‘Don’t make me count to three,’ I heard myself saying, rapidly followed by, ‘because with every number there’s going to be a consequence for you. And you won’t like any of them, so don’t. Make. Me. Start. Counting.’ Before I could even get to the ‘o’ of ‘one’ I was rewarded by the sound of scampering feet into the bathroom for teeth cleaning.
Although I’d wanted to be a dad for years it was only in 2012 that I started to seriously consider it. In part it was an age factor – 40 was galloping towards us both – but the progress two of our friends were making with their own adoption plans made it feel, for the first time, like an achievable goal.
So, in 2014, we found ourselves heading to an information evening in the depths of South East England. Actually walking into the room was one of the hardest parts of the whole adoption process – the whole situation was totally unlike anything I’d gone through before. While the process was explained in full and fairly frank detail – yep, it really is as intrusive, thorough and tiring as they warn you – I was more nervous that someone would challenge me outright or laugh in my face. I’d not felt so nervous and unsure of myself since I first came out in the 1990s. I needn’t have worried. There were no negative comments, just help and support from all the professionals and fellow adopters that we met throughout the process. We’ve been particularly lucky with our social worker, a plain-speaking professional who’s worked with many LGBT adopters and she’s been a staunch advocate for us throughout the process.
If you’re LGBT then there’s a good chance you’re used to weighing up conversations about yourself where there’s a real risk you’ll feel exposed. The adoption process is one of those times it’ll hold you in good stead. The paperwork is deeply probing to get a good overview of you, your life, skills and experiences that will help you parent. I completed 40 pages on the glory that is me – and I’m really not that interesting. You’ll end up discussing that paperwork in a meeting with strangers who’ll want to approve you to adopt, but will ask searching questions into all areas of your life. Drama queens will approve of the X-Factor-style approval panel vote we faced, as one by one the panel of ten or so strangers told us whether we’d been approved – but everyone else will find it nerve-wracking.
When we started the adoption process the first months were run to tight deadlines. Then, at the six-month mark, our lives started floating as we entered the process of family finding; where you look at children’s profiles and social workers look at yours.
This can be a desperately tough time.
You have to put your life on hold, while others make decisions about whether or not you’re the most suitable approved adopter to parent a particular child. You have to be honest with yourself about your limitations and ability to meet a child’s needs as you read through their history.
You have to be happy for the friends you meet during adoption training if they get matched with a child before you. And you have to avoid asking yourself whether being LGBT is the reason why other potential parents are matched before you - and trust that it’s simply that other people are more able to meet the needs of the waiting children.
There’s no deadline to finding a match - it takes as long as it takes - as you have to be the right parent for any child you’re matched with. For us, it took six months, for others it was a matter of weeks. Some of our friends are still waiting.
We’re now several weeks into being a new family. There’ve been sleepless nights and I’m learning to add 30 minutes on to any time critical activity. We have family breakfasts at the weekend and eat together in the evening. I’m lucky to be able to work from home which allows me to easily switch between the needs of work and my family. Sadly not every employer is forward-thinking enough to really explore this for all roles, as being physically present, visible and available as a parent is key for so many adopted children, along with strict routines and constant empathy.
The perfectionist in me used to hate making mistakes – I’ve quickly learned that they’re now a given in parenting. You can only do your best, learning from your errors and from other parents. Being LGBT is no longer a barrier to you being an adoptive parent. It won’t make you the perfect parent either – but if you can use your experiences to help you help your child make sense of the world and their value in it, then you’ll make a fantastic parent.