Family Spotlight: Alex & David

AT A GLANCE
Names: Alex and David
Profession(s): Literary Manager/Producer (Alex), Associate Creative Director, Copywriter (David)
Relationship Status: Together since December 2005, Married in Los Angeles August 2013
Child’s name: 
Maxwell
Location: Studio City, CA
We never imagined a world without children.
Favorite family activity: 
Swimming and/or weekend getaways.
What does your son call each of you: Alex is Papa. David is Dada.

Alex and I met at the end of 2005 through a mutual friend (and by mutual friend I mean Friendster — Google it.) After some flirtatious emails, we met in person shortly after the New Year. During our first date, we both brought up our desires to have children. It was the ultimate litmus test. If either of us showed reluctance, we would have been ejected from our seats and the date would have ended there. Well, something like that.

Two years later, close friends of ours adopted a baby and we got to watch them go through the emotional journey of growing their family. It lit a fire within us. We realized we too were ready for this. We became domestic partners and began our process. We decided an open adoption would be best for us. First — and we’re being totally transparent when we say this — we were concerned that if we conceived through surrogacy, we might harbor some resentment later in life when coming to learn “whose biological baby” it was. That, along with the costs and possible complications, ruled out surrogacy.

We liked the idea of an open adoption. Because while we were open to the sex and nationality, we weren’t open to babies that were exposed to drugs and alcohol. What appealed to us most about open adoption was the ability to get to know the birth parents, their families, and have access to their health records.

Once we decided on open adoption, we wanted to get a few things in order before beginning the actual process. At the top of our list was purchasing a family-friendly home where our child would have room to grow and play. We settled on a home in Studio City, a suburb just outside of Los Angeles. It was the perfect home for us, and we instantly began to envision how a little boy or girl would bring all these empty rooms to life.

Soon after, we chose a lawyer based in Los Angeles and a local adoption agency that many families referred us to. Our lawyer was different than the others. Her approach was less of a business transaction and more about making organic connections. She was more likely to match people through word of mouth than through advertising, which we came to learn was a very common practice.

We attended some pre-adoption workshops that explored the ins and outs of adoption, and which gave insight into adopting a child of a race or ethnicity different from our own. We were amazed at all the preparations we had to make during the process of “home studies,” which are a series of requirements that qualify a family for adoption. In addition to several interviews with a social worker, we had to get background checks, give references and answer lots and lots of financial and health-related questions.

Home studies typically take adopting families up to six months to complete, but we completed ours in record time (just six weeks). Once we got certified in CPR and other child safety courses, we were excited to move on to the fun part—creating our adoption profile (a letter and collection of photos that birthparents review). We created little books that were passed around by our lawyer and adoption agency to prospective birthparents looking to find the right family. Then we waited. And waited.

Months had passed without a single inquiry. Just when we started to lose hope, we got a call from our adoption agency. A young couple, who were five months pregnant, saw our profile and were interested in meeting us. Birth mom was a 16-year old high school student and her boyfriend, the birth father, had just graduated and was headed off to college. They lived a couple hours away from us. Our first meeting will forever be etched in our memories. It was at The Cheesecake Factory. I remember bringing her flowers. I remember the birth father ordering a glass of milk with his pizza. I remember kicking Alex under the table every time I wanted him to answer a question. The first few minutes were admittedly awkward, but as soon as we settled into conversation, we soon realized how mature and courageous they were.

They specifically wanted their baby to go to a family who couldn’t physically have a child on their own. They admitted that their parents would likely not approve of placing their baby with a gay family, and that was the reason they were doing it. They were clearly rebelling. As nervous as we were, Alex and I were committed to making them feel as comfortable as possible. Alex with his warm, approachable presence, and me with my awkward, self-depreciating humor. I thought, if I can keep them laughing, they’ll like us. It must have worked, because a couple of weeks later we had a second meeting.

This time we’d meet for dinner at Islands Restaurant. There were a lot of questions. And a lot more laughs. Before we left they told us it was between us and another gay couple named Adam and Steve (no joke). We started to become confident. What could Adam and Steve possibly have on us? One month later, we got together for some frozen yogurt. She was now due in four or five weeks and still no decision had been made. We needed an answer. And we got one. And it was the best answer in the world. They chose us (sorry, Adam and Steve).

While this was the news we had hoped for, things began to get complicated. Just as we were officially matched, the adoption agency worker we had been dealing with was suddenly fired and we were forced to work with someone new who wasn’t very organized. She somehow forgot to tell us that the birth mom had indicated that she was possibly part Native American. This was a big deal. The ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is a Federal law that takes precedence over the local adoption laws of every state and gives Native American Indian Nations and Tribes the right to control adoptions that involve their tribal members. That means these tribes could legally obtain custody of the baby at any time, and the child would be taken away from their adoptive parents, despite the birthparents handpicking us.

Then came word that both birth parents’ families wanted to meet us in person. Typically we’d be fine with this, however, the birthparents told us how much their parents hated gay people. We put on a brave face and first met with the birth father’s parents. Again, it started off a little awkward, but by the end of our talk, we felt comfortable that they felt comfortable. It was a success.

