Dolce & Gabbana gate: families matter

We were contacted by The Sun newspaper today to ask whether we had an opinion over the whole D&G thing – whereby they flippantly claim that “The only family is the traditional one” in an interview with Italy’s Panorama magazine. They go on to say “We oppose gay adoption….no chemical off springs and rented uterus. Life has a natural flow there are things that should not be changed.” Dolce adds “You are born to a mother and father – or at least you should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteri for rent, semen chosen from a catalogue…”  Gabbana states “Family is not a fad…”

Do we have an opinion? Too right we have an opinion!  We work bloody hard, every day, proving to people that we’re exactly that. A ‘normal’ family.  So when people of such influence so carelessly and publically share their somewhat limited and unpalatable personal views, with apparent disregard to the damage and offence they are, without doubt, going to cause it really does piss me off a little.  Just as it seems society takes a step forward, who are they to risk causing it to take a step back? Who the hell do they think they are?!  Ironically, as both gay adopters and having had a child through surrogacy D&G have managed to doubly offend us!

We started our journey into fatherhood with thought and consideration. We knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together – and we knew that we wanted to share that with our children.  We knew that we had a lot to offer a child. Sure we weren’t perfect – chances are we weren’t going to get it right every time. But we were willing to give it a bloody good go.  After all, what does a child need. To us it was simple; they need opportunities to learn and grow. they need to be kept safe, but learn how to take risks. They need to be fed and cared for physically and emotionally. They need someone to pick them up when they fall and to kiss away their tears. They need someone to love them unconditionally and to have someone whom they can love back. They needed us.  What part of that dictates that it is a mother and a father who can provide that? Or a father and a father or mother and mother or any combination or singular that you can suggest. All it takes is someone that is doing it for the right reasons to the best of their abilities.

We started our family back in 2009 through surrogacy. There was nothing forced or contrived about it. It was a natural extension of our love for each other, my sisters love for us and her knowledge, as a mother herself, that we would make great parents. It certainly wasn’t born of some fad or fanciful idea. I ask you D&G. Would it have been better if we’d fallen drunkenly pregnant without thought or consideration of the consequences? Or decided to have a child for the financial or material gain as some seem to do? Or perhaps you’d rather we’d had a child to use as a pawn in a bigger game? That seems quite ‘normal’ to some.  No thanks. We’ll stick to doing things our way.

Having successfully started our family we wanted more. Not only were we proving to ourselves that we could do this parent thing, we were actually quite good at it! Wil was thriving under our love and care.  We decided to expand our family – this time we chose to adopt. We considered surrogacy again, but ultimately decided that we wanted to offer a home to a child that was already out there – that through no fault of their own needed the secure, loving home that we could offer them. Ironically a child that may need a home due to the actions of its ‘traditional’ birth parents – perhaps a mother and father who had made some poor decisions in life that put that child at risk. Wasn’t the case for us in reality, but even so. Who cares. In reality it didn’t make a difference – we wanted to offer that child the home that, for whatever reason, its birth parents could not offer. And that’s the point. We could. Sure, it might not be ‘traditional’ but who gives a fuck! What’s traditional anyway – no two families are the same – nor should they be. Life moves on. Things change. People adapt. Except apparently D&G who choose to demonstrate their archaic and limiting views so publically. We are family. We are our children’s world and they are ours. It doesn’t matter one iota how we created that family – what matters is that we continue to strive to always be the best parents we can.

So what’s my opinion?  My opinion is that D&G can keep their thoughts to themselves – they’re perfectly entitled to think what they like of course, just don’t trash us and all the others like us in the process. I really am annoyed at them and feel stupidly let down by them – people I don’t even know. Without a doubt they have caused some damage with their recklessness. Drawn a bit of bad-light on the situation of ‘gay’ parenting. But you know what – it won’t last. It’s really only the haters that listen anyway – one’s that want backing to their thoughts no matter how ridiculous – and I genuinely think they’ve done more damage to themselves than to the future of gay people parenting children.

So while D&G are busy picking through the ashes of their spring collection, myself and my husband, with our three wonderful children – who are doing rather well despite their upbringing – will be out there showing the people who matter that we are a normal family. Proving to the old couple in the supermarket, the parents and teachers at school, medical professionals, friends, family…..most of whom need no proof at all because when they see us all they already really see is just another normal family. Dribble and all.

