LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2019

As February ends, we leave behind LGBT+ History Month. But the pride continues, as next week is LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week (4th – 10th March).

Statistics from the Department of Education show that LGBT+ couples account for 1 in every 8 adoptions. Since this doesn’t include bisexuals, single LGBT+ adopters, and trans people not in a relationship, it is fair to say that the real number is even higher. However, more LGBT+ adopters are needed – and encouraged.

We adopted through Derbyshire County Council and were impressed by how they approached our same-sex status. It was always discussed fully and frankly: there was no rainbow elephant in the room. Since we were approved, several LGBT+ couples have followed. Some of these have been assigned to our assessing social worker, who now has working knowledge of assisting lesbians in the adoption process and becoming parents. She put us in touch with same-sex adopters to help us broaden our understanding; now we have offered to return the favour, by sharing our experience with prospective adopters.

As same-sex parents, we mostly experience parenting (specifically adoptive parenting) like everyone else. We have the highs, the lows, and the mundane reality in between. One stark difference I have noticed is that most same-sex parents have approached adoption as their first choice. Often the pain and difficulty of trying to conceive has not been a feature of our journey to parenthood. As such, we approach it differently (not better, just differently). And I think this can be a positive thing.

Same-sex parents can also appreciate, to some extent, issues surrounding identity that are so vital to adoptees. The circumstances are difference but that feeling of otherness may be the same. Living in a heteronormative society, I find that I ‘come out’ almost daily. In the past week, my wife has been mistaken for my sister and mother. Both assumptions are based on what people expect families to look like (though the latter did make me howl with laughter; she’s less than three years older than I am). I believe people make assumptions about adoption and, in turn, about adoptees. Quick judgements based on what they expect or think they know. Some awareness of this could be invaluable when adoptees are trying to piece together their story and understand their own identity.

As hard as it has been at times, adopting Little Chick has been absolutely the best thing we have ever done. And, in the circumstances, it was a good move for him too. If you are LGBT+, considering adoption, and would like to ask any questions please do contact us (you can also get in touch if you’re not LGBT+!). We try to speak as freely as we can without sharing too much of our little boy’s story (they are his details to share – or not).

You can learn more about LGBT+ adoption and fostering at New Family Social, the only national LGBT+ adoption and fostering charity in the UK. It provides support, improves the treatment of LGBT+ people in the adoption and fostering process, encourages inclusion and works directly with its members and agencies to find more new families for children in care.


Update (April 2019): Derbyshire is now part of Adoption East Midlands. They joined forces with Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council and Derby City Council to more effectively find the best matches for children needing to be adopted and people hoping to adopt.

Twitter

Twitter has long been my preferred social media outlet, especially when browsing as an adoptive parent. The adoption community has been one of my greatest sources of hope, support, and information since starting my adoption journey and I am a great champion of the website to new and prospective adopters.

Like all social media, it does have its dark side though. Recently, the tirades and vitriol espoused on there have left me feeling anxious and unhappy. Largely, this is not adoption related, more a reaction to current events and a reflection of the mood in Britain right now. For the sake of my sanity I have chosen to step back from the platform, but that has left a void. To some extent, I have (tried to) filled this with Pinterest and Instagram: fluffier, prettier, lighter alternatives. They have served a purpose, but they cannot satiate me in the way that Twitter does.

Admitting to other adoptive parents that I was finding Twitter tough was met with support. One of the things I most love about the community on here is that people will share their experiences, frankly and fully, reassuring me that I am never completely alone. Some kind souls even urged that I don’t give up on the site, that I would be missed. I valued this and it affirmed why I would never give up Twitter easily.

However, I have decided to take a few steps back, in the name of self-care and self-preservation. I am limiting the time I spend on my account, using my iPhone settings to alert me when my allotted time is up. I have muted various words and phrases that cause general and specific angst. For now, I am muting adoptee voices. This feels like an awful thing to do, but I am struggling with the anger and despair. I empathise, but I cannot understand. I need to step back and reengage when I am stronger and more able to listen kindly and keenly. I have also stopped following several accounts – mostly non-adoption related – that offer little in the way of edification. Marie Kondo’s simple question of “does it spark joy?” could well be applied to Twitter.

After all this, I am still hopeful, because amid the doom and gloom there are shining examples of why the Twitter adoption community is so precious. @DanielHugill is gorgeousness personified. The warmth that radiates from his shared stories – of school, of family, of religion, of his allotment, of his life generally – soothe my soul. @Suddenly_Mummy is one of the most insightful and considered adopters I have met. I value all her opinions on a range of matters, but especially education, and squeal with delight when she unveils a new blog post. @adoptionblogfox responds well to the hot topics on Twitter, candidly sharing her own views and experiences. Often these are developed further through her excellent blog, allowing greater discourse and engagement.

I’m enjoying spending more time on other social sites, but I anticipate that as my mood improves, I will gravitate back to my adoptive Twitter family. I will continue to manage my use carefully and champion good practice. Perhaps I will be bolder – saying more, rather than just observing for the shadows. Probably, I will be grateful for the solidarity and community it offers me.

The importance of a good social worker

It’s been over a month since we heard from our social worker. That’s understandable; our last contact was at the celebration hearing, an event signifying our official role as Little Chick’s legal parents, marking the end of Derbyshire County Council’s responsibility. But I kind of hoped we would hear from her. I’m guessing it is her way of gently lessening contact (now that the adoption order has been granted), but after all this time it is odd not having her in our lives. I knew this day was coming and I know why this day had to come, but I still miss her. In a weird way, I’m grieving her. Or at least that episode of our lives. Getting to this point has needed all three of us, not just the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and myself.

