CELEBRATING DADS – MEET THE McILWAINE-WRIGHTS: A SOUTH AFRICAN MODERN FAMILY
Much like most families these days, the McIlwaine-Wrights are an unconventional one! And they love it…
Thank you, Andrew and Gerhard, for sharing your family story with us. In their own words…
BECOMING THE MCILWAINE-WRIGHTS
We have been together since 2013 and discovered off-the-bat that we shared the same family values, and that we wanted this legacy to live on. Hence, our adoption journey began (and yes, in between all of this we did other cool things like date, travel a bit, get engaged, get married and so on). We are two very different individuals – Andrew is a pragmatic realist, and Gerhard the right-brained idealist. When we met, Andrew was a young workaholic with a HECTIC social schedule! Gerhard was more shy and reserved, focusing on his career in the financial services.
In March 2015, Gerhard popped the question and the wedding planning began. We always knew that marriage was a priority for both of us and that we wanted kids. Finding this sort of like-mindedness is often difficult in the gay community, so we both feel extremely blessed to have found each other. Obviously, these aren’t the only reasons we decided to get married, but they made the decision to move forward that much easier. We got married on the 8th of August 2016 with 80 of our closest friends and family. We are so blessed in the sense that our family from both sides celebrated our union.
Another thing we agree on is that South Africa has to be one of the best places in the world for a gay family to live (google it, you’ll see!). We had no problem getting married, obtaining our marriage certificate from Home Affairs, and changing our names. It was all a relatively seamless process.
OUR “GAY-FRIENDLY” ADOPTION JOURNEY
We began our adoption journey in May 2016 (before we got married), where a simple google search brought us to Abba Specialist Adoption and Social Services, based in Pretoria. Gerhard wanted to become a father before turning 40, and we knew the adoption process could be a long one, so moved as quickly as we could. While there are other options for having kids, such as surrogacy, we opted to go the adoption route as it seemed the easiest for us, and surrogacy is quite an expensive ordeal.
At 07:00 on a chilly Monday morning we met with Abba’s head social worker who shared the agency background with us, the process they follow as well as the fee structure. It was explained to us that prospective parents will go through a six-month process to determine the readiness to be adoptive parents. Babies available for adoption also go through a process that takes roughly six months. At our first meeting, and I think at all our subsequent meetings, our sexuality was discussed, and our social worker was open and honest, which we appreciated. While we never felt discriminated against in any way (our constitution obviously does not allow for that), parents and social workers often don’t favour placement with gay parents, so we were told we might have quite a wait on our hands.
Consent for the adoption of babies is required to be given by the birth parents (where available). They have 60 days to change their minds and withdraw their decision. Where the father of the baby is not known, or the mom does not want to, or cannot disclose the identity of the father for various reasons, the agency needs to prove to the court that they did everything in their power to find him. This is normally done by means of newspaper advertisements. The same goes for abandoned babies. In this case, evidence needs to be presented that both parents have been looked for.
For us, we had four meetings (one per month) with our social worker at Abba, each lasting about 1.5 hours. Each meeting had a definite theme that covered finances, religion, and family background and support structures. During this period various documents needed to be provided to the social worker. These included financial statements, criminal clearance certificates, clearance from the sexual offenders’ list and letters of motivation from three family members. We also had to build a portfolio about us as parents with our hobbies, interests, activities, and photos. During each of these meetings, our “preferences” were revisited. We decided not to provide a long list of requirements for what we wanted our child to be like (in terms of race, gender, age etc).
“All we wanted was a healthy baby as young as possible, and that is what we got.” – Andrew and Gerhard
What was amazing about working with Abba was that we had to attend a three-day preparation group with other prospective parents. These sessions were extremely insightful as we learnt a lot about ourselves, what tradition is, how to handle questions regarding adoption, interracial families and how to handle comments like “You are doing such a good thing”, or “What happened to his parents?”
While we are often told by strangers “You are doing such a good thing for this child”, it is difficult to be polite and tell them that we do not want our child to feel he owes us anything for coming into our lives. Our standard response has become “Bodhi has given us more than we will ever be able to give him.”
After the preparation group, a home visit is scheduled for parents who are fully paid up. The purpose of the home visit is not to make sure the home is baby proof and that all the required baby stuff is in stock, but merely to ensure that there is a home available. At our home visit, our social worker shared with us that we were accepted as adoptive parents and that our profile would go into the next round of matching meetings, where babies are matched with adoptive parents.
