Colin: We have been living as a couple for approximately five years. We applied to adopt jointly as a couple about nine months ago. Our civil partnership is in August. I’m 30 and Greig is 32.
Adopting is the same process whether you’re straight or gay. We’ve just been given some books from our social worker and one, Becoming Dads by Pablo Fernandez, is a diary of a couple going through the adoption process – but they live in England and we live in Tayside, so as great as it is, it’s not 100% tailored to the process we’re going through. A lot of the emotional side is the same though.
Greig: The social worker has also given us Lesbian and Gay Fostering and Adoption, Building the Bonds of Attachment, Talking about adoption to your adopted child and A child’s journey through placement [See p 212].
Colin: I have always wanted to have children. Growing up I expected to be a father and always looked forward to this. I started to consider it seriously about seven years ago.
Greig: You always know that you want to be part of a family. That didn’t change when I knew I was gay.
Colin: We started thinking properly about applying to adopt, about three years ago.
In my previous relationship, in my early 20s, I talked about it with my partner but he wasn’t keen. He said he’d think about it but when we split up, he said he’d never wanted kids.
Greig: We started talking about it on date four! Not about having children immediately or how we’d have them but if we did get serious, did we both want the same things.
Colin: We’ve been together five and a half years now. We did have reservations about having children – about how people would treat a child with gay parents. Would the child be bullied? Would people accept us as a family?
Once we realised our concerns were about other people and not our own abilities, we felt much more secure in our decision to have children. There are a lot of children needing loving homes and we feel we can provide this.
Greig: Over the years our straight friends said things like, “If you’re wanting kids, I’ll be the ‘oven’ – as long as I’ve had my kids first.”
Colin: They didn’t want their first child to be ours.
Greig: But then they started saying, “I’d rather have Colin’s child or your child” for one reason or another – and when we looked into surrogacy there seemed to be so many legal loopholes.
Colin: The way we understood it, if the egg donor changed their mind, there’s every chance they’d get to keep the child but if there was a different carrier – if someone else gave birth to the child, in a custody fight it was more likely to go in your favour.
That’s all just our understanding, I don’t know if it’s right. But for me, asking a woman to give up her body for nine months is a big ask. Some people still die in childbirth! I didn’t feel justified in asking someone to go through that, just to become an auntie.
Greig: In ‘Gay Times,’ it seems to be more about women looking for sperm donors than surrogates for gay men.
Colin: And some people, you just wouldn’t want them to be the surrogate, they couldn’t even look after themselves.
Greig: I think I’d want to be really strict with a surrogate. It’s like trusting someone with the rest of your lives, your heart’s desire. I’d be checking she’s had her five a day…
Colin: …and saying, “That’s your second cigarette!”
Greig: It wasn’t for us.
Colin: My aunt even offered to have a baby for us. She just likes being pregnant. It was very kind of her but it would have been too odd and by that time, we’d already decided against surrogacy. There’s too much that can go wrong.
But it’s always at the back of your mind, meeting a lesbian couple and living next door, bringing up the child together.
Greig: Those are the conversations you have at a party.
Colin: In 10 years’ time you may not want to live next door.
Greig: I think that’s what puts a lot of people off being donors. The couple want to be the parents. They just want your sperm/eggs and then they want you to go away.
Colin: Once we decided adoption was what we wanted to do, we looked online. At first we thought you couldn’t adopt jointly as a couple unless you were married, regardless of whether you were gay or straight. You could adopt as a single person but if anything happened to you, technically your partner wouldn’t have any legal rights or responsibilities towards the child. At least, that’s the way I understood it back then. We weren’t engaged at that point.
Greig: We got engaged once we’d been going out for three years. We always thought that if we were still together by then, it would mean we’d stay together.
Colin: We booked the wedding two years ago. As far as I was concerned, we would get married first and then adopt. That was the plan and we were happy with that. I’m a Catholic and I told my gran that at least one of her grandchildren would get married and then have a child.
Greig: Then Colin found out that they had changed the adoption rules so that unmarried couples could apply for joint adoption. When he told me, I couldn’t wait!
Colin: I kept saying, “We’ve so much on, we’re getting married” but he was so excited. We found out just before my brother’s wedding, the first weekend in September. Greig phoned up social services in early September and they sent us a questionnaire.
Greig: It all happened very quickly initially. I thought it would take a while but we saw a resource worker within about two weeks. Colin was in shock. He kept saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” I couldn’t wait.
