“Whatever Normal Is, We Don’t Want It” – Discussing Disability, Adoption And Fostering With The Atwal-Brice Family

This week on Some Families, Lotte and Stu talk to Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, who are adoptive dads from Yorkshire. Paul and Michael have two sets of identical twins. The eldest twins, Levi and Lucas, have severe autism and epilepsy. They discuss being foster parents, having children with disabilities and how being a same sex couple has taken a back seat.

Paul:Because whatever normal is we don’t want to be

Michael: the part about being same sex couple and the same sex family. It’s kind of pushed to one side because we focus on on that side.

Paul: We don’t mourn them as to the boys that they’re not. We celebrate who they are, and all those things that they can achieve. Some families have two dads and two sets of twins.

Stu Oakley:Hello, lovely listener and welcome to some families. My name is Stu Oakley

Lotte Jeffs:and I am Lotte Jeffs seeing as we’re still saying our surnames very official Stu. Hello, and welcome if you’re new. Then we are some families we have a podcast called the LGBTQ plus parenting community and our series aims to support families and artists. All of the questions that you might have, whether you’re embarking on parenting journey yourself or you are just curious about it.

Stu Oakley:But if you have been listening, thank you very much and get ready because we have a great episode coming up today.

Lotte Jeffs:Yeah, in this episode, we’ve got Paul and Michael, who are the Atwel Brice family.

Stu Oakley:They live in Yorkshire. They’ve been married for 12 years. They have two sets of identical twins, Levi and Lucas who are now teenagers but also Lance and Lotan, who are now three Levi and Lucas however, have very severe autism and epilepsy.

Lotte Jeffs:So Michael and Paul are big advocates of raising awareness for disability, autism and adoptions specifically LGBTQ plus adoption. Yeah,

Stu Oakley:I love speaking to them Lotte because they had such an amazing spirit. I think they are what the word resilience was actually written for they have had so much thrown at them poor himself was adopted. And I really found it interesting hearing his experience from being an adoptee to then becoming an adoptive father himself as well. And on top of that they are foster carers as well which like cor Blimey,

Lotte Jeffs:they are incredible. We really hope that you find this as inspiring and we did.

Stu Oakley:So let’s listen to Michael and Paul, who we spoke to via video conferencing as we are still in Damn, lockdown.

Paul:Hello where Paul on Michael Ateral Bryce we have two sets of identical twin boys, Levi Lucas are 14 years old and

Michael:Lance and Lotan who are three years old.

Michael:So we’re same sex the adoptive family and we also foster as well. So the six children in the house all together. Wow.

Stu Oakley:Wow, I didn’t realize that you guys. Yeah. Wow. I didn’t realize that you guys Foster as well.

Michael:Yeah, well, yeah. So we’ve fostered so I think I wanna youngest foster carers in our region at the time because we got approved when I was 21. And we kind of went into Parenthood, we’ve started re fostering first just to see like, how it would fit. We’re having a child lives and things like that. See, I would work on

Paul:so I grew up in foster care myself. And so I was adopted when I was seven years old, into a really big family. So I kind of we have we’re very open about our experiences in life and what we’ve been through.

Michael:So a lot of queue and follow siblings one Yeah, got adopted into a family of only really all together you.

Paul:So I was at the sibling group of five, then adopted into a family that already had four children. So there was nine of us all together.

Lotte Jeffs:Wow, what was your experience Like?

Paul: Oh, great, absolutely wonderful. So my adopters are my parents, you know, they are the people that brought me up into life taught me how to be told me to be proud of who I am. You know, and and they’re my heroes, you know, they really are my heroes. I love them dearly. I’m very aware of my History Prior to that, to being adopted and living in foster homes and children’s homes and the world positive experiences at all? Well, it is what it is. Nobody has the perfect family. Okay, who they are. Nobody has a perfect family. And the perfect family just does not exist. You know, it just doesn’t do

Lotte Jeffs:it. So could you guys just talk a bit more about fostering and just how, how long do you have the kids in living with you for does it really vary? And what’s that process like?

Michael:I think we’ve fostered about over 20 children now where and originally So while we’re out When Levi Lucas were there problems as well, we only were doing short term for quite a few years, about 10/ 12 years, we’re doing short term. So we had a lot of like newborn babies male and female from special care and just pre adoption work. So we’d get them ready to be adopted would meet their doctors do all the introductions and then move them on. And we did that for quite a few years more recently. We’ve got two boys at the moment and long term because they’re older when they come to us and they want many options for finding difficult finding replacement lumber. So that was kind of settled in. We’re thinking about the boys now. So about four years.

Paul:Yeah, time goes so fast.

