Adoption is just one of the many routes that prospective parents (queer or otherwise) can take to form a family. But it is not aways seen as a first option with many choosing to opt for surrogacy, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) first. It is often misinterpreted, culturally at least, as a path taken only by parents who have had no success with fertility treatments.
This misconception about adoption is one that people are trying to change. Didi and Priscilla Akutu-Carter are proud adoptive parents who want to challenge the stigma around adoption and show that embracing it not just as an alternative but as an active choice is the greatest decision someone could make. They say that the path to parenthood through adoption affirmed their ability to be parents. For Modern Queer Family, we wanted to give them space to celebrate that choice.
Didi: Before we even had our civil partnership in 2011, we were having conversations about how we'd like to form a family. Both IUI and adoption were on the table. We went to a couple of those alternative family shows which are for a range of different (LGBT) parents who want to understand how to have children. We went to the insemination seminar and didn't feel very connected with the actual process. But when we went to the adoption seminar we immediately felt more emotionally connected. It felt right for us to take care of children who need a home. So about a year after our civil partnership we decided to start the process.
Priscilla: From our experience, it tends to be that adoption is considered as an alternative option for LGBTQ+ parents, as it is with cis straight couples. It's for people who wanted the experience of carrying but haven’t had success.
Didi: For most people, especially if they are trying to have their own children, it's a last resort. Which is why the majority of donors tend to be older because they've already been through IVF. Whereas when we went to adoption we were quite young at 29 and 34. We have often been asked questions like "Oh, how come you decided to adopt?" implying "Why would you do that when you can have your own children?"
If we had chosen insemination, I would have carried. The reason why we didn't was because of how scientific and disconnected it would have been not only for myself but for Priscilla. Then there are costs attached to that and it's not even guaranteed. It was all a bit too much for me to put myself wholeheartedly in this system. And that's just the decision we made as a couple.
Priscilla: The same-sex relationship aspect didn't matter at all to people helping us with the process, it was more our age! In fact, when we went to the alternative family show, there were quite a few local authorities that were bold enough to step around from their exhibition area and thrust leaflets in our hands. We didn't face that discrimination about our relationship at all, but that could be because we are also Black adopters. Local authorities in London are always looking for Black adopters so that may have played into their interest in us.
Priscilla: Traditionally speaking, and this goes across the Black and minority ethnic community, adoption doesn't tend to be a palatable solution for some (and I'm not saying all at all). As a result, Black and minority ethnic adopters themselves tend not to be the first ones to come forward. That's something which has been known nationally for years – I think for us it further compounded the fact that we were perhaps what they were looking for. Certainly in our experience – we were with the north London consortium which covered Camden, Islington, Hackney and Haringey, and we didn’t come across any other couples where both parents were Black.
Didi: We didn't no, not in our cohort.
Priscilla: And that's probably about 20 people.
Didi: We're the only ones we’ve met along the way. There are a lot of layers to it, I don't want people thinking that Black people don't adopt. It's a cultural thing.
Priscilla: The narrative around adoption being the 'last resort', to me, is probably the biggest factor in putting people off. But when you look at it financially it should actually make adoption a more attractive option. There is no need for you to earn a certain income; if you're someone that needs help, you can still receive child benefits, you can receive support with schools and school meals and travel. There's the pupil premium for children who go to state schools – you can get a pupil premium which is around £1,000 a year to use on extracurricular activities, teaching or music lessons. So actually, there is a huge financial incentive if that's driving your choice.
Didi: From the minute they [the adopted child] are touched with anything to do with the state in terms of care, they are looked after educationally and in terms of any other needs.
Ava came to us when she was 1 year old. And while children who have been in care do have some additional needs, the scope of it ranges. It completely depends on what your needs are as a family. You do need to be aware that this child has had a past before they've come to you, whether they're a baby or 1-year-old even, like Ava.
Priscilla: That will manifest throughout their ages.
Didi: But you learn to manage that with therapeutic parenting, which is what they teach you as part of the adoption process. It’s something we think every parent should do. People need to understand the process a bit more to understand how much care a child needs.
Priscilla: That's the crux of the issue.
The incentives to adopt are very underreported, which is a bit of a mystery to me. We have a long adoption list in the UK and short active recruitment campaigns but this is the kind of thing that really needs to be done on a national level.
Didi: It's the same kind of thing you see over and over again, whether it be adoption or charity, the current campaigns focus on the 'poor child'. It doesn't need to be all 'woe is me', it should be 'what can you do for this child'. They need to change the narrative and educate the public a bit more so there aren’t still people who think you can just pay for a baby.
Didi: People think that though! They ask "Oh, do you have to pay the government to have a baby through the adoption process?" Well that's unethical! Anywhere in the world it's usually unethical to buy a child. People think you can't get young children when you adopt but we were offered three unborn babies to pick up as newborns.
When you go into these information events about adoption, they'll generally tell you the hardest stories because they only want to keep the people who are going to tough it out. So they also say things that aren’t necessarily true, like you can't get babies. It is possible but they want to make sure that you’re actually there because you want to be there, you're not just there to get a baby.
Priscilla: I guess we've got the blessing of hindsight. We've had enough distance from the process as Ava's been with us for five and a half years. So we've had the time to look back and reflect back on it.
Didi: But even at the time, we didn't find the process invasive. People who are not adopters usually ask if it's intrusive or if you're asked a lot of questions. Of course they ask you a lot of questions – they're giving you a baby! A life to look after! I think some people find that quite daunting but we went into it quite open. At the end of the day, they're giving you a life and telling you, this is yours for the rest of your life. I think if I'd given away my child, I'd want them to ask as many questions as possible and dig and find out where they came from, what they're about, what's their family like, how will my child be received into this family, will they look after her and cherish her forever. If you look at that perspective, then you're probably going to look at the process and see that this is just due diligence and they have to ask these questions.
Priscilla: It's actually an affirming process. They say they're not looking for perfection. But I tell you what: for us, because we embraced it, it actually was quite therapeutic. Working out what are the things that we want to bring from our existing household, from our respective families into a new life and things that we want to create. People shouldn't shy away!