Adoption gave me a childhood of love
LARRY Baker's disarmingly matter-of-fact about his genesis. “I know I was the result of a one-night stand, basically,” he says.It's hard to judge on the basis of a single chat, but he seems remarkably grounded - which says much, one imagines, about the way he was raised.
LARRY Baker's disarmingly matter-of-fact about his genesis. “I know I was the result of a one-night stand, basically,” he says.
It's hard to judge on the basis of a single chat, but he seems remarkably grounded - which says much, one imagines, about the way he was raised.
Born in London, Larry was fostered in Essex until he was nearly two. Then he was adopted by Jennifer and David and came to live in East Anglia.
The 18-year-old student knows his birth mother's name, and has a picture of her. But there's been no contact since, and he has little idea how life has treated her. Of his birth father he knows nothing - not even his name.
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Adoption also brought him two older sisters - both themselves adopted. He enjoyed a “normal” childhood, never suffered with classmates seizing on adoption as a tool to bully him, and doesn't recall ever playing the “You're not my real mum!” card during those years when teenagers push against the boundaries.
He's known for as long as he can remember that he is adopted. Quite simply, Jennifer and David are his parents. He felt totally settled within the family, which gave him love and stability.
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As he says, “It just all clicked.”
At the moment, Larry has no compulsion to discover more about his birth family. “I was happy where I was.” Finding out a few years ago that a blood relative had got into serious trouble with the police also made him think twice.
He realises his birth mother gave him up because she couldn't care for him. “At the time, she was on drugs, alcohol, and more or less anything else you care to name. So, in that respect, I suppose it was the best thing to do.”
Is it hard to have feelings for someone you know only as an abstract figure?
“Well, I suppose for my birth mother, if I have any feeling . . . I don't know . . . I suppose to thank her for doing what she did - because, otherwise, god knows where I would have been, if indeed I'd have been here at all.”
Larry is involved with the British Association for Adoption & Fostering; he speaks at conferences, meets lots of people, and is well aware that placements can be hugely successful, break down, or fall somewhere in between.
Nevertheless, he would enthusiastically encourage people to come forward as potential adopters. The more there are, the greater the chance of a match with a child needing for a new family.
“At present we've got about 4,000 kids waiting for permanent homes. OK, maybe not every single one will be adopted, but at least a decent proportion of those are capable of being adopted, as it were.”
The main challenge for a child, he feels, is to accept they're adopted, “and for some people that's harder than others”. An adoptive parent needs to be “someone who has a lot of love and is very caring. And, in my opinion, needs to be open and honest”.
The fact he was adopted was never pushed under the carpet, “whereas I know of cases where people were told when they were seven or eight”. It can undermine a child's sense of security.
Larry's in his first term of studying journalism at Sheffield, but there's always a warm welcome for him back at the family home near Lowestoft. He jokes about his fears that sister Kate might have staged a coup d'etat over his bedroom since he departed for university, but mum Jennifer puts his mind at rest.
“He can be reassured now that, apart from a redundant washing-machine that is awaiting collection, his room is more or less prepared,” she laughs.
Jennifer, a musician and teacher, is an experienced adopter and fosterer. As well as Polly, Kate and Larry, she's recently adopted a 14-year-old boy whom she had been fostering, and is fostering a 10-year-old.
Although there's no shared bloodline, it is definitely possible to “click” with a child - as she has with those she's adopted.
“There is a moment when you realise that this child - almost in a mystical sense, if that doesn't sound too romantic - has become your child.
“Love is a difficult word in the English language, but suddenly there's a moment when you look at them - like when you look at babies sometimes - and you go all soppy inside. You do that with your children now.
“I think that's what adoption is; that's why it's different to fostering. There is a moment you realise that for this child you would go through hell and high water, or throw yourself under a bus for him.”
How does one successfully nurture an adopted child?
“I probably, ultimately, have very few rules about how you parent. Probably I am, as I am in life generally, a very flexible person, and it may be that flexibility has enabled me to react individually to each child.
