After our final assessment visit from Michelle, things went quiet for a couple of weeks. The assessment had been intrusive and demanding, but also emotional and enlightening as we had been encouraged to explore each other's pasts and it brought us closer together. We missed Michelle's visits - she'd become a familiar, regular, positive part of our week.
Anyway (I reach for the tissues). Back at the adoption agency HQ, Michelle was busy, consolidating all the information she had gathered; notes, evidence and observations into a comprehensive report called a PAR - I think PAR translates into Potential Adopter Report (forgive me if I'm wrong - this was almost five years ago now!). Never-the-less it's an enormous important document which discusses the adopters' suitability as adoptive parents.
Meanwhile, Tom and I started to prepare the house for our future offspring. The spare bedroom received a Pinterest inspired makeover including elaborate trees and monkey wall murals and a hand-painted giraffe wardrobe. (Tom, please could you log in and pop a photo of the bedroom here for me when you get a moment). Tom cleared out the garage and fitted a secure new garage door and I moved everything in the kitchen around to ensure that our envious assortment of cleaning products are kept out of reach of little hands. The house was ready. Bring on the next stage!
A couple of weeks later, at 9am on a wet Wednesday morning, Tom and I arrived at the adoption agency HQ for our adoption approval panel. Michelle greeted us at the door and signed us in. "Are you nervous, boys?" she asked. "Yes..." I said, "let's get this over with!".
Michelle ushered us into a small meeting room where we were asked to sit and wait until our appointment at 10am. She took our coats and returned a few minutes later with tea (and biscuits, naturally). Michelle sat down with us to explain the approval process.
"In the adjoining room there are no less than ten parenting experts and adoptive parents who have each been provided with your full PAR for their perusal over the weekend. They are your approval panel, and they will (hopefully) be recommending you both as prospective adoptive parents, ideally suitable for a group of two or more siblings."
"Wow." was Tom's response. We smiled at each other and took a deep breath. The concept of a jury examining our past filled us with dread, but we maintained a brave facade (for lack of a better word).
"In a few moments, I will be called in to face the panel as your social worker." continued Michelle. "They will each ask questions, probing for sufficient evidence to make their recommendation."
"Okay," I said, relieved by the idea that Michelle would go in first, "What happens then, Michelle?".
"I won't be able to see you after my interview as it might present an unfair advantage if I were able to prepare you for the questions. Somebody else will come and get you when it's your turn."
A few minutes later, Michelle was called into the panel room. We waited for about 30 minutes, fingers tapping on knees and nervously sipping tea. After what felt like an inordinate amount of time had passed, a smiley looking lady in a suit popped her head around the door. "The panel are ready to see you now, Jamie and Tom." Gaaahhh! So nervous. In fact, it's making me nervous just thinking about this!
In the panel room were four large rectangular desks, arranged in a large square. Sure enough, ten very important older faces were looking upon us from behind the desks. In classic interview mode, Tom and I smiled, said "It's lovely to meet you." and introduced ourselves.
Then, one by one, each esteemed panellist introduced themselves with a smile, albeit a very professional, noble smile. There was a local MP, two adoptive parents with grown-up adopted children, a senior social worker, a junior social worker, a doctor and I forget who the other four were. They seemed nice. They each had a copy of our PAR in front of them on their desk.
The panellists' questions were hypothetical and aimed at either Tom or me, not at both of us. Questions included "If one of your children were bullied at school because they had gay parents, how would you approach the situation?" and "As 'equal' income earners, how will you cope with becoming either the chief income earner, with all the associated stress and responsibility, or the homemaker, with less expendable income?". We managed to answer each question pretty eloquently, despite the nerves.
The panel interview lasted about 25 minutes I think and when the final panellist had asked their question, they said, "That's all finished, well done both of you and good luck.", leaving us feeling pretty optimistic.
Back in the meeting room next door we joined Michelle again, who greeted us both with a group hug and an encouraging smile. "I'm going to be called back into the panel room again in a minute," said Michelle "to hear their recommendation." We gulped and crossed our fingers. "If it's a unanimous 'yes', the recommendation will be reviewed by our Panel Manager before you receive written approval."
"Blimey." said Tom.
"If it's a mixed result, it will be up to the Panel Manager to decide whether or not you will be approved as adoptive parents, but I have a good feeling about this so fingers crossed!". We loved Michelle's optimism but we were nervous.
A few minutes later, Michelle was called back into the panel room. This time though, she was only in the room for a matter of minutes. Tom and I were standing in the middle of the waiting room, arms folded nervously. Michelle returned to the room, her head peeping around the door with a brilliant smile. As she approached us she threw open her arms and said "It's a unanimous yes boys!". Another lovely group hug and we exhaled an mighty sigh of relief.