I feel that it is important to show where I have been in my process in order to assist well-meaning friends recognize that our experiences with deciding on becoming parents may be different. That the journeys in deciding when and how to build our families are both valid, despite being different. Understanding where I have already been, may also assist in recognizing what advice may be appreciated and what advice may be perceived as condescending, judgmental, or just ineffectual.
For many people, adopting a child is an idea far from their minds. It is likely that there assumptions of fertility and when it is discovered that it may become difficult to become pregnant, other expensive procedures are considered like IVF. Once IVF and other infertility therapies don’t prove effective, then adopting becomes the next option. In many cases it takes years of trying to conceive children and many medical interventions before adoption becomes a serious topic of conversation. For me, this was not the case.
When I was a child, I, like many children, were asked that question. The same very question that we dreaded to hear in high school: What do you want to be when you grow up? I remember giving several answers. One year it was a lawyer. Another it was an artist. But my first answer, before I realized adults were talking about occupation, was to be a father.
At that age, to me, being a father was taking you to soccer practice, going on camping trips, and showing you how to whittle sticks at Boy Scout outings. It was buying you kid all the ninja turtles at one time and watching your kid’s excitement. It meant playing with those action figures, even if you aren’t so thrilled that your son insisted on being April O’Neil.
I realized I was gay at 14 years old and came out at 15. This was unlikely a big surprise as I possess most of the attributes that make up the stereotypical image of a gay man. Artistic. Verbal. Emotional. Gregarious. Coming out at that age was unheard of in my generation. Support was often hard to find, and finding peers with similar struggles felt almost impossible. One of the hardest things I had to deal with was the idea that I would not be able to become a father. I struggled with this “reality” for years. At that age, I focused on the biological aspect of being a father. I couldn’t conceive of a different way to achieve this. It was devastating.
Throughout high school and college I worked as a summer camp counselor and in day cares. I purposely acquired hands-on experience with as many age groups as possible. I even facilitated an LGBTQ support group and worked a crisis hotline to better understand the experiences of people both similar and different than myself.
In college I met more people like myself and began to open my mind to the possibilities of surrogacy and adoption. Since my goal was to be married at 25 and have a family by 28 (bwahahahaha!). My idea of fatherhood in this stage of my life was achievement-based. Yes, I wanted to have children and engage with them as many father’s do, but it seemed like it was a way of saying, “look I made it!” Look! I’m worthy!” “Look! A gay guy can do this just as well as you can!” Fueled by my ambitions and desire to succeed, I thought it would be in my best interest to learn more about how I could go about acquiring that achievement.
I decided to take the course “Fertility and Future Technologies of Motherhood”, with the expressed purpose of better understanding my options for becoming a father. In that course I learned about several infertility treatments, various options for giving birth, and the price tag for each of these options. The one thing that was never touched on was the role of the father, let alone one’s role as a gay father. I began to explore this idea further in my psychology and LGBTQ Studies courses. If I was going to be a father, I was going to do it right! I was going to be perfect, damn it!
I read a book on gay parenthood and the struggles of being a gay parent, as well as potential struggles children with gay parents face. At the time, these children were more likely to come from homes where they were conceived within a heterosexual relationship with the father coming out at a later time. A lot of time was spent on supporting the child through the transition of the relationship transition between the mother and father, understanding the father’s identity, and revisiting their identity in the process. These were great books, and cutting edge for their time. But what about the gay father who was out and knew he wanted to be a father? What supports and steps did he have? Seemingly none.
As I continued to work on my Masters in Counseling, I spent extra time focusing on studies regarding gay parenting, child development, and any impacts on children who were being raised by gay parents. I was learning more and more about the importance of emotional support and how it could be expressed in ways that are the healthiest for people of all ages, but I was extra focused on learning how to be as supportive as possible with children. I also wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be anything innately problematic about my raising a child.
I found a few studies here and there. There were a lot of studies based on psuedo-science coming out of conservative and Christian think-tanks that were making their way into mainstream conversations. These studies had faulty scientific procedure, and had implicit assumptions that skewed results and interpretations of results. Nevertheless, these same studies were used again and again as evidence that gay parents were unfit, and based on that premise, should not be allowed to be married. I spent a lot of time looking up gay parenting studies completed by more reputable sources and found that the only difference between children who were raised by gay parents versus straight parents, is that children of gay parents tend to not be as strongly adherent to strict gender roles. Personally, I’m okay with that as strict adherence to gender roles has been linked to several unhealthy ways of thinking (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4460297/).
My husband and I got married in 2013, the same year that our state legally recognized same sex marriage. Having been in a long-distance relationship, I learned a lot about effective communication, negotiation, and sacrifice. I become more creative in finding ways of expressing love and support. I had a much clearer view regarding the connection between love and sacrifice. Matt and I had already had several conversation about having children. We felt that we were now ready to start exploring our options on the best way for us to build our family.
