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For Concord same-sex couple, path toward adoption was a winding one

Last modified: 7/29/2013 11:57:05 AM
Adoption? What?”

For years, that was my answer when my husband brought up the prospect of us adopting a child. Those words were often followed by:

“Are you kidding? I don’t think so.”

Or: “That sounds interesting. Let’s talk about it in a few years.”

It’s not that I disliked children, or that I thought I would be a bad parent. It’s just that the entire concept – raising a little one – had been banished from my mind at least a decade earlier.

I’m from small-town Kansas. As a teenager in the 1990s, gay parenting was simply not a subject you heard about. Gay people weren’t a subject you heard about much, except when AIDS or crazed Topeka preacher Fred Phelps made the news.

I knew I was gay. And the depictions of gay people I saw around me didn’t leave open the option of having a family. At most, a gay man might find a “special friend” who would be grudgingly acknowledged by the most liberal of his family members. But a husband or committed partner? A child who called them both parents?

You might as well have told me that all the gay people were going to build a giant rocket ship and move to the moon.

And who knows. We might have done that. But times changed.

From the very beginning, Max wanted children. He told me that he always envisioned himself with a family, even after he figured out that he was gay. It was part of his basic conception of himself, a goal for his life.

When we started dating, we were both in our 20s, and forming a family wasn’t high on our immediate agenda. We lived in Kansas, then Florida for a few years. He worked as a librarian, and I worked as a journalist. We adopted an American Eskimo dog in 2003, but that was as far as I could go.

Every year or two, Max would bring up the subject of adoption. At first, I didn’t take him that seriously. Why would we – two 20-something gay men – want to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child? I could barely finish playing a video game, let alone appear like a responsible adult.

The idea persisted, though. Soon enough we were 30-something gay men, and planning the years ahead of us became a pressing matter. We had moved to New Hampshire. We had lived in Concord for a half-decade.

The time had come to make a real decision.

Ready for change?

If there’s one unpleasant thing about me (and I’m sure there are more), it’s that I resist change. I dislike too much routine on a day-to-day basis, but overall, I prefer to know where I’m going to be and why for the next couple of years.

So when we started talking about adoption as a near-term goal, my resistance was no longer based in anything as concrete as a past in Kansas or a lack of role models.

I simply couldn’t imagine changing our lives so much.

We had carved out comfortable nooks in the Granite State. My husband is a town librarian. I’ve worked at the Monitor since the mid-2000s, keeping myself occupied with a mix of activities that include editing, page design and cartooning.

We lived in Concord, had close friends, and still looked after that American Eskimo dog, who had put on a few pounds in the intervening years. We had a simple, quiet life. And we were about to change it utterly.

I worried about us being a same-sex couple. I expected that we could handle parenting – that was the least of my concerns. Instead, I worried about how other people would treat us. I worried about our child’s resilience and the society in which he or she would grow up.

And there was the cost. Domestic or foreign adoptions can cost tens of thousands of dollars. How could we possibly manage that? How long would it take to save the money?

From all of my overheated worrying, one undeniable truth emerged: We needed more than agreement on a theoretical goal. We needed a plan.

Plotting the course

Our adoption did not happen quickly. But not for the reasons people generally think. Everyone has heard about couples waiting years to be matched with a birth mother. We waited a few months, but that part of the process was not our biggest obstacle.

Instead, we spent some three years learning about the process and saving money. Not glamorous or exciting, true, but this slow and steady process was critical. It was the path we needed to follow.

But that path didn’t emerge all at once. We had to uncover it for ourselves.

Conversations about how to adopt cheaply became foster care classes.

Those foster care classes, and the challenges they made clear, led to a new decision about the kind of adoption we wanted.

Deciding on the kind of adoption we wanted – domestic newborn – finally gave us a rough cost estimate.

That rough estimate led to a long period of savings.

Those savings eventually led to a conversation with an adoption lawyer, who gave us even more specifics.

The conversation with the lawyer led to final, serious preparations.

There was no single moment when I changed my mind, no blinding flash. But during those three years of going back and forth, of learning and stashing away money, of talking about actually becoming parents, my perspective shifted. Instead of wondering if I was going to become a parent, I began to wonder what kind of parent I was going to be.

I had arrived. Just a decade or two after my husband.

By November 2010, we were ready. Not just in theory, but in practice. We had created a profile that would be sent to prospective birth mothers in Arizona. We mailed it to our lawyer. And we waited.

Here he comes

Five months later, Baxter arrived. The route there was bumpy. We were matched in December with a birth mother who changed her mind after a week. It was devastating, and I insisted afterward that I wanted to take a month or so off.

But it wasn’t to be. Our profile remained in a stack in Arizona, and within a couple of weeks, it was picked by a birth mother who decided – very firmly – that we were the couple she wanted.

We took the plunge. Yes, we said, let’s try this. Max and I visited the mother-to-be in Phoenix and talked for an afternoon at a counselor’s office. We liked her, and she liked us. What’s more, she told us that she wanted us there for Baxter’s birth.

So there we were at Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz., on April 13, 2011, at 11:54 p.m. when Baxter Charles Wirestone came into the world.

He was 7 pounds and 5 ounces and 20½ inches long.

I was the second person, after the doctor, to hold him. Max cut the umbilical cord.

In their accounts of the birth, both my husband and Baxter’s mother might mention that I hid most of the time behind a curtain. In my defense, I’ll point out that a passed-out adoptive father was the last thing that room needed.

But I don’t think about those queasy moments when I remember that night. I remember holding the small, warm body of my son, remember his squalling, remember his plentiful dark hair. I remember telling him how much we wanted him, and how loved he was.

That’s what I remember.

The big ‘G’

“But what about the whole gay thing?” you ask. “How did that affect you? What horrible challenges did you have to overcome?”

The answer is disappointing, I fear. It didn’t affect us at all, at any stage of the process.

The social worker who worked with us was delightful and supportive. Our lawyer didn’t bat an eyebrow, and told us she didn’t think the wait would be any longer or shorter because we were a same-sex couple.

Baxter’s birth mother hardly even mentioned that we were a gay couple. (We wondered if we might have even had a leg up because of our gender – relationships between birth moms and adoptive moms can be complicated.) The medical staff at the hospital in Arizona actually applauded us at one point. Not a single pediatrician made a single remark.

This kindly bubble won’t last forever, I assume. At some point, at some time down the line, Baxter or Max or I will face an unwelcome assumption or comment. We know that not everyone approves of the decisions we made.

But the world has changed far more than I ever thought possible as a young man. And it’s still changing, quicker than ever, as last week’s gay marriage rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court showed. Max and I are now not only married in our own eyes, or in the eyes of state. We’re married in the eyes of the U.S. government. And Baxter is our son.

Time to celebrate

Parenthood scared me, there’s no doubt. And it took time for my mind to change. But my husband helped me. Our lawyer helped me. Baxter’s mother helped me. Years of planning and research and saving helped me.

But it was ultimately Baxter who helped me most of all. When an actual child became involved, my kvetching was revealed for what it was.

Fear of the unknown.

And when you have an actual child in your life, you don’t have time to worry about such abstractions. A diaper needs to be changed. A book needs to be read for the fifth time.

It has been more than two years since Baxter came into our lives. He walks and talks now. His sentences are short and words unclear at times, but his personality fills the room.

Don’t get me wrong. Raising a child has been challenging, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But it turns out that the simple, comfortable life that we lead is a great place for a child. Our day-to-day schedules have a lot more that needs to be done – but we now have a witness. We now have a tribe.

We’re a family.

(Clay Wirestone can be reached at 369-3305 or cwirestone@cmonitor.com.)


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