a little log cabin for a week and spend some time together getting strong again. The thing is when you are surrounded by so much beauty it is hard not to find the positive things. When you’re surrounded by so much love and support it’s hard not to feel like you can get through things. When you let people in, great things happen.
For me work is important. Last year I put off a lot of what I had intended to achieve when I thought my role was changing. In the last 8 weeks I have started to quietly plan what this year should look like. I’ve booked myself into a shit load of shows to get my brand out there. I’m also working on booking venues to come and talk to you all about life as Bon and how to stick your fingers up at the past and walk around with a big smile on your face good times and bad. I entered my first art award (didn’t get it but probably entering an international one without so much as an art degree was a brave move). I’m focussed.
Life. That wonderful unpredictable thing we live. Well for both of us long term health is of importance. After everything my body has been through I am focusing on keeping myself healthy and well in mind and in body. After an appalling race in November (never ever have a year out with injury and then go and run a 10k when you’re potato shaped and haven’t sodding trained), 2019 is my year to return to running and achieve some goals I set when I first started walking again. Thanks to CALM one of those goals is happening sooner than I ever expected BUT it’s given me something to focus on. Something to achieve not just to benefit me but to benefit others - my favourite kind of thing! My end goal has always been to run a marathon. On April 28th I will. I will run London Marathon. I’m running it to raise money for CALM. They have become such a big part of my life that it is an honour to run it for them. If you wish to donate and help me raise a crap ton of money for them, then click here and dig deep! www.justgiving.com/bonbonbonbonbonbon . My first Half Marathon will be at the end of March - well why not? And for us together? We’re focusing on enjoying our life. Expect dinner invitations, parties, crazy ideas and fun. Lots of fun.
We’re going to be sad. We’re going to shed tears. They’re going to hit when we least expect it, but we’re also going to push forward. Stronger.
There is no weakness in breaking. In feeling what we feel. The strength comes in sharing what makes us break with others and allowing them to help us find our strength to carry on.
Thank you. Seriously. From the bottom of my heart. Your support has been amazing.
Here’s to a future we cannot predict. Here’s to the return of the naughty Auntie Bon.