Lotte Jeffs:Wow. So they’ve moved in with you four years ago and do you can feel like a difference in the dynamic with the Kids that you’re that you’ve adopted and who are your children and the ones that you’re fostering and who you’re probably really conscious of the fact that they’re going to be adopted by someone else.

Paul: So, so the two boys, we currently have him who are foster children who are in placement, they won’t be going for adoption because their age and because of previous situations and stuff, so they will be living with us until they go on to some independence

Michael: thing with the two boys that we’ve got. Now, once they get to a certain age, sometimes it’s difficult to get them adopted. So how old are they? Well, 16. Now Romans 13. Right, that came into care when they were about five and eight, I think and it’s really difficulty at that age group adopted so that they decided that after trying to get them adopted and not nobody came forward from that going long term foster care, which is what they’re in now.

Lotte Jeffs:Yeah. What’s that like as a parent as then to be a foster carer and like, Are you having To kind of measure your your love for them in a way, like because you’re trying to differentiate between being a parent and a foster carer and can that be quite hard sometimes

Paul:in our advice and our experience parenting a child that’s in foster care is, is different to parenting your own children. Absolutely. Because the children that are in foster care, they still have those relationships with their own parents. So when they up front with the children, and we look after, you know, where they are saying, you know, we are not your parents, we’re not here to take the role and replace your parents. It’s just where you are here so we can look after you the best way we can. And make sure all your needs are met. While she can still see mom and dad, and we’re not here to take up place whatsoever. Okay,

Michael:yeah, children that we’ve looked after. Like short term, the babies some room like from birth. Have an ally 14 year old and we’ve kept in touch with a lot of them when they’re being adopted. And it’s really nice to like meet up with them and the parents like a chronometer a lot of Christmas talking things.

Lotte Jeffs:You must have a lot of people to send Christmas cards to

Paul:Christmas is that stage where you think you’ve bought everybody a Christmas present? And then people are like, Hi guys, we really want to catch up and you’re like, Oh, no.

Paul:That’s crazy. Where do you want to go? I think

Stu Oakley:that’s one of the pause. I think that is one of the positives that comes out of the caste system is and we talk about some families and we talk about different types of families. But you know, from my experience, I have adopted three children. And we keep in contact with their foster foster parents, and they have become our extended family and when we when especially the last one I mean, it was always difficult. But the last one was particularly difficult. They were particularly attached to him. And it was very upsetting time for them when it was time to hand him over to us. And so we said to them at the time, you are part of our family. Now, you have been such a huge part of my son’s life from his his from his birth, the you are now part of our family. So don’t ever forget that. And so. So to go back to what I was saying, I just think sometimes one of the real positives I mean, there’s lots of positives that come out is that you kind of create this extended, great family that has lots of different elements and lots of different dynamics. And I applaud you guys because I mean, having four children anyway, but then having two foster children on top of that as well. I mean, I mean,

Paul:you know, we have met some amazing people throughout our foster career, and some of our closest friends are people have adopted children that we fostered. And those relationships are just so special because it’s such a private knowledge between the both of you on the early years of that child’s autism, and I just think it forms such great friendships. I mean, obviously, if a child is with us, and then they go for adoption, we’re always led by the adopters, if they want to maintain that contact or not, we never push that. We always let them decide and if they want to keep in touch, that’s great for us so we can see how the child’s developing and growing etc. Well, you know, we’re always led by the adopters. And there’s been many children we have fostered where we’ve actually thought, is this the child we should adopt? And it’s been so hard that it’s been one of the hardest things because it you know, we’ve had these conversations with social workers. Before I’m thinking is this the child that we should adopt? You know, and have with us forever. And those decisions are so difficult, you know, and because we’re not machines, we’re not robots. We’re all human beings. You know, when you foster children, you the emotional attachment you have with them. There’s something else because of the trauma that they’ve been through in their lives, their early years, and how you have to try and teach them how life is going to be, and how to love how to interact with others. Just how to be proud of who they are. And I will say to the kids, especially the older kids, we fostered, never feel embarrassed about being in foster care. And this is where my early years of being in foster care because I talk about it all the time with them. I say, it doesn’t make you any less a person to anybody else. I said in this world, nobody’s better than anybody else was whenever it’s about learning to really be proud of yourself and love yourself then when you can do that people will really love you. And that’s all we do. We’re just very open about everything and and i think that openness works just so well for everybody involved

Lotte Jeffs:yeah

Stu Oakley:so with the with the foster and we’re and we’ll come on to I want to you know we want to talk a lot as well about Levi and Lucas and and Lance lo tan as well and the adoption process with them but from a from a fostering point of view, have you as two gay men in a same sex relationship Have you experienced any animosity?

