Gay Fatherhood, Step 2: Learn the Birds and Bees
Just before a judge decreed that we'd officially adopted our girls and shook our hands and took a celebratory photograph, my husband and I were invited back to the mandatory classes we'd completed two years earlier. This time, we were the success story instead of the trainees.
Can you imagine? It's a room filled with 20 or so people who — if they're anything like me — were white-knuckling their way down this murky path toward "foster-adoption" and my job was telling them what to expect. The cutest gay couple with two of the cutest little kids once went through the same motions of this ritual for me, offering a reassuring glimpse into the future with their mere existence.
For days before walking into that workroom, though, I had an internal struggle over whether to do the humane thing and stick to assurances that everything works out. For the sake of all the unadopted children, it's probably lucky my girls can't sit still. My husband, Nathan, wound up doing all the talking while I occupied the kids at a table in front of the room with princess coloring books and then photos of puppies on my iPhone and then peanut butter crackers. That lasted a good four or five minutes before we abandoned ship. They're 2 years old, after all.
If these new recruits wanted a picture of their future, my girls were keeping it real. I'm sure the room heard me pretending to be the tickle-monster and chasing the girls up and down the hallway. One even dashed back into the workroom for shelter. Nathan assures me everyone thought it was adorable, and we weren't being silently shamed for raising the loudest children at the Gymboree.
I never really resolved what I would have said if it were me in front of that room instead of Nathan. I'm always tempted to warn people, in a grimly serious whisper, "This isn't easy."
Sometimes I try a lighter touch and tell people we chose foster-adoption because we lack common sense. I'm kidding, of course, but my husband and I are often asked about the mechanics of how we adopted. And if you follow this same route, you'll need some politic way of acknowledging during casual conversation that you picked an insanely risky option for having children.
Foster-adopt is exactly what it sounds like. You sign up to be foster parents while simultaneously agreeing that if no other legal guardian steps forward, then you will adopt the children put in your care. Trust me, the rate of cases ending in adoption is much lower than you'll be comfortable admitting to anyone who cares about you.
And so heading into that workroom, I was leery of the false sense of security our case lends on paper. We said yes to the first phone call from our agency, agreeing to take twins. And we adopted those girls two years later. Case closed.
It would be easy to gloss over the rough parts and portray it as that simple. The closest I came to losing the girls was a year into the process when a social worker told us it looked like drug treatment was progressing, so the girls would likely be reunited with their birth mother, and that we should start preparing ourselves. Call it shock, but it took a day for that message to seep through the cracks in my emotional armor. When it finally did, I cried alone in my office with the door shut.
Still, I emerged and went on with the day. I didn't want anyone to worry. The only people who go to the training classes are the potential foster parents, but your friends, family, and coworkers all get caught up in the drama and pretend not to be scared for you.
What everyone in that room full of trainees already knows is that if you ever want to have children, it isn't enough to sit around wanting. You have to try — really freaking hard.
As the right wing likes to point out, LGBT people can't just get drunk one night and stumble into parenthood. Your mom or dad might not have sat you down and explained this when you hit puberty, but same-sex couples have children without sex.
We do it with a mix of paperwork and heartache.
When we lived in Florida in 2007, it was downright illegal to adopt. Rosie O'Donnell was making headlines for calling out the bureaucrats who'd decided gay people were unfit parents.
We considered options like surrogacy that would let us stay in Florida but eventually accepted that it would cost too much — more expensive than a car and less expensive than a house. We considered international adoption or hiring a private lawyer or any number of the myriad options available for starting a family. Our top priority was everything being indisputably legal, and so we moved.
I took a job in Massachusetts, home of legal same-sex marriage, and then I promptly lost that job. The place went under three months after we arrived. That was a tough one. I remember an embarrassing moment in a Boston pub where we’d decided to regroup with a sandwich and maybe some whiskey. The radio was blaring so loud it was hard to talk. Then this damn earnest song, which still haunts me, just tore me apart.
"Hey, don't write yourself off yet," it went. My chin tried not to quiver. But the platitudes were too perfectly timed. "Just try your best, try everything you can." Then I broke down, to a freaking Jimmy Eat World song. I wish I could say it had been something much hipper.
But that song! "It just takes some time, little girl, you're in the middle of the ride. Everything, everything, will be just fine. Everything, everything, will be all right."
For a moment, sitting together later on a mattress on the floor of our still empty and freezing apartment, I wondered if it was all too hard. Maybe we just weren't destined to do this, I told Nathan fatalistically. His answer was, "Will you marry me?"
I think he wanted to assure me that no matter how hard things got, he'd still be there. I would need reassuring over and over from that day in 2008 to the one in 2014 in a courtroom when we adopted. You don't need a husband to have kids. Single people start families all the time, all over the country. But I couldn't have done it alone.
If it were me in front of that group of trainees, I'd probably decide against trying to scare everyone into leaving the room. (If you stayed, then OK, you can be a parent.) Instead I'd tell all those anxious people that I was anxious too, and the one thing you can’t do without is a support system — someone to tell you it will be OK, even when he isn't sure either.