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Gay Adoption: Navigating the Process

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We all know that adoption is a tough road to travel -- and all the more so for gay and lesbian couples. Learn how one couple was able to make it through the red tape.

two women with a baby

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: A lifelong dream of marriage and motherhood seemed almost unattainable for Vicky*, until she decided to take a nontraditional route. In 2000, she married her girlfriend, Beth*, in a commitment ceremony in Portland, Oregon, and within months, Vicky began trying to get pregnant. After 18 months of disappointment with artificial insemination, the couple gave up trying to conceive and decided instead to embark on a journey of same-sex adoption. "Emotionally, there's such a deep desire to have a baby," says Vicky, who admits she was willing to go to any lengths to have a family, even if it meant having to lie.

At the time, Beth and Vicky knew very little about adoption or how to navigate the controversial process of gay adoption. "Many agencies won't offer services to gay couples because they're concerned that birth mothers won't choose same-sex adoptive parents," says Shari Levine, M.A., the executive director of Open Adoption & Family Services. Levine has seen a steady increase in same-sex adoption over the past few years at her Portland-based agency that openly caters to gay couples throughout the Northwest.

Only a handful of states permit same-sex adoption -- and even where it's legal, gay couples face discrimination. Gay parents are often steered toward adopting older foster kids, interracial babies, or special needs children. "Many of the private agencies are religiously affiliated and can set their own standards," Levine says.

If a lesbian or gay couple wants a newborn, the waiting time can be longer because the infant must come from a state that allows same-sex adoption as well. Levine says that last year, the average wait time for a successful adoption was 10 months for straight couples and 13 months for same-sex parents. In the U.S., only 1 percent of unwed mothers choose to relinquish their offspring, which means there are about 14,000 babies available for adoption per year.

Levine says many birth mothers actually prefer gay couples instead of straight, for various reasons. "A mom may choose a lesbian couple because she feels distrustful of men, or she may prefer a gay couple because she wants to be the only mother," says Levine, whose agency specializes in open adoption. Levine says same-sex couples do really well in the 'open adoption' scenario (which allows birth mothers to have ongoing contact with the child) "because they're used to being marginalized and know how it feels to be an outsider."

Vicky wanted to adopt a baby from Latin America because of her roots. "I connected on a cultural level -- I speak Spanish, so it made sense." The couple chose Guatemala and began the complex application process in 2002. "We were very motivated and have pretty type-A personalities, so we got things done quickly." The requirements for international adoption are much stricter than adopting in the U.S. There's no foreign country that will place a baby with an American gay couple, so that means only one person can apply for a baby. Beth had a stable job with a bigger paycheck, so her name appeared on the paperwork -- Vicky had to remain in the shadows. They had to hide their relationship from everyone: the adoption agency, the state, the federal government, and the host country. "I posed as the godmother, and that kind of sucks," says Vicky, who described the waiting process to momlogic as an emotional roller coaster. "We weren't getting much information, and we started hearing rumors that the country was changing its adoption rules. I wanted to scream!"

After months of waiting, Beth and Vicky got the call they'd been waiting for. Their baby boy had arrived on April 18, 2003, but they'd have to wait another seven months before they could meet him. "It was surreal, there was a child in the world that belonged to us, who we were responsible for emotionally and financially, but we didn't know what he looked like," Vicky recalls. On November 22, the couple went to Guatemala City, where they met Diego* and the foster family that had cared for him since birth. The foster mom, who has two daughters of her own, felt a special bond with Diego and had a tough time letting him go. Vicky hadn't realized the process would be so painful. "It was killing us, that part was pretty hard," Vicky recalls.

Over the past six years, the families have continued corresponding with letters and photos. But despite Beth and Vicky's openness with Diego, "I feel the relationship with the foster family could be stronger if we didn't have to be closeted." The thornier issue involves Vicky's status as a parent. "It's a huge risk regarding equality if you don't adopt as a couple. One is a primary parent, the other has few legal rights in the event of a breakup or death of the primary parent," Levine says. Vicky says, in hindsight, she wishes she'd done things differently. "If we'd been more educated about the process, we'd have made some different choices."

The adoption process, which can cost between $15,000 and $35,000, "is treacherous, emotionally and financially," Levine says. She explains that it's not a business transaction and should not be looked at that way. It's important to do a lot of research before choosing an agency and an attorney. "Be mindful about getting all the information about fees up-front," suggests Levine, who warns that with an independent adoption, there are many extra charges. She provided a list of questions to consider in a domestic adoption that could raise red flags:

• Is the birth mother asking for a lot of money for living expenses?
• Is the birth father in the picture? If so, what are the state's laws regarding his involvement and consent?
• Is the birth mother's family supportive of her decision and unlikely to come forward in the 11th hour to disrupt the process?
• Is the birth mother emotionally and financially stable?

Nationally, as many as 30 percent of adoptions are "disrupted" when the birth mother changes her mind after the baby is born.

Diego is now at the age where he's asking a lot of questions about his multifaceted family. He knows that he has four mothers and two fathers, but "it's still very secretive," says Vicky, who worries that if Diego ever returned to Guatemala, he could be ostracized if he discussed his lesbian mothers. Vicky and Beth made him a book with photos to help explain his adoption story. "He used to want to read it all the time and would get sad when he thought about the family he lost. But now that he's older, he can be happy about it," says Vicky.

* Names have been changed to protect identity.

next: Being a Breastfeeding Dad
12 comments so far | Post a comment now
Teresa Ramirez September 22, 2009, 11:40 AM

Yay!! I am happy for you and your son. Congrats! :)

ame i. September 22, 2009, 2:05 PM

An adult’s sexual orientation is their own business, but I question bringing a child into a gay or lesbian relationship. A child in such a situation is going to end up picked on sooner or later.

monica September 22, 2009, 2:44 PM

a child in any situation will get picked on sooner or later, ame i.
what matters is that the child is in a healty, loving home (homosexual or straight)where they will be given the tools and support to deal with any problem.

ame i. September 22, 2009, 5:38 PM

You’re right, Monica. It’s better for a child to be in any loving home than bounced around in the foster care system, now that I think about it more.

Patrick September 24, 2009, 1:44 AM

I clearly remember people in my life who objected to interracial marriages always bringing up the children of such marriages and extolling how they would be picked on in school. Why do these people give bigots and bullies such respect and power? It’s completely backwards and borderline cowardly.

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