Lily* and Alex* live in Oxfordshire with their gorgeous daughter Cassie* and their elderly black cat, Baggy. Cassie came to live with them in November 2020; as Lily describes it: “Like a tiny firework she exploded into our home on Bonfire Night, just a week before her first birthday.”
At the time of writing, Cassie is 21 months old. “She is a confident, empathetic and beautiful girl, inside and out,” says Lily. “She is funny, smart, brave, and incredibly friendly, saying ‘hiya’ to everyone she meets! Her favourite things at the moment are reading books, going to soft play, searching for the Gruffalo, and eating as much gingerbread as humanly possible.”
Alex and Lily were married in 2012, and a few years later they started thinking and planning for their future family. They had always spoken about adoption being an option for them, even before they were married, but after several years without success in starting their family naturally they eventually decided to try IVF. After one failed round of IVF and a subsequent round which unfortunately ended in miscarriage, they knew that IVF wasn’t the right option for them.
Lily said: “Not only was the psychological toll of treatment too tough, we were growing increasingly concerned about the IVF postcode lottery and how incredibly unfair the system for accessing treatment is on the NHS in England. The main thing though was that we just didn’t want to wait any longer to start our family; we knew from experience that biological connection is in no way essential for strong and loving familial relationships to flourish. We decided to give ourselves some time to recover emotionally from the IVF process so we could start our adoption journey the following year.”
The couple first came across PACT at The Fertility Show in November 2019. “We happened to stroll past PACT’s stand and thought we would quickly stop by to gather some information; the person we spoke to was very welcoming and we both had a really good feeling from this brief informal chat, so decided we had nothing to lose by signing up to attend a PACT information evening to find out more.”
At the information event in Reading, they were impressed by the warm welcome they received, the depth of information provided to them and the real-life insights shared by speakers who had already been through the adoption process with PACT. Lily said they also felt reassured by PACT’s ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating and the friendly, personal welcome they received from PACT’s team. Three weeks later the couple returned to PACT’s offices for an initial meeting.
Lily and Alex found the adoption process with PACT to be incredibly smooth, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. They started the process at the end of January 2020, just a few months before the first lockdown.
Although they worried about delays, PACT provided them upfront with a timeline for each stage of the process to be completed, and adapted all their services to keep the process moving forward. Lily said, “Our social worker remained very proactive and communicative, and incredibly we didn’t experience a single delay in PACT’s timeline.”
“Group training sessions were swiftly adapted to be delivered online, and the trainer managed this expertly. We also managed to create strong bonds with the other members of the training group who were also going through the process at the same time, with whom we still keep in touch.”
After being approved at the adoption panel, Lily and Alex were excited to start the family finding process. Their family finder supported them well and stayed in touch regularly to share profiles and follow up on potential placements. In late August, just eight months after starting the process, their family finder sent them Cassie’s profile. “We opened the link and saw the most gorgeous baby girl with the biggest smile and the most dazzling blue eyes, and we were smitten.”
The match with their daughter was confirmed a few weeks later in early September. After being sent photos and videos of her by her foster carer, they first met Cassie virtually. “It was absolutely mind-blowing; seeing her in real time and being able to speak to her and watch her play is etched in our memories forever.”
After several weeks, they were able to travel to meet her face-to-face. “Meeting our daughter in person was by a distance the most incredible experience of our lives. We were blown away by how lovely and instantly lovable she was in person, and also by how small she was.”
The week of introductions flew by, and Lily and Alex’s social worker supported them throughout. “On the final day, we faced the hard moment of saying goodbye to Cassie’s wonderful foster family along with the trepidation of a very long journey home with a new baby on the first day of the second lockdown and Bonfire Night. It was all a bit daunting; we were quite exhausted after a wonderful, full-on week of getting to know our girl’s routine, so we were very much looking forward to getting home!”
“We hardly slept the first night we brought her home; but, after a few days of settling in, it felt like she’d always been with us, and we couldn’t really remember what life had been like before she was with us.”
Lily and Alex did find it challenging in some ways to bring Cassie home during lockdown, but they reflected that there were also some positives. Although they wanted her to meet family and friends, lockdown rules meant they had plenty of time to bond and create very strong attachments with her first. “It was hard not being able to do some of the usual ‘new parent’ things, but we made the most of it by spending quality time with our girl as a family.”
The couple both felt well supported by PACT throughout the process. “PACT has been on hand at every stage to help with any query we had. Our social worker responded quickly to all of our emails, and even when things were tricky they were proactively checking in with us. Even now that the Adoption Order has been granted we are still able to contact them for help and support, which is tremendously reassuring for the future.”
Q: What have been the biggest challenges of your adoption journey so far?
“Getting the medical with our GP was a challenge; it was difficult to get them to help and we discovered that GP practices can charge as much as they want to for a private medical!
“Meeting Cassie’s birth mother and half-sisters felt very daunting at the time. We’re glad we did, because we believe these encounters actually turned out to be a very positive experience for all of us, and we’ll be able to talk to our girl about her birth family in the future.
“The only other challenge was leaving our girl each evening during the week of introductions; we would take her back to her foster family and then wonder what to do with the rest of our day when all we wanted more than anything was to stay with her. It was only a temporary absence, but at the time we missed her sorely!”
Q: What have been the highlights?
“The highlights are too numerous to list – they still happen daily! We still get to experience so many firsts with her, and each one feels incredibly special. The day she first learned to say ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ was absolutely dreamy, as was the day when she took her first steps. Other stand-out moments for us include days when we finally introduced her to her grandparents and aunts and uncles, all of whom adore her.
“Our most recent highlight was when a judge granted Cassie’s Adoption Order in July this year; it was an incredibly happy day for us all. Now that Covid restrictions are easing we’ve planned a celebration to mark the occasion and to give Cassie a celebration of her joining our family to look back on in the future.”
Q: What would you say to anyone considering adoption?
“Adoption can feel like a long journey but it’s entirely worth it. For us, from getting started to bringing our daughter home took only 11 months, and that was during a global pandemic! PACT’s determination to adapt and continue their work definitely helped in this regard.
“Be proactive – do your research, get plenty of experience with young people and children, reach out to people who have adopted for insights. And finally, enjoy it as much as you can! Savour the landmark moments when they come to you, there will be plenty along the way!”
*Names changed in line with confidentiality