So up yours D&G. We are family and family is what matters.DSC_0098_20140517163154278

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Pirate parties & Marie Claire

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After we moved into our new home, life became hectic and busy. Unfortunately for us, reality was biting us in the bum; we had to go back to work.
We are both serving Police Officers, and we carried on working full-time, at least initially we did.
We were lucky though, we found we had more angels in the family in the form of Ivans parents, or Nanny and Bampi as they are fondly known to the kids. It wasn’t merely by chance that they lived close by, we had after all moved back to where Ivan was born. The fact that we were so close however, was a godsend in the early days, still is in fact. Nanny and Bampi were more than happy to do all the childcare when Wil was young, and Ivan and my shifts overlapped.
Ivan’s parents had formed a really strong bond with Wil, very early on. Why wouldn’t they I guess. After all, he is the grandson that they never thought they would have, even in their wildest dreams. In turn, Wil adores his Nanny and Bampi and was more than happy to spend time with them. My thoughts were, and still are, that its healthy for kids to spend time with other, trusted, adults outside of the family home. We’ve found that rather than confuse our kids, its worked well to reinforce their attachment to us. And of course, it gives us a chance to work – or to have a break if we need it.
So, with a mix of working and the DIY that we had to do on the new house, the first year of Wils life simply flew by. Before we knew it we were planning his first birthday. Now this was a first for us, one of many that parenthood was bringing. We considered having a small, family affair, but quickly dimissed this idea. It had been a bloody brilliant year. A year filled with highs and lows, ups and downs. We deserved to celebrate. We also deserved to spoil not only Wil, but the amazing friends and family that had really proven their worth that year. We were going to party!
Ivan and Wil’s birthdays are only a few days apart, so we decided to combine the two and have an extended party – this has since turned into the Ponder-Sigston annual summer bash.
Planning a kids party was a whole new area of parenting that I hadn’t really thought about. But hey, surely I could call on my earlier mis-spent years partying for inspiration? I started planning and I loved it.
As many parents do, for our first party we opted for a pirate party, along with a bouncy castle. I took to the internet and started to order all manner of Pirate related items in preperation; from blow up Polly the Parrot to pirate flags, we had it all. And lets not forget the costumes. We didn’t make them mandatory, I hate that. But we certainly got into the spirit of it. We sent out about 100 invites to family and friends. We were looking at this as a chance to get together and really celebrate what had been an amazing year. We ordered in the BBQ food and started to prepare the buffet.
As the day drew closer I became increasingly nervous; would people turn up? Would they have fun? Would the sun shine for us? The joy of having a summer baby was, in theory, that we could make the most of the beautiful outdoor space we have and host the party in our garden. Would that really pan out?!
I woke the morning of the party to brilliant blue sky. I breathed a sigh of relief and with that all my concerns melted away. Our friends and family had more than shown us their outstanding qualities that year. They’d turn up and have fun. I just knew it.
I was happy to be proven right on that point straight away. As I wondered downstairs and into the top garden, I found Ivan’s nephew at the other side of the fence with a boat. He’d bought a bloody boat! Now that is really showing what a truly wonderful family we have. He had thought that we might need it for the party. He wasn’t wrong – between us we got it over the fence and into the garden. A few pirate flags and a fishing net and it was the perfect center piece to the party. We had just about got the last flags in place and the bouncy castle in and up, when the first guests started to arrive. They certainly didn’t let us down.
Wil and Ivan had a truly amazing day, in fact we all did. The sun shone, the kids played, the adults drank Ivans home-brewed Elderflower champagne. It was magical and a day that will always stay with me.
People drifted in and out throughout the day. Wil, having been utterly spoilt, he deserved it, was his usual easy self and went off to bed at about 8pm and straight to sleep. He must have been overflowing with the love and affection that he was shown by everyone that day. The party kids drifted home, happy, fed, and carrying the party bags they had earned from a treasure hunt.
The adults then partied until about 2am. Shattered as I was, I remember sitting on the decking with our amazing network of friends and family, slightly pissed, thinking just how perfect life was.
The media madness that had occurred a year before seemed a distant memory.
Our first party was a success! Another parenting point ticked off the list.

Ironically, it was only a short while later that we were approached by the magazine Marie Claire. They wanted to do a piece on us and our family. Unlike last time, this would be on our terms. Did we really want to stir up the hornets nest again though?

We had some serious thinking to do….

It’s a dogs life: Country life suits the dogs too

It's a dogs life: Country life suits the dogs too

It’s not only us and the boys who love our country idyll. The dogs love the freedom and space that they have too. Here are our 4 pet dogs, starting in the foreground; Buddy, Sophie, Locke, and Jack. We also have 2 working dogs. The kids and dogs learn a lot from each other. If nothing else but to want to be out, whatever the weather.

