Category Archives: Family Formation

Baby Boy

Guest Post by Nicole Opper

Nicole and Kristan document their journey into the foster care system to adopt a child in their new comedic documentary web series The F Word: a Foster to Adopt Story. Our Family Coalition is proud to be a supporter of the film and a co-presenter of its screenings at Frameline Film Festival. Below, Nicole shares a morsel of their story. Come for more at the screenings June 18th at the Roxie in San Francisco, or June 20th at the Elmwood in Berkeley.


When my cell phone rang I thought it was going to be our social worker calling about two siblings we’d seen photos of earlier that day in her office. It’s a bizarre monthly ritual: showing up to leaf through the new collection of flyers featuring foster children awaiting homes. Some of these children reappear month after month. Others are new faces. Their descriptions say things like “Enjoys playing soccer” or “Has an infectious smile,” before divulging the inevitable traumas they’ve faced.

We had made the decision to build our family through fost-adoption two years earlier and signed up for parent training classes at a local agency. We were open to any child age 0-4 and were told that it would be about a two year wait because everyone wants little kids. For awhile we thought about taking on an older kid, but knew this was unrealistic for us – we live in a tiny rent-controlled apartment in Oakland, and to leave this apartment would mean to leave the Bay Area altogether. Many of our friends had already been priced out. So we decided to stick to our guns, and two years later, almost to the month, I was answering this phone call, expecting to hear about next steps for the two little girls who had captured our hearts that morning, a two year old and her six year old sister. Not only had we broken our age rule but we’d doubled our number to two, deciding we’d make up for our lack of space with boundless love and plenty of outdoor adventures.

But the call about the siblings never came. In the time it had taken us to see their flyer and inquire about them, another family had already been selected. This was the third potential match that we’d gotten our hopes up about but that ultimately fell through.

The call was, in fact, about a baby. “Baby Boy” was what they called him, because he hadn’t been given a name. When I think back to the day we were told about him, none of it seems real. For one thing, my wife and I were already starting to feel pretty cynical about the whole process. Either we’d see a kid and get excited but wouldn’t be picked by their social worker, or we’d be picked but then it would fall through for other reasons. We knew this was part of the deal; that adoptions through foster care were messy and hard, that there would be joy but also profound grief. We just didn’t expect it to take so long to even be considered. Was it the gay thing? Our small home? Our income level?

We were told it was a concurrent planning case, which means there was a chance Baby Boy would be reunified with birth family. Were we still interested?

“Yes,” we replied.

Well okay then, we’d hear by the end of the day if we were selected. We spent the day wondering if the Yentas of the child welfare system would deem us to be a match. Sure, Baby Boy’s social worker had a thirty page document cataloging most of our major life choices, but how do degrees, careers, hobbies and the cities we grew up in add up to any sense of whether we’d be the right parents for a particular kid? Most kids in the system aren’t there because of abuse or abandonment. Most are there due to neglect. Poverty is an indicator for neglect, and the idea that there are kids in foster care who wouldn’t be there to begin with if their parents had received the support they needed was not only unjust but completely heartbreaking. This system treats the symptom instead of the cause, yet we put our faith in the process, because a broken foster care system doesn’t get fixed by those who ignore it, but by those who engage with it.

And then the call came. At 5pm later that day we were told we’d been selected. We would have a disclosure meeting the following week where we’d receive information about the child’s history and his needs. We knew next to nothing about him, but we knew he had a story, one written onto his heart and his body if not his conscious mind. It was a story that included two months of doctors, nurses, social workers and even volunteer ‘cuddlers’, but began months earlier in his mother’s womb, and centuries before that with his ancestors. We knew so little, but one thing we were clear about: our task was as much to honor this child’s story as it would be to care for him.

The F Word: a Foster to Adopt Story screens at  Frameline June 18th and June 20th and streams on PBS Digital Studios in the Fall. On Twitter/Instagram/Facebook @thefwordseries.

Solo Parent Support

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By Dr. Meghan Lewis

soloparentspicAs my bio-clock struck thirty, the resounding tick-tock of surging pregnancy urges pushed me eagerly into musings over a wide range of reproductive and family building options. Having hoped from the days of my youth that I would grow a baby, as a queer-identified, single person, I began to seriously consider how that might actually happen.

I wondered if I would eventually marry a woman with whom I’d raise a family, perhaps via the offering of a donor-relative on her side. Maybe I’d seek out a close friend to share in a lifetime of parenting. Perhaps I’d meet a gay male couple who’d be delighted to co-create a kid or two.

Fast forward five years: No wife in sight, no potential donor-friend living in close proximity, and no family-oriented gay male couple in my inner circle. With the desire to grow my family soaring cycle-by-cycle, it became clearer to me that the path to parenthood would be unfolding quite differently then expected.

