Attitudes toward same-sex parenting are changing, but the road to parenthood remains rocky. Just ask any lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parent, and he’ll tell you that adopting a child is an uphill battle, but well worth it when a happy family unit is finally created.
The challenges facing these couples are often daunting, and more problems lay ahead as they grapple with the same issues that adoptive heterosexual or single parents have to deal with when raising children who will eventually question where they came from.
“It is recommended that adoptive parents disclose the fact that a child has been adopted as soon as he or she is able to understand this concept (typically around age 5 or 6),” says Manhattan-based, licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, who suggests that parents remain supportive, open, and honest when children pose questions.
“Same-sex couples may also face questions from their children, once they are exposed to kids who come from families with heterosexual parents, so age-appropriate language is key,” she continues. And, as children grow older, parents can begin using the word “adoption.”
She adds: “Based on my work with children and adolescents who have been adopted, the fact that a child has been adopted will often play a role in identity development, especially during adolescence.”
Same-sex couples are faced with many different options when choosing to have children today. In his new book, “The Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood” (New Horizon Press), slated for release in March 2016, author, activist and father Eric Rosswood helps same-sex couples navigate the various paths to parenthood: adoption, fostering, surrogacy, assisted reproduction, and co-parenting. He shares the experiences and wisdom of others who have already completed the journey.
In 2013, Rosswood and his husband Mat adopted their son through open adoption. (They live in California and were married at Disneyland back in 2011.)
“When we decided to have children together, we were lucky enough to match with a birth mother in Illinois, who was only 13 weeks pregnant at the time, so we got to experience much of the pregnancy journey,” Rosswood says. “We were there for the first sonogram and heard his heartbeat before he was even born.”
Their son’s birth mother wanted to have a home birth, which was a bit of a challenge because midwives aren’t technically allowed to practice in Illinois.
“We eventually crossed state lines into Iowa, where she lived with us for a few weeks and eventually gave birth in our hotel room. Because three states were involved (our home state of California, her home state of Illinois, and Iowa, where our son was born), the paperwork was kind of a nightmare.”
It took almost two years to get a copy of his birth certificate.
When their son, now 2, was born, Rosswood became a stay-at-home dad.
“I’d say the biggest challenge we’ve had as parents is finding changing stations. It’s hard to believe that many places still have changing tables in the women’s restroom only. It sends a message that it’s a woman’s job to take care of babies, and that men don’t need to be as involved in the day-to-day parenting. How outdated is that?”
Philadelphia-based attorney Angela D. Giampolo founded Phill
In a recent interview, she talked about her work with these couples and in an article titled “The Challenges Facing Same-Sex Couples Who Wish to Adopt Children,” she writes:
“All across the United States, alternative families are modernizing the American dream. In a new take on traditional household arrangements, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Papa’ trade off walking the dog, driving the kids to soccer practice, and juggling household chores. However, there is complexity hidden in the mundane — it is unlikely that this idyllic snippet of family life came so easily into being.
“While many heterosexual couples take for granted the ability to conceive their own children, same-sex couples know just how difficult it can be to expand their families. A single episode of ABC’s hit show ‘Modern Family’ portrays the heartache of a failed adoption attempt, when same-sex partners Mitchell and Cam drive for hours to pick up a new baby boy, only to find that his birth mother has changed her mind.
“While it is true that the process of bringing new children into the family can be daunting and disheartening, it is entirely doable and completely worth the work.”
Since the laws around adoption differ from state to state and county to county, Giampolo says it’s imperative that anyone looking to start a family, be it through adoption, artificial insemination, or surrogacy, contact a lawyer licensed in their state.
“You need to be aware of the process in your state; what clearances are needed; do you need a home study; what are the termination rights of a biological parent, etc.”
She says the majority of her lesbian couples use IVF, and it’s fairly simple for them.
“My gay male clients have a harder time creating families, unfortunately, and it is much more costly and comes at greater legal risks. Men have the option of using a surrogate, or adopting through a private agency or foster care.”
The greater legal and emotional risks have to do with the termination of parental rights involved.
“It is heartbreaking when a client of mine has been fostering a child for two years and then goes to adopt him or her and have the judge give the biological parent a ‘second chance.’ ”
Giampolo points out that while having a family for a same-sex couple is clearly more work than what the majority of heterosexual families are used to, the power inherent in marriage and a second or step-parent is irreplaceable.
“Once both individuals have legal parentage, both are treated equally. Additionally, both people can make important medical, educational, and custodial decisions and they are automatically entitled to collect benefits in the event of death.
“These rights are of immeasurable value when planning for the security and happiness of your family. And while the steps to secure them can be alien to the ‘traditional American family,’ the security that comes with those rights makes having a family a reality for same-sex couples everywhere. As we gain more equality, the future holds great things for LGBT families.”
Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based freelance writer, journalist, and parent who is a regular contributor to New York Parenting.