The anniversary of our sons’ adoption came and went earlier this month, and we didn’t do a thing to celebrate it.
It was Gabriella who had to adopt our children because she is not a biological parent, as I am. She had no legal rights though she took to mothering instinctually and naturally from day one and, in fact, has always been the more nurturing of the two of us. As far as the law was concerned, however, she might as well have been a helpful neighbor.
It has been four years now since Gabriella adopted our two sons, and I still can’t decide if the adoption date is one worth recognizing. I keep the recurring date in my calendar, but I’m not sure what, if anything, we’re supposed to do about it.
Another couple we know adopted their beautiful children through an agency in Russia. Every year, they celebrate “Gotcha Day” with their kids. The family watches the video that the mothers shot in Russia, and they retell their son and daughter all about their journey to “get them." But we were already a family when we schlepped into Newark on a bitter cold day in February to sit in front of the judge. The only thing that the day brings to mind for me is how much we had to do and how much money we had to spend to become a family in the eyes of the law.
The adoption process in New Jersey is as much an administrative and costly burden for gay couples as it is for straight couples. It is worth explaining, however, that if a married, heterosexual couple went about getting pregnant as we did using donor sperm (or if they had used donor eggs), the law would not require an adoption.
Though a parent may have no biological ties to the child in this scenario, the names of both parents would automatically be recorded on the child’s birth certificate. Not so for us.
We had to hire a lawyer specializing in family law for the LGBT community to help us navigate the process. Gabriella needed a reference letter from someone in town who had known her for five years. She had to take a physical exam and submit fingerprints to confirm she had no criminal record. And then there was the home study. A caseworker came to our house to check out the house and interview us both for the adoption assessment.And we had it easy! When I compared adoption notes with some of our friends in New York, I realized how much the process varies from state to state.
“Our adoption was a nightmare,” our friend in New York told us. “We submitted 16 pages of single-spaced information including every place we have lived since 1972, full financial information for each of us and copies of stock certificates. We also had a five-hour interview with our social worker who made us describe how we met and what we thought and felt the first time we saw one another. "
My New York friend went on to say they had to talk about their style of parenting, get advice on telling their kids, pay $850 for the whole invasive process - only to find out months later that the court paper work had been misfiled. She said the adoption process began on Christmas Day 2008 and didn't end until August of 2009.
I don’t know how I’d fare in New York. I can’t remember where I lived in 1992 let alone 1972. I guess we should feel fortunate to be living in New Jersey instead of a state where sodomy is a felony and same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting. We could live in a state that doesn't have laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
If we were to move anywhere else, we’d have to find a country that extends equal rights to all its citizens…and also somewhere warm. I’m over this snow business. I think it’s time to start brushing up on my Spanish.
As I look back, I see that Gabriella and I had big smiles in the photographs documenting Adoption Day. Asher looked ambivalent and was probably irritated we had wasted so much time (or I could be transferring a wee bit). Levi was only a few months old and too young to have much of an opinion about the day. I guess we were happy it was done and relieved that we were a legal family. I know we were not excited that we had to jump through hoops to get there, and I was definitely not happy that I was still wearing maternity clothes for the occasion. So what to do about this day?
My friend Stephanie and her partner Maja choose to recognize the day they adopted their kids. Stephanie said, “We’ll celebrate because it’s a meaningful day to us after a long journey. But we won’t include our children because we don’t want to call attention to the fact that we were not seen as a family at one time.”
“I like your thinking,” I told Stephanie. From now on, Gabriella and I will get out of the house and toast each other for all that we had to do to create this beautiful family of ours. We’ll raise a glass for New Jersey, and we’ll raise a glass in honor of a future of full equal rights. And then after all those toasts, we’ll call a cab.