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‘God prepared me for this’

21 October 2016

Heather Ursell tells Rachel Giles what it was like to parent an adopted child

The Ursell family: back row: Sam, Lydia, Caroline (Stephen’s wife); front row: Daniel, Chris, Heather (with baby Sophie), Stephen

The Ursell family: back row: Sam, Lydia, Caroline (Stephen’s wife); front row: Daniel, Chris, Heather (with baby Sophie), Stephen

ADOPTION was something I had wanted to do since I was about six or seven. That was the first time I realised that some children did not have parents. It has been on my heart from that moment on.

In 1996, my husband, Chris, and I had the privilege of fostering (and later adopting) a little girl, Lydia, who had been brought to the UK from Romania. Our own sons, Daniel and Stephen, were ten years older; so when we adopted her, we wondered how we could en­­large our family to include someone else nearer her age.

One week I was praying specifically that God would show us who this other person might be. And, at the end of that week, I met Sam. She had just been placed into foster care with a friend of mine. As soon as I met her, I had a sense that she was the answer to my prayers.

Sam had been through a dis­rupted adoption before; so social services were not keen to move quickly. But because she came to our church, there were many oppor­tunities to get to know each other in a natural way.

Sam and Lydia got on well. Although they were probably a bit old for it, they would play with dolls and teddy bears, walking down the street with pushchairs and big dolls. They would role-play social workers who would swoop in and save them from terrible situations.

Lydia had spent time in a Ro­­manian orphanage, and had missed out on a lot of play, but their games proved helpful for Sam, too — she was about eight or nine, then.

Eventually, aged ten, Sam came to live with us. She was elated. Initially, both girls would compete for my attention: literally counting the seconds I cuddled them, and how many syllables I spoke to each one. I tried to be visibly fair all the time; it could be exhausting. Around that time, we went to stay with an aunt and uncle of mine. By the time we returned, things weren’t so difficult.

As family life settled down, Sam started to show more anger. She would go and trash her room, tearing up precious photos from her past, breaking lovely things that she had made, stabbing her duvet and pillow with scissors. Sometimes she regretted what she had done, but mostly she did not seem to care; it was as if this was her way of getting back at the world.

She would talk about people from her past who had made her feel angry, but couldn’t link it to the anger she was letting out, which was often triggered by small things. A big factor was her failed adoption: initially, the family she lived with had seemed wonderful. There had been a little boy, a bit younger than her, and they had got on well. Then the mother became pregnant, and they didn’t need Sam any more.

The worst part, however, was that no one told her that properly: she saw that they had packed their bags to go away, but not packed hers. It was a traumatic experience for her to leave.

When she would go to her room and destroy things, I understood that partly it was about releasing all the anger that she felt inside; and partly, I think, she was testing us, to see if we would still love her.

Social services had warned us not to expect to mould the girls into the perfect additions to our family, and that there would be unpredictable emotions. It was hard, but it never entered our minds to give up on her.


WHEN Sam got her GCSE results, I was away. I still don’t know what they were. And, while I was away, she moved out. We found out from someone else that she had moved back with her birth mother, who had had another baby.

We didn’t feel she was at risk; it was her choice. So, although she was in our hearts, and we prayed for her, we felt we had to let her go. When faith is part of your life, you have to accept that often things don’t work out how you expect, but that God is still in control. I knew that he still loved Sam, and was watching over her. Besides, we were having to cope with Lydia’s anger by then.

Lydia was disgusted with Sam’s behaviour, and felt rejected by what she had done. Even now, aged 27, she still feels angry. She has had counselling, but at this stage it is still not really resolved, although she and Sam are good friends again.

When Sam left to live with her mother, we didn’t hear anything from her for a year. Then, out of the blue, she phoned me and asked if she could come home. We were open to the idea, but Lydia was our priority. Part of her hated Sam, and she had to work hard on forgiving her. Only when she got to the point where she could say “Let’s give it a go” did we invite Sam to visit. Even­tually, Sam moved back in. It was not instant happy families; we set boundaries for her security as well as ours.

Some years later, Sam decided to try to find her birth father. She understood that he was dead, but wanted to find out about him. Social services discovered that he was alive, and arranged for them to meet. He turned out to be a lovely man, with a family not far away from us.

Sam sees her father’s family quite often now. All of them have been to our house, and we have got to know them a little. Sam has not always found it easy to relate to all of them. She has tried to say to her birth father: “I want a relationship with you, but not necessarily everyone.” That’s really hard to define, but he understands.

Her birth family have been af­­firming of her, none the less. They arranged a fund-raiser for Sam’s charity work in India, which I find difficult, because I think “Should we have done that?” But, of course, we supported her in other ways. I think Sam’s family are proud of her and wanted to show it.

Sam’s own faith, which continued to develop after she returned to live with us, has helped her to recognise that the horrible parts of her story are usable by God, and that she was not abandoned by him. It has shaped her, and she relates readily to children and adults who are going through difficult times.

We are proud of the fact that Sam has been to university, which very few children who have been in the care system manage to do. She is 26 now, living and working in London as a church children-and-families worker. She lays down her life for other people, in the love and the care that she shows. She missed out on that herself; so it is even more of a miracle that she can do so.


MY HUSBAND is disabled, after contracting an unknown virus in 1979. He has not got much sense of balance, his speech has been affected, and he has to use a wheelchair, but mentally he is fit (he works for his brother’s business, and is church treasurer). We thought that his incapacity might be a problem for adopting. But, because there was some question about how both girls had been treated by men in their past, it was a positive thing to have a physically less able man around. He is a strong figure in the lives of both girls.

Adopting and fostering was like a shared project for us, but, with my husband’s disability, going away on training courses was difficult: he gets very tired, and I’m not so keen on driving. But, when we have had problems, we have had each other to talk to about it. We also have a strong church family, and other close family who live near by; so we have never felt isolated. Initially, my foster-mother friend lived close by, too; so there was always someone I could chat to who knew the girls, as well as the system.

There are some people for whom, I think, adoption would be too difficult, and so many stories are not as happy as ours. But, if adoption is in your heart, follow through, and pray all the time. Do not rely on what you think you know.

I look back and see how God prepared me for this. If anyone feels that God’s nudging them in that direction, he probably is. But take any help that you can get.


Sam Ursell’s adoption story has been featured previously (Feature, 9 May 2014). National Adoption Week runs from 17-23 October. www.first4adoption.org.uk/nation­aladoptionweek

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