The Challenges We Faced Adopting As A Gay Couple

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“HI! I’m Chris, my family and I live in West London. My husband and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary back in September and have been together for almost 14 years!

I currently work within the health sector and Ricky works in luxury fashion. We met through good old Facebook and after some DM’s we had a few good old dates (cinema, dinner, and a natural drinking trip through London’s Soho) and we have been together ever since.

I proposed to Ricky on our first anniversary next to the Thames on a pier before having dinner in the OXO tower on the South Bank, our relationship had moved quickly during this time, but it felt so right, and considering we have been together almost 14 years it wasn’t a bad choice! 

We had a three-year engagement before getting married in a gorgeous manor house in the Cotswolds. Our wedding was a mix of traditional English and Indian, so lots of bright colors in a traditional English country venue, it was an amazing day.

gay couple in their tuxedos on their wedding day
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

Desires For Children

Being a dad is something I have always wanted and being a gay man wouldn’t change this. We had dreamt of having a family together, Ricky had spoken about adoption, but I wanted to experience the new parent feeling and journey.

We went to one of the few surrogacy centers in the UK and after having discussions with the team there it didn’t feel right. It almost felt wrong to us knowing the cost which turned out to be the same amount as the deposit on our apartment, but also knowing there is no guarantee the surrogate wouldn’t keep the baby.

We left the meeting with mixed feelings, it was almost like heartache, but we had discussions between us as well as with family and friends and ultimately put parenthood on the back burner.

Two or so years later, we spoke about having a family, I booked for us to attend an event with our local authority to get information on adoption and to understand how this process worked. That evening we started to fill out the initial application forms, we knew adoption was right for us, but there were several emotions we went through, feelings of excitement, anxiety, and impatience.

As part of the process, we were asked to do a lot of reading and the more we research into it the more we knew we were making the right decision. 

Pursuing Adoption

The adoption journey was split into two separate stages, and we had a different social worker for each stage. Initially, I had a surprise phone call while at work which led to me hiding in the stairwell at work!

I was asked a lot of questions about our childhood, upbringing, schooling, current work situation, childcare experience, and finances. I was put on the spot as I was not prepared for any of these questions, and I didn’t know much detail about Ricky’s upbringing other than the basics.

After a few days, we were given the news we were progressing onto the first of the two stages which were more of a formality consisting of criminal record and ID checks, childhood chronologies, family tree, and financial statements. We also had to fill out a learning record which was a huge headache!

During both stages of the adoption process, we had to do a lot of learning and reading up on attachment theories. I soon learned during the process the social workers we came across had very old-school beliefs when it came to attachment theories which don’t fit with the modern-day parenting world and do not apply to same-sex parents.

I also learned some of the adoption processes would be frustrating and would be tick-box exercises such as learning groups or group-based exercises demonstrating childcare experience, attending assessment days with other potential adopters, and then trying to demonstrate and show modern-day attachment theory research! 

During stage two, there was still the element of learning but as we progressed through this stage with learning, assessments, and updating forms, we also had discussions with our social worker about what we were looking for in our child. Things such as their age and gender, but also elements we hadn’t thought about or discussed such as the child’s race and health.

We had decided we now wanted to adopt a little boy between the ages of 2 and 5 years, I had initially wanted a younger child but was told this wouldn’t be possible. In terms of health, like all parents, we would want our child to be healthy, but we understood this may not always be the case. The only major no we initially gave was to know parental mental health conditions.

When we finally made it to the panel after quite a long process and many ups and downs, we were quite nervous about it. We were even more nervous when we saw one of the social workers from the two-day assessment course sitting in on this. I say nervous, but I was also quite irritated!

When we were invited into the panel after our social worker, we were asked a few questions based on reports such as our experiences, finances, learning, and relationship as well as our future move. Luckily the negative and personal comments that were mentioned in our assessment reports were not brought up or discussed during the approval panel meeting.

After a short wait that felt like an eternity, we were approved as prospective adopters. Now was the waiting game on many fronts, namely waiting for a potential match to happen which would come from our social worker.

We also had the opportunity to sign up for a matching website that has most of the available profiles of children in the UK for adoption. After this amazing news, we had some good food and a few espresso martinis!

