So the day came – and we were ready. We had spent months preparing for this moment – read many books, written lots of notes and fake-interviewed each other countless times. We were both so nervous and running on adrenalin since we hadn’t been able to get much sleep that week. We knew this would be the most important day of our life to date, there was just so much riding on it. Because of the speed of our process and the social worker’s belief in the match that had come up, we were doing both adoption approval and match approval in one day – two panels for the price of one.
Despite all our team’s protestations that the panel were ‘really nice’ and we shouldn’t get too worried, when we asked about dress code, we were told in no uncertain terms to be formal. Out came the job interview outfit, which compounded the sense of formidable occasion. When we pulled up at the centre the panel was held in, to the sound of the heavy rock soundtrack I’d put on to drown out our anxiety, I was surprised to find a modern, friendly, airy building. We turned up an hour early as our social workers wanted to run through some stuff first, All that really meant was that we had an extra hour to sit around looking at each other nervously. Finally, we got the nod and we all piled into a tiny windowless waiting room. Cue more nervous looking at each other.
After about ten minutes, the Chair of the panel popped her head around the door. She introduced herself and briefly outlined the process – we were to go in, the panel would question us through our main social worker and sometimes, they would go directly to us. We’d then be sent back to this little oppressive space while they considered their verdict. She would eventually return and reveal their recommendation. Any questions? At that point, loads. What if they say no? What if it doesn’t work out? Is it then really over? But since there were no questions we could voice out loud, we all followed her into the panel room.
The panel comprised of eight stern-looking people, all sat around a horseshoe formation of desks. We sat down in a line with our main social worker and link social worker in front of them. So far, so daunting. The panel introduced themselves – various social work and adoption bigwigs, an adoptive mother and – a fact not lost on us – an old-school Conservative councillor. They started by addressing us directly – how had we found the process? We’ve found the process pretty good all in all, so were able to answer that easily, Then they asked our social worker to outline why we’d be good adopters and she promptly – and impressively – reeled off a summary of our PAR (prospective adopters’ report). After that, they all took it in turns to fire questions at the social worker, many of which she deferred to us. The Conservative councillor started to ask a question: “This might be inappropriate so do stop me if so…” Oh good lord, what the hell was coming? “Are there any others in er…your…situation…whose parenting styles you’d like to emulate…who you can look at to….er…” He was basically asking us what style of gay parents we would be. “Do you mean do we know any other same-sex parents?” “Er, yes.” We answered his question by taking it off into the realm of the relevant and told him that we felt it was really important that our child knew other families like theirs so they always had positive comparisons to build resilience against any future bullying etc. He then told us: “I just want to reassure you that we have had same-sex couples at this panel before and they have got through.” I should bloody hope so!! He was well-meaning but that kind of patronising ignorance from somebody deciding on our right to be parents didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. You could see the rest of the panel roll their eyes before hurriedly moving the questions along.
The other questions were fairly innocuous – and there weren’t many of them because our PAR was so comprehensive. They asked me about previous experiences of anxiety. They quizzed us on male role models. Then they thanked us for coming and ushered us out. Once back in the little room, the social workers assured us that it had gone really well. We’d answered every question – I’ve no idea how, it was like a strange out of body experience. Eventually, the Chair came into the room and told us that we’d been approved. We were extremely relieved but we weren’t out of the woods yet. Because we still had the matching panel to come – and that was the one we really cared about. It was all resting on whether these eight people thought we could parent one particular child and, this time, the what ifs weren’t worth thinking about.
So there was no time to celebrate and before long, we were back in the room in front of those same eight people. While they did ask us loads of questions, it was our social work team – now expanded to four people – who really came in for a grilling. The paperwork wasn’t up to panel satisfaction and our hearts sank. I really thought it would be thrown out on a technicality. We talked at length about whether we were going to change our child’s name and the contact arrangements given the relative close proximity of the birth family. We talked about the child’s anxious attachment style and other things relating to its background. Sarah and I were able to argue our points really well. I’m not blowing our collective trumpets, it’s just that, in that moment, all the research and practice came into being. We weren’t able to string a sentence together back at home when faced with some of these hypothetical questions. But the moment they were real, we were ready for them.
Once again, we were thanked and ushered out. And as we sat down in the confines of the waiting room, we prepared for the worst. It took about ten minutes for the Chair to return clutching a load of paperwork. At that point, our link social worker started grinning and nodding furiously at me. The Chair told us she was delighted to tell us it had been a unanimous decision to match us with Child X. She started to say it was because we’d put so much work into it, that we were so child-centred, that we exhibited such a strong connection to this child…But in that moment it was all lost on us. My partner started crying, which was to be expected. She’s the emotional one of the two of us. But then I had a weird alien experience. I remember thinking that I couldn’t see out of my eyes – I tried to say something but the words refused to come out. Then she helpfully piped up: “Even Amy’s crying!” And I was – well it was a strong well-up anyway. While being out of control of my emotions in a public situation is particularly unwelcome to me, it goes to show you exactly how charged that moment was. Everything we wanted was hinged on it and when it all worked out, it was just completely overwhelming. Then a couple of the social workers started dabbing at their eyes and started hugging us and the rest is an absolute blur.
We were handed some paperwork to complete and we struggled to remember how to form words, let alone write. We handed over the welcome books we’d spent hours and hours (and hours) working on – and knew they were going to be in the hands of our child that day! It was official, we were going to be the parents of a very special little person. After we said our goodbyes, we went home to make a series of phone calls to some very over-excited friends and family – many of whom had been living and breathing that moment with us. We spent the rest of the day in a cafe and pub garden, going over events but mainly just sitting around in stunned silence.
We’re still stunned, but now we’re working hard to get everything ready for the child who will be moving in IN LESS THAN A MONTH!
Next stop, meeting our future child. Introductions start in a couple of weeks – and we can’t wait.