What’s your experience like been fostering has, especially when you’re in your welcoming maybe slightly older children into your home is anything you’ve experienced? negatively positively?

Paul: It’s been great, because we’ve just been ourselves from day one. We’ve been we haven’t tried to be anybody, we’re no. You know, we’ve just been very open about who we are. And it’s also it’s been very positive for the birth families if they have a child who’s living with us, and suddenly they can’t look after the children themselves, especially with the mothers, because we taught them about, there’s no female figure in our house. We’re not here to take the place of you. You know, we’re not here to protect the place of dad. All we’re doing is looking after your children. until the time is right. We’re not here to replace you whatsoever.

Michael:I think that’s the thing. We’ve found the strangers into cars, especially like years ago, without word about problems. The parents saying we don’t want our children looked after by a same sex couple. All the children had come in and think it was strange to him and looking after him, but it’s never really been an issue as it we don’t make an issue of always just come here and you’re living with Paul and Michael, and this is the house in Boston. It’s just been like a anything else has never been a problem. And there’s never been an issue at all, is it? No.

Stu Oakley:That’s great. And I think that’s great to hear and something we really want people who may listen to this podcast to really take on board especially if they are a same sex couple that are looking to adopt or looking to go by a donor conception or surrogacy or whatever route they’re looking at, because I think sometimes the fear you have as a as an LGBTQ person is That you sometimes expect that I think the more and more people we speak to and the less and less homophobia or even ignorance that they’ve had shown towards them, I feel is a very positive message that people should take on board to be in business clearance we ever experience is to do with Levi and Lucas that is and their needs and that’s why we advocate for all those avenues we can

Paul: all the time to break down those barriers because basically it’s just about people not having a clear understanding on how things work. That’s all it is. And the more we can be very open the more we can

Paul:educate people basically Hmm

Stu Oakley:Well, let’s talk about Levi and Lucas because I want to hear say, how many years ago was it that you welcomed Levi Lucas into your into your home and started the adoption process.

Michael:Was 2008 on two. We’ve got we just got out of civil partnership in May 2008. And then we started the process then for adoption. And Levi Lucas joined us in December 2008. Were a few days before Christmas, one two costs were already registered foster carers. The assessment some things weren’t as bad facade. If everything were up today, we’ll see CRB checks and everything like that. So that side of it are pretty straightforward. One, two, and the boys were two year old at the time came to us with a developmental delay, so we just thought it’d be a little bit behind because there were twins in the world premature the mind spirit, life a little bit delayed in that culture.

Paul:I mean, labor Lucas were premature at

Paul:26 were you 26 weeks?

Paul:Wow. No. So from the moment they were born, they really really had to fight. And, you know, to talk about Lucas is always quite emotional for us because they are the most inspirational individuals I will ever ever know.

Stu Oakley:We watched your video of you dancing with Levi to downtown Levi to downtown and I was sitting in my computer in floods of tears today and the love that you can see between you, between you all

Paul:well, the journey where I’ll believe I’m Lucas is just a roller coaster. It’s either really high or is really low. And a lot, a lot of the lows are due to the epilepsy. So, you know, not their autism that autism is They are, we would never ever change who they are. We love the fact that they have autism. And they behave in different ways. That’s all we’ve ever known about them. And that’s what we love. We would never change any of that. We always say to people, you know, Levi and Lucas are not autism. They’re our sons. The main thing for the boys is their epilepsy. Absolutely blacked out.

Michael:So yeah, Levi has always been the worst one is definitely and Lieber is being ventilated before in life, the Paul sound. It’s been in the resource room quite a few times where we couldn’t get him after a seizure. Despite I’ve been like rescue medications and things. It’s just being trapped in a seizure follow up to an hour, but then ended up having to put him to sleep just to stop a seizure. And as a parent,

Paul:we talk about this all the time, because to us, it’s our therapy. I guess. But as a parent, to be in that situation where your child is on a ventilator life support machine, and everybody involved is saying they’re doing everything they can in that moment. Imagine how you feel when you hear that. Hmm. And it was two o’clock in the morning wasn’t there? You just told me, you just cannot believe what you’re facing. And I think ever since ever since from that moment, it completely changed us as people without doubt.

