Craig and Joel Diaz, of Columbus, Ohio, bonded early on in their courtship over their shared desire to start a family. So soon after marrying, they reached out to some friends, who were gay dads, to learn more about their experience.
“They helped guide us through the adoption process and connected us with the adoption agency they used,” Craig said, referring to Just Choice (formerly known as Choice Network), an adoption agency based in Columbus, and founded and run by Molly Rampe Thomas. “She prides herself on being an agency focused on LGBTQ+ families,” Craig said, who was also comforted by the fact that Just Choice had been vetted and certified by the Human Rights Campaign’s “All Children – All Families“ program as one of only a few agencies to receive the top recognition. “There’s a huge need for agencies that are culturally competent and trained for same-sex families,” Joel added. “Molly shared that only 1 and 4 agencies nationally are accepting and affirming of the LGBTQ+ community.
Shortly after meeting with the Just Choice Network, the couple began the adoption process in earnest, filling out reams of required paperwork, passing their home inspections, and completing their home study. Then they began what is for most adoptive families the most exciting and anxiety-producing aspect of adoption — the matching process. Just Choice is a proponent of open adoption, for all involved in the process — but particularly for the children involved as a way to help them remain connected to their backgrounds and histories — and the dads were eager to meet and get to know their future birth family.
“It wasn’t too long before we were matched with Izzy’s birth mother, Charlotte, when she was 14 weeks pregnant,” Craig said. They first met Charlotte, and her mom, Tracy, in the waiting room during a check up with her OB/GYN. “We were so nervous and tried to do everything we could to convince Charlotte to pick us as the adoptive parents,” Joel said. Little did they know, Charlotte had already selected the dads — something their case manager informed them after the trio reunited for her next ultrasound. “She was just really excited to meet us after viewing our parenting profile,” Craig said. “Soon after, we grabbed dinner with Charlotte and her mom to answer their questions and get to know each other.”
Over the course of Charlotte’s pregnancy, the dads said they became very close with her and her entire family. “It was a special experience to travel to her hometown and get to know them before Izzy was born,” Craig said. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have a strong connection to Charlotte and her family.”
In September of 2017, the couple received a call from Charlotte’s mom, Tracy, that she was being induced. “We drove up to Ann Arbor, Michigan and held Charlotte’s hand in the delivery room as Izzy was born,” Joel said. Over the next few days, the two families spent quality time together with Izzy before leaving the hospital. After Izzy was born, the dads were required to spend a week in Michigan while the initial adoption paperwork was filed.
“Choice Network was there for all of us, Charlotte included, each step of the journey,” said Joel. After bringing Izzy back to Ohio, the adoption process required a few home visits from the Just Choice before things were finalized with the courts. The dads described the home visits — often a source of stress for adoptive parents unfamiliar with what they involved — as a “fun experience as we shared our new parent stories with our case manager.”
These days, the dads and Izzy, now three years old, spend their time like any other young family. “We spend lots of time at the Columbus Zoo, feeding the giraffes, and petting the goats in the barnyard area,” said Craig — the dads say she is a big help to Craig in the kitchen, and is loving her swim lessons with Joel in local lakes. “The Center Of Science and Industry in Columbus is also a favorite destination and houses a great dinosaur exhibition, Izzy’s favorite!” Craig said.
Having gone through the process themselves, the dads know that the adoption process can be intimidating at the outset. For anyone else considering pursuing adoption as their path to parenthood, however, they say there are important people along the way to help you navigate the process. “From the courts to the adoption agency, to everyone else,” said Joel. “There’s a ton of paperwork to fill out and inspections to pass, but you will have a network of people to guide you — once you’ve completed your journey, take comfort in knowing that you’ll be there to help future parents who start the process with your advice and experience.”
The dads say they have been heartened to be welcomed into the strong network of same-sex parents in their community in Columbus, as well as across the country and world. “Social media has given us a platform to connect with many parents who share our experiences and unique journey, Craig said. “I love the friendships that have been made with gay dads in Columbus and beyond— It’s also been special to offer advice to others who are considering becoming parents.”
Craig and Joel have separated since Izzy came into their lives, but they remain good friends. They have a great co-parenting partnership, bonded by their love for Izzy.