Three months ago I wrote my original #preadoptionbucketlist post. This week's #WASO theme is 'Bucket List' so I thought I'd update you on how we're doing...
Lots of our family and friends who already have children keep reminding Tom and me how much our lives are going to change when we have our children. And some (most) of them talk (moan) about the things they wished they’d done that are ruled out now they have children.
These comments got Tom and I thinking about the things we want to do before the children arrive and so we came up with our pre-adoption bucket list. For example, I’d never been skiing before and had always really wanted to. Recently a friend of ours found a really cheap deal (via a friend’s friend’s uncle) so we went for it. It was amazing. I want to go again…
So our plan is to get through as many as possible in the time we have left which, due to the nature of adoption, is a completely unknown length of time. I should probably point out that not being millionaires it’s unlikely we’ll tick off many of these, but a boy can dream…
Tom and I have at the very least six months to do all this stuff and I’m sure we’ll have an absolute blast attempting it. But what’s interesting is that all our friends who ‘moan’ about how their lives have changed wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, while Tom and I were skiing we kept talking about how much the kids might enjoy it. Because for all the amazing experiences we have together, we are going to be able to have them all over again - but this time with our children. And that will be incredible.
I’ll be keeping track of our progress on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #preadoptionbucketlist. What would be on yours?
Original post on March 25th 2016. Updated in 24th June 2016.
Last week we had our third assessment meeting with Denise. When we arrived I was slightly taken aback to find out that due to a booking mishap we were to have our meeting in a room at the front of the building that is sometimes used as an entrance. Thankfully we were only disturbed once but it wasn’t ideal. Tom was absolutely fine about it so I figured I should be too.
We started off with the boring stuff. Firstly, there were our employment referees which, both being self-employed, have caused all kinds of confusion. Plus, Tom worked in France for a while and I’ve worked with children on a regular basis so all those employers have had to be contacted as well. Amazingly, the French version of DBS only took a week to come through, so that was a relief. Secondly, we talked a little more about our finances. I’ve noticed as the sessions have gone on, Denise has seemed less worried about our self-employed status – I hope that’s a good sign. Thirdly, Denise gave us the obligatory warning about what we were letting ourselves in for. And asked again if we were ready. And again we told her we are.
The main topic for discussion today, however, was our relationship. Denise asked about how we met, how we dated, how our relationship developed and how we came to be in a place where we’re wanting to adopt. It was lovely reminiscing about both events that took place nearly thirteen years ago (where has the time gone?) and more recent conversations about adoption. It was funny which bits we both remembered exactly the same and which bits had altered in our minds over time.
Denise asked us about what we love and what niggles us about each other. It was relatively easy to find minor niggles – apparently I leave my shoes all over the place, Tom always seems to want to talk to me when I’m in a different room and can’t hear him, and… maybe I should stop there. But it was so difficult to put into words what I love about Tom, and he me. It’s simply something we both feel and know.
In previous meetings we talked about times of stress as individuals and this week we talked about times of stress for us as a couple, and importantly how we dealt with them.
As we started talking, Tom and I really struggled to think of any major stresses in our lives together. I was desperately trying to think of some terrible situation that we’d got through in order to prove that we could cope with stress, but there simply weren’t any. Tom then reminded me of when I left my well-paid job to become self-employed - it was worrying but also completely liberating for me. And with further prompting we thought of other instances too… When the sale of our house nearly fell through, which was infuriating, but we persevered and sorted it out. When Tom’s dad was unwell, it was really sad, but we all rallied around to make sure he got better. And when the abusive, alcoholic couple in the flat above ours flooded us after they left the bath on, we rolled our sleeves up and sorted the flat out. At the time each situation felt terrible but the important thing is that on every occasion we looked after and supported each other.
Like at the last meeting, Denise took two hours of discussion and in one line summarised our relationship perfectly. It was lovely hearing someone from the outside talk about what they saw in us together. We left feeling rather loved up and thankful for each other. And I think Denise has seen that we are able to love and support each other and our future children.
I’m posting this blog a little earlier than usual to coincide with LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week (plus I’m going on holiday so won’t be here to press Send on Friday).