“I think the other side is that I have a lot of moral stamina, and when I've decided I've committed myself to this, I'm determined I'm going to stick with it.”
That strength has pulled her through some of the tougher times, such as trying to bond with Kate in her younger days. It worked, says Jennifer, as they are now very close.
“I think the flexibility is most important. A kind of lively understanding of what this child might need, and trying to seek out the best for them, perhaps gives them a sense that they are cared about and understood as an individual.
“If you can give the child the impression you know them well, and do what you can to allow them to grow - almost as a flower, with all the things they need to blossom - probably that does give them the confidence, eventually, to do it for themselves. And that's what I want: I want my children to be themselves, in the fullest sense that you can be.”
The family was always open about adoption. Differences and similarities between the people in the family, and between the children and their birth relatives, would be talked about informally whenever they came up. In the end, says Jennifer, “it becomes like the rock on which you're all based”.
“This might sound a little bit silly, but as a family we've always had rescue animals. The children knew that they don't come from the mummy dog - that we've gone to get them, or they've been strays and we've known nothing about them - and it's been a voyage of discovery.
“That's a lovely opportunity to talk: about how people, in some ways, are not totally different. They've been with me to the dog rescue centre - which is not like getting babies, of course! - and we've talked about how the dog is going to be very anxious and nervous when it comes to its new home, 'like you were when you left your foster carers . . .'”
Of course, she points out, being a parent of birth children is difficult - and adoption adds other dimensions. It is a challenge. What characteristics do potential adopters need?
“I think the most important thing is to understand yourself fairly well: know the sorts of things that are very stressful for you, and know the things you enjoy.
“The other thing is to be able to protect the innermost core of yourself from the hurtful and difficult aspects of the whole process, so you have a kind of shield, in a sense, that says 'This is not directed at me personally.' And then you don't take things on an emotional level so much as try to cope with them on a more rational level.”
The process of adoption can be time-consuming and complicated, and “will make you confront things about yourself that you don't like”. And helping an adopted child settle in a permanent home can prove emotionally exhausting.
“In a funny sort of way, although everyone's criticising Madonna, it may well be that she's got a better idea of what she's doing than someone going into it with a romantic notion. I think she probably is quite hard-headed about what she's doing for this child.
“People are annoyed that she seems to have bucked the system, but in some ways I think adoption has to be a slightly hard-headed thing that you do, as well as wanting all the aspects of family life. But it isn't like having your own baby. It really can't be.
“If people can see that - that it's something possibly they've been called to do, like a vocation - then they'll find an enormous fulfilment in it.
“For me it is obviously the most wonderful thing I've ever done and I feel hugely privileged to have had this life - but I wouldn't claim that it's been easy.”
ONE of the children in Suffolk needing a permanent home is four-year-old Ernie - a very sociable boy with a well-developed sense of humour.
Ernie has cerebral palsy, which causes weakness in his limbs, trunk and neck. He can sit unaided for short periods and stands with the help of a frame. He has recently been provided with his first wheelchair. It is not clear if Ernie will be able to walk in the future.
Ernie's speech and language skills are delayed, though his cognitive abilities are considered to be average, says Suffolk Social Care Services. “Ernie is likely to attend mainstream school, with support. He enjoys attending nursery. He has a Statement of Special Educational Needs. He needs ongoing physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.
“Ernie has a strong character. He is inquisitive and knows his own mind. He has developed the ability to get what he wants from others either by turning on his 'charm' or by just being stubborn. His carers find him extremely rewarding to look after and have great fun with him.”
Anyone who could offer him a secure, loving and permanent home should contact Suffolk Adoption Agency on 01379 672750 or email email@example.com
Suffolk has about 30 children hoping for a permanent home. As adopters are found, so more children enter the care system - so the overall numbers remain fairly static.
There is a continual need for prospective adopters - and there are few barriers to stop someone registering an interest. Find out more via www.suffolkadoption.com or call 0800 389 9417