Michael:I think because Levis, epilepsy is uncontrollable and so complex as various types of different seizures. Suppose being on various different medications as well as on like four different medications now, you

Lotte Jeffs:must just be in a constant state of anxiety like how do you guys Oh, absolutely, we are how do you manage that and what do you do? Or do you have any opportunity to sort of have some self care or moments yourself and like,

Paul:how do you

Lotte Jeffs:how do you manage reality of

Michael:that situation for the first few years it were really difficult because we were kind of thrown into the world first diagnosed with their autism immodest getting his head around that and then they will lupus first and started really seizures. So then the other and then not long after that Levi started, and in the early years we were just absolutely exhausted because the ones sleeping with their autism, then they’re having seizures through and then the requirements rely neurologist and OTS physiotherapists, speech therapists and it just like so overwhelming wanted in the early years, we were just exhausted. And then there’s the years go on. It’s just like, becomes a normal part of life so you get used to it. So we do there is like a lot of sleep deprivation man Levi’s approved and I we were just not sleeping in general are constantly being on the edge or you think that they’re having a seizure it’s rush hour straight into their room. So we are like on eggshells all the time.

Lotte Jeffs:So do you guys feel like almost the fact that you’re same sex parents is completely sort of negated by the fact that your parents to children with very specific needs and epilepsy and autism like

Lotte Jeffs: is it almost like a bit like glib to ask you about your experiences as same sex parents because like that’s almost the least of your worries you know?

Michael:Yeah, I think that’s what like we Instagram and stuff. There’s a lot of same sex that comes like two dads and two moms and different things like that. Yeah, but we we have we focused on like the disability stuff. In the campaign in different treatments and support in different charities like national autistic society, epilepsy action and different children’s charities. So the part about being a same sex couple and the same sex family is kind of pushed to one side because we focus on on that side, we

Paul:don’t really have much time to talk about those kind of things, because that’s about us. And the needs are us, always on the back. It’s always about the needs of the kids. So when it’s anything to do with those tours, people, we don’t really talk much about that because not that were, were forgotten about as individuals. Sometimes we are absolutely, sometimes we are as a couple. Absolutely. Well, you know, the the needs of the children in our family are quite high. And so they’re so time consuming as well. We just have to go with our

Lotte Jeffs:Have you ever experienced any And homophobia or anything that’s made you feel uncomfortable in a medical situation with all of the different appointments and things you’re taking the kids to, are you having to sort of explain yourself every time or

Paul:we’ve had em in the early is that because a lot of people no offers now we don’t get it when the early is absolutely we have from it could be some medicals member of staff that doesn’t know was doesn’t know the boys and they will say Where’s mum? Is she our home and those kind of things. I just for me makes me feel like somebody just took the knife in and twisted it. That’s how it makes me feel out of that moment in time. Such as, you know, I would never just presume if a dad has come in with a child it will be living with it. Female as well I would never ever presume and people do.

Lotte Jeffs:Right? And also it’s the implication of like, Is this not enough? Are we not enough like what are we doing? Yeah Can you think that there’s something missing here?

Michael: The team that the work coming out have been working with for years and they do have a good medical team with a neurologist and the consultants and stuff out there they are really good wheels like we add some videos to them for the boys for the birth. Different people do different videos and consultant and all the nurses and stuff did one dinner from the hospital and like what’s up Happy Birthday song this really nice one too.

Paul: That’s lovely. And the whole town’s the whole dancing daddy videos relieve I just happened by pure mistake. So because

Lotte Jeffs: Paul, you’re very talented dance, I must say.

Lotte Jeffs:I liked a little bit so the end where it’s like you just like suddenly you’re just like, wow.

Paul: Prior to was becoming parents, which is like another lifetime ago and my career was the dancer. I did wonder. And then obviously, years down the line, my dancing kind of took a bit of a back burner because of the boy’s needs and stuff. And it kind of all just stopped so around the house here whenever there’s musics really important because you know it can make you feel good It can make you feel sad all those emotions brings all of us and I loved music or so and I dance around the house I’m the first to talk about this and show people how I dance. I still dance around the house I can still on stage and I like I’m still 24 year old. Although after I do I have to have a quite a long Sit down. And then Levi Lucas a non-verbal as well. So there’s no spoken language. There was one day it happened just by mistake. I put music I actually think he was a bit of Jane McDonald. And then suddenly this boy just came to live. And all I was doing was just dancing past him thinking he wants engage with me. You must have been thinking oh, God is that it again? But he’s so it was like a lightbulb moment. He suddenly came came to life. How old was he? Because

Michael:since we’re about eight and two started really enjoying it

Paul: and at first I just thought I was a fluke he must have been happy about something else.

Michael:You sense for some reason, don’t you in kitchen quite loud. And now he just automatically jumps in the same place and kitchen works I’ve done to under Neil likes to dance around with you. But then he gets back on the word top and he’s just fucking around so happy and he just loves it, too.