We started the process in May 2016 and our home visit was done in the middle of November 2016, and we were matched with our beautiful boy, Bodhi, at the beginning of March 2017 (ALMOST the duration of a pregnancy). Bodhi was 7 months old at the time.
On placement day, it took us a good hour to try and assemble the car seat! We headed off to meet the social workers at our son’s place of safety where we were introduced to Bodhi. We got to spend time with him, got to feed him some lunch, take photos, and give him his bottle. It was quite emotional for us. They gave us a tour of the house and then we were able to take our son home.
The most nerve-wracking drive of our lives!
Gerhard is fortunate that the company he works for recognizes adoption for same-sex couples and got four months adoption leave to spend with our boy at home. A week after placement another home visit was arranged to see how we settled in and to deliver the interim court order. We were told that within three months we would be provided with our provincial letter that approves the placement (this actually took 8 months!). This was not a fault from Abba, but rather a process change in government that delayed everything. In November we finally appeared in court to “seal the deal!” This took an easy 20 minutes and we were then legally recognized as Bodhi’s parents. A few weeks after that we got a call from the Department of Social Welfare telling us to collect Bodhi’s birth certificate… Andrew “flew” to Pretoria as quickly as he could, to get it!
While the last little niggle in the process is waiting for Bodhi’s official birth certificate which reflects us as parents, we couldn’t be more grateful for the support and guidance offered by Abba. They really assisted with making an extremely complicated process as stress-free as possible. We have heard from other adoptive parents, who have approached the process privately, how complicated and stressful it can be.
“GAY” PARENTING (and adapting to it all…)
Isn’t this just called “parenting”?
When it comes to parenting we have approached this as it comes! It really changes from one day to the next. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt as parents is NOT to judge another parent. It’s a tough job, and we all try our absolute best!
Bodhi is a typical Leo – energetic, headstrong and impatient! So as a toddler we have our hands extremely full. He is developing at an extremely rapid rate. His vocabulary is booming, and he is particularly steadfast in his decisions. Bodhi is quite big for his age and has a very colourful personality. He loves being the center of attention, and when he has an audience, he will perform for hours. We know he will face a number of challenges as he grows up, coming from a mixed-racial home with two dads, so we are grateful for his confidence and at the same time hopeful that he will use this to his advantage if and when he experiences prejudice based on his background.
Some of the challenges that parents generally face have been doozies for us! Teething wasn’t too big of a deal, however, the sleep regressions have knocked our socks off! We are both exceedingly fond of our sleep, and sleep regressions can be quite stressful for everyone in the home. Just when you think you’ve gotten over one, another wave bowls you over! The 18-month sleep regression was by far the worst. At this point, our son began to lose the morning nap and settled on one nap a day. Getting him to this point was tough, as he often became extremely cranky (which translates into extended periods of screaming and fussing).
Our boy has a temper on him! So this was a huge challenge for us.
He has also recently started favouring one parent at a time (this varies from day to day). Just this past weekend, we attended our Nephew’s baptism. Andrew is our nephew’s godfather, so needed to be up front taking part in the service. It was on this day that Bodhi decided he wanted nothing to do with Gerhard, and only wanted Andrew! Well, that made for a rather interesting service (and stressful for Gerhard). From the start, Bodhi was shouting “Dadda” from the back of the church, and screamed and performed when he couldn’t go to the front of the church!
For us, these outbursts are particularly stressful as we already have a lot of eyes on us due to us being the modern family we are, so when Bodhi decides to put on a show, these eyes linger a hell of a lot longer!
Overall we have adapted wonderfully to our new role. We no longer hit the nightlife like we used to, and prefer it that way. Juggling the work/life balance has been challenging but we are lucky enough to have a full-time nanny and grandparents on call until Bodhi goes to school in January. We still make time for gym and meditation which we enjoy, but have to split that time between the two of us. Very often Gerhard pops Bodhi in the pram and goes for a run. They both enjoy this time, and Bodhi even greets other runners on the road with a polite “Morning” – no matter the time of day!
We are making new friends along the way, and our old friends absolutely adore Bodhi and so often want to spend a lot of time with him. We also have wonderful family on both sides who have been extremely supportive. Bodhi loves his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and gets to see them often.
Our Bodhi is now nearly two years old, and the quiet baby we picked up on placement day is now the busiest body you will find. He is settled into our life as a family and loves cars, animals, music, dancing, soccer and just being the center of attention.
We are thankful for him all the time.