Eight years ago, Jay Faigenbaum messaged Adam Jacobs on the dating site Match.com. Adam had let his membership lapse, however, so wasn’t able to read the email. “I’d kind of given up on dating at that point,” Adam admitted. Still, he was intrigued by Jay’s mystery message.
“I called customer service and said, ‘Dr. Phil promised me six months free if I didn’t find love on your site,'” Adam laughed, referencing a commercial from the time featuring the self-help guru. Sure enough, the company offered Adam six months for free. But as it would turn out, one extra day was all he needed.
“Jay’s email was the last I ever read,” he said.
Though Jay and Adam, who are both now 39, had a fairly seamless courtship, the same would not be true of their path to parenthood. Four years into their relationship, Jay and Adam were ready to start their family, and began navigating the labyrinthine maze of the adoption process. They researched agencies, hired lawyers, and filled out a seemingly endless mountain of paperwork.
Eventually, they received the news they were so hoping to hear: they had been matched with a birth mother in West Virginia. The couple dropped everything — jobs, appointments, family obligations — to travel to the Mountain State to witness the birth of their son, Ethan. As they began to make arrangements to bring him home to New Jersey, however, they received some startling news.
“The state of New Jersey claimed we were not in a ‘stable adoption’ because of issues with the birth mother,” Adam explained. To Jay and Adam’s knowledge, however, no such issue existed. “[The birth mother] never asked for Ethan back or anything like that,” Adam said. “We had no idea what this was about.”
Regardless, the powers that be in New Jersey insisted that Ethan stay in West Virginia until the matter could be resolved. This left the couple in limbo — legally, financially, and emotionally — while they were forced to take care of their newborn son in a Holiday Inn.
“We had no kitchen, no way to earn a living, and no way to come home,” Adam said. “They wouldn’t hear an appeal, and wouldn’t take our phone calls. We’d been warned that issues can arise in New Jersey with private adoptions, but didn’t expect to deal with a problem like this.”
As Jay and Adam found out the hard way, when the unexpected arises within the context of adoption proceedings, it often comes attached with a hefty price tag. “Suddenly we had an extra $15,000 in unanticipated legal fees,” Jay said. “All in just three and a half weeks.”
“Thank god for Helpusadopt.org! The $15,000 they gave us got us home,” Adam said, whose son Ethan is now two years old. “Without that money, one of us would still be working a second job every night paying it back. This money made it so when we finally did get home we were able to give this boy the life he deserved.”
“Believe me, starting a non-profit was not on my to-do list of things to accomplish in my life,” laughed Becky Fawcett, who, along with her husband Kipp, founded the grant assistance program, Helpusadopt.org. “It just became a necessity.”
Becky and Kipp are themselves the proud adoptive parents of two children. But originally, the couple attempted to start their family through a series of grueling in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. Out of five rounds, Becky successfully conceived three separate times. Each pregnancy, however, ended in miscarriage. After her last miscarriage, on Christmas Eve of 2004, she was done trying.
“I don’t mean to be dramatic,” Becky said. “But it was devastating. It really was such an emotionally, physically, and financially draining process. I just couldn’t do it one more time.”
So instead, Becky and her husband decided to adopt. However, as they discovered, the adoption process comes with its own unique set of challenges. “The average adoption costs $40,000,” Becky explained. “But the average family income is $54,000 in this country. Can you afford a $40,000 adoption? Not easily. Adoption isn’t an open playing field for everybody.”
Fortunately for Becky and Kipp, they happened to have exactly $40,000 left in their savings after their multiple rounds of fertility treatments. “We were very lucky,” she said. But even as she began the happy process of starting her own family, she was continually nagged by this question: What happens to the families that aren’t so lucky?
Many families, she learned, are simply never able to scrape together the money needed to bring a child home. “So they’re living a childless life, but not by choice,” Becky said. The ones that do manage to find the money, however, often take out loans or spend their life savings to do so or, like Adam and Jay, are hit with unanticipated fees along the way. “They go down this road of financial ruin, and then must live this life of debt with their child.”
For Becky, neither of these were acceptable outcomes. “There are over 100 million children around the world who need homes,” Becky said. “I don’t ever want to hear that someone couldn’t adopt because they didn’t have the money.”
For this reason, the assistance provided by Helpusadopt.org can be substantial — up to $15,000, as in the case of Jay and Adam. “I wanted to give grants that actually do something,” Becky explained. “I don’t want our grants to be a Band-Aid. I want the money our grants provide to be the piece that is going to bring that child home.”
When Allan Berkowitz, 45, and Brent Ward, 41, learned that the average cost of adoption hovered around $40,000, they began looking into assistance programs that might be able to offset some of the substantial fees associated with the process.
