This is what happened to the first gay couple Barnardo’s helped to become parents
20 years after Barnardo’s helped their very first gay couple to adopt, the two women who paved the way tell their very special story.
Meryl and Marcel met at university through mutual friends in their early 20s. They had always dreamed of being parents but there was an obvious stumbling block – they were gay.
After seven years together the pair discussed their options, and decided to adopt. That was 20 years ago, in 1997. Marcel, a project worker for Barnardo’s at the time, rang her local service to enquire about the process involved in adopting.
At the time, a lesbian couple had not yet adopted through Barnardo’s, but the response was very positive. A Barnardo’s social worker then arranged a home visit with Marcel and Meryl to talk things through. Matthew and Jamie were five and six years old when they joined Marcel and Meryl.
The Barnardo’s staff were completely up front about never having approved a lesbian couple before, however they provided a worker who they felt would be most sympathetic to their situation.
Marcel says: “She was great. She spent a long time with us getting us to think about why we wanted to adopt and what experiences would bring to the role. Attending the adoption panel was terrifying – a room full of strangers who were going to judge us!
“But we had been prepared for this and knew who the people were and a little something about them.
“Our worker at Barnardo’s supported us through the process. When we were approved and started looking for our boys we faced some discrimination from various local authorities and our worker was always honest about this – she didn’t shy away from telling us difficult things which we appreciated.
“When Matthew and Jamie were identified as a good match for us, Barnardo’s were fully behind our decision, and helped to move the process along. I believe that our worker spoke very eloquently about us at the matching panel to persuade the authority that we were the right family for Matthew and Jamie.”
When they first got the call about being approved to adopt Matthew and Jamie, Marcel cried tears of joy.
But things initially got off to a bit of a bumpy start.
“They both ran away from us when we were visiting a stately home. We managed to get hold of Matthew but Jamie squeezed through a fence into a field of sheep and refused to come out…that was an interesting situation to try to resolve when we really wanted him to like us and want to live with us.
“Basically they were scared of these new people. However we stuck with the introductions and they were happy to move in 3 weeks later.”
The couple have overcome obstacles with the boys’ behaviour – they had already lived in five different places, some of which had been abusive.
They had to spend a lot of time with their school trying to put in place the right support. Any activity they did, Marcel and Meryl had to join in on, as unfortunately their behaviour stopped them being involved.
“Barnardo’s was the only adoption agency around at the time who would allow lesbian couples to become adoptive parents. We were a bit nervous about being their first lesbian adopters, but because everyone was so open with us it wasn’t a big thing in the end.
“They definitely worked hard to ensure that we were treated fairly and the issue of sexuality was not seen as the defining information about us. Whilst we did experience some discrimination from local authorities, when this happened Barnardo’s was there to support us through it again.”
Adopting has had its highs and lows just like with any family, from the first six months of getting no sleep to Jamie’s tears at his first ever birthday cake. On their first Christmas with them, the boys weren’t remotely excited on Christmas Eve. Meryl says:
“They hadn’t had lots of presents before, but their faces the following morning when they saw that Santa had been and left them each a sack full of presents was a joy and made up for the difficult times.”
Marcel and Meryl, with the help of Barnardo’s, learned how to child-proof the house as both the boys, given their difficult past, would break things when they were angry. They also had to involve the police on some occasions, when one of them ran away, once employing a Police helicopter to look for him.
Marcel says: “The difficult times were outweighed by beautiful moments, such as watching Jamie dancing on stage, seeing Matthew learn to ride his bike, walking the dog in the woods and telling the boys about the wood fairies – then spending hours hunting for them.”
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Now they are all grown up and have both left school. Jamie is going to study drama at college and Matthew is about to start to train as a tree surgeon – both following their dreams.
When asked if the children face any additional issues at school because of having two mums, Marcel says: “One didn’t tell his friends and if they came to the house he just carried on as he would usually.
“The other told people and didn’t care a jot what anyone said in response. They both just know that they have two mums and don’t see anything wrong with that.
“The only real issues came from professionals such as teachers and doctors getting confused about our family make up.”
There are many stories like this which have helped to change the legal landscape for LGBT people – individuals who have worked at, thought hard, discussed openly and campaigned to get to the point of legislation that provides equality instead of discrimination. Barnardo’s celebrate them all.