Waiting On A Match

Almost a year later, we found our home and were ready to proceed to potential matches. We wanted to progress before finding our home, but due to the pending house move, we were advised this would likely become detrimental to the child.

Our social worker visited shortly after we settled into our long-awaited new home to assess the house before sitting down with us to discuss a potential match. 

childhood bedroom set up for couple's potential adoptive son
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

I remember having a huge smile on my face we finally looked at our potential son, but as soon as I looked at his profile picture immediately I went from happiness to disappointment, I could see the child had some form of a genetic abnormality. This is something that set alarm bells off for me.

I have experience working with children with this specific genetic condition, and it can dramatically affect the children’s life requiring potential heart surgeries, mild to severe learning difficulties, as well as potentially severe mental health conditions. The social worker said from a physical health perspective he was well, but his older siblings and birth mother have significant learning disabilities, but she felt we were a good match because of my job.

I felt like we should take time to consider, as did the social worker, whether this could work for us. We had lots of conversations and I spoke with consultants at work, however, after lots of thinking we decided this wasn’t right for us.

Ultimately, I don’t want to feel that home is also a work environment. I worried I might focus more on the health of the child and see him as a patient rather than my child.

We spoke with the social worker and explained that we don’t want to proceed with this match, it felt awful to do this, but it was the right decision. At this point, we requested to be approved to use the online account to do our searching and start showing interest in children we felt matched us. 

The Perfect Match

A few months later I got a message through the matching site from a family saying they have a child’s profile and they feel we are a good match for him. In the message they attached the little boy’s profile. I had such a huge emotional response to this message, and my heart felt heavy. I knew he was the child for us.

I showed Ricky the profile and automatically just as I did, he fell in love with this adorable little boy. We had previously sent messages of interest to other children we had seen but had never really heard back, so this was already looking so positive.

I was just trying, however failing, to not get my hopes up. The thing with this site is that social workers can send messages to each other, and we can see them communicating with each other however the messages aren’t visible to us.

After many messages between them, our social worker suggested we start thinking about his bedroom and getting this ready for him as his social worker and the family finder would want to see this.

Roughly a month later we had a meeting with the social workers to hear more about this special little boy. We heard more about his background, and plans for him such as contact with his birth family including his older brother as well as how he is doing now since being with his foster carers. We discussed why they felt we were a good match and what draws us to him. 

After the visit we were advised, by our social worker, to think about everything we had been told and if we still wanted to go ahead. For me nothing had changed, if anything I wanted to proceed, I just knew he was my little boy.

The following day we both spoke about the visit and where our minds were at, we were both on the same page, this was our little boy. We spoke with our social worker and later the same day were contacted to say that our potential little boys’ social workers agreed with us and wanted to proceed with the match, this made our day. 

Things scarily but excitingly moved very quickly. Within a few weeks, we had a date to travel up for a child appreciation day where we got to meet with the local authority’s medical advisor, his school, and his foster carers to hear more about his current needs, likes, dislikes, and routine.

At this point, it felt super real and my love for him just kept growing. It was a weird feeling, the reality of this was that we had only ever seen a picture of him, yet the more we saw and the more we heard about this little boy the more we fell in love and knew he was our son.

We swapped numbers with the foster carers so they could keep us updated and send us pictures and videos of him. At the end of these three meetings, we both felt drained and exhausted. We both had huge headaches from the amount of information we were given.

After the meetings we were told to start making our introduction book and video, we also got him a little dinosaur teddy who came with us on our trip to Amsterdam. This teddy was the first of many that we got this little man! 

gay couple holds stuffed animal bought for their adoptive son
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

Making the introduction book was fun, we made it interactive so we could do some bonding activities with him during the introductions. However, making the video was cringeworthy but the bloopers are always fun to watch back. We did a tour of the house and read a bedtime story to him, we chose one of his favorite stories his teacher told us during the child appreciation day.

Closer To Adoption

A few weeks later we attended the panel with our social worker, the family finder, and the little man’s social worker. This panel was slightly bigger than the approval panel with several professionals, an adult adoptee, and a previous adopter. It was more intense, we had prepared thankfully as we were asked more questions.

