The weeks went past with no visits from Kelly, which was actually quite strange. She had been in our life for a year or so now, and now she had just disappeared for the short time between the end of our assessment and our Panel date. Of course, we needed to get used to her not being in our lives, as Sally would take over after Panel anyway, so we just got on with things, occasionally thinking about Panel.
The date was set for Monday 18th December 2006. A date that will always stick in my head, for more than one reason, which I will explain later. A few days before we could think of nothing else, we were nervous, and we knew that whilst Kelly would have said if there were any issues likely to make them decide against approving us as Prospective Adopters, there was still that niggly feeling in the back of our heads, and of course, after having such a wait to get to this stage, our anxieties were back, with a passion!!
On the Sunday we were both not at work, so we did our usual "child free" thing of having a lay in, and a relaxing day, just doing a bit of house work. We were still doing quite major renovations at this point, and whilst we knew it had to be done, we were in no real mood to get on with it. The phone rang most of the day, people wanting to know how we felt and to wish us well for the Monday. It was not really helping matters, as it made us think about it all the more, still, at least we were getting the support.
We decided on a peaceful meal that evening and a nice bottle of wine, not to get plastered, just to settle ourselves, for what may have been a long night without a little lubrication to help us drop off! An early night too, we were in bed for 10pm, which for us was early!
As always Tris was up first the next day, about 7am. I, on the other hand, had the feeling of, if I am sleeping, I am not thinking about it. There were 2 things going on that day, one was us going to Panel, and the other was one of our closest friends going in to Hospital to be induced after she was past her due date for her second child, and our second God Child! It was going to be a long day! I felt it best to get lay in and get up an hour before we had to leave for Panel! It was not until 12noon, so that suited me!
It did not, however, suit Tris! He was banging and clanging about so that I could not sleep, so I was better to get up. We had to then decide what to wear. Tris wanted to go Business Dress, but I thought it better to go Smart/Casual, and of course, as Tris has no fashion sense, it was my decision. As much as it is an important day, it was not the kind of day that you wanted to feel trussed up like a prized turkey, waiting on slaughter. If we were going to be slaughtered, I wanted to be comfy!!
So, all dressed, lots of coffee, and a number of ciggies more than I would normally have smoked, we left off. We had to drive about 20 miles to Panel, and I drove. I always drive when I want to get somewhere quickly. For two reasons, 1) It always seems to be too slow when someone else is driving you somewhere you don't really wish to go, but still want to get there quick, so you are not late and 2) I wanted to keep my mind of it all by driving and listening to the radio. I like quiet when I am worried, Tris likes to yak about it! I just wanted to get there, by listening to the radio, and a little bit of speed at my foot!
The Panel was held where we had our first course with the Local Authority. That put us at ease a little, remembering the time, almost a year to the day, since we enjoyed meeting other people, and of course, deciding Adoption was definitely for us. As we walked in we recognised 3 faces coming out. It was a couple who had been on the same course as us, and they had just been to Panel with their Social Worker, Linda. We could tell by their faces they had been approved! We wished them congratulations, and told them we would let them know what happened! They explained it was not as bad as they thought it would have been, so we relaxed a little more on hearing that news.
So, in we went. Kelly was already there, and was waiting at the door for us. As we drove in we spotted another lady getting out of a car, and I did comment to Tris what a grump she looked! Turns out that this was Sally! Oops! Not a great first impression! Kelly explained that Sally was only here to see how we got on, and how Panel went, so she had a bit more back ground for family finding for us, but that she would not be saying very much, as she had not officially taken over the case as yet. That was fine with us, as we did not really want to have to worry about someone else today of all days!
On Panel days, they set aside a room for all Prospective Adopters to relax in. We called it the Green Room, basically, because it did feel like where a Showbiz type would relax before going on stage. That is what it felt like we were about to do. Kelly, Sally, Tris and I sat and drunk more coffee or tea, and of course there were the homemade cookies the kitchen had baked which Tris troughed into!! After 10 minutes or so, the Chair of the Panel came into the room. My stomach turned... they were ready for us! She sat down, and was very nice and friendly. She told us that there were 12 people, including herself, on the Panel today, and that they had their questions ready for us. She tried putting us at our ease by telling us that everyone gets nervous by the Panel, but we would be fine. Kelly nodded at us to acknowledge this, and try and relax - Impossible! We were bricking it!
We walked, what seemed to be miles, to get to the room at the other end of the corridor, and entered the room. We were asked to sit at the chairs set our for us. Tris and I in the middle, and Kelly to my side, and Sally to Tris's side. They went round the table to introduce themselves and tell us who they were and what they did. There was an Educational Psychologist, the Authorities Service Manager, and a whole list of others I am unable to remember, not because I have forgotten, but most likely because I was listening to my stomach churning rather than what they were saying!
The Chair then went on to ask from the end of the table if they had any questions, and to then continue round the table until the end. The Panel seemed to be split in some way, more Men on one side, and more Women on the other. Not too sure if this was done on purpose or not, but it did not bode well for us. The first few men did not have anything to ask, and then we got to man number 3. He begun by asking Tris, "As a same sex couple you will be expected to Champion your child or children to the endth degree. How do you expect to do this if you are unable to tell your work colleagues that you are gay?" - Bam - Strike One! This was totally unexpected. Tris started to try and answer, unfortunately, one of Tris's major flaws is that when he is nervous he looses his track and waffles on. He did this, for about 10 minutes! In the end I could see that the Panel were getting bored, and that Kelly was wriggling in her seat! I interrupted a little, and I was not going to be messed with. It was an appropriate question, but one that was a little below the belt. I made the simple statement - "If you were travelling on a plane, and the Air Traffic Controller was a person who was different in an industry where "different" does not fit, how would you feel if the Controller was set up by a Colleague to make a mistake, costing lives?" Maybe not the best answer, but if fitted the question, and we moved on.
Normally a Panel session would last around 20 minutes. Ours lasted for 1 hour 20 minutes. We were asked all manner of questions, and there were statements made, indeed by one gentleman, the Service Manager, that it would be unlikely for us to be able to have a child from that particular Local Authority, and how did this make us feel. This was tantamount to being homophobic, and one statement that Kelly took great offence to. This was her queue to now get more wound up than she already was! She layed into him, in no uncertain terms, and told him that it was an inappropriate comment to make.
The rest of it is such a blur. There was so many questions they asked, and I cant remember them all, as I was in such a state, but trying my best not to get defensive and upset in front of the Panel. They asked us to leave while they made our decision. The Chair would come out and tell us in a few minutes what the decision would be, but until then Kelly and Sally should stay and wrap up.
Tris and I walked back to the Green Room, and as soon as that door closed I exploded! So did Tris. We were both very angry that we had been made to question our whole lives in front of complete strangers, and had been asked questions that we were unprepared for. A few minutes later Kelly and Sally came back. Kelly was seething. She could not believe the way we had been treated, and said that she had never in all of her years as a Social Worker seen anyone treated this way. We were kind of pleased to hear it! What she did ask us to remember though, was that we were the first Same Sex couple to go through this, and if anything the feedback would be used for next time. That did not make us feel much better though! I broke down into tears, and Kelly came and hugged me. I thought that our chance was blown.
About ten minutes after we left, we had a knock at the door, and the Panel Chair entered the room, she was about to reveal the decision that would change our lives forever............