2020 what a f***king year!!

Wow what a crappy year 2020 was!!! Started on a high following our first family Christmas and New Year, we were looking forward to having our first family summer vacation with the in-laws but COVID had other plans!!!

But a positive of 2020 I actually accepted and finally opened up to those close to me about my mental health struggles which had come to a full on crisis last month to the point where I was drinking more, not eating properly (whether not eating at all or bingeing), going to very dark places, feeling that it might be better for those around me if I wasn’t around anymore. I held on to a lot of guilt and self hatred for the family separation during the initial part of the coronavirus pandemic.

It all came to a peak when I developed a ‘exit plan’, this is when I scared me I knew I needed to speak to my Gp and get some help, I spoke with my work and decided to get signed off sick. I knew it wasn’t safe for me to be there and I needed to actually take some to focus on myself and my family. After talking to my immediate family on how I was feeling, speaking with my therapist and the community psych nurse as well as starting a new medication I started to feel a tad better. I’m still not feeling back to myself but I am in such a better place than that I was say at the end of November.

But there is something about being a dad that makes this so much harder. Society dictates that as a Dad your not allowed to feel certain ways, and dads are often overlooked. For me there’s also the explanation that I’m a gay dad which is either responded to with raised eyebrows or that’s amazing….which I find patronising. Adoption as well just adds a lot more stress and pressure, adopted children come with a traumatised history, emotionally they are not the same age so when they have an emotional meltdown and you handle it in a therapeutic manner those around you tend to not understand and label it just ‘naughty behaviour’. This is also a parenting technique which isn’t associated as a norm for a dad. Modern day dads are hands on with parenting (regardless of parenting technique), housework, involved in their education and it’s still not deemed normal in society.

But thanks to the wonders of the online adoption community, LGBT community and the online dads community (namely the Dad AF app) have been amazing. There’s a world of support out there, and we dads have to be that pillar of support for each other as not many others get it.

Fellow dads……..we’ve got this!!!

The stresses of stage two

I couldn’t have been more happy that the horrible assessment days were over and done with. In all honesty I felt and still do feel that the assessment days are pointless the way they are run.
Parts of the assessment days are just degrading, the idea is that we are honest and they can assess us but the way that I felt during the assessment made me want to leave, or be fully honest and tell them what I thought of the process.

The next meeting we had with our social worker was done individually to get a feel of us without each other present and to go through our history as a couple and before me and Ricky got together. We arranged our meetings when each other was at work so that one of us didnt have to leave in the typical English December crappy weather.

I had my meeting first and it wasn’t not as bad as I thought it was going to be, however some questions were quite difficult to answer such as some aspects of my health such as my history with depression and also the relationship with my father, which was not in the best of places at this time and to be honest they were both interlinked. I hadn’t really spoke about either of these things openly before, let alone to a person I didn’t really know at all. Our social worker wanted to know what had caused our relationship breakdown and whether this would have an effect on my potential future child. I hadn’t really spoken much about my relationship with my dad before to anyone, Ricky obviously knew about the ups and downs but other than him I hadn’t really told anyone else. I barely knew our social worker and to go this deep into my life was difficult but also it was awkward as there was no choice, I had to talk about it or the alarm bells would be ringing. I don’t really share much of how I’m feeling to anyone, I guess you could call me a bit of a closed book but at this point it was made clear to me that I had to open up.

The one area that I found difficult to mention and to talk about was my mental health, despite the world being (from personal experience) opening up to mental health and being more accepting of it, I found this to be the opposite when it comes to social workers and parenting which is completely confusing.
At the time I was under a lot of stress, from work and from the pressures of adoption, as well as doing a university degree. We both felt at the time of this part social workers don’t really get that you have a full time job and other responsibilities there is a feeling of an expectation that you should be studying, researching and learning aspects of child development, attachment and learning more about adoption, yet that is just not possible. At the time I was on medication to help with this and was not really in a position to come off my medication however when she asked whether I was coming off them (no other question asked before this such as how do I feel being on them? Are they working for you?) I got the feeling and impression that this is what she was wanting to hear, so I said I was. Suddenly finding myself coming straight of them cold turkey. Probably not one of my best ideas, but at the time my mouth opened and it just came out, which left we with no option but to do this as the medical advisor to the adoption team would be requesting copies of medical records prior to the panel date (which was yet to be confirmed).

The comment regarding my and Ricky’s relationship that was made in the assessment day report was also brought up during this meeting, our social worker said that the assessing social workers felt that there was a disconnect between both of us and that they felt our relationship needs to be explored more (erm intrusive but ok). I said that we rarely display any affection in public or around strangers. I also said I felt it was inappropriate to be all cuddly and touchy during an assessment of our adoption application. When I asked why we didn’t show any PDA I said that there are still people who are anti-gay and why put ourselves in danger? Further to this we wouldn’t do it when out with our child because we wouldn’t want him exposed to any hateful comments. Our social worker did mention that she agreed with this and I took the opportunity to mention again that I felt that these comments made in the report were unfair, unjust and just rude. Following the meeting our social worker said she was happy with all the information that I had given and that she knows me and Ricky have a close relationship and understood our feelings on PDA. 

