Why after waiting years for a baby, I gave my adopted son back
She had years of fertility treatment. When that failed she went through endless vetting for adoption. Finally, Yvette and her husband were given the baby of their dreams. So why, after just two weeks, did it go so wrong?
By Kathryn Knight 14th November 2008
The Daily Mail
The beautifully decorated nursery has long since been wallpapered over and turned back into an office.
The baby clothes and toys have been given away, and the cheerful family photographs which dotted the room have been placed at the bottom of a drawer.
There is nothing at all to suggest this was once a child's bedroom. But a little boy did, for a time, sleep in this room.
He was a cheeky two-year- old called Ben, and his arrival two years ago into the life of Yvette Maguire and her husband Mark had initially been joyful, marking an end to years of infertility.
The couple had endured nearly two years of a protracted adoption process to find him and had believed fervently that he was the son they had always dreamed of.
But just two weeks after his arrival, 39-year-old Yvette made the astonishing decision to return him to foster care. Instead of fulfilling her maternal instincts, Yvette found herself facing a terrible conflict: her smiling new arrival reminded her only of her own biological failings.
She realised she would never be able to love Ben properly, and made the devastating choice to give him back. It was a decision she acknowledges that some people will never understand or approve of.
Even some of her own friends do not feel she gave herself a chance to bond with her adoptive son.
But Yvette stands by her decision, insisting that, far from being selfish, she was simply doing the best thing by her little boy. 'I'm not an ogre. I know some people will think I should have given it longer, that I was selfish and that I couldn't cope so I did the easiest thing. But it wasn't like that,' she says.
'Not a day goes by when I don't think about him and I still feel empty inside. Every day I torture myself over whether I let him down. But deep down I know I did the right thing.
'Ben did absolutely nothing wrong. It wasn't about him, it was about me. You hear so many different stories about adoption being difficult, but they are always centred on the children.
'No one looks at it from the point of view of a woman who has not been able to have a child of her own and the effect that can have. I simply wasn't prepared for it emotionally.'
Her story is certainly an antidote to the usual happy-ever-after tales of adoption. And Yvette admits that it never occurred to her that she might reject her son.
But then she had always assumed she would be able to have children. The youngest of three sisters from a loving family, Yvette, a fine art student, had spent most of her early years dreaming of the time she would become a mother.
'I wanted the fairytale - the husband, the lovely home, and the babies.'
IVF proved fruitless
After meeting her future husband Mark, now 37, at the age of 23, she seemed set to achieve her dream. Fixed up on a blind date by her sister, the couple hit it off immediately, eventually settling into a comfortable family home in Horley, Surrey.
Mark worked as a project manager in the City, while Yvette was a florist. They spent their 20s in a whirl of foreign holidays and spirited nights out. Having married in 2001, they started trying for children but were not unduly concerned when it did not happen immediately.
Subsequent tests, however, revealed that Yvette carried a high level of the hormone FSH, which can impede conception, as well as suffering mild endometriosis, which required surgery.
'I was very stressed,' says Yvette, 'I felt the pressure acutely. Everyone around me was having children.'
After 18 months, Yvette was referred to a specialist, who suggested the couple try IUI, a less invasive form of infertility treatment in which the ovaries are stimulated but the eggs are not harvested.
But after three unsuccessful attempts, the couple decided to embark on IVF. The couple told themselves they would only undergo one round, but ended up paying for three cycles, all of which proved fruitless.
'I didn't ever fall pregnant and after the third attempt the doctor as good as told me, very politely, that I shouldn't waste my money any more,' Yvette says. 'It was a hugely emotional time.'
There were, of course, still options, but one of them at least neither Yvette nor Mark would countenance.
'Some friends suggested we consider surrogacy, but we knew it wasn't right for us. We'd always had this thing that it was either both of us or none of us.'
So did warning bells not ring when they decided to embark on the adoption process?
'If I put my hand on my heart, I think I pushed my husband into adoption,' Yvette confesses. 'We had talked about it in the past and he had said he didn't feel he wanted to go down that road.
'I think he had reconciled himself to a life without children. But he knew how desperate I was and agreed to come with me to a meeting.'
