Josh and Travis went through private, domestic adoption to adopt their son, Miles. Josh shares their journey to transracial adoption, their struggles with second-parent adoption in the Midwest, and more, below.
First Name: Josh
Partner’s First Name: Travis
Age: 34, 36
Number of Children: 1, Miles
When did you decide you wanted children?
When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine having children. I was the oldest of four and, with my dad sometimes trying to find work out of town and my mom working nights at a grocery store, I was often responsible for my two youngest siblings. Back then my biggest dream was to have time alone and escape Ohio as soon as I could.
Travis and I have been together for almost 11 years, but it wasn’t until 2005 or 2006 that we started talking seriously about wanting kids. We started going out less, enjoying quiet time together, and feeling like we had something extra—love, time, energy?—that we could share with a child. When we were fairly certain we wanted to make it happen, we waited about a year to let the idea sink in and make sure it was right for us.
How did you decide to either biologically have a child or adopt a child?
We knew we wanted an infant, as close to the beginning of life as possible. Neither of us felt any strong desire for a biological connection with a kid. Private, domestic agency adoption emerged as the best path. We wrestled a lot with what it would mean to adopt transracially. Whether we could commit to the life-long work that could be required to address racial identity issues. Ultimately we decided that we couldn’t not be open to a child of any race.
Did you share your journey with your family and friends? If so, have they been supportive?
Yes, we shared it from the beginning, and our families have been very supportive. Both sides of our family visited within weeks of bringing our son home. They also helped our friends (Gretchen from Regular Midwesterners and her partner Jill) throw a “Welcome Home” party for our son. Both sides of our family visit often and are a huge part of our kid’s life.
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?
There are enough emotional ups and downs on the path of parenting. It’d be so much easier if we didn’t have the added burden and worry that comes with prejudice, blatant institutional discrimination, and retrograde laws.
Living in a smallish town in a rural, conservative, and very traditional part of Ohio isn’t easy, especially being a stay-at-home gay papa out and about every day in the community. I feel tremendously conspicuous, although it’s getting easier because I’ve grown accustomed to it. Overall, it’s gone better than expected. Some people bristle when they see us, but we’ve encountered little overt hostility.
I’ve been surprised by how so many non-gay people, even allies, don’t know the extent of legal discrimination. They don’t know, for example, that a gay couple cannot jointly adopt in Ohio or even obtain a second parent adoption.
Gender—not just sexual orientation—is also a significant issue. I was naïve about the extent to which our culture, even in more feminist-minded or less traditional communities, cling to a “mommy” identity that relegates male parents in the backseat when it comes to nurturing and caregiving.
I’d encourage people to be prepared to have a tough skin, be aware of prejudice but not paranoid that you’ll find it everywhere, and seek support and connection where you can—whether through friends and family. LGBT family groups can be a great resources too. We attended our first Rainbow Families Great Lakes Family Week this year. It was like crawling into an oasis out of the desert, and I hadn’t even realized I was in the desert!
Overall, when I think about the historical perspective, I feel pretty damn lucky to be where I am. I have the freedom and acceptance to be an openly gay parent, raising a child with the man I love, in a small town in Ohio. I don’t doubt that things will continue to change for the better.
What do you wish you would have known before you started?
I wish I had talked with more people touched by adoption, including transracial adoption. I would not have made a different choice but it would have been useful to know more about the emotional complexity of adoption—for birth parents, adoptive parents and the child—as well as the life-long issues related to transracial parenting.
What was your biggest setback in the process?
Adoption matches that fell through, including one I blogged about recently at Regular Midwesterners. It was before we had Miles. The match fell through after we had spent about a week caring for the baby in a hospital NICU. We were torn up for a long time about that loss.
We’ve now been trying to adopt a second child for a year and a half and had a second match fall through last spring (although it was much less difficult because we didn’t meet or bond with the baby).
What was the funniest thing that happened along the way?
It was funny in a “That’s interesting” way when we realized our first match was with a mom who had just started dating women. It was completely unexpected and cool to have a very queer adoption match.
Did you ever consider giving up?
Not really but after the first failed match, we felt like we needed some time to recover. But, less than two months later, our social worker in Wisconsin happened to get a call from an expectant mom —our son’s mom—interested in a gay couple.
How has your life changed during this process? Before having kids and after having kids?
I tell people parenting is just more of everything—love, worry, fear, impatience. Except leisure time and sleep—but even those things you enjoy more than before. Life is more intense, and that’s something I wanted. I’ve learned a lot about myself and have pushed myself to grow in lots of ways. I’m more patient. I control my temper much better. At first it was hard, but losing my sense of autonomy to fully care for a baby is a beautiful thing. I think I understand more about what it means to be a human being and how we grow from tiny little creatures into independent ones.
How much did you budget for the process? What were the actual costs and how were they different from what was planned?
When we first started the process, I was working for a non-profit and my partner was a graduate student. We weren’t poor, but we lived in a 500 square foot apartment and had little extra income. But we managed to scrimp and save so that we paid for the first adoption out of our pockets. When we eventually did a kind of second-parent adoption (a novel, untested procedure that, at the time, was available only in one county of Wisconsin), we had to borrow money for that. All told, adopting our son, plus the expense of the failed match, cost over $25,000. Fortunately, thanks to an expanded federal adoption tax credit, we were able to recuperate most of those expenses over the past few years.
Was your state/location a challenge to the process? How did it impact your decisions, if at all?
We lived in Wisconsin when we first started the process. In part because we wanted to avoid the state’s retrogressive laws regarding gay parenting rights, we decided to pursue interstate adoption so we could finalize somewhere with joint adoption. In the end, despite signing on with an agency in Illinois, we had the match with Miles’ mom in Wisconsin.
There was a somewhat dubious form of second parent adoption available at the time in only one county of the state. (The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled years ago that second-parent adoption was not legal but one law firm started conducting a slightly different legal process.) At first, we were opposed to doing it. So I legally adopted Miles, and Travis obtained a guardianship. Our hope was that we could have a second parent adoption if my partner was lucky enough to get a job in a state with a better legal climate. For various reasons, we ended up in Ohio, a state that’s even worse for LGBT rights. So before moving, we went ahead and did the novel second-parent adoption procedure, shelling out another $7,000 or so. But it let us move into Ohio with adoption orders recognizing both of us as parents, along with an amended birth certificate with both of our names.
How will you prepare to answer questions about Miles’ birth mother?
We have an open adoption arrangement with Miles’ mom, and it’s been a really wonderful relationship. While we still lived in Wisconsin, we visited every other month or so. Since moving, we’ve had visits once a year. The last time, she came to stay with us for four days, along with Miles’ (full biological) sister, aunt, and cousin. We made a life book for Miles when he was two and talk openly and often about the fact that he’s adopted and, although we’re his parents, he has another family who love him very much and are a part of his life.
Josh blogs about gay parenting, life in the Midwest, and other topics at the brilliant and wonderful blog Regular Midwesterners. Josh and his friend and writing partner Gretchen have come together on the blog to write from two perspectives of LGBT parenting. If you haven’t seen the blog already, check ‘em out!