What adopting a child is really like – one dad’s heartwarming story

The adoption process can feel like a mystery. So, we sat down with dad-of-one Tom (@unlikelydad) to hear the amazing, complicated and totally meant-to-be story of how he and husband Daniel adopted their son, Kai, at 14 months…

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It’s fair to say adoption’s got an air of mystery to it, if you’ve never adopted a child yourself.

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But SO much happens during the adoption process – of course, it’s a complete rollercoaster and then some, packed with highs and lows, and a need for serious dedication, preparation and patience.

Here to shed a little light on what adopting is really like is 33-year-old Tom (@UnlikelyDad), who exclusively told MadeForMums the story of how he and his husband Daniel adopted their now 4-year-old son, Kai, at 14 months ?

We should warn you now: this story’s so lovely, you might wanna grab a tissue to wipe away any stray tears (we certainly needed ‘em when we first heard it!).

It also goes without saying that every adoption story is different, so keep in mind that this is Tom’s unique and personal experience…

Wanting a family

tom unlikely dad and husband

“Kids were off the cards for most of my 20s, and I don’t think we were ever necessarily in a place where we felt like we wanted a family,” he tells MFM.

“[Daniel and I] didn’t get married until I was 26, but we’ve been together since I was 17, so we’d had a long time together and we were loving life.

“It’s kind of cliché, but I got to about 28/29, and something just clicked – we’d done all the city breaks we could do, done all the eating out and living our lives.

“I think my husband was always kind of ready, he’s 6 years older than me, but I got to 29, and you know how women say their body clock just pings and they feel ready for a baby? That’s kind of how it felt for me.

“We discussed surrogacy, and we thought, ‘how do we even go about this?’, but personally, it just didn’t feel like the right option for me.

“Then I got a job as a Marketing Manager for an adoption and fostering charity, and it was almost like the universe putting me in the right place at the right time, giving me amazing insight into adoption, the types of children that were in care and looking for families.

“It very much felt like the right timing, and we decide to start the adoption process in July/August 2014.”

Starting the adoption process

unlikely dad and kai

“It was amazing to get that insight, all the lingo and resources, from work, because if you haven’t adopted, you just don’t know what to expect.

“We had no idea, really, but you can either go to your local authority, which is your council, or a private agency.

“4 years ago, local authorities would only really have children already in that area, and when we adopted it was a really, really difficult time because there were dwindling numbers of younger children, it was very much children aged 4 and above.

“I felt young enough to have a baby, one that was as young as possible, and all we were being told was ‘you’re not gonna get a baby, you’re not gonna get a baby’ – whereas agencies can scour the entire country, most of the time. So, we went with a private agency.

“We attended an information evening session, where you’re told the cold hard facts. You’re not gonna get a blue-eyed, blonde-haired baby from birth. Babies aren’t usually relinquished, anymore, they’re removed from a really difficult situation. It could be drug abuse, sex abuse… and it’s really hard thing to hear.

“It’s a reality check. I know I certainly went into it with the idea of me getting a baby, and that I’m gonna have this happy little beautiful doll, and that’s that, but there were so many complexities to it, and I don’t think you really appreciate it until you go through it.

“The first information session either makes you wanna do it, or back out. They probably do it to make you back out, because they need the people who really want to do it.

“We stuck around. We had faith. I know it sounds crazy, but we knew that this baby’s gonna come from X Y Z but it’ll still be our baby. It didn’t put us off. We knew that we could create our family and achieve what we wanted to achieve.”

Getting approval to become adopters

unlikely dad

“After that, you then have to register your interest to actually become an adopter. So, you join the agency and they will assign you a social worker.

“You will then go through what’s called an assessment. So, the assessment for us was really quick, but I know it’s not always that way for everybody.

“Our social worker was really amazing, she got us, she really did, and she understood. She saw us, and our family dynamic, and the fact that our family lives on the same street, that we’ve got nieces and nephews, that we’ve got great experience with kids, and that our home was ready.

“There were no skeletons in our closet, we’d been together for such a long time – the fact that we were a gay couple didn’t affect anything.

“It’s so important to get on with your social worker. I think, ‘what if we’d been assigned someone who was an old fuddy-duddy, who didn’t understand where we were coming from?’ It would’ve been a different story.

“Going through the assessment is about 6 – 8 meetings with you and your partner. You have some independently, as well. You cover your entire life, your upbringing, your morals, your work, your finances, your medical history – literally everything and anything.

“And these meetings basically built for a social worker to write a PAR, which is a Prospective Adopters Report, which is basically a huge document on you both.

“When everyone feels ready, you get put forward to a panel. I’m talking like it happened quickly – but there were weeks, months, of waiting to get a panel date.

“Once you get a date, you go to the agency, and the panel is made up of adopters, medical professionals, and people within the community. It’s very independent, and they are making the decision based on your PAR and your interview, as to whether you can become an adopter.

“We went to panel in October 2014. When we started the process in July/August, it was only a couple of months until we were at panel. “Obviously, you’re pooing your pants. And you’re nervous. And it’s a crazy, crazy time – but you shouldn’t get to panel unless you’re really ready for it, I don’t think, and the social workers know that.

“It was terrifying. You’re like, ‘what are they gonna ask?’ It was crazy, but we breezed through it. We were just really true to ourselves and answered every question as wonderfully and honestly as we could, and we got approved to become adopters.”

Training to raise a child

kai

“Once you’re approved to be adopters, you go on training. There’s a lot of training involved, which is not just about looking after children, but about the specific needs of these children who are looking for families. Attachment issues, behavioural issues, therapeutic parenting techniques – there’s so much to cover.

“We adopted Kai when he was 14 months old, so he had no memories [of his past]. In his soul, he’ll have these memories of attachment and being removed from where he was, but he has no real memories to latch on to.

“You’ve gotta be prepared for that, and how to deal with that, so the training was really valuable.”

Sounds handy for any parent – adoptive or otherwise – we’d say. “[I] did sometimes think couples having [biological] babies would really benefit from the training element and making sure they’re good,” Tom agrees.

“It is different – at the end of the day you are creating your own life and that’s your God-given right to do that – whereas we can’t, so if we are gonna take someone else’s child then, yeah, we should be checked and trained! I totally get that.

“But the attachment and the bonding psychology element of training should be available to everybody. These children came from straight relationships, and look where they’ve ended up.

“It’s not a ‘we’re better parents than…’ at all. There’s an element of going with my gut, and my parental intuition, but there are things [you’d never think to know] from an attachment point of view, or behavioural, and I’ve got that, because I’ve been on that training, so I’m grateful, because it’s really helpful.”

The search begins

unlikely dad

When training begins, so does the search for your child – which, unexpectedly (to us here at MFM HQ, anyway) sounds a lot like how you’d search for a date on a dating website.

“It sounds crazy but it is almost like a dating website, or app,’ says Tom. “You get sent profiles of children. We were very clear about what we would take on, and like I said, we felt we wanted a baby as young as possible.

“Our preference was a boy, because we get boys, and we’re very much a boy house – but we weren’t shut off to a girl. We were open to dual heritage – whether he was black, Asian, white, whatever. However, they do try to match you with your own ethnicity.

“You also get sent profiles, as well as searching the online profile finder. Days start to feel like forever, because your family’s checking in with you like, ‘hey have you found any profiles yet?’ and it can get quite frustrating – because how do you know when you’re gonna find your child, really?

“That’s something I really struggled with, because a lot of adopters say, ‘oh when you know, you’ll just know’ and I didn’t really believe it because there’s all these profiles and some really harrowing stories, and I knew in my heart that I couldn’t take that on.

“It’s really, really hard and thank God there are those people who take them on, because those kids need parents.

“For us, we had an idea of what we wanted, and it took a while, but we got Kai’s profile sent to us in December 2014. Only took 2 months, but it felt like forever.”

Finding Kai – their baby boy

kai at 14 months old

“We got sent his profile just before Christmas 2014, and he was 10 months old at the time, and I literally remember that day clear as anything. We got sent his picture and his profile, and we were both just like, ‘that’s our son, we’re looking at our son’.

“I can’t explain it. I wasn’t gonna have any other outcome, and he was coming home. I can’t tell you why or how I felt that, it was just there.

“And it was awful, too, because social workers are renowned for being really slow due to their workload, and we heard nothing all of Christmas, all of New Year. It was a terrible, terrible time, hanging around waiting.

“Then we got the call in the new year, that his social worker [children seeking their forever families also have their own social worker] wanted to meet us, and that was just like, ‘oh my God, oh my God, this is it.’

“I started making room for him. In the Christmas sales, I was buying furniture. I was like, ‘he’s coming home, we need to be ready’.

