I’m sure that when we take the final numbers at the end of 2015, the balance of happy experiences will outweigh the tough experiences. But let me tell you, for the rest of our lives, we’ll never forget July 1, 2015.
It’s the day we had a chance to become Dads. And we said no.
It’s almost incomprehensible to me that I just wrote those words. My husband and I have documented every step of our adoption journey, from first thoughts of having children to this very day. We’ve talked about the financial struggles, the invasive home study, the dreams and aspirations of a holding a tiny bundle who is ours. And none of it really amounts to anything until you get that phone call from the agency.
“Hi Anthony it’s Cathleen from A Loving Choice. I wanted to talk to you about a possible placement…”
My heart stopped. I had missed a phone call about a possible placement, and I was getting the news on a voicemail. I was on my way home from the city, and I called my husband immediately.
“Hey bud, it’s me. I just got a call from Cathy at the agency; they have a baby for us. Has she called you?”
Dom was speechless. We decided that we’d wait until we were together, and then call the agency back for details. My first instinct after talking to Dom was to call my Mom, and as my fingers flipped through my contacts to reach the M’s, the reality that my Mom had passed away again hit me. Those moments do happen, and they’re still weird and still difficult. It’s hard to re-program 30 years of muscle memory.
So, I called my sister Lauren, she picked up on the second ring. “Laur, I think I might be a dad.” I imagined how many men had called their sister with this same fearful opener, perhaps under different circumstances. I told her the little details that I knew, but it was enough, we were both off and running in DreamLand, population 2.
“A niece! I can teach her about boys!” We’ve got those bases covered. “And dress her up in pretty dresses!” Also, not an issue. “And I can teach her how to do her hair and make it look great!” Um, well okay, yes, actually that would be really helpful.
I got her off the phone, tried to return to a more static and neutral place, where there existed the possibility that we might still not become dads, trying to give that reality as equal a foothold inside as the alternative.
Little did I know, back at home, Dom had picked up a call from an unknown number a few minutes later; it was the agency, and they had some details. He took information down on two sides of an index card. (Perks of marrying a teacher include a wealth of office supplies at home.) Forty minutes later, he met me at the bus stop.
The setting, then: a Ruby Tuesday, like any you’ve known. Our waitress, a petite woman named Joanna, stopping at our table every four minutes to ask how things are. Two men, husbands in our state and in all others, freaking the hell out. Dom cautions me before we start our talk, and before the mozzarella sticks arrive.
“Okay buddy, there are some things that make me nervous, and some things that make me excited,” Dom says to me, raspberry iced teas now joining us for the talk.
Three days prior, a 9-pound baby girl was born in a hospital in an adjoining state. The mother decided to place her child for adoption. And she wanted her baby to be raised by a gay couple. Well, this could not have been more perfect so far. A baby girl, newborn and full-bodied, presumably healthy, waiting exclusively for two dads to come bring her home! Was this our Penelope? Our Olive? The girl we’d been talking about with calm voices and excited hearts?
Then we got the rest of the story, and the beautiful picture became a bit cloudier, less in focus, and a hell of a lot more complicated.
The birth mother was young, and the birth father was unnamed. That meant that if he wanted, this child’s birth father had 120 days to contest the adoption, and we could lose the child.
The birth mother reported that she had consumed alcohol twice a week for the duration of the pregnancy.
The birth mother reported that she had smoked a pack of cigarettes a week for the duration of the pregnancy.
The birth mother reported that she had been on prescription medication for ADHD; we researched her medication, there just aren’t enough studies done to conclude if there are negative effects for the child.
The birth mother reported that she was bi-polar, though undiagnosed and unmedicated.
There had been no pre-natal care.
Oh, and then there was the cost. We are working with A Loving Choice Adoption Associates because their price point of around $21K is something we can reach. Without an adoption grant, maybe that means borrowing from a 401K, a 403B, pension, unsure. But we’ll climb the mountain.
This particular placement was coming through an attorney in another state, and through an adoption agency in that state. The out-of-state agency’s fee was $36,000. The out-of-state attorney’s fee was $8,500. They asked for $4,000 in pre-natal fees, despite the absence of pre-natal care. Attorney fees on our end would run another $7,500, with a referral fee of $1,000 tacked on, along with other fees. In this situation, we were looking at $58,000 or more to become dads.
I started to cry. Dom held my hand. Joanna asked if we wanted to see a dessert menu.
As I’ve written previously, when you go through the home study process, and then sit down with your agency of choice, you run through a list of acceptable situations, things you’d consider, and things you might not. And you are told, very clearly and without equivocation, that it is not only okay to say no; you are encouraged to say no to any placement that doesn’t feel like the right fit.
But damn it, it is the hardest thing in the world to actually live that no. To have felt, discussed, and written about the burning desire to become a parent, and then have a woman give birth, seeking a pair of gay dads to parent her child, only to pick up the phone and call the adoption agency and speak the words, “Cathy, it’s Anthony and Dom. We’ve had a chance to talk about the placement, and I’m sorry, but we have to decline at this time.”
But doing it and then having to live with it afterwards are also separate. Academically, we know we did the right thing in saying no. Right for us, and right for that baby girl. And the right thing, we realize, for the gay couple who will now become parents in the same week that Obergefell saw same-sex marriage receive legal status nationwide; it’s a hell of a week for that couple. A hell of a week for this one.
I struggled with making the decision to tell you all this story, especially given that it’s following a story where we didn’t receive an adoption grant. Especially because it might betray in us some insensitivities to children born with characteristics that might be less than perfect, might make you think we’re holding out for the perfect baby. But listen, this is the reality of adoption. You’re going to have bad weeks. Selfish weeks. Weeks that feel so heavy you think you’ll just get swallowed up in the bad news and never make it through to the other side. Weeks when you see other people posting pictures of their kids on Facebook and it just makes you ache inside, you want it so badly. And you’ll get through them, as we are now getting through it ourselves.
There’s no mistaking, we’ll forever wonder what happened to the baby girl who is not ours. Wonder if we did the right thing, made the right decision.
But then our baby will come, the baby who is ours. And I want you there for us then, as you are now. A family. Spread out for miles, rooting for love.
To help find your path to fatherhood through gay adoption, surrogacy or foster care check out the GWK Academy.