The results were discouraging.
While Allan and Brent found several such grant programs, to their knowledge, none would do so if you were gay. “There was nothing I found that would help us,” Allan said. “Most were religiously funded, so we didn’t even bother trying.”
Instead, they saved and took out a loan, all with an eye towards meeting that ballpark figure of $40,000. The final costs of their adoption, unfortunately, ended up more in the nosebleed section of that particular stadium.
“There were so many additional costs that we couldn’t have predicted,” Brent said, reflecting back on the nearly two year process before their son Ayden, now 4, came into their lives. “Whatever number you’re told, you’ve got to be prepared to add more on top.”
Similar to Jay and Adam’s adoption journey, Allan and Brent’s surprise fees came in the form of legal costs. In the midst of the process, the couple moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles — partly so they could more easily shoulder the adoption costs thanks to Sin City’s lower cost of living. Ironically, however, the move ended up costing the young family more in the short term.
“Our adoption agency has several offices across the country,” Allan explained. “But they don’t have one in Las Vegas.” So suddenly Allan and Brent found themselves shelling out money for costs they thought they had already covered. They needed a new local lawyer to finalize the adoption in Nevada, for instance, and had to complete a new home study. Additional surprise fees that were out of their control surfaced as well, such as having to hire outside help to facilitate the termination of the birth father’s parental rights.
“We just kept coming across new hurdles,” Brent said. “Each new hurdle would cost more money.” As the bills piled higher, the dads-to-be were at a loss. They had spent all their savings and did not think they could afford to take out yet another loan to finance their adoption.
Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, they received a call from their adoption agency.
“They said, ‘Hey, there’s this organization looking for LGBT applicants who need financial assistance to apply for a grant,'” Allan recalled. “So we went online, found the application on Helpusadopt.org, and got in for their next grant cycle.” Before they knew it, the couple’s remaining bills had been paid for in full.
“It was the perfect amount of help to get us over that final hurdle,” Brent said. “Thank god Helpusadopt.org was there!”
To Becky’s knowledge, Helpusadopt.org is one of the very few non-profits that include grant assistance to adoptive LGBT parents as a part of its mission. “It’s a large part of why I decided to start my own organization,” Becky said.
Originally, she figured she would simply find an existing organization to support, rather than create a new one. But as she began researching the grant programs available to adoptive families, she discovered — just as Allan and Brent had — that they all defined “family” in a very narrow way.
This did not sit well with Becky.
“What happens if you’re gay or lesbian or trans and want to have a child?” she asked. “What if you’re an interracial couple? What if you’re single? Why would you disqualify a whole group of people from receiving assistance — particularly gay men, who can’t physically have a baby? You’re just not going to help them?”
Since she couldn’t find a mission statement she could support, she began writing her own — one that is explicitly inclusive of all types of families. She estimates that in the nine years that Helpusadopt.org has been operating, roughly 20 percent of her grants have supported LGBT parents.
Still, it’s been an uphill climb. “Honestly, it’s very frustrating,” Becky said, who noted that during the organization’s most recent grant cycle, only two out of 370 applications came from members of the LGBT community.
“People are hesitant because they don’t want another door slammed in their face,” Becky said. “Or maybe people think, ‘Oh my god, why is this straight blonde woman from the Upper East Side talking to me about adoption?” she laughed. “But help comes in all shapes and sizes. And this time, it’s coming from a straight, blonde Upper East Side woman and our large army of donors who believe in this mission.”
Becky is obviously thrilled with what her organization has been able to accomplish in the nine years Helpusadopt.org has been operating. Still, she is not yet satisfied, and has a favor to ask of Gays With Kids readers:
“We have money to give!” she exclaimed. “But we can’t give it to the LGBT community if we don’t get applications. You might not need our help, but you know someone who does. So please, help us get the word out. Post this on Facebook and Twitter. Who knows? You could help someone who’s struggling right now with the click of a button.”
It’s clear, moreover, that once you’ve become involved with Helpusadopt.org — as a grantee or a donor — you’re in for good.
“You really are part of their family,” Adam said. “Becky has built a team that is unbelievably kind and generous. We’ve only met their team a handful of times, but they know intimate details about us and about Ethan. They’ll be like, “Oh my god! He’s so big! He’s talking and walking and running!”
“I truly feel like we’re part of their family now,” Allan echoed, for his and Brent’s part. “Now, whenever anyone asks me about adoption, I immediately tell them to get in touch with Helpusadopt.org, and to do it now; call this company.”
If you are interested in applying for a grant, you can download the application here and view their FAQs. Want to help other families adopt? Get information on becoming a donor or email Becky to learn about joining their Board of Directors.