We had many more meetings following this and had to look at different aspects such as what we feel our own parenting styles would be and how we think how we were parented would play a part in our own individual parenting styles. I knew that I would probably be the more stricter parent just because we had already decided that I would be taking the longer work break so naturally I would be the one setting rules and enforcing them, whereas Ricky would be the more relaxed and fun parent. 
We had a meeting to discuss the house plans, by this point we were having a total nightmare with the house sale, sales kept falling through and our social workers now had concerns regarding this. They wondered whether we could now just cancel the sale, despite the money we had already paid on legal fees and the money. Both of us pointed out to our social worker that the reason for the sale was because, a) our previous social worker had said that she was not 100% happy with the apartment, and b) we would not be able to move for approximately a year following an adoption placement to naturally allow for us to bond and settle. We both felt that there was little understanding on their part, we were doing what we felt right but it was completely not our fault for the delays on the sale of the apartment. We had to reassure our social worker that we were still completely committed to the adoption.

During this and leading up to our panel date, where they make a decision whether we would be approved to adopt, our social worker was compiling a document called a PAR (prospective adopter report) which is why we had to fill in so much information and do constant learning. We were also advised to do some volunteering, we both did some volunteering with a local cubs group (as this fitted with the age group we were looking to adopt). Trying to fit all this into an already crazy schedule was a nightmare, we learnt that social workers seem to forget that you have a life, work and other commitments going on as well as trying to do further learning surrounding attachment and volunteering. It was like we both had 2 full time jobs. We got to see the PAR as we had to agree to what was documented and to make sure there wasn’t any information missing from it before it was finalised, signed and submitted to the panel. Which would be the following month…….crazy but completely excited.

The dreaded two day assessment

So, the first day had arrived and this old stately looking home for the assessment. The worst bit was the two days weren’t clumped together and the day off in between happened to be my birthday!! So there was no real celebrating until after the assessment. We arrived and were shown to the cafe and asked to wait here. Slowly some other people arrived, everyone appeared and acted in the same way….pure nervousness and awkwardness about how this assessment was going to go.

After what felt like the longest wait ever we were taken in to a huge room and sat down in a circle. There was myself and Ricky, a heterosexual couple, a lesbian couple and two single female prospective adopters. The social workers introduced themselves other than one of them. There were three social workers who would be carrying out the assessment and working through the tasks, and the final social worker was sat at the back at the room typing up everything, word for word, that was being said by each of us prospective adopters. They outlined how the two days was going to be run and advised us to just be ourselves and not to worry about anything. We then had to introduce ourselves to the group, as you were talking you could hear the keyboard being tapped by the social worker at the back of the room, this was really off-putting. It was quite apparent that I was not the only person who was feeling like this.
The first task came, and the social worker who was leading this task/assessment asked us to split up, so those who came in couples were told to work with someone else for this task. It was a visualisation type task, which I am no good at, I feel genuinely awkward and uncomfortable doing these type of exercises in groups even if I know the others in the group, let alone in front of a room full that consists of a majority of strangers!! We had to close our eyes and imagine being at a train station and waiting for a close friend or family member to arrive, but we realise that we have forgotten our mobile phone and had no other way to contact them. We were talked through this and asked to think about what we would do, how would we feel. Once the task was done we had to say one by one how we felt, what would we do etc. Naturally, I got asked first about how I felt. So, as was expected of us by the social workers and of our own social worker I was honest and said that I struggled with this task as I can’t visualise stories etc it is something that I have always struggled with. I got a look which I can only describe as utter disgust from the social workers. I then explained that I always have my mobile on me, so forgetting it is something that just wouldn’t happen with me, but still all I got was looks of disgust and disappointment from these social workers. Even the tapping of the keyboard appeared to be more violent!!

As the day progressed the awkwardness and feelings of wanting the floor to open up and swallow me was increasing. There was one exercise on this day which sums up this feeling completely and that was when we got split into three groups, again partners not being put into the same group. We all went into different rooms, luckily the social worker who was with my group was really nice. We had to talk about our journey and what has brought us to this point. I spoke first as I felt quite comfortable in this group and explained my journey and what has brought me to this point. One of the group had a similar story but the other prospective adopter talked about her failed IVF experiences. I truly felt for her, and could see that although she had overcome this emotionally, talking about it in front of a group of complete strangers did make her feel, naturally, uncomfortable. Once we had finished we went back into the main room and we all had to talk about how we felt explaining our journeys. I explained that for me I felt fine, I felt comfortable talking about it as the group I was in was friendly. There were a few laughs from the others in the room, which turned out to be a downfall. I still couldn’t get any tell-tale signs from the social worker that I was doing good in this assessment, I literally just seemed to get sighs and eye rolls, despite following their advice. Apparently this task was done to assess whether we had overcome our previous traumas, but to be honest this just felt unnecessary, I mean the social workers had already dug pretty deep into our lives and I’m sure that if we had not overcome previous traumas they would have picked up on this!