With hindsight, I don’t think it is a coincidence that I became overwhelmed in the period when she was absent. She has supported us for almost four years. She has been a constant in a time of chaos. We can and will cope without her, but we’ve never had to.

I know that our relationship was purely professional: she was friendly, but not my friend. But I would like to keep in touch with her, hear about the changes she is spearheading for adopters, especially considering ongoing regionalisation.

I respect our social worker as a professional. I like her as a person.

Last time I saw her I was frustrated, fed up, and downright peed off. I’m not good at hiding my emotions; I’m especially terrible at masking anger. I’m ashamed I was like that and sad that it’s how I left things. I was in no way angry with her, but she still suffered the consequences of my emotional turbulence.

For the first time, I’m nervous about seeing her. I know there’s been a shift in our relationship, but I don’t understand it or know how to respond appropriately.

I also appreciate that this is a strange position in which to find myself. Most of my friends who have adopted couldn’t wait to receive the official sign off, as much to receive legal responsibility as to lose social services’ interference. But I’ve never felt like that. There have been occasions when Derbyshire County Council have frustrated us, but usually it has been due to constraints beyond their control, owing to larger problems with adoption generally. I have never felt let down by our social worker and acknowledge that we would not be a forever family without here. And that’s not to say we’ve had it easy. It’s been bloody hard at times; there have been moments when we’ve stopped and thought long and hard about what we are doing. But we never lost faith in adoption because we never lost faith in our adoption social worker. The importance of a good social worker cannot be underestimated.

Our family: One year on

So, Little Chick has been living with us for a year.

During the past few weeks, the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I discussed if and how we should mark the occasion. We certainly weren’t going to call it ‘Gotcha Day’, or anything equally crass that suggests ownership or possession. We considered naming it ‘Family Day’. This recognises that it is special, but every day is special in its own way for us – as parents – so we don’t need this. I don’t mean that every day is perfect or amazing – heck, no – but every day we remember how lucky we are to have this wonderful wee boy in our lives.

But it’s also a reminder of what Little Chick has lost; it draws attention to what came before. It can be helpful to look back and reflect on what has passed, on what has been achieved, but I believe greater value lies in looking forward, both planning and hoping; certainly, at his current age. As he matures, he may want to explore his past more, including the circumstances that led him to us, and we will support his life story work in whatever ways we can.

The anniversary is also a reminder of others’ loss: his birth family, foster family, the others whose lives he has touched.

Like most of adoption, its complicated. It’s bittersweet. It’s tough to know what’s best.

I’m still not sure whether it will be something we recognise formally with Little Chick or whether the other Mrs Reed Warbler and I will simply clink metaphorical glasses in acknowledgement of the massive change in our lives. Whatever we decide, our love for Little Chick knows no bounds and we both feel we don’t need to mark a special day to acknowledge that.

Normal

Throughout the approval period and while we were waiting to be matched, we were continuously reminded that the child or children we would adopt would not have had the best of starts in life (think ACEs), would unlikely be neurotypical, and would probably not fit our experiences or expectations of spending time with young people. In short, we were warned not to expect things to be ‘normal’. We were encouraged to accept a new normal, with an emphasis on routine, therapeutic parenting, and predictability. For the most part this is what we have done, and we have reaped the rewards because of it.

Currently, Little Chick is a happy, healthy little boy who especially enjoys spending time outside and does not seem particularly different from his peers. However, we know this could all change, quickly and for no apparent reason. But for now, almost a year since Little Chick moved in, we are grateful for our normal. Sunday was a particularly good example. It wasn’t an exciting or spectacular day. It was the kind of day most parents would expect and take for granted. But we relish our normal. A few moments stood out.

Most mornings, Little Chick’s first request, even before breakfast, is “Kindle”. We rarely let him play with his tablet early in the morning but that doesn’t stop him asking, trying his luck. Recently, we have been encouraging him to asks for books first thing, but with little success. However, on Sunday I made up a story to divert his attention from all things electronic. I have tried this several times without success but on this occasion something clicked. For a full half hour, we sat side by side and made up silly stories, with actions that involved him, and trump noises that delighted us both. I love stories and, though not a gifted storyteller, I have wanted to share stories with my little one since we began the adoption journey. This was a milestone I genuinely wasn’t sure we would reach and doing so makes me ridiculously happy.

Later, while playing, Little Chick used his new surname unprompted for the first time. We have been cautious not to force this as we have mixed feelings about the loss of his birth family name. But my heart soared when he took ownership of our family name for the very first time.

In the car we introduced him to Lady Gaga, partly in a desperate attempt to divert attention from Mr Tumble’s album. We went to soft play, dashed about on scooters (him not us), and had a short nap in the car (me and him). We watched some TV, warmed by hot chocolate, and later had an afternoon snack on the picnic blanket. We (I) upset him for some reason, which I still can’t fathom, and he asked for an apology and reassurance. We completed forms for a passport, planning for our first family holiday abroad. We read him bedtime stories, including ‘Mummy, Mama, and Me’ and ‘The Family Book’.

None of this is especially remarkable. It is mundane. Well done to those of you that have read this far and not sought excitement elsewhere. But I want to demonstrate the ordinariness of this to show how normal our life is. Our life would seem boring to a lot of families, but I bloody love the normality of it. It’s more than we expected, perhaps even hoped for. It’s just nice and normal.

I know that we are only one year in. I know that in many ways we are still in the honeymoon period. I know that things will almost certainly get tougher as Little Chick gets older. I know that for some adoptive families ‘normal’ is an impossible dream. I know. But for now, things are nice and normal. In time, these memories might be all that sustain me. So, I need to celebrate this, our normal.