My son talked about killing himself when he was four

The children have always known they are adopted, but have totally different responses to it

Emma is doing fine in school and the teachers have been immensely supportive. She does attend a psychologist

Sharon (58) has two adopted children – 13-year-old Emma and 11-year-old Robert – both of whom she adopted from Russia with her now estranged husband.

“I wanted to have children and, after 10 years of marriage and unsuccessful in vitro fertilisation (IVF) programme, we did a pre-adoption course and decided to go to Russia [Irish parents can no longer adopt babies from Russia]. It was very daunting as we had to visit a child over three days in an orphanage, sign papers for her, go home and come back out for a court case to legally adopt her from the Russian authorities.

“When we got home with our bright, smiley and friendly daughter, it felt almost like the job was done, but then you have to learn what it’s like to parent a child who has spent their first 17 months in an orphanage.

“Immediately, I saw myself as her mother and she filled a baby-shaped hole in my heart. She was what I’d always dreamed of and the amount of joy she has brought me is unreal, but she didn’t sleep and never switched off. She was on high alert all the time. She couldn’t ever get enough food and she still hides food. I still feel so sad about her start in life and things I now know that I can’t ever fully fix for her.


“When we had Emma a year, we felt it would be beneficial for her to have a brother or sister. So, back we went to Russia and adopted a one-year-old boy, Robert. When we took him home, he was the opposite to Emma in that he was very wary, withdrawn and scared of being with us. He screamed for four or five hours every day for the first four months and I didn’t see him smile for two years. He kept talking about killing himself when he was four. Robert did bond with my husband, though, because all the carers in the orphanage were women. Thankfully, he also got on well with Emma.

“Although I thought it would be a tough beginning, I know now that I didn’t fully understand the impact of early deprivation. I now believe that there will always be some residual damage if a baby doesn’t make connections with a primary caregiver in the first year of life. The easiest thing to do is to blame the mother for not coping. My husband left the family home three years ago, but he still sees the children.

“Emma is doing fine in school and the teachers have been immensely supportive. She does attend a psychologist. Robert struggles in school as he has sensory difficulties and is dyslexic. He can’t cope with change and needs to be told everything in advance.

“My children have always known that they are adopted, but have totally different responses to it. Emma refuses to talk about adoption and has no interest in Russia, but Robert has pictures of his parents beside his bed and is positive about Russia. Nowadays, I never say that my children are adopted.

“This is not the life I would have planned for myself and sometimes, it is very hard going. But I listen to Robert laughing now and get such joy from it. Emma and Robert are my children and I love them to bits.”

– Names have been changed to protect identities.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment