A positive choice

Julie and her same-sex partner adopted Liam three years ago. She tells their story…

Family fun in the headlands
I have a vivid recollection of the day we received the phone call from our link worker informing us of the decision to match us with a baby boy. We paced the house for most of the morning like the proverbial expectant father, waiting on the news that we were to be parents. Ours had been a long labour, waiting on social workers and their managers as they debated the wisdom of placing a six-month old baby boy with two mums… Eventually the phone call came and, after making our link worker repeat the news five times, just to make sure we hadn’t misheard, we put the phone down and jumped, screeched, cried and giggled our way through phone calls and text messages letting our friends and family know our fantastic news.

My partner and I made a positive choice to adopt rather than to follow the donor route, as we wanted to parent as equals rather than having a child that was genetically from one of us, and not the other. It wasn’t an easy journey to adoption and, on the way, we were subjected to prejudice and discrimination from social work professionals, foster carers and even our own family members, some of whom we are still estranged from after over three years of parenting. Some family members, although professing to treat us equally with our heterosexual siblings, decided that ‘It just wasn’t right for gays to have children’.

Perhaps it is because I am a lesbian that I can’t quite understand the logic behind their views or those of the childcare professionals who thought that questions such as, ‘Who will teach him [our son] to pee standing up?’ or worse still, ‘What are the sleeping arrangements for you and your partner?’ were valid.

There are many gay people in this world who positively contribute to society and many still who successfully raise confident, secure and, importantly, tolerant children.

Someone once said: “I’d rather be black than gay because when you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother”. Whilst amusing, this quote actually highlights the invisibility of gay men and lesbians. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown that prompts such vitriolic reactions over gay parenting.

That said, the adoption process on the whole was thorough and executed with dignity and respect by our link worker, without whom we would probably have not continued. To be blessed with our son has been an amazing experience, and our lives have changed completely for the better. For that reason alone, all the emotional highs and lows of the process have been absolutely worth it.

Liam, nearly four, is a happy, funny boy who is sociable and full of life and energy. He is affectionate, naughty, cheeky, mischievous, curious, angelic, loving, hilarious and bright. He tries to play us off one against the other, is demanding of our time and affection, is independent, can count to 30, and writes his own name. We have a diverse support network of family and friends who have been of the utmost importance in providing loving influences for all of us.

We have found a grounding matter-of-fact attitude from them, a ‘Some people are gay, some people are adopted, get over it!’ belief that helps us with the new situations we are inevitably faced with, like Liam starting pre-school. Couple this with their willingness to baby-sit and offer advice when I am at my wits end with the ‘Why?’ question, or faced with the mysterious world of toilet training, and it becomes clear why a strong support network is so important.

Liam has many strong male role models but shows no preference for either gender: if you are prepared to give him attention and play a little rough and tumble, it matters not what sex you are. He has no qualms about where he fits in our family and is thriving in the loving, nurturing environment that we are providing for him.

With people who don’t know us, there seems to be some surprise that we are coping OK and that Liam is a well-adjusted little lad. His swimming teacher recently said to us: “You would never know he has two mums: there is nothing feminine about him. He is a real little boy!”. Surprisingly for me, this view is also held by my father, who congratulates us regularly on bringing up such a boisterous boy. Despite what some people believe, homosexuality isn’t catching. Liam is a boy and acts in a way that comes naturally to him in an environment which allows him to explore his personality without getting hung-up on gender stereotypes.

Liam is making excellent progress with two mums, which reinforces my belief that the real issue is not about whether same-sex couples can make good nurturing parents, but more about the issues and difficulties within society that are caused by ill-informed and naïve attitudes. What is needed is more knowledge and understanding about gay parents, and perhaps, when that happens, people won’t question whether or not gay people can successfully parent, my family won’t feel embarrassed to tell their friends that my partner is a woman, and my son will never have to face the possibility of being bullied at school for having two mums.

Julie Lender-Swain
Liam’s name has been changed to protect his confidentiality.

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in May 2009.

This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 30 April 10

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