Paul:I did a video on one of our socials quite recently where I was doing a live video saying I was going to be done so when Levi Levi was on the couch, just doing his iPod there. Quite somber and then I put the music on because I wanted everybody to see his reaction and he just charged straight into the kitchen straight onto the worktop beam and and he just sits there and then I have to do all the work.

Paul:and he still wants me to spin him around to like his two year old I love it, but I’m getting older I’m getting tired. He’s getting longer and heavier.

Lotte Jeffs:Haha and I guess that must be so sweet. The two the twins do have different personalities as well like he’s obviously super into dance I don’t know about his brother may not say much but like in a way that’s quite nice that they’re such distinct personalities. They’re not just both you don’t know defined by their labels as autistic or they’re not both defined by the labels as twins. They’ve both got their own interests and personalities and That’s so important is yeah

Michael:but it’s really true and although the like completely different buyers that do like different things when one of them is cool they are Levi’s been taken to hospital the like the change in Lucas Cisco so some buttons here and he knows something’s not right and it just changes altogether the special light bonded connection they are they are non verbal but sometimes they’ll just randomly chase each other around bluffing their software in the desktop a certain connection with different noises and sounds may as well

Paul:which we just celebrate everything they do. You know, we don’t we leave on Lucas. We don’t mourn them as to the boys that they’re not we we celebrate who they are, and all those things that they can achieve.

Lotte Jeffs:That sounds like that’s some really, really good advice to other parents potential. In similar situation of just changing your expectations, and not comparing yourself to others, and just celebrating the moment and celebrating who they are, what they can personally achieve, rather than setting yourself against other people, that must feel so freeing once you realize that,

Stu Oakley:I think for any parent as well, any parent out there, regardless of their children’s circumstances to not compare to others is is such a rich piece of advice. So it’s,

Paul:it does it doesn’t, but has took us years to get to that stage, hasn’t it? You know, we don’t compare them to what other people do or anything. And that has been our turning point in our lives, isn’t it?

Michael:Yeah. Because like we’re Christmases and things like that. Lucas would just be happy. We’re mountable like he would play with any other day. So we’ve learned that now that there’s no point buying them loads of presents and loads of choice. specifically interested in certain things. But it will like we will polls earlier in the week and just seeing Levi scribbling on his card just doing some mapmaking Mike is 14 but they were just so happy just just just wiggle on it, you know, just to mark me on the card and you’ve got it all on the table and everything but we’re really enjoying it.

Paul:It says moments we celebrate. Absolutely, yeah.

Stu Oakley:Can I can I take it back as well to when when, I mean, I guess the time before the boys which must seem like a completely different place in life and time all together.

Stu Oakley:something that I’ve always found really interesting about the adoption process. And something that is a allows a kind of a moral kind of questioning of oneself and questioning with your partner. If you’re a Adopting with a partner, my husband and I, when we went through the adoption process we put down that we didn’t think that we would be able to look after a child that had severe disabilities.

Paul:Okay, so you know from that, and I’ve really been wanting to say this to you guys, because what we say to everybody out there is we never ever thought about disabilities or special needs or anything. And on paper to look at Levi Lucas now, and if they were up for adoption, various people would go, Oh, my God, no way. Could we cope with that? And we didn’t know anything, the journey that life would take, then obviously later on down the line when they were presented with these behaviors for their autism, the word speaking they are still in nappies, etc. It was too late because we love them for who they were. There was just too much Lay, you know, we were like, we’re happy to just drop this by the balls now and just go with it. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. It was just to lay,

Lotte Jeffs:I suppose is like any biological area that discovers their child has additional needs at different stages of their lives. You know, I can imagine that some, some people might sort of sometimes say, ask you, like, were you tempted to give them back? which must feel like a really hurtful question, in some ways, because it’s not something that you’d ever ask biological families, you know, you there’s an acceptance that if that’s your child, that’s your child. And it sounds to me like whether or not you’re adopting or you biologically had that child. Once that child’s your child, you’re all in. You’re going with it, whatever happens. Yeah, it’s not like oh, well, we’re your parents, as long

Paul:as you’re

Lotte Jeffs:good as long as you’re healthy as long as you’re fine. Like your your parents are better or worse, right? Yeah,

Michael:that’s what upset says with a foster inside of the career because we see adoptions breakdown on children that are being placed being placed reductions that do not the introductions have moved in. And then their doctors have said and sent them back and how damaging that is for the child. We’ve seen that happen so many times.

Paul:Yeah, especially when,

Stu Oakley:you know, there is such a large percentage of children who are in the system that do have additional needs a lot through a lot through the trauma that they’ve been through, and who need the therapeutic parenting and need particular needs in the parenting. I think it’s having that awareness that there could always be something along their development mental journey.