Media madness: A shock to the system

You know, I always thought I’d enjoy being in the limelight; a focus of the newspapers and the TV. Who hasn’t??  In my imagination though it was to celebrate my acting prowess or promoting my first album. Neither of these were anymore likely than being asked on a date by Gerard Butler. Mmm, Gerard. Definitely a close second to Ivan. What I could do with Gerard…

Oops, sorry. Where was I?

Oh yes, media. Well I can’t act, and I sure as hell can’t sing, so I’d given up on the whole media attention thing many moons ago. Imagine my surprise,  horror in fact, to wake up a few days after Wils birth to discover we’d made the front page of The Sun.

We’d been warned by our legal advisor, Natalie Gamble, that the media loved a surrogacy story and that this one would be of particular interest to them. Natalie had advised us at the time that we either had to be very cautious, or embrace the media and approach them ourselves. We were unanimous that we had no interest in approaching the media. The decision for us to have a baby was a private one. To be shared with family and friends. The people that mattered.

If I’m honest, I don’t think we really believed that us having a baby would be of interest to anyone. Despite that however, we were very careful. We told close family and friends who we trusted only. We asked them to be mindful of what Natalie had said and to not share the news until we’d made it public. We told our work of course, we needed to make plans after all, but only on a need to know basis. We felt we’d done everything we could to keep things under wraps.

It was a couple of weeks before Wil was born that things changed a bit. At the time we lived in a detached bungalow in Southampton. The property was surrounded by 6′ fencing and was accessible by key coded gates only. Ivan walked out into the garden one day and was shocked to find a reporter stood in the back garden outside the door. The reporter said that he knew we were having a baby through a surrogate and that he wanted to tell our inspiring story. He said that he was there to give us that opportunity. Ivan saw red. This man had trespassed into our garden. Trespassed into our life. He was threatening what already meant the world to us. Ivan told the reporter to fuck off out of our garden, telling him we had no interest in selling ‘our story’.

You know. We still genuinely thought that there was nothing interesting in what we were doing. We were just having a baby for crying out loud. People do it every day, in every which way. Yes it was special to us and our families. But why the hell would anyone else be interested? Naively we thought that this would be the end of it. We worried for a bit, but when no article was forthcoming we thought that Ivan had scared him off.

A couple of weeks later to our utter delight Wil was born. Healthy. Happy. We were so ecstatic. The day Wil was born we slept for a few hours at Lorna’s. I say slept, but that’s not entirely accurate. Wil slept at the foot of our bed in a moses basket while we gazed on. We were so in love with him already. He was, is, perfect. When it was late enough in the morning to be able to sensibly leave we took Wil home. We knew we’d have to return the next day for a health check, but we just wanted to get home. Start family life as we meant to go on. It was so amazing walking into our home with Wil.  Introducing him to the dogs. To the house. To us. We cherished being able to enjoy our amazing new son without distraction. Probably selfish of us really, but we felt it important as a family.

The next day we headed back to Sussex. The health check went well. After that we wandered up to the registry office with Lorna to register his birth. It was a blissful couple of days. We were shattered from it all, god knows how Lorna must have felt, but though we were exhausted we were definitely floating on a high. After showing off our beautiful son to our family, Ivan and I headed home to Southampton.

The next morning I woke early. I checked the computer and saw I had a new message on Facebook. I didn’t recognise the name, so interested clicked on the message. “I have just read your story in the Sun and wanted to say what a wonderful thing you have done. All the best to you and your family.” I can still feel my heart sink. My pulse raced and my hands shook as I processed what the message said. I could feel the tears threatening to spill over as I started a Google search…

Gay Policeman have baby using sister as surrogate. The headline screamed at me from the computer. There was a picture of us with Lorna, when we’d registered Wil’s birth the day before, clearly taken with a telephoto lens. WTF! I could feel everything shaking as I read the article. It was detailed. They knew things that only a close friend could. Down to the colour we’d originally painted the nursery. We’d been betrayed. That’s what hurt the most.

I went downstairs to Ivan. I couldn’t hold in the tears as I told him what I’d found. He held me as I shook, the shock too much. Once we’d both calmed down we re-read the article. Ironically it was beautifully written. Pretty much spot on in terms of accuracy. It was very pro us and talked about what a joyous occasion it was. It even went into describing Ivans army service in Northern Ireland and a Royal Humane Society award he’d been awarded for saving a man’s life a few years earlier.  They had plenty of detail. We’d clearly been sold out. And that’s what we were finding most difficult to get over. We tortured ourselves trying to work out which of our trusted friends had betrayed us. And for what reason?  Money, greed, jealousy?  We couldn’t believe that any of them had done this to us, but there was no other explanation.