I had, however, often imagined self-fertilization as part of the process. So, when rolling out Plan B, i.e. intentional solo parenting via anonymous donor, I figured my next step was to explore alternate avenues for seed seeking. And like good gardeners do, I sought the best seed for a healthy, fruitful harvest. (My bottom line: no GMO’s, only homos). After narrowing down my choice of local sperm banks, I finally picked my heirloom seed and as fastidious farmer, turned my physical form into fecund field; an empowering process of planting and propagating my very own progeny.

soloparent-pullquote1Throughout the last ten years of raising said progeny on my own, I have found it to be an equally empowering process though not without bouts of great challenge and a kind of slow birth of deep perseverance, lots of unknowns, and unexpected twists and turns. Likewise, it seems similarly true for single parents who are on their own due to unanticipated circumstances such as divorce, death, or deportation of a partner or spouse. These parents also must conjure up enduring fortitude, self-determination, and exemplary flexibility.

Regardless of our families’ unique formation, for all of us parenting solo, I believe it is essential to cultivate a persistently empowered perspective– one that also holds our unique family as a complete family. Contrary to popular belief, solo parenthood does not have to be outrageously difficult, lonely, isolating, profoundly exhausting, or brokenly awaiting the buoyant balancing of another. We have access to what it takes to raise our children with optimism, love, tons of fun, and a deep sense purpose, belonging, and connection.

To help support the continued growth of an empowered parenting perspective, each month OFC offers a dinner gathering for solo parent families at the Children’s Creativity Museum, SF. Join us for community building and parent-driven discussions on a wide range of experiences and topics while your kid(s) enjoy supervised exploration of the many creative activities the museum has to offer.

– Discuss effective strategies for handling the unique challenges and responsibilities of solo parenting.

– Identify your hopes and intentions for yourself and your child(ren) and explore creative ways of attaining your personal and parenting goals.

– Learn healthy decompression/stress reduction practices.

– Discover helpful Bay Area parenting resources.

– Receive support and understanding while growing your community of local solo parents.

Register now! Free.

About the facilitator:

Dr. Meghan Lewis is a queer, solo parent by choice of a ten year old son and the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy with offices in Oakland and SF.  She is also the founding member of LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area, a group of LGBTQ-identified professionals dedicated to the health of our community’s growing families. Meghan served on the Board of Berkeley’s BirthWays and is currently on the Advisory Board of Oakland’s Then Comes Baby where she offers support for LGBTQ families-to-be, those trying to conceive (TTC) and throughout early parenthood. Additionally, she offers preconception consultations and birth doula care through Wombservice Midwifery.

meghanlewisphd@gmail.com
www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com
www.wombservicemidwifery.com

The Rainbow Letters

by Julia Winston and Zach Wahls
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We are Zach and Julia, and we have LGBTQ parents.

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Zach is a DI baby from Iowa with two moms, and Julia’s dad came out when she was just a kiddo back in Texas. We’re all grown up now, and because we care about our families so much, we love connecting with and learning about other people like us who have LGBTQ parents.That’s why we started a creative writing project called The Rainbow Letters.

During this remarkable time of progress in the LGBTQ and family equality movements, the fact remains that the public still has minimal exposure to the unique perspectives of children.

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Well, we want to hear what they have to say!

The Rainbow Letters is a collection of original letters written by people (like us) with LGBTQ parents, no matter how old we are or where we come from, to shed light on our experiences. Every person has a different story, and every story matters.

Why letters? For hundreds of years, letter writing has been one of the most personal and intimate methods of communication. In today’s highly connected yet largely impersonal digital world, we can’t think of anything more genuine than a good old fashioned letter. Our writers can choose to address their letters to anyone in the world, and to identify themselves as the authors of these letters openly or anonymously.

rainbowletterspullquote1We started collecting letters just a few months ago and already dozens of beautiful pieces of self-expression are flooding in! The letters we receive run the gamut from humorous to heartbreaking and everything in between, and are addressed to people as diverse as RuPaul, a 9th grade crush, and an 11-year-old self. We’re so touched by every submission and we can’t wait to make these letters available for others to read and digest.

The purpose of this project is to generate reflection, self-expression, and the development of a community that will provide the world with a better understanding of our shared humanity. Ultimately The Rainbow Letters will become a published collection intended to illustrate that differences truly are okay, and that there’s no such thing as “normal when it comes to family. When the project grows large enough, we also intend to host an ongoing interactive platform online to invite conversation and facilitate discussion.

What do we need to bring this vision to fruition? More letters, of course! And we’d like to call on you to get involved and be part of it.

If you are an LGBTQ parent, let your kids know what we’re up to! We would love to hear from them.

Irainbowletterspullquote3f you’re the child of an LGBTQ parent or parents, consider writing a letter! You can write to anyone you want, say whatever is in your heart, and submit as many letters as you’d like. We think you’re voice is incredibly valuable; we would love to hear it, and let it be heard by others.

You can submit a letter on our website at www.therainbowletters.com, read current letter snippets on Facebook, or reach out to us directly at info@therainbowletters.com.

