Where it all began
We both always wanted to be parents, though as younger adults, we never truly believed it would be possible. But then sometimes, the best things in life are unexpected… just like the day we first met.
It wasn’t any kind of fairy tale; it was, in fact, quite awkward. We were out with our respective friendship groups when Rich walked past and slipped me a piece of paper with his name and number on it. At the same time, he tried to covertly tell me to meet him at the bar and that his friends didn’t know he was gay. We chatted briefly that evening and, a few days later, I messaged him and we arranged our first proper date. Since then, it’s been the most amazing journey that started with falling in love, followed by Rich opening up to his family and friends about being gay and then, of course, the creation of our own family through adoption.
We had always joked about having children from early on in our relationship. It was our way of building up to an actual conversation about whether we wanted to be parents. About two years into our relationship, we had the conversation for real, and the simple answer was yes, we would love to have children of our own. But we were worried about whether it would be possible. Being a same-sex couple, the options for starting a family were quite limited: it was either adoption or surrogacy. Our decision was based on two things: one, we wanted to be completely equal as parents and not have one of us biologically related and the other not; and two, we knew there were many wonderful children in care who needed a family to love them. So that was it. The decision was made. Adoption was the way forward for us.
The thought of starting the adoption process was daunting, not only because we were worried about whether the authorities would like us or think our house suitable, but what if they hadn’t dealt with an application from two men before? They might have a negative opinion about two-dad families. Our main fear was that since we had decided we wanted a family of our own, we didn’t know how we would cope if for some reason this couldn’t actually happen. We made the mistake of reading forums where people talked about times the adoption process hadn’t gone so well, and we struggled to find anything showing positive outcomes.
But then we had our first meeting with the social workers. We were very quickly advised to stop reading the forums. There are, of course, lots of positive stories of families created through adoption. The social workers also put our minds at rest about the whole two-dad family issue. Adoptive children are placed in families of all different shapes and sizes, with two mums, two dads, a mum and dad, and with single parents too. But just as we were starting to feel comfortable about the process, they produced a huge folder of paperwork and explained that we were essentially going back to school, only this time we were studying ourselves and the type of parents we would like to be. We both sunk back in our chairs and got the reality check we needed. This was going to be just as difficult as we had thought. But we understood why. Social workers have to ensure they are finding the right forever families for the children in need.
The paperwork itself was section after section of questions, some for us to complete separately and some together, ranging from what we remembered about our own parents and their parenting styles, to whether we ate a healthy, balanced diet and were active. In addition, there were DBS checks and personal and employment references. Although we knew we had never done anything wrong, as we waited for our checks to be processed, we worried, irrationally, that a huge police file would emerge about us. Thankfully they came back clean as expected.
The other main part of the adoption process was classroom-based learning about loss and attachment, some of which was very hard-hitting. We were helped to understanding the many different reasons and circumstances that lead to a child being up for adoption. One session about loss was particularly intense and emotional. The facilitators explained that any child placed with an adoptive family has already been through substantial loss, and they will potentially carry some of that trauma with them their whole lives. They may have been taken away from their parents and moved more than once between foster carers, suffering loss at each stage and making it difficult to build a solid attachment. But the workshops also gave us a new and much-needed support network of other prospective adopters. Some of these people have become our very good friends. They are people we can truly connect with about the adoption process and parenting adoptive children. We have been through it together and we continue to go through it together every day.
It’s important to keep an open mind during the process. We went into it thinking we wanted to adopt a sibling group, toddler-aged and above, but having discussed things in detail with our social worker, we changed our minds, and ended up first time around adopting a little boy who was just 10 months old when he came home.