And so, three years ago, Yvette and Mark embarked on another emotionally exhausting journey, that of the adoption process with its meetings and assessments and form-filling and classes.
'The entire process is designed to put you off, to frighten you to see if you're 100 per cent committed,' Yvette says.
'But it didn't deter either of us. I was so blinkered that all I could think was: "I want a baby, I want a baby."
'Mark had decided he was doing it for me and that was enough for him. And while you hear lots of horror stories of difficult children taking months and months to settle, you never hear about a total breakdown where it doesn't work at all. Whatever we were prepared for, it wasn't that.
'Our families wanted a happy ending. too. It had been tough for them, particularly for Mark's parents as he was an only child and they were desperate for a grandchild.'
Finally, 18 months later, in early 2006, the couple were formally approved for adoption.
'It was a wonderful moment, the moment you believe you are finally going to be a family,'
Yvette recalls . 'But it's also frustrating as you are literally waiting for the phone to ring to tell you there has been a match.'
He was a lovely little boy
Six months later that call came, giving the couple the news they had longed for: they had been matched with a two-year-old boy called Ben.
'I was overwhelmed and so was Mark,' says Yvette. 'I was thrilled to get a boy. I had this picture in my mind of my husband and son together tinkering with the cars in the garage. Mark was thrilled, too.'
The couple were not initially aware of Ben's background, informed only that he came from a troubled family. Only after giving their full agreement to the adoption process were they allowed to see the full paperwork. It made for upsetting reading.
One of eight brothers and sisters who were all in care, Ben had been terribly neglected as a baby, and taken into foster care at just a few months old.
He was fostered alongside two older siblings. 'It did scare us a little,' Yvette admits. 'When you see this immense family backdrop you start to think about who you are inviting into your life.
'We already had our own family, but by taking Ben in we were also opening ourselves up to his family too. But we knew we could give this little boy a wonderful life and that overruled any fears we might have had.'
Within a week, Yvette and Mark set eyes on their son in the flesh for the first time, watching from a distance as he played in a local park.
'It was wonderful, but very emotional. I just wanted to give him a hug, but we had to stay away.'
A few days later they were shown a video of Ben at play with his elder siblings, aged four and eight, at his foster home. 'It showed that he was a little bit bullied by them and I found that very difficult to watch,' she says. 'By then I really felt he was my baby - so I felt very protective.'
After final approval from the county adoption panel, Yvette and Mark embarked on a two-week 'handover' period before being allowed to take Ben home.
'We met Ben every day for two weeks, initially at his foster carer's home. Later we were allowed to take him out on our own. It's not easy at first because you are having to get to know someone in a slightly artificial environment, but as the days went on and we got to spend longer and longer with him, it got easier.
'He was a lovely little boy, very happy-go-lucky and cheeky. We took him to the park, played games and started to bond. I felt very happy and optimistic.'
Handover day, however, was not quite so simple. 'Mark and I had been given the impression that Ben would have said his goodbyes to his siblings before we picked him up, but they were there. They were both distraught, sobbing their heart out, which meant Ben was sobbing too.
'It was terrible, and I felt I was wrenching him away from his family.'
I felt no bond with him
But, once at their home, Ben seemed to settle in quickly, delighted by his cheerfully-decorated nursery crammed with toys and clothes. But within hours of welcoming their son into his new home, Yvette admits she was overcome with waves of anxiety about what she had done.
'I was completely overwhelmed,' she admits. 'On the outside I was doing all the right things - looking after him, playing with him, hugging him - but inside I felt only turmoil.
'I have a very strong memory of looking at him in the first couple of days that he was with us, and thinking: "He didn't come from me." I felt no bond with him whatsoever.
'I loved him in the abstract, but not inside. Clearly I hadn't expected this to happen, or I wouldn't have spent two years struggling to reach that point. But whenever I looked at him I was reminded only of my own failure to be a biological mother.
'I don't think I had grieved properly for the fact that I would never have my own children, and now it was coming back to haunt me. But at the same time it was the most horrible feeling - how could I not love this adorable boy I had waited for for so long?'