Colin: We had a question and answer meeting, where the resource worker answered the questions we had and explained the adoption process to us in outline. She also had a quick look around the flat.
Greig: She asked us what our plans would be for adapting the flat for a child.
Colin: I got the impression it was to make sure we met the minimum requirements, like having a bedroom for the child and not having any other major issue she needed to flag up before we went on to the next stage.
We briefly discussed some of the other considerations too, like should you change the child’s name, introducing them to family and friends, telling the child they’re adopted.
Greig: I think they were trying to suss out whether we would hide information from the child.
Colin: And that we were thinking of the best interests of the child and not just ourselves. After explaining everything to us and answering our questions, she asked us if we still wanted to go ahead, if anything she had said had put us off.
Greig: The level of commitment, of input expected of you, might put some people off – the level at which social work are going to be looking into your lives.
It sounds scary and in depth but at no point did we feel judged or under the spotlight.
She was lovely and friendly but she made sure you knew it was not going to be a quick and easy process.
Colin: She said she’d look into our childhoods, potentially contact any long-term partners we’d had. I got the impression that was in case you’d been a step parent or your ex had had children.
She didn’t mention finances at that stage, apart from asking if we work but she went into the type of children they get up for adoption.
We volunteer on the Children’s Panel so we already knew that adopted children could come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have learning difficulties.
She said that a lot of people applying to adopt are expecting a new-born bouncing
baby but that’s unlikely to happen. People are not ashamed of having children when they’re teenagers or unmarried any more.
Greig: The days of the Magdalene Sisters and people giving away healthy children are gone.
Colin: After we said we wanted to proceed she explained a bit more about the next step: that we’d be appointed a social worker who’d take us through the process and then we’d see an adoption panel.
We’d need to get medicals. This is usually done by the GP but as Greig has health problems, they’d contact his consultant at the hospital first.
Greig: There are strict deadlines once you have been allocated a social worker – six months until your adoption panel – so they wanted to get the medical information in place before they allocated one. Getting the medical information, especially from consultants, can take months.
Colin: We were a year ahead of our expected application date anyway, as we were applying before we were married, so that was fine.
Greig: I didn’t think we’d be given a child after just six months anyway.
Colin: Within a few days, the resource worker sent us a formal application, including forms to get the doctor and consultant to disclose information. The form wasn’t scary…
Greig: Maybe six pages? It was self explanatory – it didn’t come with its own pamphlet to explain how to fill it in.
Colin: I was shocked but impressed at how short and straightforward it was. (The detailed forms are filled out by social work later). We posted it back within a few days, then they wrote to our GPs to ask for medicals to be done.
We didn’t even need to make the appointments. I did ring but they said that social work would write to them. Then they sent us appointment letters.
Greig: It was like an MOT at a well person’s clinic – weight, blood pressure, testing your eyes, reflexes, no bloods. My GP said he could fill out most of my questionnaire anyway as I see him every month.
Colin: GPs usually charge for those kind of check-ups but social work said they’d pay for it.
Greig: They do have targets eg. for weight and heart and if you don’t meet them you have to get them redone or have other checks. So if you fall within normal limits it’s quick and simple but if you don’t, it can take longer.
Colin: When the resource worker came to see us, Greig asked if there were any health limitations and she basically said no, as long as you weren’t terminal and could look after a child. Ever since then I’ve always felt the questions were about whether you would be able to cope with a child, how much you could manage, what kind of child you can look after.
Greig: I had extra tests on my heart because of my health issue. If you go when you think you’re healthy and you have to have a heart test three times, don’t panic – it may just be that you’re nervous.
Colin: I got my medical in a couple of months.
Greig: There was more of a delay in my case, I was a month and a half later but that was because my GP was away. I had to phone the surgery a few times. I finally got an appointment but the doctor was new and hadn’t dealt with the forms before so he asked if I could wait ’til my usual GP got back. I did and that was OK but then my form got missed in the handover. They only found it because I chased them.
When I finally got in to see my doctor, she was really excited at the thought of the adoption. It’s a small practice and I’m a regular customer so she knows me well, we’ve built up a close relationship.
Colin: My GP was really excited too. You’d be surprised. Everyone in my office is so excited and so are my family. I don’t know if it’s because we are so fabulous or so they can say they know a gay couple who are adopting!
