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Jesse Toksvig-Stewart celebrates families of all shapes and sizes
Published: November 10, 2015
I guess you could say that our adoption story is not a typical one. In the beginning it was my two Mums, my siblings and I. We lived together in a great house in Surrey and we had the best up-bringing any children could ask for. One of my Mums changed career about 6 years ago to become a foster carer. It was something that she had been thinking about for a really long time and she finds it really rewarding. Many beautiful children have been in her care over the years but in 2012 one baby came along that really captured our hearts. I remember seeing her for the first time, holding her in my arms and thinking, “Oh boy, are we in trouble!” My little sister’s past is precious and should not be told before she has had a chance to hear and understand it. But, as you will know, some children are harder to place than others. This may be down to medical issues, birth parents’ histories, ethnicity etc. A year into her stay with us we realised that she would fall into this ‘hard to place’ category. We loved her desperately, and with every day passing she was becoming more and more cemented into our family life. Meanwhile, social services tried to match her with adoptive parents who shared her racial background. This period was complete turmoil for our family and lots of tears were shed. Eventually, my Mum chose to do what we’d all secretly hoped she would and apply to become an adoptive parent. If another family was found in the meantime – so be it. But, if not, this lovely little girl could be part of our family forever. In December 2014 fate chose us and my Mum was approved and adopted my little sister. It was probably the best day of my life so far. The truth is, she has always felt like ours.
This is what I meant when I said our adoption story was different to most adoptive families. All of the legal precautions were the same. I went with my mum to panel, my siblings and I waited for my mum to be approved with baited breath. We all sat in the court room and cried with joy on her adoption celebration day with our family and friends surrounding us. However, we were lucky enough to have had my little sister in our care since she was 10 days old.
On her adoption celebration day, I wanted to get her a baby record book like one that I had as a child. My parents had written down funny things that I said, when I got my first tooth, documented my birthdays, that sort of thing. The problem was that there were no memory books that did not include very specific elements of the nuclear family set up. For my own record book, my parents were constantly crossing out ‘Daddy’ to put ‘Mama’. 26 years down the line and very little has changed.
This is what gave me the idea of creating a book for families, like mine, that don’t fit into the traditional mould. I asked my friend Kat to illustrate the book as she is an incredible artist and together we created our own record book designed for “alternative” families. My Amazing Family and Me does not specify the age of a child or the gender and status of the grown-ups in their lives. Our headings are designed to be as inclusive as possible – for example My First Christmas at Home, Important Celebrations and Festivals or My First Birthday at Home. Our book is accessible for couples and single parents, same-sex or straight, birth children or those who have been adopted. We did not want any family to be left out of the wonderful rite of passage that a memory book provides. Most importantly, I hope it reminds people that there is more than one way to make an amazing family.
Jesse Toksvig-Stewart is a photographer and is co-author with Kat Willott of My Amazing Family and Me. www.uglyduckbooks.co.uk