We engaged in research around various types of adoption. We had to take a hard look at ourselves. Our strengths and our weaknesses. We had to look at exactly what we could and could not provide to future children and consider both the best and worst case scenarios.
After looking into foster-to-adopt, closed-adoptions, and open-adoption, it was clear to us that open-adoption would be our method of choice. We met with an adoption lawyer to review our options. She asked a lot of questions, which we answered with ease. Matt and I had already reviewed age of child we would want to adopt, scenarios regarding mother substance abuse, mental health issues, and physical health issues that we were open to our future child having. We had discussed not using corporal punishment for discipline, and had even gone as far as purchasing a home walking distance from the neighborhood elementary school and park, that was also located in one of the best school districts in the state. The lawyer was impressed and encouraged us to having a consultation with an adoption agency.
I was working at a non-profit at the time with long hours and inadequate pay. We decided that before we proceeded further in the adoption process, that I needed to find more stable employment. It didn’t make sense for us to start an adoption process if we felt that we could not provide a stable environment for our child. In the meantime, I joined a number of foster-to-adopt and adoptive parent support Facebook pages and tracked the struggles and successes of various families. I continue to follow these pages to this day.
I spent the next two or three years looking for jobs that would allow for financial stability and in 2017, we decided that I had found it. We had not officially begun the search when that summer we received a surprise Facebook message from a friend of mine from High School. She had a friend that was pregnant with an unwanted child. The birth mother was in the middle of a divorce with neither parent wanting the child. The mother had not been abusing any substances and was already a stable mother to another child. For some reason, in her eighth month of pregnancy, the family that had agreed to adopt backed out and she needed a new family to provide a home for her unborn child. My friend had thought of us and reached out.
The mother was due in less than a month. We scrambled to get our finances in place. I warned my employer that I may need to take a sudden leave of absence. We cleaned out the guest room in our house and started identifying friends and family members that could provide us with cribs, diapers, and car seats. I bought at least fourteen books on the logistics of parenting infants, interracial parenting, various parenting styles, books to help identify a number of maladies in infants, and books focused on encouraging struggling first-time parents. I was on the phone with the adoption lawyer to prepare setting up her services.
Then nothing. The birth mother no longer returned our emails. Presumably she did not like how close we lived in proximity to herself and her place of employment and she did not want to risk seeing her child out in public. It is understandable that she would want to avoid any uncomfortable situations or unwanted emotions and at the same time, we were devastated. It took me a few months before I was ready to look into adopting again.
On the one hand, it really hurt and was very disappointing that we would not be becoming parents in this surprising way. But the pain also reaffirmed how much I wanted to become a father. It also showed me that I could withstand the loss. I had learned through the years that it is very common for adoptions to fall through and I was concerned about how that sense of hope followed by grief would affect me. As it turns out, it just makes me more tenacious. I decided that 2018 would be the year that we buckle down and make this happen. I had been saving money throughout the year and felt that given one more year of savings, and we would be ready to go.
Unfortunately, in February of 2018, I fell and dislocated and broke my arm. The savings that I had worked so hard for had been drained by the medical expenses. It was torture. With each bill I paid, I felt like I was getting further and further from becoming a parent. How would I ever make this happen? How does anyone make this happen?
In September, I decided I was going to ignore our financial situation and proceed forward with the adoption lawyer’s suggestion to get a consultation with an adoption agency. We needed to get more information regarding resources we could utilize and financial supports that we could use to make an adoption happen for us. We met in October, and that’s when I was informed that to begin the process would cost $30k and that the money could not be procured by loans. It took me a few hours to get over my initial devastation. I had spent so much of the year feeling devastated, I suppose I didn’t have much energy for that emotion left.
That night, I sprang into action and started a Go Fund Me page. The amount of support we received was amazing. Our friends donated $1000 within the first day. Those who could not support financially did so emotionally. Matt’s family also provided emotional support and vowed to help us in any way they could.
With renewed energy, I started utilizing my experience working in non-profits to start marking our cause. This led to ideas of building websites, creating fundraising events, and utilizing my photography and art to create items that could be sold to contribute to the cause. And this is where we are in the process presently.
I have literally spent my entire life looking at fatherhood and what it means to be a parent. It has evolved through the years as I have matured and gained more experience in life, but specifically with children. It has been a long evaluative process AND I am still learning and growing. I feel that it is important for my friends, family, and supporters to understand all of this in order to be more effective in providing the support they intend to provide. There has been a lot of encouragement to look at other ways to build a family other than an open-adoption. And I am still open to the information, but it is important for me to know that you are aware of my experiences before advocating for me to follow your own.