It’s clear to see that we are in the midst of a “family revolution.” 

The kids are right there, front and center — and we think society can really benefit from hearing what’s on their minds.

Men Having Babies San Francisco 2015: A look inside the Bay Area’s largest Gay Surrogacy Conference

By Sam Chally, NWSC
Also posted on NWSC Blog

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Wow! Over 160 future gay dads showed up for the 2015 San Francisco Men Having Babies Conference.  The event was held at the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Community Center and was co-sponsored by our friends at Our Family Coalition and Men Having Babies.

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Highlights of the event included a panel of surrogates and gay dads telling their stories. The standing-room-only crowd also got to hear experts discussing legal, medical, and philosophical issues surrounding surrogacy. Northwest Surrogacy CenterOregon Reproductive Medicine, and other providers supported the event. We were extremely happy to see so many future fathers learning about the process of building their families through surrogacy.

Veronica, a NWSC surrogate, speaking at the Men Having Babies San Francisco 2015 Conference

Veronica, a NWSC surrogate, speaking at the Men Having Babies San Francisco 2015 Conference

Attendees also got the chance to hear Veronica, one of NWSC’s surrogates, speak about her experience in greater depth. She was perhaps the most captivating and popular speaker at the event. (Watch a documentary video about Veronica’s experience!) We want to thank her for making the trip from Oregon to share her story!

Attorney and Gay Parent Activist Charles Spiegel kicked off the event with some good humor and candid observations about several aspects of becoming a parent through surrogacy. Among the things he addressed were the risks often associated with twin pregnancies. I was glad to see a candid discussion about the potential risks of two embryo transfers at the conference.

We also got the chance to meet with some future dads from the Bay Area over the weekend. We are truly encouraged by their thoughtfulness, interest, care and concern expressed for their future surrogates.

We want to thank Our Family CoalitionThe SF LGBT Center, and Men Having Babiesfor putting together such a wonderful event!

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Our Family Forest

by Anthony M. Brown, Board Chairman of Men Having Babies

anthonybrownandfamilyWhen my daughter documented her family tree for a class project, there were so many branches that it covered an entire poster board. My heart soared: It was a family forest! I’m called “Papa” by three amazing kids. My son is the biological child of my husband; we had him 4 years ago with the help of a gestational surrogate. I adopted him and he lives with us. My daughters, now 8 and 3, live with their mothers in the same neighborhood as our family. I call them my daughters because I am their biological father through sperm donation, but the truth is that I am not their parent.

This is a critical distinction that donor dads must make. I am not a coparent with my daughters’ mothers. But that doesn’t mean that I do not have a reciprocally fulfilling relationship with them, it just means that the major life decisions that relate to my girls are made by their mothers, the two amazing women who taught me how to be a dad. I am not sure whether we picked them, or they picked us, but from the moment we met at an equality fundraiser, we instantly hit it off. This wonderful family life didn’t always seem possible for me. In the ’70s and ’80s, as a closeted teenager and young man, I would have been in denial if you had told me that one day I, too, would have three children. Or perhaps it would have been a relief; an affirmation that I could change my orientation. I desperately didn’t want to be gay and, after running from my true self for what seemed to be ages, I did what many young people who grew up in my era did: I tried to end my life. My parents found the bottle of pills I had taken and, on the advice of our family doctor, walked me around the backyard of our house for hours attempting to allow the effects of the pills I had taken to wear off. I just wanted the pain to stop, but my parents wanted their son and fought for my life. I am thankful every day that they did.

familyforest-pullquote1After that moment, I knew my parents loved me and, eventually, with much soul searching and self-acceptance, I learned that I could be happy… and gay. Once that switch was flipped, life turned on. My family is the culmination of that awareness and of so much love. But that love had to start with me. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t truly love themselves could be a donor dad. It requires patience, responsibility and, most of all, faith. I had to have faith that my daughters’ moms would allow me to have a relationship with them. They also had to have faith that I would be a man of my word and surrender my parental rights to the non-biological mother. We all had to have faith that we would be able to conquer whatever parenting trials would come our way.

And that faith is constantly tested. When my first daughter was born, my husband and I would babysit her about once every other week and, once she was old enough, have sleepovers once a month. I remember getting a call from one of her mothers after we returned her from a sleepover right after the adoption hearing had taken place—a hearing where I formally surrendered my parental rights. She was asking about a small burn mark on my daughter’s leg. Neither my husband nor I could recall anything that could have caused it, but then I remembered that at one point over the weekend we were all in the kitchen. I was holding her when I turned to my husband and brushed up against an open toaster door. I didn’t think it had touched her, and she didn’t cry, so I thought nothing of it at the time. When I realized she had gotten burned, I was terrified that we would not be allowed to see her again. I went through a short-lived freak out until the moms calmed me down, reassuring me that it happens to everyone (she had even fallen off the changing table a couple of times under their watch).