“But there was a fear every single day that this wasn’t gonna happen and you know, I’m attached. I’m in love already. It was so weird. You almost have to experience it to understand it, it’s so hard to get across, and I was terrified.

“What if another family had registered interest? We heard another family had, and we also heard that social workers preferred young babies to go to straight couples.

“It was scary for other reasons, too, but when we looked at his profile we knew what we were taking on, the history of his birth parents.

“It’s all very much top line stuff in the profile, you never find out that much, however we knew that there was no foetal alcohol syndrome, no substance abuse. He wasn’t addicted at birth. These were all positives for us.

“Then, the social worker wanted to meet us and we just prepped harder than we’d ever prepped in our lives, tidied the house harder than we’d ever tidied.

“She came round and at the end of an hour’s meeting – she’d shown us some more pictures of him as well which was just heartbreaking and wonderful – she said she wasn’t going to look at the other family who were interested.

“[Daniel and I] sort of looked at each other like, ‘are you kidding me?’ Like, is this really happening? [She was] saying yes, basically.”

That’s not the end of the journey, though, Tom adds: “From beginning our search, it took 4 months until we were approved to be his dads and meet him.”

Waiting for the final panel

kai at 14 months

Once Kai’s social worker had confirmed that Tom and Daniel were the right dads, in January 2015, they had to wait for a 2nd panel in April – to officially approve them as his parents. And there was a lot of joy, but also fear and confusion, during the 3-month wait…

“After Kai’s social worker left, my husband and I and our social worker screamed our tits off. We were like, ‘oh my God, has she agreed?’ And she had.

“I was still scared every single day, because anything could change. Nothing is set in stone until that day you pick him up. My friends wanted to throw a baby shower and I wasn’t feeling it.

“[I kept thinking] this could go wrong at any moment. I’m arranging parental leave with work, but it’s not confirmed – it’s really a crazy time in your life. Everything’s a muddle, and nothing felt solid.

“The social worker was never getting back to us if we had questions.

“It also took a long long time to get the medical meeting booked in with my son’s doctor at the time [each child has a doctor assigned]. So there were things we didn’t find out until later, like that he had a bit of a heart murmur.

“At the time I wanted to die, it took too long. Stressful and painful and worrying. April seemed forever away. Precious days, weeks, months we were missing with him. But looking back now? I can’t even remember it.

“We did miss his 1st birthday, but we took pictures of us with a cake for him, videos of us singing to him, to give to the social worker to put forward to his foster carer.

“Finally, April came, and we had our panel. Ultimately they said yes, they said we’d claimed him as ours, which was lovely, and that it felt like the most natural fit.

“Everyone agreed it felt like it was meant to be. It was this wonderful thing. That got us so happy and excited because everyone was on this journey with us, you know? It felt absolutely magical.

“When they say yes, a few days or weeks later, you start the introduction, and you go meet him, which is crazy, too…”

Looking back at the reality of the journey

unlikely dad

“There are no words,” says Tom, trying to describe the experience as a whole. “We had 9 months total from start to finish, just like a pregnancy!

“And that’s unheard of in adoption to have 9 months. It was very quick. All we’d heard is that it would take a good year or 2, which worried us, but we wanted it quick, so we got what we wished for.

“Looking back, we were never depressed or sad. We just kept pushing on, all the while our hearts were being pulled from pillar to post. In the end, I think our attitude and passion and drive just got us there.”

That doesn’t mean, for all they admittedly had a very positive experience, there weren’t some serious challenges.

“You do feel completely judged [during the process] – but we didn’t really have any skeletons, there were no ex’s, no family members in prison, there was no drama.

“For me, it was just the worries and the nerves came from his birth parents potentially having a [say]. They did say they didn’t want him going to a same sex family. You think, ‘will the court take that? Will the court listen to that? Will they decide that that’s not best for him?’

“But at the same time, deep down, truly, I kind of knew that we were the best match. Even we were hearing from our social worker that Kai’s foster carer had seen pictures of us, videos of us, and just said like,’you’re his dads, it just feels like you’re meant to be his dads’.

“Everyone was on board with it, and it gave us that confidence. That sort of positivity. I didn’t feel anyone was against us.

“You are being judged and questioned and tried but they’re on your side, if that makes sense. It never felt like they were doing it to be harsh. And if you feel like that, then you need to switch agencies, or have a different social worker, because they should be on your team, they should never be working against you.”

