Myself (Michael) and Paul met way back in 2002 in Cleethorpes Lincolnshire. Michael was only 18 at the time and Paul was working as a professional Dancer at the resort and Michael was on holiday with family.
It was an exciting time, it was love at first sight. We bought each other rings a week in and everything happened so fast. As Michael’s holiday finished we continued to phone each other daily and Paul visited Barnsley on his days off.
When Paul’s summer session finished he moved in with Michael and his Mum. That Christmas, Paul was in panto in Southport and was commuting from Barnsley to the shows.
Our First House
As things progressed we decided to get our first house together and rented a terrace house in a village in Barnsley. We had nothing, not even a sofa to start with. This was a difficult time but we worked through it and gradually built up a home.
This was where we first experienced homophobia as a couple. Our neighbour decided to put our windows through and shout abuse which this was dealt with by the police.
The man in question was dealt with in court. Although it was an ordeal we got through it, fortunately, we don’t get this now, apart from online trolls.
At this point, we were both working full-time. Michael worked in retail management and Paul continued to work in the entertainment industry.
We enjoyed holidays in the Caribbean including Mexico and Cuba and started to build up our home. A couple of years in we bought our first home, a two-bedroom detached house which was lovely. We were proud of what we were achieving and doing well in our careers.
In 2007 we decided things were going well, civil partnerships had been made law. We decided to cement our relationship and have a civil partnership. We got married at Barnsley town hall in our matching brown and cream suits then went on to our reception at Cubley Hall Penistone.
It was a lovely day all our friends and family attended and we released a white dove (should have been two but one got out the cage). We had a nine tire cake and the room was decorated with hundreds of flowers it was a lovely day. We then went on to honeymoon in Cozumel a small island in Mexico.
Paul was getting fed up of living out of suitcase as he’d travelled the world with his professional dancing career. This included preferences in Paris and the USA with the hit show ‘Spirit of the Dance’ as well as entertaining thousands of guest on cruise ships around the world. He wanted a more settled life and got a job in hotel management, this was a big shock for him and he hated it but carried on.
At this point, a family member was having personal issues and her child went into foster care. Paul was in care himself when he was younger and subsequently adopted when he was 7 with his 4 siblings.
We understood it was better for children to stay within their own family and discussed it with other family members and decided to put ourself’s forward to care for our nephew. We picked him up for weekends and attended all the meetings and was working on him coming into our care until things settled at home.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out and due to the distance, this never happened. Amazingly, in the end, he returned home to his mum and everything worked out for the best.
We had already started the assessment by social services for this and enjoyed having a child around. The social worker at the time asked if we’d ever considered fostering as we’d be great and gave us some contacts.
Little did we know this would be the start of our fostering journey. At the time Michael was only 21 which was the legal age you had to be to foster.We did our research and figured as we were settled and secure we would continue with this journey.
We went through our assessments including a DBS and references which took many months. There were concerns that I (Michael ) was too young but as we were settled and I was mature for my age we completed the Form F assessment.
First Same-Sex Coouple
We were the first same-sex couple to be approved with our fostering service at the time. There was a huge fuss and excitement in the team.
A few weeks in, we were offered a respite placements for a child. He was of mixed heritage and adorable.
We had the privilege to look after so many children. From newborns to special care and teenagers. We will always remember one certain special little girl who was deaf. We were trained in BSL and attended regular hearing and specialist appointments at the cochlea hearing centre.
She was luckily given a place and went through surgery to have her implants which was amazing. She came on so much and eventually returned to her birth family.
We loved looking after different children and the rewards of seeing them happy and thriving were amazing, but something was missing. We wanted more permanence and to become Daddy’s.
When Levi and Lucas come into our life’s we instantly knew they were something special, we’d found part of our forever family.
Aged two we knew something wasn’t quite right as they were not meeting their milestones. Eye contact wasn’t there and they wouldn’t play with their toys.
They had a consultant and a range of different therapy’s and interventions. These included speech and language, Portage (play therapies ), occupational and physiotherapists. Levi was still bum shuffling and not walking. After months of hard work, we finely got him walking at age 3. They first thought he had Cerebral Palsy.
After months of therapy and assessments, the twins were diagnosed with Global development delay and server Autism.