Our meeting with the birth mother’s parents was not as eventful. We felt like we were about to be judged by Simon Cowell, minus the super white teeth. The meeting took place at the adoption agency. When Alex and I were parking, we saw the family walking in ahead of us. Lets just say we were… um… intimidated. I said to Alex, “whatever you do, don’t leave me alone with them.” We walked into the waiting area, the birth mother’s father was staring at us and Alex says, “I gotta hit the John” and left me there… alone. Husband fail! As uncomfortable as they were with the fact that we were gay, they seemed more uncomfortable that their daughter had chosen to give their grandchild up for adoption against their wishes. The meeting turned into a therapy session of sorts… and didn’t have much to do with us at all.

The joy of preparing the nursery was undercut with the anxiety of waiting for the very long list of Native American tribes to sign away their rights. It was this dichotomy of excitement and fear that followed us through the next few turbulent weeks. Until every single tribe had relinquished its rights, the future for us was unknown. And the waiting was killing us. With the due date just days away, we finally heard back from the last tribe. The news wasn’t good. This last tribe claimed control over the baby, and therefore, if we adopted this child, we could be facing a custody battle that could last several months, even years, with the final outcome out of our hands. This was too much for us to handle. As difficult as it was, we decided to pull out. Originally, in our adoption plan, we made it very clear we weren’t open to birth mothers who had Native American descent for this very reason. Our adoption agency sprung this on us too late in the game and it created a lot of hurt feelings.

Our hearts were broken. We worried about the young birthparents, and how confused and hurt they must be with us for having pulled out just three days prior to giving birth. We wrestled with our guilt. Did we make the wrong decision? Is this the child that was meant to be ours? We thought to ourselves, maybe it’ll be worth it. Maybe we should fight the tribes. Maybe we should reconsider. In the midst of these maybe we shoulds we received a phone call the day before the scheduled birth. It would be the phone call that would change our lives forever.

Our ever-so-reliable adoption agency had informed us of a clerical error and that the Native American tribe that claimed control had gotten the name wrong and they signed away their rights. This means no tribe would ever claim custody. But was it too late for us? Remember when I said how mature and courageous the birthparents were? Well, they proved this once again by welcoming us back with open arms. They understood our concerns, but more importantly, they felt they had originally made the right decision in choosing us.

The baby boy was born on Thursday, November 18, at a very civilized 8:24 am (which would turn out to be the only morning he slept past 8am). He clocked in at 7 lbs 14 oz. We arrived at the hospital the day after the birth (the birthparents asked for 24 hours alone with the baby). On the way to the hospital it started raining. Right over the hospital we saw the most vivid and beautiful rainbow appear. We both noticed it and quickly snapped a photo. We got word that the birthparents were signed-in under an alias because certain family members had threatened to steal the child from the hospital prior to us taking him home (another example of that excitement and fear I spoke about earlier). Once we made it into the room and first set eyes on the little guy who would become our son, all the obstacles served their purpose. They were there to make this moment all the more special and unforgettable. The birthparents graciously let us hold, feed and change the baby. It was surreal and very sad, as we imagined how hard it must be for these teenagers.

Because the baby was a little jaundiced, it was decided he would stay at the hospital for one more night. After spending a few hours with him, Alex and I went to the hotel with the plan of taking him home in the morning. We arrived back at the hospital the next day, only to find one of the nurses trying to change the birthmother’s mind: “You don’t have to do this — you can change your mind!” as she gave us disparaging looks. At this point we really wanted to rush out of there, but we also wanted to be as sensitive as possible to what would surely be the hardest thing the birthparents will ever have to face — saying goodbye to their son. We gave them as much time as they needed and then we left through the back door (again, for security measures).

The birth parents chose not to sign their consent forms (relinquishing their parental rights to the state) prior to leaving the hospital, so we had to wait it out. The birth parents had, I believe, 14 days to revoke their consent for the adoption. We didn’t hear anything until the 15th day (Thanksgiving holiday had caused the delay). We met the birthparents back at the adoption agency and they signed the official paperwork. Maxwell was officially ours. Actually that’s not true. He belonged to the state for about nine more months, until we had our official day in court. We were joined by our extended families while we met with a judge who finally granted us legal guardianship, and had us sign the now permanent birth certificate to prove it.

It’s been over three and half years and we thank God every single day for bringing Maxwell into our lives. Being his Dada and Papa is the most rewarding — and admittedly difficult — job we’ll ever have. For us fatherhood can best be described as a transcendent experience. The second he arrived, every single aspect of our lives instantly changed. And even though we read every book and watched every video we could find ahead of time, nothing and no one could have prepared us for what it would be like.

Just the other day somebody asked what has been our proudest moment with Max. The thing we’re most proud of is the love and support we get from those around us. We’re not ashamed to say we need help sometimes. And we’re very lucky that Max has an incredibly loving nanny, wonderful pre-school teachers, three sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends who love and adore him as much as we do. Well, almost as much.

In a lot of ways having a child made us realize how selfish we used to be. It used to be all about us, and now it’s all about Max. All Max all the time. It’s a Max world… we’re just funding it.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for those planning to grow their families:

  • Before the child arrives, go on vacation, see movies, read books, eat dinner out, get to second base. Everyone told us to, and we were like “I get it, parenting is all-consuming, blah blah blah…” — man, if only we knew.
  • If you’re nervous that birth parents aren’t reaching out to you, relax and remember, it only takes one. We got one call. And it turned out to be our match.
  • If you can afford a night nurse, do it for the first couple weeks. We didn’t. We should have. Now it’s all a blur.
  • At times it can feel like the adoptive parents have no control and they’re easily taken advantaged of and that everyone’s out to protect the birthparents — but stop and remember what the birthparents are giving up. Think about what they’re going through.

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