Another tricky part? Spending day after day scrolling through profiles of children, some of whom have had an extremely difficult start to life…

“If we’d been doing it for more than 2 months, it might’ve been a real struggle, because we had notifications set up and it would go, ‘ping, a new child’s been added’.

“I’d be checking every day, too, and it was the same profiles, and there were children on there with disabilities, or born with HIV, the most hardest things to look at, and you hope and pray that child’s gonna find their family, and it is hard.

“I think almost without knowing it we had to switch off that emotional part for a minute, so we could be factual, but at the same time, you had to be open as well – because how else do I know that I’m looking at my son?

“We never found him there, he was sent to us, and that’s why it felt so so right. But I do think if we’d kept looking, for 6 months to a year, I don’t know how long we could’ve looked for. How long could you put yourself through that?

“Maybe we couldn’t have gone on more. I don’t want to question our dedication to having a family, but it’s different from having sex every week, every night, to try for a family, to looking at these beautiful faces who you aren’t taking on.”

Kai’s 4 now…

kai at 4 years old

As Tom says, everything was “wonderfully aligned” for them to find Kai, and for him to become their son. Now, he’s a happy, thriving 4-year-old (just look at Tom’s Instagram to see for yourself) – on the cusp of starting school.

He’s surrounded by love tenfold already – but would they consider going through the process again, and adopting a sibling for him?

“If we were going to do it again, if we wanted to have another child, we’d adopt 100%. But Kai is very active and very demanding of our time and energy, wonderfully so.

“There are areas where he’s delayed, things we really need to nurture before he starts school, and I really want to give him every little part of me, so for now, we’re good with one.”

And of course, as he gets older – sibling or no sibling – he’ll have questions about where he came from. Ones that Tom says he and Daniel are already answering. Somewhat subliminally, until he’s old enough to really know…

“We’re being open with him [about his adoption] even now. He’s starting to notice people have mummies, and he calls them mummy, and it’s really cute, but he’s never thought ‘why don’t I have one?’ His thought process isn’t there yet. If it is, he hasn’t vocalised it.

“We’ve got the Life Story adoption book, and that has photos of his birth parents in, and a bit about his foster carer, who we absolutely love and will always be in our lives. I think we’ll start bringing it out now, and just leaving it around the house for him to find, and talk about.

“He is gonna be inquisitive, about his mum, and we’re gonna talk about it. We have said to him already, you know you did have a birth mum and a birth dad and they couldn’t look after you, he’s not listening, but we’re saying it, so we never have that emotional turmoil, that cliffhanger moment.

“We are so open, the family’s so open, so there’s no secret, and that’s the best way to be with it I think. He’s always gonna know that he has birth parents, who unfortunately weren’t able to look after him. And we’ll be open about it.

“We do contact his birth parents. We send them a letter once a year. They should be writing back, which they don’t, which is really sad, but we’ll carry on doing it, so when he’s older he can access those letters and he’ll see that we did it. It’s just for him.

“It could be heart-breaking at times,” Tom admits, quite understandably. “When he’s old enough to say, ‘well I want to know about my mum’, I’ll be like ‘cool’ – but that will break my heart because for 8 years of my life, picking up after him and loving him, he wants to know more.

“Yes that will hurt, but I’ll ride that journey with him and do it together.”

Thinking about adoption? This bit’s for you…

unlikely dad family

“I would say I think that the perception of adoption is that you aren’t gonna get what you want. Or you’re gonna have a ‘damaged’ or abused child.

“That is a reality, but you will choose to take that on, because you choose what you take on. You’re not given a child. You’ll be choosing one.

“For me, I have my perfect little boy. He had a bit of trouble at the start of his life, but he’s the most loving, kind, creative kid. He’s just like any other 4-year-old. And he is adopted.

“If anyone is struggling with or thinking about adoption, I would say you can have what you envisage from your own birth kid, you really can. I hope I’m some sort of proof that you can.

“Be open. So many people struggle with having a family. Having a birth child’s not always meant to be, so you can adopt and still have that beautiful family.

“And I genuinely forget I adopted him. Oh yeah, I do, I forget. Because the love is there, and so so strong – and that makes me feel like he’s come from me.”

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P.S. Tom was a dream to chat to. Keep up with him and his gorgeous fam by following @UnlikelyDad on Instagram or reading The Unlikely Dad

Images: Instagram/Unlikely Dad

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