Guest post for Those Four Little Words
Our adoption journey began almost seven years ago. On a beach. On holiday. In Spain.
In 2005 the UK enacted legislation allowing same sex couples to apply to adopt children.
My husband, J & I had been together for a number of years. We’d talked often about our view of family. One of the things that had drawn us together was a common view of what family was and meant to us both.
And so, lying on a beach in Spain, looking out to sea on neighbouring sun loungers, we spoke honestly and openly about our hopes to create a family of our own and agreed, when home, to investigate how we could work towards that goal.
Adoption in the UK is in essence a state sponsored activity. Managed through our Local Government, prospective adopters need to apply to, and be approved by, a Local Adoption Services department.
The recommendation is not to apply to the Adoption Department covering the area in which you live. The reason for this being the likelihood that the child(ren) with whom adoptive parents are matched will come from the same Adoption team.
The vast majority of British children placed for adoption are removed from their birth families by the State. The birth parents having been deemed either incapable or unable to care for their children. Contact, other than an anonymous annual letter, is broken off with the birth family upon the child’s adoption.
Consequently, it’s deemed advisable they are adopted outside of the County or Borough where they have initially been taken into care.
The process of obtaining approval to be prospective adoptive parents took over eighteen months. Months during which we met our designated Social Worker at least twice if not three times per month. The questioning was rigorous, detailed and at times intrusive, but always we felt appropriate to the eventual outcome.
Approval came in front of a panel of independent people in the early Summer and by that autumn we had been matched with our son, then three, who had been removed from an abusive and violent family about a year beforehand.
Our son came to us scared, hurting, damaged by both his past with his birth family and his journey through the care system.
A transition week flew by, as we slowly assumed care for him from his foster parents and moved his (very few) belonging and eventually him to our home.
Nothing prepares you for that first night with a child under your roof, for whom you are entirely responsible. We were both terrified that first night. Although our bedroom was just next door we set up a baby monitor in order that we could hear him in case he awoke. We expected he would wake, would be confused and would be frightened as he found himself in an unfamiliar bed and bedroom. We wanted to make sure we were there as quickly as we could be, to limit the fear and to reassure him if that were to happen.
We tried to sleep, but couldn’t. Listening in to his room on the baby monitor wasn’t enough for J. He moved to sleep on the landing outside our son’s bedroom, while I lay awake listening in on the baby monitor. We both slept fitfully, J much less comfortably than me.
Of course, our son slept for twelve hours solid, so was bright and breezy the next day, while we got through it solely due to high caffeine intake.
We were very lucky through those early months. J is a doctor at one of our local hospitals. Working in the National Health Service, adoption is treated in the same way as maternity. He therefore was able to take nine months, paid leave for the adoption of each of our children (we adopted our daughter separately two years ago).
I had run my own businesses and also had a political career, both of which allowed me to be flexible around working from home and assuming the role of primary carer for the children once J’s adoption leave came to an end.
For an American audience, I realise the thought of same sex adoption must seem strange, perhaps for some even unnatural. We test ourselves with the same questions many of you may be asking, often.
Was our decision to adopt purely for our own benefit? Were we so arrogant as to think that we could offer our children a stable and happy new family, when the ‘family’ we offered them was one so different to the traditional concept?
Who has creating our family really benefitted? Our children? Or is it that we are just fulfilling a desire for societal ‘normality’ that our sexuality wouldn’t otherwise have offered?
Each time we come to the same conclusion.
Our son had an awful time through the first three years of his life. His birth family were abusive and neglectful to one another and to him. When he was taken into care he was placed in a foster placement that very quickly broke down and ultimately did more damage.
Finally, in the few months before his adoption he was placed with a foster family who provided the love and stability he needed.
There our little boy began his process of healing. Not least by receiving love and kindness from his foster mother and thus beginning to combat the negative memories he had of both his birth mother and his previous foster mother.
Our son had been a victim, that’s beyond doubt. But he had also learnt from those experiences. He’d learnt how to manipulate a situation to his advantage. He’d learnt how angry and demanding behaviour was the only way to get attention. He’d begun to learn to be like his birth parents.
So whilst he desperately needed stability, love, tenderness, compassion, he also needed to unlearn many of the behaviours he had witnessed and considered normal. That meant boundaries and consistency. It meant being kind yet resolute.
We were able to set those limits. To provide both security and structure.
Knowing his past. Knowing the pain, hurt and confusion he had faced, the instinctive reaction to our little boy was to smother him with love. To forgive his misdemeanours. To explain his challenging behaviours as purely the consequence of his past and to treat that only with compassion and tenderness.
Figures show that, in the UK, one in five adoption placements break down. Anyone who adopts children faces challenges. Ours have perhaps been no different to most and, quite possibly, much less than many. When reflecting about the last few years we feel that both being male added something intangible but still positive to the task we faced.
Our daughter was younger when she was taken into care. She carries less ‘baggage’ from the past. She can though be very challenging in her own right. The same still applies.
We won’t know for many years, perhaps ever, if we have been successful. We do feel that both being male made this task somehow easier. That knowledge at least has provided an antidote for our own anxieties.
In conclusion I would just say this. As a couple and as individuals we have been blessed with extraordinary lives. J has a very successful and well noted career in medicine. I have built and sold a number of businesses, creating a situation where I have effectively retired with independent income in my 40s.
We’ve mixed with business leaders and celebrities. I ran for Parliament and have had a successful career in local politics.
None of this has been as amazing and fascinating as adopting our children and building our unconventional (and rather dotty) family.
Families come in all shapes and sizes these days. Those with two Mums or two Dads are increasingly familiar. We have met with nothing but kindness, tolerance, support and, sometimes, admiration. The number of children needing new, loving, strong, stable ‘Forever Families’ grows daily.
Regardless of your sexuality, gender, colour or background if you’re reading this, haven’t taken the step towards considering adoption but think you may then please do so. The opportunity to change a life for the better is a blessing. My experience has been it will change your life immeasurably for the better too.