If we’d known the madness to come, I think we’d have made more of that day. Instead we ventured out only to buy a copy of the paper and then dwell on it. Sure, Wil counteracted this somewhat, but when he was sleeping I went back to worrying. I took to trawling the comments on the Suns website. I was heartened to see many congratulations included in the comments. Strangers wishing us the best. Then there was the dark side. The hundreds of people saying we were evil and selfish to bring a child into the world in the way we had. We were monsters that were cruelly bringing a child into our life when we knew he would be bullied and ridiculed throughout his life. One comment in particular stays with me; “How dare these selfish people be so selfish as to bring a child into the world knowing that he will be teased. I pity that they are so desperate. If they want something to look after they should get a pink poodle.” I was so angry. How dare they. I fucking hate poodles and can’t bear pink. But seriously,  it was one of many comments that really made me see what bigoted, narrow minded idiots there are in the world. I had to shut the computer down and go and hug our son. A son we bought into this world out of love and with serious consideration. Knowing that we could provide a home full of love, warmth and happiness and provide him with the tools to deal with the narrow minded bigots, that he would inevitably encounter, with strength and dignity and a quick jab to the throat if needs be.

After a sleepless night I again woke early the next day. This time it was the buzzer going off. I went to the gate and was gobsmacked to find reporters and photographers crowding the house. I just slammed the gate and went back indoors. They continued to shout over the fence and take photographs into the garden and the windows. It was madness. What the hell was going on. We’d just had a bloody baby for godsake. Leave us alone to enjoy it.  That day we had to visit the children’s center for them to weigh and check Wil over. We’d been really excited about this, but now we were just worried. We rang ahead to let them know in case they wanted us to avoid coming down. They were brilliant and said they’d lock the doors and for us to come on down. We got Wil ready and secured him in his car seat. As the electric gates opened to let us out of our garden the press crowded in. Their cameras bashed against the window and the flashes exploded in our faces. I tried to cover Wil’s face as Ivan edged out through the crowd. As we turned into the road and started to pull away we realised they were jumping into cars and following. We were being paparazzi’d for crying out loud!  It took all of Ivans driving skills, but he managed to lose them before we reached the children’s center. The appointment was amazing and the staff fantastic.

Unfortunately when we returned home the reporters were still there waiting. Calling. Hounding. In the end we had to call our colleagues in the Police to try and get them moved. It seemed to work for a while. The story had been taken up by all the local and national papers. In fact, in the weeks to follow we found out it had gone worldwide.

Our messages and email went crazy. We had offers from newspapers, magazines, television, radio. Lorraine Kelly wanted us on her show. C4 wanted to make a documentary on us. Lily Allen got in touch. Ok, that was cool. For 24 hours she was my friend on Facebook… And she added me I’ll have you know. I think my crazy messaging might have scared her off though as she disappeared from my friends list.

Truth is. We were offered thousands of pounds to sell our story. Trouble is. It wasn’t a story. It was our life. Our family. Our son. We turned it all down. We just weren’t interested. Sure, there was a certain temptation…great savings fund for Wil. But it felt wrong. If nothing else it would fuel the interest in the story and things were far too stressful to do that.

When we wouldn’t talk,  and the press were getting no joy from Lorna either, they started to hunt down our friends and family. Luckily no one else spoke to them. The fools even turned up at Ivans parents. The image of his dad chasing them down his driveway still sticks with me as though I was actually there! Priceless!

We had to start screening out the hundreds of horrible, nasty, threatening messages that were there. Instead we took strength from the many more messages that told us of the hope that we had given people. The hope that they too could have a family. People who said that until they’d read our story they had no reason to live. They didn’t want to be gay they wanted a family, but now they saw that both could go hand in hand. We heard from people all over the world. Messages that gave us strength and made us realise that good easily kicks bads butt. We never did find out which ‘friend’ sold our son out. I don’t care now. Thankfully, in the days, weeks and months that followed the press grew less interested. The story died but the change that had occurred and the hope that it had given people could never be changed.

The thing that makes us proudest of all is the realisation that, in one small moment, at 05:09hrs on 11/07/2009 our son William had made history. He was a first and that couldn’t happen again. He had changed the world for good without even knowing it.