For some families made through adoption there is a thing called ‘contact’, which can take a number of different forms. It might be direct face-to-face contact, letterbox contact, or sometimes no contact at all. It is where you keep some form on contact going between your child and their birth family. For us, it takes the form of an annual letter, which we send to the local council, updating the birth family about what the children are up to, how they are progressing and the things they like doing. The birth parents have the opportunity to write back, but, unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
Our son, now 7, has never received a contact letter from his birth parents, which we find hard to deal with every year. We will continue to send letters to his birth parents so he knows we always kept this up for him. He does, however, have two biological sisters and we meet up with them and their adoptive parents annually – always such a lovely day. Our daughter’s experience is quite different. She doesn’t have any direct contact with her siblings, but she has received all her contact letters so far, which we are keeping for her until she is old enough to read and understand them. We are aware these differences might be hard to explain for them in the future. For both of them, things might change. Any of their birth parents could have more children, which would mean more birth siblings and the possibility of more contact. Until then, we will keep doing as we are.
We are expecting the biggest challenges when the children are a bit older. Our children are both still so young, 7 and 4, and they only need to understand things appropriate to their age. But there will come a time when we will need to explain things in more detail. It is going to be completely heart-wrenching to tell them their own stories and to see their little faces as they realise the loss they have suffered and why. But it’s a very important part in an adopted child’s life to understand their story and to know they will always be loved and support by us, their forever family.
For now, we do a lot of preparation with them using a life story letter, a children’s picture book that has been made specifically for them, explaining their life from birth up until moving in with us. It’s a lovely way to help them understand their life so far. It is a positive lead-up to the later life letter, which we will give to them when we feel they are ready and able to understand their situation. The later life letter has been written to them by their social worker. It explains in more detail the facts of what happened to them, why they were part of the care system and ultimately why adoption was the best route for them.
The biggest worry we have as adoptive parents is what the future will bring, as there are so many uncertainties with regards to our children’s backgrounds. We adopted both our children at a very young age, and we knew full well some of the risks we were taking on in terms of their health, development and potential learning difficulties, but we were more than happy to take those risks, as we felt we could offer the right environment for them to develop into well-rounded adults who, hopefully, with our support, will be able to take on anything.
People always talk about whether the children will meet their birth parents, and whether we want them to or not. Whether they eventually want to know more about their birth families or meet them is not for us, as their Dad and Daddy, to decide, but it is something we will support them with. We have always said that if they want to meet them, we will help them arrange it and even go with them if they would like us to. But, at the same time, if they decide they do not wish to meet them, then we will support that too. We know quite a few adult adoptees and they all have different experiences and have made different decisions. Instead of worrying about what might or might not happen, we have decided to try and have as much fun as we can every day and deal with things as they come up.
We will do everything we can to give our children the best life possible, and we are sure this will lead us to the happiest future as a family. But it doesn’t stop the worry in the back of our minds that one day they might reject us completely – that would be completely heartbreaking – but we never really talk about this. We know, when the time comes and the children ask more questions, we will give them the answers they are looking for, and if we don’t have them, we will be right there with them trying to find out.
Being a parent through adoption
On the whole, being parents to our children is not that different to being parents through any other route. All parenting is an emotional rollercoaster. In many cases, adoption can be the last chance to become a parent, which can make it even more special when it finally happens. Our situation was a little different as adoption was our first choice, but there are lots of adoptive families who have been through the grief of not being able to conceive a child of their own before they even consider adoption.
The fact we have been through the process twice probably says it all, but just in case I haven’t made it clear enough, I can honestly say that it is truly the best thing that we have ever done in our lives. Being a parent under any circumstances is one of the hardest jobs, but it is also the most rewarding thing you can ever do, and hearing your child say, “I love you, Daddy,” or ,“I love you, Dad,” never gets boring.
As a family, we have discovered a whole new level of love that before having children we didn’t even know existed. So, to summarise, it’s AMAZING, and if you are considering adoption then GO FOR IT!
Lewis Edwards-Middleton and his husband, Richard, live in London with their two children, aged 7 and 4. They share family life on their Two Dads in London blog and Instagram. Seeing how much their children enjoy and learn through story time inspired them to write a fun and imaginative picture book with an important message behind it: that every family is different and that is perfectly OK. My Family and Other Families: Finding the Power in Our Differences by Richard and Lewis Edwards-Middleton, illustrated by Andy Passchier, is published by DK. @twodadsinlondon
First published in Issue 81 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.