Lotte Jeffs:Yeah, that you’re not going to pick up on a form at the beginning that you know, human beings are doesn’t work like that being human does it you don’t get to know like to take a Love

Michael:is the same. It’s the same sort of thing where flip to the people things that you just get it when you’re born are sick, but you can develop it at any age. So, you know, if you’ve adopted a child when the two and then suddenly start having seizures, you’re not, can’t hurt with this child needs to go back into care, you know.

Paul:I mean, we, we’ve had loads of nights where we’ve cried Don’t get me wrong, you know, and because we’re quite emotional people, you know, we’ve cried last times over the boy over their health as well as their health. And we went through a stage in the early years really by Lucas, where we felt very resentful towards the world because why should they have to cope with all this? Why should they have to deal with all this? They’re only children. You know, they’re in their own children, all those emotions. We’ve gone through

Michael: When they were two three year olds come out and we’re just going around the supermarket and the different some sort of noises and loud noises and people post comments or the naughty need to get them children under control this done over and we’re not enough of that at one point jumping and we started to like withdraw and not want to take him out as much and would find itself straining out a lot and we did that for quite a while doing with our with our we can’t just keep hiding away because this is all the boys are they’re gonna make different noises they’re gonna have sudden outbursts is part through there are and I don’t know what triggers but we’re just going to get them out there and get on with life.

Stu Oakley:Do you feel that a lot of people are saying that because they feel that they’re just there. They’re misbehaving. They don’t understand their autism needs.

Paul:That they have issue with Levi Lucas, for those that are not as educated To on disabilities and special needs and all those kind of things is to look a livan Lucas from a visual point of view. They are absolutely beautiful, handsome children and to look at you don’t see any disability. And that’s what we’re all about, you know, talking about the invisible disabilities. Absolutely. Because you know, if you’ve got a child who, sadly has got cerebral palsy, absolutely you can see that disability, you know, straight away, but for somebody with autism and epilepsy, lightly by lupus, on face value, you will just see a handsome, beautiful young boy, you won’t know anything behind that whatsoever. And society does really need to change more about this. Absolutely. People people do need educating. You know more about the visibility, the visible disabilities. You know, people say to us We’ve had this before, do you wish there were normal? You know, if there’s one word we hate is normal, because we just say, Well, what is normal? You know what?

Paul:What is no, because whatever normal is, we don’t want to be here.

Lotte Jeffs:You guys are just such an incredible inspirational parents, and you must hear this a lot, I’m sure. But you must be so proud of your kids and what you’ve achieved.

Paul:Don’t make me cry. Don’t make me cry, don’t cry. And when, whenever better than anybody else, we’re just parents in this have children that have got extra needs, and we have to do our best we can for them. Because that’s what every parent should do.

Michael:You know, I think the thing that we’re we’re quite lucky because we’ve got each other and it’s really hard. We know because we get a lot of messages on a different page. from people with disabled children, especially single moms or dads, that’s when it’s really really tough because they’ve got nobody to turn to. And the fight you have as a parent or a disabled child, it’s constant from the minute the bond, you’re fighting for different equipment, you’re fighting for different specialists, you’re fighting for different drugs. You know, the NHS is wonderful but the restrictions that are put on it’s all financial and it’s a constant battle to get the right equipment and and the right medications all the time. It will only last year when we’re doing it to get Levi on the new cannabis treatment that come out on the NHS and we’re like campaigned for the year for that to get Levi on that. Despite our like severe as epilepsy is it was such a bus I wanted to get him on medication. And it’s been on a say about nearly and now suddenly it’s not been as good as what we thought.

Paul:But we knew that From day one, go.

Lotte Jeffs:Guys, it sounds like you’re dead general day to day life is, is challenging in so many ways. How do you guys have fun? We have so much

Paul:laughter in this house. What goes through life is laughter and being able to laugh at ourselves as well, and laugh at the world around us. And do things where people think we can’t achieve it. And do situations with a voice where people will say, Oh, do you think that’s appropriate? Do you think they’ll manage and then we go and do these things and the boys love it. You know, we just have to laugh about a lot of things dry.

Michael:So I the first 18 years, we were like hermits, once we’re in every single night because we still are paying people, people Scared to look after the boys, which we understood. last few years, we’ve got a better social life partly because my sister lives out and stuff so we can go to like concerts and stuff. I live in East Coast. She has been trained in the rap clubs, and she’s comfortable. Where

Stu Oakley:can I ask about? I mean, on that note about how, you know, the time that you must have for yourself and the rest of your family. You then adopted two more children correct Lance and Lotus and what what kind of led to that decision? And, you know, and and just talk us a little bit about briefly about that, that process.