It is moments like that when you truly understand perspective. But the one person that was most tested by my being a donor dad was my husband. He often felt like the odd man out. While I was busy going to clinics and running out of events because “mom was ovulating,” he was often left alone and feeling out of touch with the whole process. If I could have done anything differently, I would have made sure that he was more involved and included him more in the process. The reality, now that the kids are older, is that all three of them refer to my husband as “Daddy” and to me as “Papa.” When asked, they are the first to tell you that they have “two mommies and two daddies.” This, to me, is one of the coolest things ever.

Because we are honest with all three kids about where they come from, they feel special. They understand that their mommies and daddies loved them so much that they worked together to make our family a reality. If I can offer any new perspective on being a donor dad, it is that anything is possible with honesty, careful preparation, and love. You can have the family of your dreams, no matter what it looks like.blognote-surrogacyconference

Groundbreaking Law Would Make It Easier For LGBT Couples To Start A Family

Gay couple Jeffrey Parsons (R) and Chris

Jeffrey Parsons and Chris Hietikko pose with their son Henry Hietikko-Parsons in the garden of their house. Henry was conceived by the couple via artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. | EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

When Judy Appel and her partner of 22 years, Alison Bernstein, wanted to have children, the state of California didn’t make it easy.

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Judy Appel, Alison Bernstein, and their children

Bernstein gave birth to their son using an anonymous sperm donor. But in order for Appel to gain legal custody of her child, she had to go through lengthy, complicated and costly measures to adopt him, which included allowing authorities into the family’s home multiple times for evaluations.

“It was really invasive,” Appel told The Huffington Post of the process. “They came into our home and studied it. It’s this extra legal hoop that, just by its nature, sends the message that our family isn’t equal.”

Appel and Bernstein’s son is now 16 years old, and much has changed in California since then. Gay marriage is now recognized under state law, and the adoption process for non-biological children of LGBT couples has become more streamlined. But certain counties in the state still require home visits as part of the adoption process. And if a same-sex couple with children moved to a state that didn’t recognize their marriage, the parents’ legal custody could be in jeopardy had no formal adoption taken place beforehand.

“In California, there’s the presumption that my wife is the parent of my child,” Appel said. “But elsewhere, that puts us at risk. What if a kid ends up in the hospital and one of the parents couldn’t visit?”

A new California bill aims to protect children from ending up in this kind of situation. Authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and dubbed the Modern Family Act, the first-of-its kind legislation would make adopting easier for LGBT couples in the state who want to start a family, providing legal protections from the moment formal planning begins. The measure would also benefit straight couples and single parents looking to conceive through alternative methods such as in vitro fertilization, sperm donation and surrogacy.

“The science behind having families has advanced more quickly than the laws,” Ammiano told HuffPost in a statement. “This bill is just an attempt to catch up with the realities and help these couples enjoy their modern families.”

themeasureThe measure, which passed the California Assembly by an overwhelming 60-2 majority earlier this week and now faces a vote in the state Senate before heading to the governor’s desk, includes multiple components. First, it would streamline the adoption process for same-sex parents, waiving typically required legal fees (which can range anywhere from $700 to thousands of dollars, according to Ammiano’s office) and protecting the family’s privacy by disallowing home visits and other invasive procedures.

“It will especially help for lower-income families in these situations,” Appel, who serves as the executive director of Our Family Coalition, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that supports LGBT parents and their families, noted. “This would provide security for kids across all economic levels.”

The bill would also apply to couples and individuals using what’s called a “known donor” to achieve pregnancy — in other words, using the sperm or egg of someone with whom they have a relationship, rather than an anonymous donor. Not only would the legislation require that all parties involved sign a statement of parental intention before any medical procedure take place, but it would also require would-be families using alternative reproduction technologies to explore their health insurance options in advance.

Alice Crisci, a government affairs liaison with California Cryobank, the country’s largest sperm donation bank, explained that using a known donor can sometimes lead to complicated legal situations. A donor or surrogate might seek custody of the child after he or she is born, for example, or the intended parents might go after the donor for child support. The Modern Family Act would eliminate any ambiguities at the onset.

“A lot of people use known donors because they want the donor to have a relationship with their child,” she said. “It’s really important that the law is as protective to all parties as possible.”

Crisci added that when legal issues arise after the fact, cases put pressure on California’s already-bloated family court system and impose significant financial burdens on everyone involved. “You can go broke defending your right to be a parent,” she said. “And it’s leaving the children vulnerable.”

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Renata Moreira, Lori Bilella, and their dog Pete

Renata Moreira, the policy and communications director at Our Family Coalition, married her wife, Lori Bilella, in San Francisco last year following the overturn of Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. She and Bilella hope to start a family in the near future using Bilella’s egg and a known sperm donor. Moreira will then carry the pregnancy herself so that, as she explained to HuffPost, she and her wife both have the opportunity to bond emotionally with their unborn child.

