Hello friends! Welcome back to another Coffee with Gi!
One of my favourite things about the Happy Mum Happy Baby community is that I’m constantly reminded of the varying shapes and sizes that families come in. Our community isn’t just made up of families with a mum, a dad and two kids. It’s not just made up of families that look like mine. It’s made up of single parent families, we’re a place for families where both parents work, where Mum’s the breadwinner, where babies were conceived by surrogate. Our community is made up of step-parents and carers, guardians, heck – we’ve even got some grandparents hanging out in the wings, ready to swoop in and take on their roles as caregivers too. We’re a community of families with two mums, two dads, one mum, one dad and families that stretch way beyond just being made up of parents.
I’ve always wanted Happy Mum Happy Baby to shine a light on all of the different ways life can make up a family, and that’s why I’m so delighted to pass the mic over to today’s guests, Rich and Lew from Two Dads in London. Their story is so gorgeous and they speak so wonderfully about their experience of adopting their two children. It’s something that has been a bit of a taboo in the past and I’m so grateful to people like Rich and Lew for being so open and generous with their story so it doesn’t have to be anymore.
On that note, I think that’s enough from me. I’ll hand over to these two brilliant dads so you can hear a bit more from them.
Love Gi. Xx
TWO DADS IN LONDON – An insight into adoption
I’m so excited to welcome Two Dads in London aka Richard and Lewis to Coffee with Gi! Rich and Lew – you’rere a married couple, living in London with your two children – the Boy and the Girl, who were both adopted. When did you know that adoption was the right route for you?
Lew: We knew we only had two options available to us – the first to adopt a child, and the second to use a surrogate and have biological children. We know this decision is extremely personal and can be very difficult, understanding why people may choose one over the other, however for us it was quite simple. We knew that for our family we needed to be seen as “equals” in our roles as parents and felt that if one was the biological Father and one wasn’t, that we may find this difficult. Another factor was our awareness about the care system and the number of wonderful children who are in need of a family to love them. We knew that we had more than enough love to share and so to devote some of that love to children who needed it most would be the best use of what we had to offer.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the adoption process unfolded for you?
Rich: We’ve been through the adoption process twice now and, at times, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. The process isn’t really about the child you would like to have, it’s about you and what you can offer and whether you’re suitable to be parents in someone else’s eyes. The adoption process is a well structured, two-staged process that if like us, you’re lucky to have amazing social workers supporting you, will be an enjoyable process – our social worker will remain very special to our family forever.
The first half of the process is really highly driven on paperwork and training, which we thought we would just fly through, but the truth is that this stage is just so important. You learn so much about how different it can be to parent an adopted child, as they have often been through some trauma and may not have had the best start in life. The stage can often see a number of potential adopters pull out which we can understand as it brings to life the potential harsh realities and worst case scenarios. But, this was never going to put us off, we were in this now and we were determined that we were going to get through and have a loving family of our own.
The second stage focuses more on the emotional side of us as a couple and our support network, which for us, helped us to focus more on the type of child or children we felt we could parent. When we started the process we initially wanted to adopt a sibling group of two children. However, the truth is after completing the second stage we changed our minds and decided that one, younger child would be the right decision for us – something, we didn’t think would be likely at the start being a two Dad family. The adoption panel was certainly an experience…it was one of the things that really worried us and it felt like the biggest interview of our lives. However, we actually enjoyed it and it wasn’t that bad after all. The wait after the panel felt like forever but when we got the news that we’d been approved, the stress and work of the past year had all been worth it. And that moment we read all about a little boy with the biggest smile and the brightest blue eyes, we were immediately in love and he just had to be our Son.
What was it like going through the process for a second time?
Rich: The second time around for us was a lot faster (5 months in total) because as approved adopters, we did not need to go through stage one of the process again, instead we updated a few forms and headed straight into stage two. We were lucky to have the same social worker allocated to us, which meant we didn’t need to build that relationship and felt comfortable straight away. There was a real key difference this time around though, the questions and discussions shifted, they were no longer about us two and what we could offer, but more tailored to our Son and how a new addition could affect him. He was now a priority in the situation.
He was 3 at the time, so we made sure to include him as much as we could and even asked him over a number of weeks and months whether he wanted a brother or a sister, to which he always answered sister. As we were approaching the end of stage two and getting ready for the adoption panel, our social worker asked for an additional meeting, where she presented a profile of a 3 month old, little girl. She explained that she felt she was a match for our family. We were a little shocked as normally you do not get matched before the panel but the team felt it was a good idea to get this little girl matched quickly. Once again, the social work team knew us better than we did – it was like the perfect fairy tale and we ended up going to the adoption and matching panels on the same day, ending with the completion of our family.
What was the hardest thing about adopting your children?
Lew: We both have slightly different opinions on this…for me, it was the time it took to go through the process and be matched with a child. I am quite an impatient person, especially when I want something to happen and so I would endeavour to complete each stage as quickly as possible, but this made no difference because it’s a set and structured process. So how quickly we completed the paperwork or responded to any questions didn’t matter – although, that never stopped me from trying my hardest to push it through quicker. In hindsight though, I am so pleased that it took the time it did both times, as it meant we were matched with our Son and Daughter, who were obviously just meant to be.