After a short wait with all the social workers, the panel chairperson came to tell us the awesome news that we had been approved to adopt pending the approval from senior social workers. This was amazing news, our family was almost together.

After what felt like forever we finally had the news via our social worker that the formal approval was granted and we should have an introduction plan sent to us by little man’s family finding a social worker. 

In the new year, we started our introductions. We spent a week staying near little man’s foster placement getting to know him, and his routine for him to get to know us.

I remember vividly the first time we saw him, we were both in the foster carers’ dining room. We were discussing the plan for the 10-day introductions when we suddenly saw a little face peering through the stair banisters before running off toward the living room.

At this moment, I knew this little boy was a cheeky chap and had me in hysterics. We were also told how things will work until we get the adoption order which we couldn’t apply for until a minimum of 10 weeks.

After the meeting, we had some time with the little man introducing ourselves and got that first special little hug before heading back to our hotel where we would stay during our 5 days. 

Over the next few days, we bonded so well with little man, me more so than Ricky, but this soon changed. I made sure to allow them time to get to know each other either by leaving them to bond or by getting Ricky to lead on an activity.

We learned so much about parenting small things during these trips such as making sure he went to the bathroom before getting into the car (a really good tip by the way!).

On our last day of the first introduction, we spent the whole day with him, making him breakfast and putting him to bed that night, it was completely heart melting. We helped pack up his belongings such as his toys and clothes with his foster mom and put them into our car. This was super tough to do, it was quite emotional for all of us for many different reasons. 

The following day we woke up super early and waited what felt like an eternity for the foster carers and little man to arrive, the nerves and excitement were intense. Little man walked slowly down the drive when they arrived, he kept looking back making sure his foster carers were following him.

He still had that cheeky look and as soon as he walked in he asked where his bedroom was and started to explore. As soon as he was wandering and looking around, he was super chilled and relaxed. He stayed for lunch before his foster carers came to pick him up.

For the rest of the week little man’s foster carers would drop him off mid-morning and we would drop him back in the evening. We showed him around our area, where his school was, and took him to the local parks, getting him settled into his home.

The week went so quickly and before we knew it the day had arrived when little man was moving in on Friday the 18th of January. Yay! One of the most treasured and rememberable days of my life. 

We picked him up from the foster carers’, it was a very quick round of goodbyes and then we left. It felt horrible to feel like we were rushing him, but it had to be like ripping off a bandaid. It went much better than we had expected, there were no tears but could see his foster carers were holding back the tears.

It was a battle of two different emotions and feelings for both Ricky and me. Firstly there was the feeling of excitement and happiness about little man moving in and finally being a family. Then, there are the feelings of upset knowing we are taking him away from his current family, even though it was only a temporary foster placement, but one where he was happy and felt safe.

We left their accommodation and came straight home, where we stayed for the day. It was a day of many firsts, the first dinner just the three of us, his first bath at home, the first bedtime story, and the first time feeling that finally, our family was complete.

After many ups and downs, we filed our application for the adoption order in September/October and it was granted in November 2019. We had our celebration day at our local court in February 2020. 

gay couple with their adoptive son on his adoption day
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

Life After Adoption

Adopting our little boy has completely changed our family dynamic. Before little man it was mostly Ricky and me, we both worked shifts so there were times when we didn’t see each other for 5 or so days just because of how our working hours were, but it worked for us.

I took 9 months’ leave when little man joined us. I could have taken a year’s leave but come September, little man was already attending school, and well pay had taken a hit, so I went back earlier than planned on reduced hours.

Even though things have changed massively since becoming a parent, need to plan most things, I cannot remember little man not being around!

Would I change my life now? Not at all 

There were many challenges we faced during our adoption process. I think the biggest challenge we faced was some judgments by social workers. On one report that was given to us and our social worker, I was described as the class clown!

The biggest one that stood out for me was during the two-day assessment course. Everything that was said by us prospective adopters was recorded and would be typed up in our evaluation report.

Still to this day I question why this two-day course was necessary since many of the exercises that were undertaken didn’t feel relevant, such as creating a collage that represented our childhood then talking through this, or thinking about our dream child, writing it down on a piece of paper before being told to rip it up to then talk about how ripping up our dream child felt.

