When we go together in 2004, Amy and I knew pretty early on that we wanted to be parents. One of the first serious conversations she and I had about our future as a couple, I said to her “I want to have babies with you.” This was pretty remarkable seeing as how I had been known as a pretty devout non-kid person. But I knew she’d make a great Mom, I knew it was important to her to be one, and I knew that I wanted my kids to have her as a parent. And with that, we began our odyssey in search of our family.
We spent 2005-2009 (and tens of thousands of dollars) pursuing the creation of our family through the standard sperm bank/fertility clinic route, but alas to no avail. After the last failed attempt (an IVF cycle) our doctor actually had the audacity to recommend adoption to us. Now, normally couples who receive that “maybe you should try adoption” speech baulk at it because it means the end of attempting to create their own genetic child. For us, it meant the end of any honest form of creating a family. This is because at that time in our state there was a ban on adoption by anyone who was homosexual. In fact, I knew a straight married couple who adopted back then and their adoption packet included a form in which they had to affirm they were not homosexual. Seriously.
So, continuing to believe our family was still out there to find, we discussed perhaps fostering instead. In our state gay couples could foster, no problem… but never could they then adopt those foster children. We decided to go down that route anyway…. We filled out the paperwork (as a couple) and began attending the required classes. After about the 3rd or 4th class, the director of the agency offering the foster classes pulled us aside and said to us “You need to change your paperwork. Make one of you the sole applicant, and the other can later be added as another adult living in the home. You need to do this because you are going to get a child in your home, fall in love with it, and we are not going to be able to let you adopt. Worse yet, if a straight couple comes along and wants to adopt that child, we’ll have no choice but to take that baby away from ya’ll and give it to them. Please change your paperwork. You’ll have to affirm you are not gay, but if anyone questions it you can just say you found Jesus.” We couldn’t, in good conscience, begin our family with a lie.
So, sitting in the parking lot stunned by what had just happened, and tired of having another proverbial family-starting door shut in our face… I proposed the following… “Amy, let’s take a year’s leave of absence from our jobs (we were both tenured professors) and move to a state where we can both adopt.” Honestly, I’m not sure she really thought I was serious. This plan was not nearly as simple as that sentence implied. We’d have to first actually apply and be granted those leaves, then we’d have to find jobs somewhere else (we, like most people, couldn’t afford not to have income for a year), rent our house out, pack, rent a place somewhere else, move, and then establish residency in another state (new driver’s licenses, car and voter’s registrations, etc..) All of that would have to be done before we could even begin our adoption application, home study, background checks, etc. It may not have been the easiest of plans, but that’s exactly what we did.
We chose Illinois as it was one of the states that would let us both be on the birth certificate from day 1, which would save us the time and money of a second-parent adoption (and remember, we only had one year’s leave from our jobs.) We rented a place in Chicago before even renting out our Florida home, so that we could have an Illinois address to list on our adoption application. We chose an adoption agency that worked on a “pool system” instead of a “list system”. Meaning birthmothers could pick from anyone in the pool, not just a few families at the top of a list. The good news with that type of agency is that you could get picked quickly, the bad news is that you could conceivably never get picked. As my father often says “ya’ pays your money and ya’ takes your chances.” So off we went. We started jobs we didn’t love, in an apartment the size of a postage stamp… all in the hopes that we were on the verge of a miracle. And, then, we, waited.
Once in Chicago, there were definitely moments where we had crises of faith. We were homesick at times, and honestly exhausted from all that we had had to make happen just to get there. Then we got a call. A birthmother would be coming in the following Monday to look at our profile (among others). It was an excruciatingly long weekend. As we left work on Monday, my cell phone rang. It was our adoption case worker. She asked if I was driving. I said no, Amy was. She then said the words I still can’t believe I heard correctly. “She picked you guys”. Wait, what???? I just kept saying… “Seriously??!!!”
On Wednesday we met her. It was a 2 hour lunch. I barely recall what we spoke about, but when we left I turned to Amy and said “That lady’s gonna give us her baby!” We left the luncheon and drove straight to a Babies R Us, still in disbelief about our good fortune. I barely remember that shop either, but I know we spent hundreds of dollars! Early Friday morning on our way to work we get a phone call from the adoption agency “Your baby was born last night. Visiting hours are at 9am. The birthmother would like you there as soon as possible”. We made a U-turn at the next highway exit and were holding our daughter when she was 7 hours old. We were fortunate that this birthmother was very wise and unselfish and said it was important for us to bond with the baby. She graciously allowed us to hold, feed and change our daughter for every hour that visitors were allowed. We spent the weekend in that hospital room, bonding with our daughter and her amazing birthmom. Then it came time for their release on Sunday. Illinois law requires that all babies must leave the hospital with the birthmother. So we put our little nugget in our car seat, put her on birthmom’s lap, and the adoption agency social worker wheeled them out. Amy ran and got the car, pulled up and I then opened the back door. The birthmom got up and placed our daughter in to our car, turned to us and said “Have fun!” She then sat back down and got wheeled out of our lives. And that was that; a family was born. Our lives changed completed in less than one week. And then….
One week to the day after our daughter’s birth, following a ruling by a Florida state appeals court, the Governor (Charlie Crist) released a statement that Florida was to immediately stop enforcing the gay adoption ban. But that mattered none to us. We had our family, and were (and still are) convinced that we were meant to go up to Chicago and get her, specifically her. In the year to follow we did move back to Florida, back in to our home, back to our old jobs… but as a family of three. A happy family of three.
Within a year or so we began to feel that tug again, that our family still wasn’t quite complete. But this time we stayed in our home and at our jobs. We simply selected a Florida based adoption agency and started the process from the comfort of our home. We had not one issue (legal or otherwise) adopting our second daughter from the very same state from which we had had to flee just a few years before. That adoption process didn’t go nearly as smoothly, though. We were matched with three different birthmothers each of whom ultimately choose to parent. Each one of those failed matches was heartbreaking. But at the end of the process we were once again sure that our little noodle was just the one who was supposed to join us. And then we were a happy family of four. I was so relieved that at the end of our journey I was indeed able to keep the promise I had made to Amy nearly ten years earlier… I want to have babies (plural) with you”. Smile.