The twins would scream and get distressed at parks and supermarkets. People would pass comments ‘those boys are naughty’ etc. We ended up isolating ourselves from the world.
We eventually faced the world and put a strategy in place to help the boys. After all, why should we hide the two most beautiful boys?
At age 3 and a half, Lucas had a seizure in our living room. This was terrifying and after being in the hospital and having many tests, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Levi followed soon after.
We were now faced with twins with no speech, autism and epilepsy. We’d faced so many challenges and although this was devastating we know we weren’t going to let this hold them back.
Later that year once we got our heads around it all, we booked to take the boys to Aruba. The boys had a fabulous time, they loved the ocean.
This was short-lived as once we had returned Levi went into a major seizure at 2.30 am, one which he wasn’t coming out of.
We were terrified, he was blue and red hot the ambulance give him rectal diazepam but he was still fitting. He was taken into resus room and they tried frantically to bring him out the seizure with numerous IV drugs but nothing was stopping it.
In The Night Garden
Eventually, he had to be put to sleep and put on life support which was the only way to stop the seizure. We were distraught and terrified, he was transferred to intensive care at Sheffield children’s hospital.
After weeks in a coma, they started to ween him off support and see if he would breath himself. The nurses asked what his favourite program was which was ‘In the night garden’. Believe it if not, this started to bring him round.
This was the most difficult time it knocked all of his development and we had to start from the beginning but we still had Levi with us thanks to our amazing NHS.
As people with disabled and additional needs children know, it’s a hard ride, it’s exhausting and a fight and battle but you just do your best, that’s all you can do!
The years went by and same-sex marriage was now legal. We decided we didn’t want to complete the paper exercise and convert to marriage. We did, however, want a full celebration as we had our civil partnership in May 2008.
As we didn’t get the boys until December that same year they weren’t part of that celebration. We wanted them included in the celebration so we officially converted our civil partnership to marriage on 10th July 2015. It was a lovely celebration with family and friends but most importantly, Levi and Lucas were by our sides as ring bearer’s /page boys.
Extending Our Family
As things were more settled we’d expressed our interest to social services that would eventually like to extend our family. In summer 2017 we received a call saying that twins boys were due to be born and what we’re our thoughts?! We thought long and hard on this one, we did want to extend our family but was this the right time and when would ever be the right time with Paul?
Aged 40 and myself not fair behind it felt like now or never. We discussed it intently with each other and with our family too.
On 28th August the boys were born. We went to meet them and instantly fell in love at 3 and 4lb they were tiny. They stayed in special care a few weeks which gave us time to get things ready at home.
As we had the baby’s as early permanence we had to go through all the adoption and training as well as having to care for the twins. We have to attend medical training, matching and adoption panel throughout the year. Thankfully,the courts agreed that we were the right match for the twins.
Levi and Lucas will be 14 in April and are the most amazing, loving boys. We still have to meet all their basic health care needs, bathing, feeding, brushing their teeth and everything in-between. They will require our lifelong care but we will be there for them.
Family of 6
Lotan and Lance are now 2. They are amazing little boys and super happy who smile all the time, however, they are full-on.
We still Foster alongside our own four boys and currently look after a sibling group of two who are long term. They have lived with us for 2 years now.
So with 6 children, our house is crazy but we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Most of our time now is focused on promoting equality and diversity. Working with charity’s like the Fostering Network to encourage more people from the LGBT community to look into fostering and adoption especially for children with additional needs and disabilities. We regularly support these charity’s and other organisations to break down barriers and taboos.
We also focus our attention on working with different children’s charity’s helping spread the word that’s there’s always ability in every disability.
Paul and I are charity ambassadors for the charity My Afk and also work with children’s charity’s like New life, The Variety Club and Caudwell Children.
We also campaign with The National Autistic Society, helping them spread the word ‘until everyone understands’. We work with Epilepsy Action on campaigns like this year’s campaigns for better access to cannabis-based medications for children and adults like the boys.
As well as speaking on Good morning Britain, BBC Breakfast and BBC radio coving these topics.
We will continue with our mission to change people’s views on same-sex foster care and adoption as well as people’s views on Disabilities
Our motto is ‘We wouldn’t change our boys for the world but we would change the world for them’.
We’d like to thank Daren and Tim for inviting us to be part of their blog and for their hard work changing people’s views too.