In the report which followed, the same one where I was described as the class clown, our relationship was also judged. The social workers questioned our relationship as we didn’t seem close which was another personal comment but also something which felt like an attack. 

Post-adoption support is, at times, extremely frustrating. We found soon after we submitted the adoption order application social workers were not as forthcoming with support.

I could see behavioral aspects from little man I knew had a deeper meaning and this was his way of communicating that he needed something from us, but the problem I had was not knowing how to approach this or what techniques to use.

I needed help. I reached out to little man’s social worker as she was still allocated to him until the adoption order was granted. However, the response I got was that it would be difficult to arrange support now since the adoption order application has been submitted!

Luckily, I persisted with demanding some psychological support, and thankfully our social worker was able to arrange some amazing help for us, which we still use. I’m not sure if this is because she knew I would continue to be persistent and bang on every door until someone listened and helped.

The issues little man was facing, and his methods of coping were taking their toll on my mental health as well as Ricky’s, watching our boy get so distressed to the point of self-harming was too much.

When we were researching adoption and trying to find hints, tips, and general personal experiences on how other same-sex couples had found the process there was nothing out there. When we began to search through social media such as YouTube or Instagram we came across a few vlogs from certain celebrities or well-known couples but nothing else.

We struggled to find that element of support we needed at the time. Most of what was out there were happy elements such as family holidays or days out. They didn’t show the negative aspects of the stresses of assessments or the stresses of adjusting to the major changes going on. 

This is why I decided to write my book, to give some help and advice to those who are going through the same journey myself and my husband went through. I was brutally honest in my experience and didn’t leave anything out which I feel has helped those looking into adoption. I have also had great feedback from those who follow my social media as well as from book reviews on Amazon.

gay couple stands with their adopted son in front of floral sculpture
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

Battling Post-Adoption Depression

During my 9 months of adoption leave I struggled, we experienced a lot of health concerns with little man, to begin with, he developed scarlet fever, but this wasn’t diagnosed until after multiple GP appointments, out-of-hours GP appointments, and 2 A&E visits. We also had a few other health things including his emotional needs and a 7-8 month battle with trying to get him assessed for asthma.

On top of that, I felt quite isolated and put myself under a lot of pressure to be the best dad I could be but constantly felt that I was failing. It wasn’t until I spoke with our social worker when little man was unwell that she said you have post-adoption depression.

Since then, I have been putting myself under pressure to be the best dad I can be, luckily, we have support from our psychologist who specializes in childhood trauma and adoption. But hearing about the experiences little man had in those early years has taken a toll on my mental health.

In all honesty, things continue to be tough. The warning signs were well and truly all there, and I needed help. Taking that step of speaking to my GP and then going through the assessments by the mental health team was daunting but nowhere near as bad as the thoughts that had been circulating in my mind for some time. 

For a man to speak up and say they are struggling takes a lot of courage, there has been a lot of talk and education on mental health since the pandemic. Even now though it’s still not taken seriously and has a huge stigma attached despite current statistics from many health organizations and charities.

For dads, it is especially tough not overly understood the significant role we play in bringing up our children, parenting is still seen as a mom’s role. Granted, it has become more of a level playing field in that dads get to leave and are more included in their children’s life. 

But let’s look at this closely, when going to your local supermarket or shopping center parking spaces are still called mother and baby parking, and baby changing facilities are still predominantly in female bathrooms, mother and baby groups.

Then there are the professionals, doctors, nurses, and social workers looking to see where mom is. There is also the aspect that there are families out there where mums don’t exist i.e., same-sex parenting, or a single dad and vice versa.

Today’s society has moved forward and diversified but the old-school stereotypes remain ever so present, and gender stereotyping remains a massive issue.

Having been through a mental health crisis and still struggling at times, not having anyone I feel I could turn to and offload, I feel that this is the case for many other dads. I feel the conversation needs to be more vocal and not just as a flimsy one, but as a proper regular conversation, so I started it. I want fellow dads to know that I’m there and will support them however I can.”

gay couple takes selfie with their adoptive son
Courtesy of Chris Gaidhu-Withell

This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Chris Gaidhu-Withell of West London. You can follow their journey on Instagram, and get a copy of his book on Amazon. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more stories like this:

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