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“The Modern Family Act will directly protect my intention to parent the child I will subsequently carry,” she said in a statement of support for the bill, adding to HuffPost that the legislation would “reduce the need for any future litigation in case something goes awry.”

Appel is quick to point out that the legislation reflects society’s evolving definition of what constitutes a family. “We’re in an age in which people create their families in different ways. This act allows for clear understandings going in, so we can create a loving environment for our kids,” she said. “It’s not to protect our rights, but to protect the security of our children.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Mignon And Elaine’s Story From The Let Love Define Family Series

Originally published on the Huffington Post Gay Voices

foreverfamilyLong before Mignon R. Moore, 43, and Elaine Harley, 44, of Los Angeles considered raising a child, they focused their sights on building another type of family of choice by creating community networks for women of color first in New York and then in California. From their New York home 11 years ago, Mignon and Elaine launched “Persuasion,” a social network for “women of color of every persuasion.” Once they moved west, they established “Chocolate & Wine Upscale Events for Women,” a large and growing social group for lesbian, bisexual and same-gender-loving (SGL) women. The communities they have created have helped them forge friendships with women across the nation.

mignon2As a university professor and the author of Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood Among Black Women, Mignon has studied the unique factors influencing family-building among African American SGL women. Key among them is the fact that black LGBT individuals are less likely than other populations to cut ties with their families and religious communities when they encounter homophobia or outright rejection.

“I think that African American LGBT people work to retain ties with their racial and ethnic communities,” said Mignon. “Though many have found acceptance, some have faced resistance. But when there are issues they disagree with, they try to stick it out and work things through. The racial community acts as a buffer from the racism in society and because of that they are willing to negotiate, argue about and push through disagreements about their sexual orientation. That connection remains critical to their sense of self.”

Fortunately for Mignon and Elaine, their own families have been nothing but supportive. The couple, who have been together since 2002, were legally married in New York in 2012. The legal ceremony was followed by a wedding ceremony on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico.

The loving support of their families was much appreciated through the ups and downs of trying to create a family. They had already been involved in raising Elaine’s son from a previous relationship. Now that he was in college, the women looked forward to raising an infant together. After Mignon had tried various assisted reproductive technologies, they still wanted to grow their family with “babies that we could call our own.”

mignon1“We had some friends who became parents through foster-adoption,” said Elaine, a graphic designer who specializes in web design and branding. “Mignon’s own parents adopted children through the foster care system as well, so we had models for successful outcomes that we could draw upon. We did not want to spend thousands of dollars for private adoption when there were children who needed permanent and loving homes who were available in the public care system.”

Working with Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA), Mignon and Elaine began the process of training and certifying to become foster-adopt parents. Although they were delighted when the first baby was placed with them, they were devastated when distant relatives came forward and were approved to raise the infant. Nevertheless, they got through it together and prepared themselves to be matched with a child who had no other relatives to care for it.

Baby Joi, now 14 months, was placed with them in March 2013 and her biological brother Ryan, now five months, joined the family in January. Mignon and Elaine look forward to making them a permanent part of the Moore-Harley family when their adoptions are finalized this year.

Since becoming foster parents, they have discovered through their social networks the high numbers of African American and Latino LGBT parents who foster to adopt. Those numbers echo findings by The Williams Institute, which has shown that African American lesbians and gay men are more likely to be raising children than their Caucasian counterparts.

Despite the disappointment of the first placement ending, Mignon said the couple has experienced more highs than lows and says the foster-adoption process has been “relatively smooth for us.”

“We have had positive experiences with state agencies,” she said. “Social workers, child advocates and others who work in the child welfare system have learned that sexual orientation is not a determining factor in a family’s ability to provide a loving home for a child or sibling group.”

Mignon praised the services of RaiseAChild.US and its Parent Advocate program, which provides free personalized support to prospective parents through phone calls and emails as they explore the option of fostering and adopting, choosing an agency to work with and moving through the steps of orientation, training, certification and placement.

“There are many LGBT people who have fostered and adopted, and we just didn’t know about it before we started the process,” Mignon said, “but problems can arise when you do not have an LGBT-positive agency like RaiseAChild.US to help. RaiseAChild.US’s Parent Advocate Jason Cook understands that you‘re trying to form your ‘forever family’ so he provides personal assistance to help navigate the bureaucracy. We have referred many families from different areas across the country to RaiseAChild.US and they have been able to talk with Jason and find help.”

Both Joi and Ryan were born before their due dates and faced challenges at birth. Mignon and Elaine are proud of how the babies have flourished while in their care. They take every opportunity to share the joy that their children have brought to them. Mignon currently serves on RaiseAChild.US’s Honorary Advisory Council where she sees opportunities to make a difference for children in foster care.

“We would like other families to know that it is possible to find a child or children to love and raise through the foster care system,” said Mignon. “There are beautiful, kind, wonderful little souls just waiting for the right adult to nurture them and help them reach their full potential as human beings. They are counting on you to come and find them!”