For Rich, he enjoys following a process and is a lot more patient. The biggest struggle for him was during the introductions week where you meet your child for the first time, he really found it difficult driving home and leaving them with their Foster Carer. Although he understood the importance of slowly getting to know the children and building up a bond, but because he had already fallen in love with the kids and so found it hard not having them with us. So, understandably, we often had some tears when driving home but this just made that final drive home with them in the car all the more special.
Can you describe the moment(s) you met your two children?
Lew: The moment we met our son was truly amazing. It was quite simply one of the best days of our lives. The anticipation had been built from watching videos, seeing photos of him and pictures but nothing could’ve prepared us for the flood of emotions we felt on that day. It’s such an odd feeling to explain, because you love them before you’ve even met them. The moment we walked in, the foster carer shouted his name followed by “your Daddies are here” and as we headed into the living room he was there, crawling around on the floor. My heart was beating faster than I ever thought possible, my son was right there… I froze with worry…but Rich went straight in and got down on the floor with him and started interacting with him “hello mate, what you playing?” – he was suddenly an expert in talking to kids. Soon after, my heart filled with joy and butterflies started to flutter in my stomach like never before.
The day we met our daughter was so different, mainly because she was only 4 months old which made Rich super nervous. We arrived at the foster carers and couldn’t wait to go inside to meet her. When we walked in she was right there in her bouncer smiling away, she was just so happy. This time I felt an instant connection and asked if I could have a cuddle, and from that moment she has had me wrapped around her little finger – we wouldn’t change it for the world.
What do you think adoption has taught you about parenting?
Lew: It has taught us that there is no textbook or “perfect” way to parent because every single child and family is different. There is no right or wrong way of doing things. As parents we often put pressure on ourselves to be the perfect parent and get everything right the first time, but the truth is that is the first mistake – I learnt that from when we adopted our son and I wanted everything to be just right. I was the one who always made sure we had every possible thing we needed in our day bag, ensuring that everything on the outside looked perfect.
I constantly worried what people were thinking about me as a parent and whether I was doing it right, so much so that I didn’t take enough time to build the bond and make a connection with my child. Once I took the pressure off and worried about just us and not what everyone else might be thinking it all fell into place. Trust me, there are lots of times where I forgot wipes, or a bottle or something else, and you know what, it was fine. We had each other and that was what was the most important.
What advice would you give to anyone else embarking on their adoption journey, or thinking about adopting?
Rich: The best advice would be to keep an open mind and to always be honest – what you think going into the process, and what you will think and understand at the end of it will be two very different things. You will learn so much about yourselves, your partner and your other relationships, which will really help you put things into perspective when considering what you can give to a child compared to what you can’t offer a child. Your social worker will get to know you better than most people will ever know you in a very short space of time and it’s important to be honest with them. This feels odd at first but becomes comfortable and normal very quickly. Be honest if something doesn’t feel right or you are not sure about something, talk about it, as nine times out of ten the social worker will have dealt with it before and will offer you all the support you need.
What do you wish people knew about adoption?
Rich: In our opinion there is still a lot of confusion about adoption, specifically around how the process works and the support available for those going through the process of either adopting or being adopted. Over the years things have really changed and now adoption isn’t supposed to be a secret – in fact we spend a lot of time talking with our kids about their life story in a child friendly way – where they’ve come from and the people they’ve met. We also have later life letters that have been written for them by their social work teams. These are for when they are old enough to read and understand them. There is a lot of post adoption support available to both us as adoptive parents, and to our children as the adoptees, which isn’t just during the process but throughout their whole life and we feel it is really important for people to know that this support network is available.
What do you want to tell the HMHB family about adoption and your experiences of parenting?
Lew: Although parenting is the best and most enjoyable job in the world it is also one of the hardest. There are particular challenges and worries that us as adoptive parents have for the future, such as, supporting our children through some of the difficult times they have ahead of them like the later life letters, supporting them through feelings of grief or rejection, and the thought of them wanting to find out more about their birth parents and families. The main thing we want everyone to know is that although being an adoptive parent comes with additional challenges that are emotionally difficult for all involved, adoption can also be the most wonderful, rewarding thing you will ever do. I mean look at us, these kids have literally made every single one of our dreams come true!
Things I’m loving…
I just read Quite by Claudia Winkleman. Funny, observant and just full of so much I didn’t know I needed but really truly did. Read it, listen to it… absorb it!
Dancing with Tom around the kitchen! Strictly is well and truly underway and we have LOVED dancing together as a family. Whether it’s the salsa, the foxtrot or the jive, we’re loving it all.
Taking silly selfies in the Penguin offices when I was there recently. Totes miss my silly office selfies now we’ve moved… but while I was at Penguin HQ I thought I’d make the most of their shiny new bathroom and floor length mirror. Madness not to.
Coldplay’s latest album Music of the Spheres. Perfect for blasting out of the speakers when I need to get my head down and get on with some work. Have you listened to it yet?
Coffee with Gi is part of Happy Mum Happy Baby, the online community for modern parents, brought to you by Giovanna Fletcher. Have you been forwarded this email by someone great? Subscribe to future issues, so you don’t miss out.