Paul:If it was up to Michael, Michael would keep adopting. We beloved Maria von Trapp. Michael would have loads that Michael would have the house full of kids and them and it’s me that says, Oh, my call man. I’ll say it now. And then but we shall see Him In a few years,

Stu Oakley:well, you’ve got a you’ve got a lot of love to give.

Paul:Well, I don’t know about that.

Paul:And then so anyway, did you

Stu Oakley:find it? Did you find the process different?

Paul:Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So the process philosophy, Lance, I think I struggled with a mall. And the reason to that is because we’d already been through it.

Michael:And I think what happened with Alterna lambs, we knew they were going to be evolved. So as a customer were foster carers renew, they were coming into the system. And certain like social workers in our authority, were always keen to have another set of twin. So they were going to be put in as early permanent placements. And we always said that from day one, if we ever do it again, we’d want them straight from there. And so we’re quite privileged that we’re registered carers them could have the option of having them straight from birth. So but there were a lot of charts on there a lot of talking with different friends and family and is it the right thing to do? Or is it too much should we do it? And that went on for like weeks into?

Paul:And there were all those thoughts on, you know,

Paul:if anything happens to us to who’s going to be there for livan Lucas as well, all those thoughts, you know, as everybody would, you know, talk about it. And then we heard about these two babies that were identical twin boys again. And we always said, How amazing would it be to have four children, two sets of identical twins. And so we made that decision. We went through the assessment, and, you know, the assessment for adoption, to keep it real. It’s very thorough. At times, it can be intrusive. We’re not gonna lie. We weren’t sugar coated. Mm hmm. Well, I think When people ask us what’s the adoption process, like? All we say to people is you have to see it as almost like your own private therapy session.

Stu Oakley:That’s a great way that is a great way of putting it. It gives you the opportunity to sit and talk and, and work out who you are as a couple as well. And as a family. We recently adopted our third child and we got grilled, like really grilled about how, how on earth are we going to cope with three children? So we you really challenged about how you would be able to focus on these two new children. We have two children who are ready who take up like an enormous amount of time.

Paul:The social last the social workers in yours. And they work they’ve been working with us and are still working with us because we’re still foster carers. So knew how we worked as a family. And I think a lot of them did believe in us as well. So that actually did work to our advantage. To some extent, and it wasn’t a case of working with somebody who’s doing all math, or whatever and Jobson assessment, trying to take new adopters to panel to approve all panel, because we’ve been working with all these people in these pilots in the local authority for many years as well, with our fostering alongside that I think that did really help

Michael:nothing one thing was brought up by one certain manager wanted that we would have to stop fostering, once we adopted the verb is, which I was furious about.

Paul:Because when they said this to us, I was so angry at this. They pulled us in for a meeting and they said guys, because obviously the children and if you adopt these two babies, we would have to look out whether you could still foster it alongside. I said how old American I said so if we were a straight couple, and my wife gave birth to two children to two twin children Would you then say to me, I couldn’t foster anymore. So, and then their attitude change?

Stu Oakley:Well, good for you for saying that. And I think it’s important to stand up for those for those kinds of things, because it is that I think it is internalized homophobia in a lot of instances, heterosexual couple could be foster carers.

Paul:They could be having their own children get pregnant, they’re never, they never get questioned about whether they could still foster or not. So how dare they do that to us?

we met them at the hospital, they were in special care that we spent time going to see them and back to them, and then we brought them home. They’ve been with us about two weeks. And this is a situation which I’m really open about. I used to say to Michael, and they’re beautiful boys, and we love them dearly. But this is something that I went through as a person, which is and people are very open about

Paul:that we’re in our house. And he said to Michael

Paul:Oh, God, I don’t feel how What did he say? That you didn’t you didn’t know if you could love him as much as the violin curse, because my love for Liga Lucas is just so strong. The bond and the bond. Oh, and you know, we were quite worried about him and I was really worried about it, the more I wasn’t talking about it. Yeah, the more I was getting concerned about it, and my attachment with my attachment be there because how strong the love is for Levi and Lucas. And then, over time, it started to disappear. And then one day I said it to one of our friends who’s got three children of her own married to her husband. I said to her I have to ask you, you know, when you had your second or third child, how did you feel? Did you feel like you’re worried in case you you want? What would I say?

Michael:In case you won’t love him as much as the other one or the attachment? And she says, Yeah,

Paul:as well. That’s how I felt with loads and loads. And she turns around and says, Every parent feels the same.

Stu Oakley:But yeah, that is what I think that is completely right. I very much felt like that when we had our son coming to us. He was the biological sibling of our two children. Yeah, I was so concerned that I was like, Am I gonna love him as much as the other two?