In one of our most recent meetings with Denise, our social worker, we were asked about stressful situations in our past. In the last two blogs I've talked about stresses in my family but one of the most stressful times in any gay person’s life is ‘coming out’. Thankfully, both Tom and I have really supportive families but, as seems to be the case in most events, my story has a little more drama.
In some ways I have three coming out stories. The first is when I decided to tell my friends and brothers. I was 14 and had just attended the Pride march in London. I already knew I was gay (why else go to Pride?) but if there was any doubt in my mind, by the end of the day there was none whatsoever. The following week at school I told a close friend, then another, and by the end of the term most of my year group knew I was dating a guy two years above me. I was lucky enough to go to a school where being gay was widely accepted and I didn’t encounter any bullying or homophobic comments. I also told my brothers, who were amazing. Annoyingly, quite a few of my friends and my eldest brother’s girlfriend had already worked it out, which rather took the wind out of my sails. Even at this tender age it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have a family of my own one day. And although the specifics of how that would happen remained hazy – I somehow knew it would.
My second coming out was when my mum found out by accident. I was 15 and it was New Year’s Eve. For one reason or another she was looking for the telephone number of the party I was at and whilst looking in my filofax (remember those?!) found a letter from my then-boyfriend. She discovered more about me in that letter than any parent should know about their child – gay or straight! The next day was awful; she was barely able to look at me. But day by day, and week by week, she came round to the idea, and by the following Pride march she was waving the banner of the parent support group FFLAG with Sir Ian McKellen.
Years later, she described her anguish at my coming out as mourning for the son she thought she had, for my future marriage she wouldn't attend, and for her future grandchildren she wouldn't have. Well since then, she got to know the son she has even better, she was at my civil partnership with a big hat and a damp hanky, and hopefully by the end of the year she’ll have two more grandchildren.
My third coming out was when I told my dad. Fast forward ten years - Tom and I have been together for about a year and are thinking of moving in with each other. Everybody in my life knows I’m gay except my dad; when my mum originally found out, she made me vow not to tell him since at this point, being in his mid-60s and quite vocally homophobic, he would not have accepted it. So against my mum’s wishes, I came out to my dad whilst my mum was sobbing upstairs. To this day he still believes my mum found out at the same time as him. There were a lot of tears. The defining moment came when my mum asked if my dad still loved me. Without missing a beat, he answered “Of course I love him, he’s my son”. Cue a lot more tears and the knowledge that everything was going to be fine. My dad was at our civil partnership, treats Tom like a second son, and is slowly but surely coming round to the idea of us adopting.
For my dad, coming to terms with me being gay was a e=result of him recognising that it’s really not a problem anymore. I think he was worried what people would think about me (and indeed him), but as time has gone on and he’s seen how normal it is, those fears have dissipated. And I hope that’s how he’ll feel about the adoption.
His initial response to being told we were adopting was that it wasn’t right for two men to bring up a child but he was unable to explain why he thought that. He know Tom and I are in a loving, solid relationship, and he has seen that we're both great with all our nieces and nephews. As the months have passed and I’ve spoken about the adoption around him (if not directly to him), and have left a few books lying around for my mum to read, I think he’s seen again that it’s fine. No one bats an eyelid any more at the myriad ways families are created.
In the twenty-two years since I came out so much has changed. The age of consent has been equalised, Section 28 has been repealed, civil partnerships and then marriages have been introduced, and of course the LGBT community are no longer barred from adopting and fostering.
I have no idea what it’s going to be like for our children having gay parents, but, as my mum has pointed out to my dad, isn’t it better that two children live with Tom and me in a loving home as opposed to languishing in the care system? Surely no-one can argue with that. And if the experiences of the children of gay parents we’ve spoken to are anything to go by, they’ll be absolutely fine.
Hopefully by the next LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week I’ll be able to tell you...
We’ve had a couple of second meetings recently. The first was when Tom and I met up with a couple of people from our Stage One preparation day for a drink. It was a really nice evening and was great to share our experiences of the process so far. Interestingly, we’re all at very different places with one being approved to adopt, another waiting for DBS certificates to be able to finish Stage One (if I felt the process was taking a long time, I can’t imagine how frustrated they must be feeling), and us in Stage Two. At the end of the evening (and after more bottles of wine than is sensible midweek) we made tentative plans to meet again in a few months. It felt like the start of our very own ‘NCT’ group.
