No parent ever forgets that first proud procession from the car to the family home. Ali Sanders remembers every tiny detail of the day she brought her twins home — the baby seats ‘took up the whole of the back seat’, she says.
She watched as her husband, Michael — already ‘head over heels in love’ — clumsily fussed over the straps and buckles, like the excited novice dad he was. Then, inside the house, came the other big family milestone — meeting the ‘over-the-moon’ new grandparents. ‘I remember Michael’s dad meeting them,’ says Ali, 35. ‘He said: “Here’s Grandad!” He was so happy. Everyone was. My parents were thrilled, too.’
Of course they were: this was the fairytale ending to Ali and Michael’s struggle to start a family. Told they were infertile early in their marriage — with issues on both sides — the couple, from Staffordshire, threw all their efforts into the adoption process.
School librarian Ali Sanders and her husband sent eight-month-old twins back to their foster parents after Ali found out she was pregnant. They now have a three-year-old son called Jacob
Just after Christmas in 2014, their prayers were answered. They were approved to adopt adorable, eight-month-old identical twin boys who even looked like Michael.
‘They were chunky and squidgy, with huge brown eyes,’ says Ali. ‘Absolutely gorgeous.’
The couple spent the next six weeks gradually getting to know ‘their’ babies, visiting them at the foster home where they had been placed, decorating their nursery and preparing for the big ‘take-home day’.
Life could not have been more perfect — in theory. Only something was wrong with Ali. She wasn’t ‘getting it’, she says.
Instead of bathing in a maternal glow of excitement, Ali, a school librarian, felt numb and flat.
‘It felt like I was playing — that it wasn’t real,’ she says. ‘What made it worse was that Michael bonded with the babies immediately. He already felt like Daddy.’
She would watch him changing nappies and cooing during visits . . . but felt absolutely nothing.
She remembers taking the boys to the park for the first time in the beautiful new double buggy she had ‘obsessed’ over for months.
A picture of Ali Sanders who lives with her husband and son in Staffordshire. She said that after the twins were brought home in December 2014 she felt flat and numb while her husband bonded with them straight away
Ali with her husband Michael (Pictured) and young son Jacob. The couple met at university
‘It sounds daft now, but so much effort had gone into getting the perfect buggy. It was an iCandy double and cost more than £1,000. But even when I was sitting with my beautiful buggy containing these gorgeous babies, I just wanted the process to stop. I’d never felt so lonely in my life.’
Motherhood often feels overwhelming and adoptive parents are not spared the waves of panic. There is even a condition called ‘post-adoptive depression’.
But this was something else.
‘My overriding memory is of sitting there praying that the twins wouldn’t wake up, because when they did, I’d have to go back to pretending to be a mother again,’ Ali recalls.
Seeing her obvious misery and panic, her husband begged her to go to the doctor only a day after they brought the twins home. He knew something was wrong. She had felt ‘out of sorts’ for weeks.
The GP asked for a urine sample, left the room and returned with astonishing news: Ali was pregnant. She was dumbstruck.
‘I said: “I just can’t be” and he asked: “Why?” I said: “Because we are infertile and we’ve just adopted baby twins.” ’
A photo of their baby boy Jacob after he was born. Ali said that while they had the twins her overriding memory was ‘of sitting there praying that the twins wouldn’t wake up, because when they did, I’d have to go back to pretending to be a mother again'
Legally, of course, they hadn’t. The adoption process takes months to finalise through the courts. But, as far as everyone involved was concerned, they were already Mum and Dad.
The couple drove home in stunned silence, then Ali sent her husband out to buy another pregnancy test — ‘the most expensive one he could find, I was convinced the GP had got it wrong’. But he hadn’t.
Shocked, Ali and Michael called their social workers. And that was that. By the end of the day, the adoption process was off.
‘I told the social worker I didn’t think we would be able to keep the twins,’ says Ali, tearfully.
The babies went back to their foster parents that very evening.
‘It was the last time I saw them. I cried and cried. I hadn’t expressed any emotion until then, but when they were taken from my arms for the last time, something inside me broke and I don’t think it will ever be fixed again,’ she says.
‘I don’t think the guilt will ever go. I let down these babies who had already been let down.’
Some will never be able to fathom how a woman so far into the adoption process could backtrack — ‘they will think: “How evil”,’ Ali concedes. Others, though, will sympathise with a woman who, in impossible circumstances, made a terribly difficult decision that she considered best for everyone.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Ali thinks that from the moment she was pregnant the adoption was doomed, because her body simply refused to allow her to bond with babies that were not genetically hers.
‘I think it was a physical thing. The way I couldn’t connect with the twins was completely out of character. I’d always been really maternal and desperately wanted those babies.
Ali and Michael pictured on their wedding day in 2012. They decided to adopt children after both were told that they were infertile
‘I think it was my body saying: “Concentrate on your baby.” I put my biological baby first and will have to live with that for the rest of my life.’
Four years on, and that baby is now a three-year-old whirlwind called Jacob. And Ali is expecting again — another pregnancy that has defied the odds — her baby girl is due in October.
She and Michael couldn’t be happier. Yet, neither has been able to forget the baby boys who were so nearly theirs.
Ali rises to get two hanging toys from the sideboard. They are gingerbread men, Christmas decorations purchased when they received the news that they had been matched with the twins: ‘We put them on the tree that Christmas, thinking there would be a lifetime of decorating the