If anyone’s worried about being a same sex couple, don’t. So far not one person has said anything negative, not even the bitches who are not backwards at coming forwards with their complaints.
Greig: We met the resource worker in September and it was December before we got a letter from social work, inviting us to a training course – a preparation group – which started in January. The only thing that happened in the three months in between was that we had our medicals.
Colin: I think they only hold the preparation group every few months so we went even though we didn’t have a social worker yet.
There were five couples, very mixed. A couple who had already adopted and were applying for a second child – and hoping it would all go better this time as everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong the first time.
There was another couple who’d had a child naturally but were struggling to have a second. They wanted a brother or sister for their daughter and she wanted one too.
There was an older couple in their late 40s who’d tried IVF and then gone for fostering. It hadn’t worked. She wasn’t emotionally ready to give a child back.
The other couple were doing a long-term fostering placement with a child and social work were putting them through the adoption process. They were about to go to panel.
The other couples were at different stages in the process and we were just starting.
Greig: I think going to the preparation meetings at the start of the process really helped.
Colin: The course was all day for three Saturdays in a row plus two Tuesday evenings in between. Although the letter said it was a training course, the woman who led it said it was more to make you think and to make you realise you’re not going to get what she kept calling a “pink and fluffy” child.
Even though we both knew from the Children’s Panel that it was unlikely we’d get a pink and fluffy child, part of me still thought we might be the exception.
Greig: She also made it clear that while we may think that we’re there to get a child, they were there to get a child the right family.
Colin: A lot of children, especially younger children removed from birth, may come from mothers who were drinking or taking drugs during pregnancy, so the child has foetal alcohol syndrome or other physical or mental health problems.
A lot of children come from deprived backgrounds. They may have learning difficulties or global delay syndrome, where they don’t hit the usual milestones. You’ll never have a complete medical history if there’s a choice of three dads or the mother doesn’t give permission.
The child might have emotional issues from being passed around – mum, dad, aunties, grandparents, foster carer to foster carer. After eight homes, ten homes, you may tell them they are here with you to stay but they’ll just look at you. It’ll take a long time for them to feel settled.
Greig: Attachment is a big thing they touched upon.
Colin: A lot of people expect it to be a Hollywood moment, when they see the child, when their eyes meet the child’s across the room and there’s a moment of recognition – but it doesn’t happen like that. There’s no instant bond, like in Annie. It can take weeks, months. And it’s fairly common that the child bonds more quickly with one parent than another.
Greig: It was really helpful when other adopters came into the group and said how hard it could be. One woman said it was really hard when the child bonded with her partner first and it took a year before they really bonded with her.
Colin: Someone told us that some children may even do better with a same sex couple, with men if they bonded better with men or with lesbians if they felt threatened by men, for example.
Greig: The woman pointed out that even when you’re an ‘ordinary’ parent, you have to take every day as it happens.
Colin: The head of the adoption team came in with a list of children on her books at that time. She stressed there was no such thing as an average child. At that moment in time, most children on her list to be adopted were aged 3 or 4 but it varied.
Greig: They did have a few sibling groups whom they wouldn’t want to break up but after the eldest is seven, it’s almost impossible to adopt. Then they told us about this magazine the children get put in – and a website I don’t want to look at. It sounds like a catalogue, almost.
Colin: I think the process up here is that to match you with a child, they look first in your local authority area and if there’s no suitable matches there, after a while they look at a larger area – here it’s the North East Consortium.
Greig: Especially if, for the child’s safety, they want them out of their local authority area, they look to the Consortium too.
Colin: If that doesn’t work, after a time they put the child’s picture and profile in a catalogue and on the website.
Greig: The social workers don’t like doing that but they say it serves a purpose and what’s the alternative?
Colin: If we could go through the whole process without seeing that, I’d be much happier.
Greig: It sounds dehumanising, this strange catalogue of people.
Colin: I suppose it’s just the reality of so many kids looking for a home.
Greig: They speak about a ‘tick list’ – that there’s almost a tick list of what you’d consider in a child when you’re adopting. It’s not pleasant but they’re not going to match you up with a child you can’t cope with and you’re not going to want to send a child back.
Colin: We said we’d consider a child under 5 and that we’d take up to two siblings, so two children in total.
Greig: We didn’t think much about the implications of a child’s health issues until the training group and that’s when we realised we couldn’t manage a child with a high level of disability. It would be too physically demanding with my own health problems.
