Supportive Support & Disappearances
Laying your life bare is an essential component of the adoption process. Hard though it is, for me it always felt entirely appropriate to do so.
Part of that process involves taking a long, hard, honest look at the support networks around you. In the event of an emergency who would you, could you, really turn to for support. When things are getting really tough who is going to be there with tea and sympathy or good solid advice and supportive common sense.
Additionally, there's the need to provide the details of those people who know you best to act as your referees. These individuals are going to be interviewed to provide confirmation you are the people you purport yourselves to be. They therefore need to know you well, and lets be honest, present you in a positive light.
We have been through the adoption process twice. The instances were almost three years apart. Looking back and comparing the support maps we drew each time we went through the process is fascinating.
The info-graphic we produced when preparing for the adoption of our son includes a much wider variety of people. There are gay and straight friends. Those who live nearby and those who live much further away. We identified those who we thought would be on the end of the phone, those to whom we could turn for specific support and those who would be able to provide the respite and diversion we undoubtedly would need.
Three years later the support map looked very different indeed. Gone were almost all our gay friends, those remaining being those we had more recently met through being same sex parents ourselves. Friends who were geographically distant had been replaced by those who lived closely, mostly people we had met through our son's schooling.
Perhaps most interestingly, some of the friends we had anticipated would be central to our support network were still there but others were not. Their support being surprisingly and even shockingly absent in the early days of our adoption.
With the benefit of hindsight some of these changes should have been easily predictable.
Having a child or children immediately limits your world. It is far less easy to pack the car and drive off for a weekend. Finding the time for a lengthy evening telephone call to catch up on others lives is so much more difficult. It was therefore unsurprising that our friends who lived in far flung locations were depicted in a much further orbit from our centre, or indeed had dropped from the map altogether.
Others were far less predictable. The long standing friends who almost immediately disappeared from our lives post our first adoption caught, we later discovered, in stresses and traumas of their own.
They were also however only committed to a friendship where the support was a one way street. Disappointed that our focus no longer faced so consistently outwards, begrudging in the interest they showed our new family and ultimately covetous of the attention we were no longer able to give. The friendship ending in an exchange of hurtful, bitter and ultimately unforgivable texts. A tremendous sadness to all.
Perhaps most interesting was the paradigm shift in the nature of our friendships with other gay couples.
We had never been particularly interested in participating in the 'Scene'. We didn't frequent gay bars or clubs, preferring instead the company of friends over dinner in a restaurant or visiting one another's homes.
Our same sex friends were largely long standing. Other gay people we had met either through work or in an earlier time when we were single and more social.
Their reaction to our telling them we were applying to adopt ranged. They were universally supportive, viewing our quest for a family as yet another extension of the dizzying breadth of acceptance we were all witnessing in our lifetimes.
Some were curious, others slightly bemused.
Never doubting our personal motivation some clearly failed to see why we would want to upset the very comfortable life we had. A beautiful home, strong and happy relationship, good careers that were progressing well. Why would we want to let children disrupt that?
The lurch from that life into one of play school. Children's ailments. Routine that prohibited us attending supper parties seemed to confuse, and ultimately alienate, our gay friends. Why couldn't our life remain the same? Surely we could just get a babysitter?
Perhaps the most humorous reactions came from two separate couples who each had very different but similarly pristine homes.
Over dinner with our first set of friends we talked, jokingly, in the weeks before our son came to live with us, about how their marble bedecked home would be a perfect canvass upon which sticky finger marks could be left. As we joked I could see, behind the eyes of the more house-proud of the two, a dawning realisation that funny as this conversation might be, it also represented the truth of any future visit. At least until our son was 18. Suffice it to say no invitation to their home was ever forthcoming.
A similar reaction came from the couple who had the most beautiful Victorian home, replete in period furniture and ornaments from floor to ceiling in every room. They rang with a kind invitation to Sunday lunch just a few weeks after our son had come to live with us. As part of the conversation I made an enquiry about whether they would be able to accommodate our son's, at that time still very limited, tastes.
There was silence on the other end of the phone. "Oh, do you have to bring him? The house isn't really child friendly," came the answer.
To this day I'm not sure what their expectation was as to what we might be able to do with our three year old son while we were out at the proposed lunch. Suffice it to say we didn't go and the invitation was never repeated.
We have been incredibly lucky with so many of our friends.
The gay friend, proudly and independently single, who arrives every couple of months carrying a range of presents for the children inviting banter and rough and tumble play.
Our wonderful friends who were two years ahead of us with their own child when we adopted from whom we learnt so much as they were free and generous with their time and their advice.
Those who have been incredibly generous with clothing and equipment, particularly when we adopted our daughter who was much younger than our son had been when she came to live with us.
Adoption has shown us just how much extraordinary generosity, kindness and good there was in our network of friends. It also made others around us re-examine their priorities and chose to weaken their relationship with us.
Above all it has brought a whole new set of friends with whom we have the commonality of parenting. A superb and unexpected bonus as our journey progresses.