After Oklahoma residents Ryan and Michael married in Iowa in 2009, they decided to start a family. Here’s their story.
First Name: Ryan
Partner’s First Name: Michael
Age: 30 and 35
Hometown/City: Tulsa, OK
Number of Children: 1
Names of Children: Bean
When did you decide you wanted children?
We had always known that we wanted to start a family – in fact, that was part of the reason we started dating. We’re both very family-oriented and had spent our entire lives taking care of nieces, nephews and younger siblings.
We got serious about starting a family after we were married in Iowa. We were officially married (though it’s not recognized in our state), we had purchased a bigger home and we had put money aside. Everything just lined up for us to take the next step. It was about 12 months from planning to popping.
How did you decide to either biologically have a child or adopt a child?
As you know, we can’t just make some sweet love and – BAM! – 9 months later a baby is here. And it’s not like going to a pet store to pick out of a puppy or pet hamster. It was obvious that starting a family would be a difficult journey, so we sort of cast our net out and covered all of the bases at once. We never had a preference of biological vs. adoptive though. We both had so much love to give we knew that biological relation wasn’t even something we’d even think about. We just wanted a family, however that shaped up.
Did you share your journey with your family and friends? If so, have they been supportive?
Yes, we shared our entire experience with family and friends. All of our friends were absolutely over the moon (culminating in a mind-blowing baby shower that left us so in shock and awe, we were emotionally drained by the end). For the most part, my family has always been beyond supportive.
With Michael’s family, it’s been about 50/50. His father and step-mother have always been completely supportive and they are now the world’s proudest grandparents. His semi-religious mother, and her side of the family, didn’t handle it very well. They were borderline supportive when we got married, but raising a child “in sin” was crossing a line for them unfortunately. To this day, Michael’s mother has never acknowledged her grandson. As much as it hurts, we know we can’t do anything to change her mind and, in the end, she’s the one missing out on the cutest kid on the planet.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced raising a child as a gay couple? How have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give new parents in a similar situation?
I think that we both anticipated more challenges than we’d faced. Living in Oklahoma, we’re acutely aware of how intolerant the US can be towards same-sex couples. We were also aware that two men taking a baby grocery shopping (or anywhere for that matter) would instantly out us as gay to most people. We were expecting lots of glares, maybe some verbal confrontation or possibly worse.
But, knock on wood, we’ve not had any of that. Most people are curious but always polite and quite a few are supportive (they usually end up telling us about their gay son/brother/cousin/uncle). We do get asked how he was conceived quite a bit, which I find invasive. I never ask strangers how their children were conceived, nor would I care to know. Why does that even matter? So, I typically say something completely inappropriate to catch them off guard.
Stranger: “How was he conceived?”
Me: “Doggie style.”
I figure they’re asking an invasive question that they have no place asking, so I’ll over-share. Maybe next time they’ll think twice before asking complete strangers a question that personal in the line at the grocery store.
Other than that, we’ve only had one real issue. Our son was denied entry to a daycare/preschool because we are a same-sex couple. It’s an incredible place where the emphasis is on education and not entertainment. I went and toured the facility and fell in love. After leaving, I called the center director back and told her we were a same-sex couple. I wanted to make sure that we dealt with any issues up front and not when we showed up together to drop him off for the first time.
I was told that the facility taught a faith-based curriculum and that they weren’t sure if it was a good idea for our son to attend their school, as they would teach the Biblical definition of family and marriage.
Normally, I’d be on my soapbox educating her on the contradiction of that statement, but I would never put my son into a situation where I even questioned whether or not he’d be indoctrinated with hatred or intolerance. So we let it go and went on our merry way.
What do you wish you would have known before you started?
I think we would have really loved knowing about surrogacy in India. At one-third of the cost of domestic surrogacy, I think we would have definitely spent more time researching it. Especially since the mothers often times will sign away their rights to the child. It just makes for a cleaner legal situation.
What was your biggest setback in the process?
The fact that Oklahoma won’t allow us to both be on our son’s birth certificate (or any same-sex couple). No matter how you go around the legalities (with a guardianship and all of that), one parent still feels like a stepparent right out of the gate. It’s devastating, It was a difficult fact that we had to learn to accept and move forward.
Did you ever consider giving up?
Not even for a second! There were times where one of us would get discouraged, but we always had the other’s back and helped refocus that energy. Being a family was always our priority, so there was no way we were going to give up.
How has your life changed during this process? Before having kids and after having kids?
I could write a novel here.
I think that becoming parents has given us perspective on life in a way that nothing else could. Once you go from a young married couple to a family, everything changes. Suddenly, life is no longer about a bottle of wine and a marathon of Dexter; it’s about night feedings, breast milk, diaper blow outs, public screaming fits and learning that your life is no longer your own – it now belongs to a 6 pound pile of awesomesauce.
The most noticeable change is that we now have this incredible person living with us who is dependent on us to meet all of his needs. And, because of that, every decision we make – from what to eat, where to go on vacation and what rug to get for the living room – reflects that reality.
How much did you budget for the process? How much has the process cost so far? What were the actual costs and how were they different from what was planned?
We didn’t plan like we should have, so we didn’t budget for his arrival or the expenses of getting there. We had no idea how much we’d spend on legal fees alone. Equally as surprising was the “baby gear” price tag. When we started working on a nursery, I nearly blacked out. Every crib we instantly loved was $1,200. Plus diapers, bottles, toys, clothes, etc.
In the end, we reality-checked each other and went the smart route. We got the $99 Ikea crib since we knew he’d only be in it 18-24 months. We got a lot of great gently used clothes from friends and family and did a lot of consignment shopping. We set a $5 per item maximum for clothing, since he grew out of everything within weeks/months.
But, even then, the start-up cost on a family was staggering, even if we hadn’t had extra legal issues and fees.
Was your state/location a challenge to the process? How did it impact your decisions, if at all?
As I mentioned above, Oklahoma only allows one parent in a same-sex couple to appear on the birth certificate. Other than that, it was a pretty straight forward process legally.
Will you prepare your children to answer questions about their donor/biological parent(s)?
That’s something we’re still discussing. Our son’s Mom is a regular part of his life, so he’ll always know who she is and that she loves him very much. But explaining how he came to be, how our family is different…that’s something we’re still working out.
We certainly don’t have all of the answers yet!
Would you be willing to share the name of the agency/sperm bank/other resources you used and why? If so, please list them below (and if you have any notes – was your experience good, poor? why or why not?)
We just had to have an attorney, and she told us up front that she’d prefer that we not publicly share her information (because in conservative Oklahoma, she could be targeted for a boycott or suffer other repercussions).
Any other advice, comments, or misc. wisdom about the gay parenting process?
My advice is: don’t listen to anyone’s advice.
When we announced we were expecting, we got overwhelmed with advice and opinions from EVERYone. They were just trying to help but it actually really stressed us out hearing “you have to do this” or “you need this” constantly.
We took a step back and realized that all Bean needed was food/fluids, warmth, safety, love and not to be dropped. A $10 tube of diaper cream or $300 stroller wouldn’t give him those things (other than the not dropping part).
In the end, every baby is different, so what worked for cousin Margie might not work for you. Just be prepared to trust your instincts because you will know your child better than anyone in the world (regardless of whether he/she is biologically yours), and you’ll instinctively know what he/she needs and when.
Ryan blogs about his life as a gay dad and more at the blog Pride in Life, charting his (mis)adventures as a first-time husband and father.