Colin: And I wasn’t sure I could handle a child with extreme ADHD.
They ask you if you would consider a child with severe learning difficulties, Down’s Syndrome, a child who’s been abused.
There’s very little we think we would rule out at this stage but it all depends on degrees, on how severely affected the child was.
The only consideration I had in relation to us being a same sex couple would be age, that a younger child might adapt better to same sex parents than an older child who may have been with parents who were homophobic, or who may have preconceived ideas about wanting a mum and a dad. I know I had preconceived ideas at that age.
Greig: We have nephews and nieces under 5 who see us as normal. My niece said something to my sister about two men can’t get married and when my sister said they could, she just shrugged, “Oh, OK then.” Children will accept you as being you if you don’t make a big deal out of it.
Colin: The preparation group and the resource worker, they do tell you a lot of worst case scenarios. The couple who were in the preparation group who had adopted before had been told there was a high likelihood of various things happening but none of them had.
Greig: And they were adopting again, so it was worth it. They’d also realised that sometimes when things happened, they were thinking, “Is this because this child is adopted?” when actually it was happening because the child was two. It was normal.
Colin: Apparently, we’re quite young adopters. Most straight couples try naturally first, then go through IVF, then adopt, so it’s a very long process for them whereas we knew early on that this is the way for us.
Colin: The preparation group expanded on what the resource worker had told us about the application process. You get a social worker, then you go to the adoption panel, then you start the selection process. We’re a long way from that yet.
Greig: Even if they have a child now that they think we’re perfect for, they can’t mention them because we have not been officially approved.
Colin: We were allocated a social worker in March/April.
Greig: We got a call saying there was a social worker almost ready for us and that they’d get in touch.
Colin: She did and she came to visit us in the flat. She brought a side-kick with her, another social worker. They always come to the first meeting in twos.
It was a very general discussion, covering a lot of things we’d discussed before. I think there were two so they could both agree it was appropriate for us to go forward.
At the end of the meeting they said that they would be happy to go ahead with the process. We made an appointment with Laura, the one who would be going forward with us, to come round the following week.
Then at that meeting, we arranged a series of appointments over the next couple of months, most weeks ’til June. All those visits took place here, around 5pm, so I could fit them round work.
Greig: The meetings were mostly just talking, with Laura asking us questions. It didn’t feel as if we were being interviewed, just chatting, covering some of the things we’d discussed with the resource worker.
Colin: After a couple of weeks of getting to know us, she asked when we wanted to apply for the panel. It has to be done within six months but you don’t have to wait six months. She thought we would be ready to meet the panel by August.
Greig: The next week she came back with a date.
Colin: The wedding’s in August, the panel is before. She asked if that was OK.
Greig: We didn’t know it then but we should know by the wedding, if we’ve been approved or not.
Colin: Up until that point, I thought the panel made the decision on whether you’re approved or not but when we got the date and talked about it, I found out the panel just make a recommendation.
Greig: Social work put a recommendation on the forms they fill in – the Adoption and Permanence Form F – and the panel asks you any questions they have. Then they make their recommendation and it’s someone senior in social work who decides.
Colin: We haven’t filled out any of the F forms yet. Laura gives us homework on a different topic each week then she fills them in.
Greig: The first homework was about our childhood. Family rules, did you go on holiday – she gave us a list of things to talk about and we talked about them and we typed up our answers (I don’t think you have to type them up but we did).
She asks you to be in depth and you write up as much as you can. It’s actually quite cathartic to look into yourself.
Colin: One week we had to do our family tree, just back to our parents, another time we had to look into our relationship. We did it separately and then we compared what we’d said. It was amazing how much we said in common but there were other bits when it was like, “You don’t really think that do you?”
Greig: You can’t think of it as someone being nosy and intruding into your life. It’s about making sure it’s a good match. They’re trying to sell you to the panel.
She asked about our weaknesses, too – what do we think they are, what would be put in place to address them.
Colin: At the preparation group, they told us a story of a couple in England who adopted a child, then six months down the line a health problem appeared that social work knew might develop, so now the couple were suing…
Greig: …which really upset me. If that had been their birth child, who would they sue?
Every question they ask about your childhood, your family, your relationships, you might not want to divulge but you have to.
Colin: If your dad beat you up every night, you might think, ‘I’m ashamed so I won’t say’ but because you have had that experience, it might make you empathise.