Paul:See, that’s how I felt that’s exactly how I felt. And I have no those feelings now, by the way. So, um, because obviously,

Paul:I love them. There are children and I’m proud of them.

Stu Oakley:And it was probably heightened for you as well in a sense At the amount of care that you do have to give the old boys like you have to give them so much of you and your attention and your love that I can 100% see why you’d have that, that concern that would you be able to share that with another two?

Paul:Absolutely. And I’m just so pleased, I was very open about that, because I talked about it. There’s lots of mothers out there who say, you know, I felt exactly the same when I have a second child. I thought could I love this as much as my first child?

Stu Oakley:Paul, I have one quick question for you. Yeah. So as a as a former adoptee Can you give me one piece of advice for me as a father of adoptive children, is there a piece of advice you can give me

Paul:just to let I would always say, let the child do the talking about their experiences. And let them bring all that up in their time. And when they do, really then start to dig deep into that. But I wouldn’t do it if they’re not talking to you about it. Because when I was when I was in foster care when I was young people used to try and talk to me about it and I would close up. And what I’ve learned over the years is the more I talk about it, the more people ask questions, the more I can then go deeper into it myself without ever realizing.

Stu Oakley:Nice. Well, thank you for that Paul. I will take that right away. Sure. That is very advice.

Stu Oakley:Um, Michael and Paul, a pretty damn amazing people. If you ask me. When you agree latte,

Lotte Jeffs:I mean, totally. But what I liked about them was that they kind of refused to accept that and they just were like, well, we’re just doing what anyone would do in our situation. Yeah, you know, they’re not sort of putting themselves in the Still are thinking that they are anything exceptional. When two people like us, you know, they absolutely are. I’m just so pleased that there’s people like that who are parents in the world. I’m so so grateful for people like them.

Stu Oakley:Yeah, they’re they are incredible. And if you haven’t then do go and watch some of their videos on on Facebook and Instagram because the videos of Paul dancing with their son, it just it’s really beautiful hug me in tears.

Lotte Jeffs:Even though the their sons are nonverbal with autism, you can just see the love from Levi for his daddy. Like it just is radiating from him. And his eyes are just like sparkling when he’s dancing with him and it’s just beautiful to see. So. Yeah,

Stu Oakley:and I think their approach to labels as well. I think you It’s really refreshing because, I mean, if you do look into it, you know, Levi and Lucas do have, you know, the the labels, they have their adoptive, they’re identical twins, they have a disability, they have gay dads, and it’s all about just breaking through that. And whilst they are nonverbal, it’s about allowing them to have their own individual personalities and identities. And you can feel that Michael and Paul really, really give them that and that’s also incredibly inspiring. Yeah,

Lotte Jeffs:I think as well for me, it really highlighted the, the sort of Instagram spectrum of gay parenting and the fact that like, they’re using social media for a real purpose to advocate for awareness of disabilities and to sort of make people a bit more aware of difference and what different families going through behind closed doors and I think that that’s that’s so important.

Stu Oakley:Yeah, I never said that label of, you know how the label for them as gay men, how that label doesn’t even really factor into their lives

Lotte Jeffs:is gift giving me a lot to think about I feel like I need to kind of go away and like process everything that they talked to me about because I think it’s really, really a meeting and just puts a lot of things into perspective and, and really, yeah, it just she’s really inspiring. So I really, really enjoyed speaking to them. So yeah, another really interesting episode. This has been such a kind of amazing eye opening experience for me recording this podcast with each and every episode. I just learned so much more about different people’s experiences. And it makes me think so much more about my own experiences of being a mother and what I want from my family and it’s Yeah, it’s just been great.

Stu Oakley:So absolutely. thing, the app well, Bryce family, you need to follow them on their social channels. But I would also encourage people to follow and support epilepsy action, which is the charity that my comport talks a lot about as well. You can actually find them@www.epilepsy.org.uk and in this time of uncertainty for a lot of charities, I really urge you to go out and support epilepsy action if you’ve listened to this episode, today.

Lotte Jeffs:Yeah. And also follow us on social media. If you would be so kind. We’re on Instagram at some families code. Or you could email us some families at StoryHunter.co.uk,

Stu Oakley:as always, we want to hear from you. We want to share Everyone’s story.

Lotte Jeffs:So as ever, it’s been a real pleasure to speak to you over the phone today. Sadly, we’re still not back in the studio yet, but we will reconvene this time next week.

Stu Oakley:We will too and I hope that you have a wonderful rest of the day, evening, morning, week, year, whenever goodbye