“We also want families to know that the road can be difficult at times, but well worth the hard work,” added Elaine.

“Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event hosted by RaiseAChild.US at Andaz West Hollywood hotel on May 3, will provide information to all women interested in becoming parents through fostering and adoption. The presentation will feature a welcome from a Los Angeles sheriff who is also an adoptive mom through the foster care system, a parent panel and Q&A and an opportunity to meet participating partner agencies. For more information or to RSVP visit www.RaiseAChild.US.

Corinne Lightweaver is the Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”

The Entrustment Ceremony – Creating meaningful ritual in open adoption

By Leah Sheldon
Originally Published by Adoption Connection
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Ashlee (left) and adoptive mom Bobbie exchange vows and bracelets at the entrustment ceremony of daughter Fait

Rituals have always been used to signify a change or rite of passage, or to mark a transition in the life of a person or community. Although they are often interwoven with religious traditions, rituals can be anything that symbolizes and celebrates a life change.  We mark birthdays, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings with a special ceremony, so why not open adoptions?

The transfer of parental rights from one family to another in an open adoption is bittersweet. The birthmother is giving up her role as caregiver while the adoptive parents are gaining a new family member to love and nurture. The role of a ritual–or entrustment ceremony– to honor this event is becoming very common as adoptive and birth families feel empowered to create open and trusting relationships.

Just as each open adoption unfolds differently, each entrustment ceremony is unique and can be tailored to fit the needs of the birth and adoptive family. Ideally, the ceremony should emphasize that the two families are now creating a new, extended family connection that will forever honor and respect the birthmother’s biological bond to the child.

Tips To Planning an Entrustment Ceremony:

  • Make sure that the ceremony is directed as much as possible by the birthmother and her family. (It is okay if it is planned by the adoptive family, adoption agency, or clergy member if it suits the situation.)
  • Invite key contributors: the birthmother and selected family members of her choosing, along with the adoptive parents and the baby.
  • Make sure everyone has a role in the celebration, however small. Poems or religious passages may be read, or perhaps both the birth and adoptive parents can speak about their hopes and love for the baby.
  • As with all festive rituals, flowers, food, candles, and meaningful music can all be a part of the ceremony.
  • There is no right or wrong way to plan an entrustment ceremony. Do what feels right and what will contribute to connection and meaningful memories.

The Ritual Unfolds

Adoptive parents Karen and Chris suggested the idea of creating an entrustment ceremony with Denise, their son Jonah’s birthmother. Before the ceremony took place, the couple videotaped Denise holding Jonah and saying her goodbye on camera. (She had said a private goodbye the day before.) The family brought in a local pastor to lead them in a few readings, and the adoptive family shared an oath and a commitment to raise their son in a strong and loving home. Flowers were exchanged, and birth and adoptive grandparents and friends were present to witness the special ceremony.

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Eric and Robin originally planned on a ceremony at the hospital as well, but plans changed when Shelly, their daughter’s birthmother, had an unexpected Caesarean section. Much of her family wouldn’t be able to make it. They decided to meet at the birth family’s home the day after Shelly was released from the hospital, when her extended family could participate. Shelly and her mother were able to print and frame pictures of the baby taken at the hospital, as well as images of family and friends to display around the house. The birth grandmother ordered a sheet cake with four candles for the four days of life their daughter had had. Eric says, “We called it a ‘Celebration of Life’ so it wouldn’t take on a religious tone, and it really was a celebration. The family had put together family heirlooms for us to take home for Madison, including Shelly’s silver baby rattle.”

Eric and Robin knew that Shelly and her family were private people, so instead of speaking publicly at the party, they gave her a letter that they had written the night before.  “We wanted to let her and her family knows how thankful we were for them and how much we love our daughter,” says Eric.

Bobbie and Eli and their birthmother, Ashlee, waited until two weeks after their daughter’s birth to host a ceremony. It coincided with the signing of Ashlee’s relinquishment papers, making the adoption legally binding. Bobbie says, “Waiting those two weeks felt like a good decision for everyone because leaving the hospital was such an emotional experience for all of us.” During their ceremony, Bobbie and Eli presented their birthmother with a special bracelet that was inscribed with the words “Faith, Hope and Courage,” which matches one Bobbie wears as well.

Birth grandfather and poet, Paul, incorporating a special adoption poem during the legal relinquishment process of his daughter creating important memories and a keepsake in their open adoption process.

Take the Long View

An entrustment ceremony isn’t going to be possible for every adoption, but Lynne Fingerman, Director of Adoption Connection, believes adoptive parents can do little things in the hospital that can ease the transition and celebrate the birthmother’s love and care. “Whether you send flowers to your birthmother or have her family participate at the hospital in feeding the baby, there are things you can do to create trust and ongoing tradition… things that you can tell your child about later on.”

