The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

‘We are just another family’

Dayna Clarke Wednesday, 11 September 2019, 10:45 Last update: about 10 days ago
Noel and Chris wish to extend a heartful thanks to the Portuguese team, their Adoption agency, the Malta Adoption Board and authorities involved in the whole adoption process. Photo by Gina Zerafa
Noel and Chris wish to extend a heartful thanks to the Portuguese team, their Adoption agency, the Malta Adoption Board and authorities involved in the whole adoption process. Photo by Gina Zerafa

When I tell a colleague I'm off to interview a same-sex couple and their adopted son; he says casually: "They're just another set of parents, the adoption process might not be easy - but really, so what?" Which may be a measure of how far in Malta we have come in accepting different family dynamics.

Rewind a few decades it was very different when Noel and Chris Vella-Galea were growing up in Malta. The thought of them having a child one day without a maternal figure involved was incomprehensible. "Fortunately, times have changed, we both wanted to be parents from the get-go, and with changes in legislation in recent years it meant we were able to pursue our family dream," adds Noel. "After our marriage, we moved into our new house and one night we discussed that rather than having an empty kid's bedroom and a big house just for the two of us, it would be ideal for extending our family by seeking the possibilities of adopting a child."

Following which, the couple describes the gruelling nine-month process to adopt their son Daniel from Portugal. "Absolutely every part of our lives was analysed, from finances to medical reports to psychological assessments, but at no point were we treated differently to any other couple wishing to adopt, aside from the fact we could only adopt within the EU from Portugal, since they permit same-sex couple adoptions."

When a potential match came through for five-year-old Daniel, the couple waited anxiously as a month passed before hearing the outcome.

"Everything was moving very slowly, we kept waiting and waiting, and then we got the call we had been dreaming of, within three weeks we were on our way to Portugal to collect our son! Sadly, the home was being closed down and Daniel was the only child waiting for international adoption. Daniel had been well prepared with therapies and specialist support to aid a smooth transition to Malta and his new family structure. The team had also ensured that all judicial documents were available prior to Daniel's departure. Daniel was very excited; he kept telling everyone he was going to have two papas and drawing family pictures! He still calls us Papa Noel and Papa Chris."

There is a lot more acceptance of the couple and their family now than there was a decade ago, says Noel, who turns out to be the chattier of the two. "Ten years ago, everyone thought people like us were a pair of paedophiles. Gay men wanting to be parents! What else could we be? We had to be with ill intentions."

"We've spent the last few years trying to persuade people that's not the case. We've spent a great deal of time getting people to understand we're just another family."

Like many couples, Noel and Chris have clearly defined roles. Noel is the family organiser, breadwinner and manages a hectic workload. Chris is more flexible with his work and spends time tutoring Daniel to catch up academically and running him to his therapies. During his scholastic year, Daniel also attends the breakfast club, after school hours and summer school to enable both parents to manage their full-time hours.

"As with every family, you have to strike a balance," adds Chris, who is markedly more reserved than Noel. "As you can see, we are two very different people! But we have managed to make it work, we are still learning of course! When we first collected Daniel, it was all so surreal, and I was so nervous and protective of him, well we still are!"

I ask the couple if it took time to bond with Daniel. "Not at all," states Noel. "He just blended into our lives as if he should have always been there, although there was a language barrier since Daniel was never exposed to English. We are so proud of him, he's done so well to learn English within a year and now he understands Maltese very well." To make this happen, the couple learned some Portuguese phrases and used a translation APP during the first month. As soon as Daniel started his scholastic year, he started to learn English formally.

When it comes to family life, Daniel is delighted to tell me about his cousins here in Malta and his nanna and nannus. Noel states their wider families and local community could not have been more accepting of their son. "At the end of the day, we are just another family, one that has been able to allow Daniel to live his life to the full. When he arrived he was so institutionalised he didn't know how to play properly; now he spends hours playing with his friends, and he completely adores the sea!"

On that note, the family and I part ways, as they turn towards the beach to spend some quality time together, with one last closing comment from Noel: "For all those couples or single persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation, we encourage them to keep hope as the journey towards adoption is long, full of emotions with several challenges. Try to keep your goal in mind, to provide a loving home for a child for a better future."

 

Noel and Chris wish to extend a heartful thanks to the Portuguese team, their Adoption agency, the Malta Adoption Board and authorities involved in the whole adoption process


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