Ironically her husband, who had been so wary about adoption in the beginning, had no such qualms, immediately bonding with the toddler.
'Mark loved him to bits. Luckily I was able to confide in him about how I was feeling. He was worried, but I think he thought it would settle down.' It didn't.
With each passing day, Yvette says, she felt increasingly alienated. 'I wasn't sleeping, I had lost weight and I was as white as a sheet,' she says.
'As the days went by, I did everything I could to bond with Ben. At night I would kiss his forehead and read him a bedtime story before tucking him in. We'd go to the park and play with his toys - he loved trains and trucks, like any little boy - but try as I might, I couldn't connect with him.
'I would look at him drinking or eating and be painfully aware that I hadn't been able to nurture him from my own breast, or feel the kick of his foot inside my tummy.
'One evening, I sat down to complete some adoption paperwork and had to write his surname as our own. Seeing it on the page just didn't feel right.
I couldn't love him the way he deserved
'I looked after him perfectly well, but I was just going through the motions. At night I would tuck him up in his Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas, saying to myself: "I am going to love you, I am going to love you."'
Matters came to a head just two weeks after Ben arrived, when a health visitor arrived for a routine check.
'She instantly knew something was wrong,' Yvette says. 'We started talking and I burst into floods of tears. It all came flooding out.'
Events moved rapidly: Yvette was referred the same day to a doctor, then a social worker, who said she should not be left alone with Ben.
'That was very difficult to hear,' she says. 'I knew they were only protecting the child, but I would never ever have hurt him.' Yvette was referred to The Priory, where a psychiatrist suggested that her inability to grieve over her infertility lay at the root of her feelings.
Both felt that keeping Ben was not to be recommended, and Yvette's social worker even said that she believed Yvette had post-natal depression, which, extraordinarily, can be diagnosed after adoption as well as natural childbirth.
'That made me want to scream,' she says. 'I knew what the problem was - while I loved Ben, I couldn't really love him in the way he deserved or needed from a mother.'
So, after a number of emotional discussions between husband, wife and social worker, the decision was made to return Ben to foster care. He had been with them for just two weeks.
'Mark had wanted to give things more time and I thought to myself: "I could lose my husband over this, I could lose my family." All of them felt that in time I would change, but I had to trust my instincts.
'In the end, Mark said he had married me for me, not for a child, and he would stand by me whatever I decided.'
Yvette adds: 'I know people will struggle to understand why I reacted so strongly to having Ben in the house, but I knew it wasn't just a case of him settling in.
'I knew that it just wouldn't work out with him. I felt he deserved to be with someone who could truly love him, and that I couldn't give him that.
'I have written him a long letter to be put in his file explaining everything that happened and how I felt.'
It was never going to work
One can only imagine, however, the bewilderment felt by the little boy as he was taken to his fourth home in two years, to a new set of foster carers.
Mark and Yvette accompanied him on the journey, taking with them the clothes and toys they had bought for him. 'We didn't explain what was happening to Ben as the social workers had told us not to, so on the day all we could do was take him to his new family.
'It was left to them to explain the situation, although at the time he would have been too young to understand. We stayed for three hours to make sure he was settled and then all we could do was leave,' say Yvette.
'Watching him in his new home was incredibly emotional. I consoled myself with the fact that I knew he would be loved. But when we went back to his nursery we both broke down. We were grieving for him, but also for the end of our dreams of having a baby.
'We both knew that if it wasn't going to work with Ben it was never going to work.'
Today, Yvette has, to a degree, reconciled herself with remaining childless. 'Sometimes I feel vulnerable because I look at Mark and think he could find someone who would provide him with children. But he has been a rock and our relationship is stronger than ever,' she says.
Some consolation has come, too, with the knowledge that Ben is flourishing, having been adopted by his new foster family.
'They have a little girl who he loves and they are devoted to him, so that has made it all worthwhile,' says Yvette.
It is a happy ending of sorts, but it's hard not to think that Yvette's struggle for motherhood came at a high price, not only for her, but the little boy she so longed to love.
Ben's name has been changed