Our second second meeting was with Denise, our social worker. After the last session I was prepared for anything and everything but fortunately that wasn’t necessary. The meeting was at the agency’s offices which I thought would be a bit grim but were actually very relaxed – it turns out Denise makes a great cup of tea which always helps (although she was a bit slow in offering the large box of biscuits that sat between us).
Denise, once again, kicked off the session by reminding us of the types of children we’re likely to be matched with and asked if we were ready for the challenges they might bring. Just like last time we assured her we were. I suspect this is going to be a regular exchange between us. We then spent some time looking at the types of children that are waiting to be placed in recent editions of the Adoption UK magazine.
This was a really useful exercise as it helped focus Tom and my thoughts on the types of children we feel we could offer a home to. As we’re committed to adopting a sibling group we don’t think it appropriate for us to take on a child with severe physical disabilities, which would mean our focus would naturally have to be on one of the children more than the other – not an ideal situation in any sibling group let alone with an adopted pair. However, we did think that a child with some form of developmental delay would be something we could cope with. As all our siblings have a child of each sex, it would be nice to have one of each too but gender isn’t really an issue for us. All of this is very fluid and will change as we go through the process but it’s good to be having the discussion.
We re-visited the eco-map but today looked at the people we offered support to and how they might cope when we were suddenly the parents to two children. This was interesting to think about as most of the people in our support network are either immediate family or our friends (most of whom have children themselves) and so the support has always been reciprocal and hopefully will continue to be so.
Tom and I mentioned that we’d met some of our prep group the night before and Denise was really pleased about this. We all agreed that they would be potential support for us (and vice versa) in the future. It turns out Denise knew I’d organised the contact list through speaking to the social workers that ran our prep days. I wonder what else she’s been told…
The conversation that took up most of the session was about stressful situations and how we deal with them. For me the big one is my mum’s mental health issues, which came up in the first session with Denise.
My mum’s periods of depression are sporadic, with her thankfully having far more ups than downs. In fact it’s so well managed nowadays, through a combination of medication, self-care, and counselling, that it’s a shock when it reappears. It is sometimes possible to predict when it’s coming though - the main crunch time being New Year’s Eve which is emotional for many people, but it’s also the night she finally escaped her life in Ireland and arrived in the UK, and it’s also the night (26 years later) she found out that I was gay.
Denise was interested in how I was affected by this and how I dealt with it. If anything I would say it’s made me a stronger person and far more in touch with my feelings (not in a new age hippie way). From the age of 11, when my mum’s illness was at its worst, I had to act as carer from when I got home from school until my dad came home from work. This meant cleaning, shopping, cooking – all things that I can manage very well now and actually are skills that all children should have. Thankfully, I also had my older brothers (who by this point had moved out) who supported me and made sure I was OK. There were also some great friends of my mum’s who were there for us and to whom I will be eternally grateful.
Nowadays, it’s Tom, my brothers and my friends that I turn when I need support - usually it’s just a frustrated rant that gets everything off my chest. When things are really bad with my mum it usually falls to my older brother who lives the closest to support and help her. But we all chip in when we can.
I’ve witnessed first-hand what bottling up feelings and emotions can do to a person, and the devastation caused when these feelings are released, so I’ve always been able to talk about my emotions, share my thoughts (this blog is testament to that), and if I ever feel a bit down I acknowledge those feelings and respond to them.
Throughout this conversation, Denise was frantically scribbling notes and at the end she summed up an hour’s worth of talking into one succinct sentence – “I get from what you’re saying is that you don’t feel responsible for your mum, but you love, care and look after her as any son would do”. I was amazed. Despite Denise’s slightly shambolic approach to paperwork, she picked up on tiny details from our conversation and understood my relationship with my mum completely. And phrasing it that way that was a revelation. It felt liberating to hear it said out loud in such a manner. And exhausting. But at least I didn’t cry this time.
We finished up with Denise giving us some homework. We have a piece of writing about the area we live in to complete, a couple of topics from the session to think about further, some more books to read (how there can still be books on adoption we haven’t read yet is beyond me), and we have to take a picture of us both that makes us look like a pair of dads.
All in all, two really positive meetings. I’m already looking forward to the next ones…
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...