When Bill and Danielle adopted their daughter, Cassandra, their daughter’s birthgrandmother wanted to be the first to hold her. The adoptive family made it as easy as possible for her by finding a room next to the nursery where a rocking chair would fit so that she could have some quiet moments with Cassandra and be the first to hold her.

entrustmentceremonyquote2An Event to Remember

When Bridget chose to place her son with Erik and Christina, she was hesitant to go forward with an entrustment ceremony at the hospital. “I was initially scared and only agreed because Erik and Christina wanted to do one,” she says. “But it turned out to be very powerful for me.” Since both families were Catholic, the couple brought in a member of the clergy to say a few words during the ceremony.

Bridget would definitely recommend a ceremony to other birthparents. Her advice? “Be open-minded to the adoptive parents’ ideas and just let them plan it if you feel overwhelmed.”

Taking pictures and videotaping the event are also good ideas. When adoptees start to ask questions about where they come from, they want to taste, touch, and feel as much of the early stuff as they can. Having a video or pictures of the entrustment creates a legacy of caring and love for the child. Just as importantly, it can show the growing child that his or her adoption was a deeply loving choice based on a conscious decision.

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Two men and a baby: Navigating parenting and partnership in a two-dad family

By KALW reporter Jen Chien

 Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com
Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

When Amos and Mickey Lim met in 1995, they had no idea they would someday have a daughter together. It just didn’t seem possible. They lived an ocean away from each other, and didn’t know if they would ever even meet face-to-face. That’s because they first connected online, on a gay discussion group.

“Someone was talking about long-term relationships, how there’s no such thing as long-term relationships,” Amos says. “Probably because we don’t see the role models out there.”

That was certainly true for Amos. He’s from Singapore, a country where homosexual acts are still against the law. Mickey was living in Bakersfield at the time.

“I think that when I came out I kind of had the idea initially that I would just be that bachelor–the uncle,” Mickey says. But over time, his views changed. He says it wasn’t until five or six years after he had come out that he decided to stop restricting himself mentally. “I can do anything I want,” he says. “The question then becomes: do I want a long-term, lifelong relationship? Do I want to have a family? Do I want to have children? I couldn’t conceive of any reason not to, other than I hadn’t met the right person to do it with.”

So Mickey wrote back to Amos, and shared his own experience. They started corresponding. Long emails turned into long phone calls, and a couple of years later, Mickey went to visit Amos in Singapore.

“We met and immediately realized well, oh, we’re in love!” Mickey says with a laugh. The two have been together now for over 20 years, and their love plays out in an everyday way, in the home they’ve made together with their six-year old daughter Alicia.

On a recent morning, Amos gets Alicia’s lunch ready and makes sure the kitchen is clean, as Mickey struggles to get her to brush her teeth. Once that’s done, Mickey will drop Alicia off at school, then drive to his job as a pharmacist for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Amos is the volunteer director of a nonprofit, but he calls himself a stay-at-home dad. He says he and Mickey share responsibility for domestic duties — there’s not a clear division.

“I don’t see it as a 50/50, i see it as 100/100,” Amos says.

Mickey agrees. “I think we both want to participate in the raising of our child. … Nobody gets any down time here — it’s all go.”

They share duties like this for a reason. When Amos first came to the US in 1999, he was on a series of temporary visas — his status was often uncertain. Because of that uncertainty, and because Amos first came in on a student visa, they were by necessity a one-income household.

Mickey says that could have created an imbalance in their relationship, but they don’t look at it that way. “What we’ve done and what we continue to do now is that you contribute to the house [and] the family, that which you’re capable of,” he says. “No one thing is one person’s job, it all has to get done. Some things I’m better at than he, and there are things that he’s better at than I am.”

Amos finally got his green card in 2006. He and Mickey felt stable enough to consider adopting a child together, something they had both dreamed of. They were matched with Alicia through a foster-to-adopt program when she was eight months old.

At this point, Amos was working full-time in nonprofit management. They were each able to take a month of parental leave, and after that they just rotated, especially since Amos’ job allowed him to work from home part of the time.

When the economy tanked, though, Amos lost his position. Alicia was receiving therapy for developmental delay — six hours a week — so they decided that Amos would stay home with her. Mickey once again became the sole breadwinner.

“It worked out that way, and sometimes I’m jealous, and sometimes I’m grateful,” Mickey says.

Mickey and Amos both say that the models of parenting and partnership that have been handed down to them don’t always apply to their family.

“We don’t fit into ‘I’m the husband, you’re the wife,’ or ‘This is what husbands do and this is what wives do’ — because we do both,” Amos says.

But both men say they’ve felt the discomfort of not conforming to traditional expectations. When filling out an application for Alicia’s social security card, Mickey discovered the the form only had fields for “father” and “mother.” He says the clerk was not very helpful — she asked them to just pick one. Since he had taken Amos’ last name when they married, and therefore had a “maiden name,” he put himself on the form as Alicia’s mother.

