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When Someone Calls Adoption “Buying New Sh*t”

newborn in costume

This is the seventh article in Anthony Romeo’s series about his adoption journey. Read the first article in the series.

This piece contains some vulgarities thinly disguised by asterisks. Reader discretion (or creativity) is advised.

Sorry gang, no cute cat pictures this time. I don’t have a heartwarming story to tell you about a valuable life lesson we’ve picked up on the road to parenthood. I don’t even have any funny one-liners for you. I’m angry, mad as hell this time, and if you really want to stick along for the whole ride, not just the cute stuff, then you’ll take the good, you’ll take the bad, you’ll take them both, and there you’ll have … the launch of a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for our adoption expenses.

We launched ours on Black Friday, accompanied by a post on Gays With Kids, thinking it was a clever way to maximize the opportunity to help us expedite our own fundraising process, and to, yes, “cash in” on an industry-driven spending-spree. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of a socially acceptable monetary hemorrhage to try to make our family happen?

We were met with a really glowing launch, getting donations from friends and family from day one, on each consecutive day. We raised over $1300 in our first week. People were leaving sweet comments on our GoFundMe page, we were getting encouraging text messages, things felt like they were moving in the direction we’d envisioned.

And then I decided to reach out to friends on social media. Again, mostly positive. But the picture here, lovely readers, is not as rosy as you’d realize from a quick gander at our GoFundMe page. I had a conversation with a friend who had previously donated to a charity with which I was working, and his thoughts are worth sharing. Because if I’m angry about it, maybe you will be too. Or, maybe you’ll tell me that he’s right. Here’s how he started his thoughts.

“Frankly, if you and Dom can’t raise those $20,000 in adoption expenses over a relatively short period of time … How in the world do you think you’ll be able to support a child for the next 25 years or so? Kids aren’t free, kids aren’t cheap, and it’s wholly unreasonable to feel that you could raise your child on donated funds forever.”

Let’s call my gut reaction sticker shock. I wanted to call him an a***ole. I did not. I decided to take what I thought could be a teaching moment and use it to help someone understand the way the process works.

My response was, “Almost everyone can afford to raise a kid; they aren’t the most expensive thing in the world. It takes budgeting, and restructuring, and sacrifice, absolutely, but it’s doable. To complete a home study at $1,500, fine, totally doable. We are then shown to a birth mother, and if she places her baby with us, that other $19,000 is due immediately. No payment plans, no options. Write the check or there’s no kid.”

I felt like he wasn’t understanding that there’s a $20,000 upfront cost before you even get a baby, which then costs you money. Comparing the cost of upfront adoption fees to a child’s 25-year life cycle as a dependent wasn’t accurate, and it doesn’t hold water as an argument.

He continued, “I know nothing of the process of adoption, I do know something about buying things on credit when you don’t have the income to do so otherwise.”

Fuming. We’d literally worked for days on our GoFundMe script, filmed for over four hours to get the right angles and the right footage, asked my brother-in-law and his friend to volunteer their time to edit and format it for us at no cost, and planned our course of action for months prior to launching the fundraising campaign. And it was being boiled down to buying expensive Nikes that we couldn’t afford.

To obtain $20,000 sooner rather than later has always been the goal. Dom’s 33, I’m 30. Raising money on our own, and trying to hit $20,000 would take time. And hear me: We are saving money, independent of GoFundMe. Once that money is raised, it might take another few years to actually have a baby placed. Age is a consideration, and people feel the need to become parents at different points in their lives. Dom and I feel it now.

My friend added, “Either you can’t afford to save enough to pay the fees, which brings me to question your ability to afford a child. Or you can afford a child, but you choose not to wait to save on your own and instead are soliciting others … I just don’t understand how you don’t understand that you’re asking me to give up buying some new sh*t for myself to buy some new sh*t for you.”

That’s about as low as you can make a person feel. And it immediately made me second-guess everything Dom and I were doing.

A song called “Die Vampire, Die,” written by the brilliant Jeff Bowen for the musical [title of show], defines a vampire as “any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression.” The song asks, “Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill a***ole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, it’s the voice of reason.”

And that’s exactly what this stupid Facebook conversation did to me. It put me too much in my own head. Because, truth be told, I’d heard this kind of sentiment expressed a bit less crudely from other folks. It filled me with doubt and insecurity. I worried that people were misunderstanding the reason we were launching a GoFundMe, and suddenly a campaign designed to raise money, to create a pathway of kindness and generosity for our future kid to retrace, had been bastardized, characterized as the exact thing we’d worked so hard to avoid.

Earlier in my professional life, before the term “marriage equality,” I canvassed for the Human Rights Campaign. And for a year and a half, I was the guy that stood on the sidewalk and tried to stop pedestrians by asking, “Hey, do you have a minute for gay rights?” I was spit on, called a faggot, told that I had AIDS, I was told that all gays should be forced to live on a separate island. I had a woman stand behind me as I tried to work, screaming the word “ABOMINATION” over and over for almost an hour. I was threatened, and harassed, and bullied, and I endured it all with a smile on my face because I knew a day in my life would come when I’d want the right to marry, just for me, and I could feel that I’d earned it. I stood in the pouring rain, and the freezing cold, in blizzards and heat waves, to make life better for my entire community. When you go through the sheer hell that comes with that work, fundraising for your own adoption process by telling cute stories to strangers online seemed like child’s play. My, how the mighty have fallen, eh readers?

And so this time, there’s no cute ending, there’s no happy tag at the end of the column designed to make you giggle and feel good. There’s just me left hoping that I didn’t seriously misjudge the way things would shake out, hoping that perception isn’t always reality. And still, under it all, hoping to find the right road to being a dad, whatever the “right road” turns out to be.

So, here’s where I stand. I’m going to ask the people who love us, who support us, and who want us to be parents and are willing to help, to help. In the same way that I can make the choice to ask, you can make the choice to decline, the country’s free that way. You can also choose to be an a** in the way you talk to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that $20,000 is a lot of money, money that we don’t have now, and that’s what we’re asking for. We’re perfectly capable of financing the raising of our child, thank you very much.

I’ve got to learn how to be more goal-focused, and to stop letting vampires distract me from the most important part of all of this, and that’s bringing a baby, our baby, home.

And so if giving makes sense for you, then by all means, give. You can give once, you can choose to give monthly. Because either way, you’ll be part of the network of people to whom we will always be connected, and for whom we’ll always be grateful.

Me? I’ll be the guy in the corner reminding himself that sometimes, the only vampires he’s got the power to slay are the ones inside his own head.

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