Meet the Fareham army officer who is giving back to SSAFA after they helped him have a family
For any family, adoption is a big decision. While it is a blessing to give a child a second chance or a better life, the journey can be long and complicated.
But there was no doubt in Major Andy Wilson’s mind when he and his wife Stacey found out they couldn’t conceive, that adoption was the right choice for them.
It was a long and arduous journey. And it is one he will replicate in October when he treks to Mount Everest Base Camp to thank the charity that helped him have the family he has always dreamed of.
‘SSAFA have been there for us from day zero. I thought it was time to give something back,’ smiles Andy, 38.
Andy, originally from Leeds, joined the army when he was 16 years old. He met Stacey 15 years ago and the couple tied the knot in 2008.
‘After we married, my wife and I were trying for children but nothing was happening,’ says Andy.
‘We found out that I had a condition called azoospermia and we couldn’t have children naturally.
‘We thought about a sperm donor so we could do IVF but I was adopted so we looked into it. There are plenty of children who need a second chance or a better life.’
As they started to explore their options, Andy and Stacey, from Fareham, were posted to Germany.
‘In the UK, we could go through the social services but it wasn’t until we got out to Germany we realised we could use SSAFA.’
Many may think adoption in the military can make the process even trickier. With postings happening at any time, military family life can be unpredictable.
But with the help of SSAFA, more than 400 families have been able to experience the joy of having a child of their own since 1964.
Andy explains: ‘We were put in touch with SSAFA in 2010. They were phenomenal.
‘They asked us to stop fertility treatment for a year so it gives you time to breathe. They want to know that you’re making the right choice for your family.’
The Wilsons travelled to London for a week-long course of parental training to learn about techniques and triggers. Then, they had to answer to an adoption approval panel, who asked a series of hypothetical questions.
‘We were approved and then monthly we received a catalogue of children which sounds as horrible as it is,’ says Andy. ‘You have to be true to yourself. It’s not a nice time at all.’
Finally, in 2012, the Wilsons came across Aaron, who was just nine months old.
‘Aaron’s social worker thought we were a great match for him.
‘We were successful but we hadn’t even met him at this point.’
Andy says SSAFA flew them back to the UK from Germany to meet baby Aaron for a two-week period and they provided all of the accommodation.
‘Before we took him home in February 2013, it was horrible. We were constantly watched, it was draining. No parent is perfect.
‘We were flying back home and he was crying. I held him in my arms and he just fell asleep – I knew then we were right for him,’ smiles Andy.
To go through the adoption process once can be emotionally draining, but the Wilsons didn’t hesitate to go through it all again in 2015 for Ruby.
‘We had to go through the whole process again because the family dynamics had changed.
‘I was posted back in the UK in 2015 and we had the option to use social services or SSAFA – we instantly went for SSAFA.’
In 2016, Andy, Stacey and Aaron welcomed Ruby into their home when she was just one year old. Four years on, the happy family couldn’t imagine life without one another.
‘SSAFA’s support for our children has been amazing,’ beams Andy.
And now he believes it is time to raise money for a charity which transformed his life for the better.
‘Ruby’s godfather tried to climb to Everest Base Camp but was unsuccessful, so we decided we would do it together.’
Andy and Danny Rogers embark on their two-week trek in October to Everest Base Camp. Before then, he hopes to raise £5,000 for the charity.
‘There’s a view of adopted children which is just completely wrong. Many never get a chance,’ he says.
‘SSAFA have been there for us from day zero.’
To donate to Andy’s JustGiving page, go to: gofundme.com/ssafa-everest-base-camp
Who are SSAFA and what do they do?
SSAFA – the armed forces charity, formerly known as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association – is a UK charity that provides lifelong support to serving men and women and veterans from the British armed forces and their families or dependents. Here are some facts:
They offer support to those currently serving, veterans and military families. Their research shows that service leavers aged 25-64 need more specialised support. The challenges they face vary from low income to life-changing injuries or hidden wounds, like depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. Through all of their services, they helped and supported more than 67,000 people worldwide in 2016. They support families with disabilities, including respite breaks, and they place 20 children every year through their adoption service. They conduct a mentoring service for those who have left the forces and their families when returning to civilian life. Their service committees work on army garrisons, RAF stations and naval establishments with 68 committees across the UK and wherever their forces are based worldwide.