Greig: And if you’re going through the adoption process together, as a couple, you need to be honest. You need to know these things about each other or your relationship will fail, your adoption will fail and you’re not acting in the best interests of the child.
Colin: I think the social worker is very good at reading between the lines as well.
Greig: She’ll ask you questions about your homework, to make sure she gets the true meaning out of it. Not that you’re hiding anything but to be sure she has it.
Colin: Though she did say that not every social worker works the same way.
Greig: We’re almost at the end of the process now. We’ve done most of the homework. The social work department have typed it up into the forms. Laura just has to speak to our referees.
Once you have a social worker, she sends out letters to your employers and personal referees, asking for references.
Colin: The personal referees are not allowed to be family members, not here anyway. Both our personal referees are long-term friends.
Greig: The personal referees are interviewed, ideally in person but maybe on the phone if they already have enough information about you.
Colin: One of our personal referees isn’t local, he lives in Glasgow, so Laura will speak to him by phone.
Greig: My employer hasn’t returned his form yet. It’s things like that that can cause delays.
Colin: Deciding who to ask to be a personal referee took some thought. We have friends who have children and others who don’t, some live more locally than others. In the end we decided on two people who don’t have children but who know us well. They have seen us with our nephews and nieces and one of them knows me from working with children.
Greig: There are questions on the personal referee form which our friend says it’s hard to answer because we’re not parents yet, like how we might be on discipline. But if you don’t know, it’s OK to say so.
Colin: We have been allowed to see all the references which have come back so far. My boss has been great. He filled the form in straightaway.
Greig: Mine has had three reminders and still nothing but he’s like that with everything.
Colin: Once social work has filled in Form F, based on our homework, we’ll get to see that too and amend it if we want to, before it goes off to the panel.
When we move, we want a nice area to bring kids up in, where they won’t go, “Oh, there’s the gay couple with the kid.” It’s only six years since Greig was getting death threats in the post for being gay.
Greig: It was on an estate. There were 300 letters being sent to my community every day. The neighbours in the street who knew me were horrified. They came round and said, “I had this put through my door early this morning” and they were very supportive but it was an awful time. CID were involved.
Colin: Our current flat is great for a couple. It’s really central and we have gay and straight neighbours. The problem is there’s only one bedroom.
Greig: That would become the child’s bedroom and there’s a space for us in the living area but it would be open plan, so not ideal.
Colin: We’re on the council’s housing list and a couple of housing associations, so we’re looking.
We’re registered with them as a couple at the moment but once we’ve been approved for adoption, they’ll take that into consideration. We’ve already started packing. We’re renting so if we find somewhere, we might have to move very quickly.
Greig: Once we’ve been approved, it could be two weeks or two years until we’re matched with a child, maybe longer.
Colin: Emotionally the process has been ups and downs as we get excited then try not to get our hopes up, then get excited again. We are trying to be realistic but at the same time, little fantasies about how family life can be do play in our heads. The emotional roller coaster, I imagine, is the same as for any couple trying to adopt, straight or gay.
Social work have been fantastic and at no point have we felt awkward/ discriminated against.
Colin: Don’t be scared by all the worst case scenarios.
Greig: Be open with your social worker and each other. Be aware of your own limitations. Don’t be too eager to say yes when it comes to the tick list – be realistic.
Colin: Decide what’s right for you as a person and as a couple, rather than for your family and friends.
Greig: Make sure the time’s right for you. We’ve got quite a bit on at the moment but it’s working out fine. We’re planning the wedding but we’re planning a future at the same time.
Colin: Look at the application process as a positive. All the questions a social worker asks, they’re all questions I would want to ask if I had to give my child to an adopter.
I found the process very therapeutic, talking about myself and the past and seeing what your referees think of you! Rather than making us feel like we’re being assessed about whether we will/will not be allowed to adopt, I feel like we’re being assessed on what our strengths/weaknesses are and therefore what kind of child we can provide a home for.
Greig: Don’t get hung up on the idea that some people can just have sex and have a child. When you have to jump through hoops, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a child.
Colin: Although the process may seem slow – we applied in September and the panel’s in August – the pace has been right for us. Prepare for it to be a lengthy process, in which every aspect of your life will be looked at. We went into it knowing that and the whole adoption process has so far been very enjoyable.
Since this interview, Greig and Colin’s panel meeting has been postponed, awaiting paperwork from Greig’s employer.