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Real life: A Stylist reader on adoption

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She challenged David Cameron about Britain’s lengthy adoption process in Stylist’s 100th issue, now Beatrice Gehr-Swain has the child she’s dreamed of

In October 2011, for our Made By You 100th issue, we sent Stylist reader Beatrice Gehr-Swain, 39, to 10 Downing Street to interview Prime Minister David Cameron. Beatrice grilled him about the lengthy adoption process she and her husband Andrew were going through and Cameron agreed that the process was “failing” parents and children. It’s been a long journey, but on 2 May 2012, Andrew and Beatrice brought their little girl, one-year-old Emma*, home…

“I’ve always wanted to be a mum. Andy and I married when I was 25 and he was 27, and we decided to have a few commitment-free years first. We began trying when I was 30, but three years ticked past and I still wasn’t pregnant. We eventually went for tests and doctors told us ours was a case of ‘unexplained infertility’. It was so frustrating – I wish they’d said “it’s never going to work”. At least then we’d have a diagnosis. Instead they said we could keep trying and it might work. It was an awful limbo but we knew it was futile to blame each other. It actually brought us closer together.

Six years after we started trying for a baby, we moved to Warwickshire, to our would-be family home, and I began IVF treatment. I was 36 by then and I found IVF physically and emotionally gruelling. The drugs heighten emotions and for three months it felt as though my body had been hijacked. I remember one time, a fly landed on me and I jumped in surprise. I convinced myself I had dislodged the foetus and got incredibly upset. For three months IVF was all my life was about, so when we found out it didn’t work, it was devastating.

We’d seen couples moving around the country to try and secure another NHS-funded IVF course, watched friends ruin their finances doing it privately and witnessed the friction it can cause in a marriage. We didn’t want a baby at the expense of our relationship. I realised I didn’t need to give birth to a child to love it, and we began thinking about adoption.

In September 2010 we had our first adoption meeting. During the following months, a social worker visited our house and compiled a report on us. We had to discuss our relationship, family history, how we dealt with adversity. There were lots of forms and questions, it felt a bit like therapy. When I met David Cameron for Stylist last year, I was frustrated and called the process ‘intrusive’. Now we have our daughter I can see how important it is to ensure a good match so there’s no more disruption for the child.

In April this year, we were finally matched with a child, 10-month-old Emma. I had worried about bonding with her, but as soon as I saw her photograph, I started to feel like her mum. Soon after, we drove to Emma’s foster parents’ home to spend the week with her. We were nervous and kept thinking: ‘What if she doesn’t like us?’ We tiptoed in and crouched beside her as she was playing – and she burst into tears! Half an hour later, though, she was clambering all over us and smiling. During the week we gradually increased our time with her. It was emotional and exhausting.

The first time I held Emma in my arms was truly amazing, but it was only when we brought her home eight days after the ‘introduction week’ that it felt completely natural and right. Emma had a good routine, and slept well, but we didn’t… We had the baby monitor turned up way too loud and panicked every time she took a deep breath. I had to learn to recognise her different cries and there were times when I asked myself: ‘Can I really do this?’ But my friends reassured me that every new mum feels the same. In a sense, I was grateful for the months we’d waited to get Emma, because in some way they mimicked the mental preparation of a pregnancy.

My maternal feelings get stronger every day. A few people have said Emma has mine or Andrew’s eyes or smile, which is a happy coincidence. She already has a little personality. She’s strongwilled, but shy with strangers, so I’ve tried to get her used to other people – my mum, friends and sisters-in-law all hold her as I don’t want her to have just gained a loving mummy and daddy, I want her to have an entire family. I worried I’d missed some milestones, but I’m now on maternity leave until February next year so I’ll be there for all of the ‘firsts’ – our ears prick up every time she makes a sound, wondering if it’s ‘mama’ or ‘dada’! Friends already ask if we’ll adopt again. I don’t know. Right now we just want to enjoy our daughter. We’re a family now, which is all we ever wanted.”

For more information on how to adopt or become a foster carer, visit giveachildahome.co.uk.

* Name has been changed

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