I came across someone this week in a setting completely unconnected to adoption.
As is usually the case, our conversation turned to our children and then, inevitably for us, it went on to cover adoption.
Adoption is something we talk about openly and easily. We have to.
Coming out in the 1980's I, along with I suspect most gay men, became adept at discussing partners or dates in a gender neutral manner. Society has changed since then. I no longer ever feel the need to hide the fact my partner is another man. I don't need to perform the linguistic summersaults, the contortions of vocabulary I once felt necessary.
Of course the consequence of being open is inevitably that the fact I have children with me and the fact I am talking about a male partner, slowly dawns on my conversational acquaintance. I watch with slight amusement as a bemused 'does not compute' expression slips across the other person's face.
So, inevitably, I talk about our adopting our children. Briefly, Factually.
Sometimes the conversation moves on quickly. At other times it lingers, drawing questions, information, confidences from the other person.
This was the case earlier in the week. A unrelated situation. A conversation about an entirely different subject. A dawning recognition and then an outpouring of confidence, tinged with frustration.
My new acquaintance was negotiating the adoption process. The family were finding it a struggle. The bureaucracy with its humourless process, driven at the speed of social workers. The feeling of being judged. The sense of having no control over how the process progressed. All was playing on their mind. All was making them doubt their commitment to the journey. Making them wonder whether this would be worthwhile.
We talked for a while. I shared our experiences. I helped, I think, with some anecdotes of our own experience that came with some subtle pointers of how to approach the process more positively.
We experienced both the old, and the new, systems for adoption operated in the UK.
Prior to 2011 the process was very social worker driven. For our preparation to be approved as adopters and thereafter to adopt our son, we spent many, many hours with our social worker. Answering her questions. Completing the tasks she set us. Questioning ourselves. Our motivation. The robustness of our relationship. How fit we were as individuals.
The whole process took many months. Over two years in total.
The media narrative at the time concentrated on the length of time taken to navigate the system. The effect this had on children waiting for a new family. How many languished for so long in the care system that their opportunity for successful adoption passed by. That's reflected in this piece I did for the Bournemouth Echo at the time.
Our second adoption was completed using the system introduced post 2011. Speedier, reliant in its first part on a commitment by the prospective adopter to self assessment. The preparatory work completed by the subject of the reports, the facts checked and the report latterly written by the social workers as part of the second part of the process.
My comments from that newspaper article still stand true. The process, under either system, is searching and arduous. It's intrusive. It's judgemental.
It's also entirely appropriate for it to be so.
Children in the adoption system have so often come through terrible experiences. The State demands on their behalf that adoptive families meet a standard the children deserve. A standard a universe away from their previous experiences.
I'm flattered and slightly embarrassed to be identified as someone with whom people considering adoption should talk. A source of information. A reservoir of encouragement.
I'm no expert. I help as best I can and pass those pointed in my direction on to professionals far better qualified than I to help prospective adopters along the way on their journey.
I always make the same point though. The process is arduous. It's long. But it's absolutely, totally worth every minute.
My new acquaintance got in touch a few days later. The message was a very kind one:
"I can't tell you how grateful I was to chat about (adoption) with you. You are a real inspiration. Thank you so much - you have given me such a boost to keep going."
Honestly. I don't feel I did any of that. But as I often tell our children, it's not what you say, it's what people hear. I'm so glad this person heard that positive message. I'm so glad they have the courage to continue.
The road is a long one. It's a slog.
But the end, I hope and indeed am certain, will be a wonderful one for them and their new family.