For his part, Amos says it can be challenging being the only dad in a roomful of moms, like when he volunteers at Alicia’s school. And there’s the fact that he’s an Asian man with a blonde, blue-eyed white child. He says he’s felt people’s suspicion at times when he’s at the playground with Alicia, and she throws a tantrum because she doesn’t want to leave.

“People take a second look… and you know, I’ve got somebody come up to me and say, ‘Should I be worried?’ I’m like: ‘No you shouldn’t be worried, she’s my daughter.’”

Mickey says they have also been surprised by the way some friends have reacted to their decision to raise a child together. “I think that the straight couples with kids are actually more accepting or more shrugging-their-shoulders of it than gay people without kids,” he says. “We had friends who were at our wedding when Alicia was two, and like, never saw them again.”

Mickey says he thinks these friends probably disapprove of his and Amos’ decision to follow what seems like a traditional or conventional path, but he sees it differently. “I think it goes back to not understanding that you can make it whatever you want. You can have the life that you choose to have. Not the life that you ran away from, but rather, the life that you’re walking and running toward.”

These two fathers are walking and running toward a life that they once could barely even dream of, and are now defining on their own terms.

Trust & Fear of the Unknown in Adoption

This is the happy story of a new family being born through unexpected circumstances and an almost magical lining up of the stars. Little did we know that a short 6 years after meeting, we’d be fathers – let alone be living in California!

15-IMG_9625The story began when we met on university campus in Montréal, Québec back in 2007. It was love at first sight. We never really discussed having kids until much later in our relationship. We were still young (none of our friends had kids yet) and wanted to travel the world (which we did)! Gabriel always wanted to have kids but Pierre-Luc pretty much had given up on the idea at a young age.

Our life changed when an unexpected job offer in California came for Pierre-Luc. First, we had to overcome the fact that we’d have to immigrate as strangers to each other as the work visa would not recognize same-sex couples. Gabriel would have to find a job, his first job right out of school. To this day, we would rather not think about what would have happened should Gabriel have failed in his search. We are very happy about the supreme court decision to declare DOMA unconstitutional as it will save a lot of stress for futures couples that are in similar circumstances.

By 2011, our relationship had matured and so did our lives. Some of our friends and cousins had started having kids and frankly, this ignited something inside of us. The looming 30th birthday anniversary for Pierre-Luc did also helped: the clock was ticking! This is when we began our research on how to build our family. One thing was clear: we wanted a newborn, to be the only parents from day 1.

There were a few options available to us in California: surrogacy and adoption. As we concentrated on adoption for financial reasons, we discovered a rich world full of love for the children being adopted. As we kept reading books on the subject of gay parenting and adoption in general, it became clear to us that an open adoption was the way to go. We visited a few adoption agencies and got started on the paperwork in September of 2012.

We learned that openness is positive for all participants. For the children, it helps developing their identity far removed from the unknowns associated with closed adoption: who are my birth parents, why did it happen, etc. For the birth parents, after the grieving period, it’s an immense relief and joy to be able to see that the child they brought into this world is being well taken care of. And for the adoptive parents, having access to the medical history of the family is one of many advantages, should a problem arise.

IMG_5743We had concerns about inviting hypothetical birth parents into our lives: it felt weird to create such an intimate relationship with complete strangers. Will they judge our parenting? How will their life choices impact ours? In retrospect, it was all about the fear of the unknown. When we were first contacted by the future birthmother of our child in March 2013, it put a face on the strangers. As we exchanged many long heartwarming emails over the next month, we developed an understanding and it was the beginning of a relationship we hope will flourish.

We consider ourselves lucky to have been matched very early in the pregnancy. We had more time to bond, and this also meant that we were able to fly to meet her in person in Missouri and attend the OBGYN visit where we all learned that we were expecting a girl. Over the weekend, we met with her family and all of her friends. She has a wonderful circle of support and everyone was onboard with her plans. We felt like rock stars: she had talked about us to all of them and they were all genuinely eager to meet us.

For interstate adoptions, there is some paperwork to be processed which usually means that you are stuck in an hotel room with a newborn for about 10 days. When Sophie was born in September 2013, we ended up overstaying that period because we wanted to spend a little bit more time with the birth family. We had finally met the birthfather at the hospital and this was a unique chance to create a bond. As the family came to visit birthmom in the hospital, they also visited us – the new parents – to congratulate us and meet the newest addition to our family. We created memories we will always cherish.

In retrospect, we can now say that our fears about adoption were unfounded. As the birth parents pick you, you also end up picking them and it is up to you to establish your personal boundaries. Working with an experienced adoption agency like the IAC really simplified things for us and for every party involved. They offer great support for the birth family and helped everyone understand their role in this child’s life.

The key to success is trust. While we jungled with the uncertainty of the adoption going through, we trusted deep down that the birthmother would do what’s best for her child. She also trusted us enough to select us from a big list of potential parents and we found that this trust helped us through the daunting first nights with a newborn.

Pierre-Luc Beaudoin & Gabriel Millaire