Luckily during the breaks we got to know the other prospective adopters so after we finished the first assessment day we went to a local pub to have a few drinks, get to know each other better and have a good old rant about some of the things the social workers had said. It became quite the bitch-fest. It was also great to get to know others in the same position as us, as these guys knew exactly what we were going through and it expanded our support network. We also found out about a great support group, New Family Social (NFS), who are a groups of LGBT adopters or prospective adopters, they do regular meet-ups. Each area of the UK has a group or groups and hold regular meet-ups, we luckily had one in Greenwich. It was great to find this out as prior to being told about the group we literally felt like the only gay couple applying to adopt as we knew nobody else in the same situation as us. It was that stereotypical only gay in the village feeling until we heard about this group!!!

When the second day arrived two days later, the social workers started off by giving us chat saying that they felt we were not taking it seriously and not giving our true feelings. It was clear that they wanted the bad negative feelings, which I felt would not be a true representation of how I was feeling or had felt. I didn’t know whether this was a genuine chat or whether this was the speech given to all other previous prospective adopters. To be honest this really irritated and I was having to hold myself back trying not to say anything to the social workers. I felt like there was no pleasing them. For me it was difficult to not to think about things before responding as it was obvious that we were being recorded, we could distinctly heard every key being tapped by the social worker who was at the back of the room on the laptop. We had all been honest with them when undertaking the exercises etc but I felt that they were wanting us to be negative all the time, which would mean that we were not being honest with them. From this point on I was being more negative in my feelings therefore not being true to myself, which is what they wanted from us, but there was clearly no pleasing these social workers. Another exercise that they asked us to do was to write down on a piece of paper our dream child, I asked us to think of our dream, ideal child and write it on a piece of paper. Once we had done this they told us to rip up this piece of paper, and then asked us individually how we felt. When they got to me I said that it was a horrible thing to do and that I felt upset as this was my dream child, however, in reality this did not affect me in anyway. I knew I wasn’t going to get my dream child, I was going through an adoption process so this child probably won’t have the hair colour that I had thought of, they probably won’t have the dream name that I had picked out, even if we had gone down the surrogacy route I wouldn’t have my dream child because we wouldn’t know what egg had been used. But is there such a thing of a dream child?! NO!!!. Just another pointless exercise, the second day was full of utter BS like this. Well there was some usefulness in the second day, so it wasn’t completely pointless, we got some useful information from the social workers on trauma and what to look out for in terms of behaviours and how to deal with the basics.
At the end of the day we filled in an evaluation form, which we were all brutally honest, I feel that we all felt the same. I know I was completely brutal in my feedback.
We were told that reports on how they felt we had been and performed during the assessment would be typed up and emailed to us via our social workers in the next week or so. 

We met up with our social worker shortly after getting the assessment reports back which we did individually via email which was about 2 weeks after the assessment days. Although we had been given the go ahead to continue with the adoption process (apparently had we not passed the assessment we would have had to undergone further training and advised to do further learning) I was pissed at some of the report. I was told that out of the group I had taken on the class clown role, like seriously, I was fuming that they put that in a formal report. In the report the social workers had written down that I made a few ‘jokes’ causing people to laugh during the assessment. The only two comments that I made was during the first exercise on the first day by saying I could visualise what they wanted us to and the second comment was during the exercise where they separated us all, when asked how we felt opening up to strangers I said I found easy as the group I was with were nice and easy to talk to. Also mentioned in the report they made a comment that they thought we did not seem close. We were both taken aback by this comment, I was also annoyed at this comment as we aren’t naturally cuddly or ‘loved up’ in public let alone with strangers, also how is this a reflection on our relationship considering these social workers don’t know us as a couple or furthermore how is this a reflection on our parenting? I would not be all touchy-feely in front of my child, to me that’s completely inappropriate, as is doing it in front of strangers!!
When we met with our social worker I brought this up, she could tell the minute that I said hello I was annoyed!! I mentioned how I felt and our I felt that parts of this report were not a true reflection on myself or on us as a couple. After the explanations/rant our social worker seemed happy with what we had to say. She did mention that normally prospective adopters have more time in stage 2 and know more of what is expected before they attend the assessment days. The reason we were put on the course early was because they didn’t want to delay the process and then have to push back a potential panel date for us.

We were then told that the next meetings would be done individually to discuss our relationships. I was still annoyed following the conversation, but what could be done? Nothing was going to change and it’s not like our social worker could change the report, but more importantly we were still in the process and progressing forward. As I’m typing this I am still fuming about, the thought of someone else going through the process and having to experience being made to feel like that really gets to me. Im hoping that by doing this and writing this blog might help change things, I do feel that the adoption process does need modernising and less stigma needs to be placed on certain things, as does the focus on previous traumas.

Anyway I will stop this post now before I go off on some rant and get sidetracked!!