Is adopting any different for gay parents?

Gay couples often wonder if their experience adopting is likely to be any different from that of a straight couple or a single parent. One of the easiest ways to answer this is to find out more about people’s first-hand experiences.

I chatted to Carl about his family. He and husband James adopted their daughter, Anna, 14 years ago and their son, Milo, 12 years ago. And Carl is very clear – he wouldn’t change a single thing! Here are some of his observations . . .

It all started when we met our wonderful adoption attorney, Susan, through friends of ours – a lesbian couple who had adopted and who were therefore a great source of information. Sixteen years ago there were relatively few gay couples with children [actually there still are, with less than 10% of same-sex male couples and only around 20% of same-sex female couples raising children in the US]. We were pretty much launching into the unknown.


As a gay couple is it more difficult to be matched?


We wanted to adopt children from as early on in their lives as possible. We asked Susan whether, as a gay couple, we would find it more difficult to be matched. In the highly competitive voluntary relinquishment process would we be selected? Susan had an interesting (and reassuring for us) perspective on this – birth mothers are often drawn to a gay couple as there will never be another mother figure in the equation. Whether this was the reason or not, we were matched with Anna very quickly – within four months of completing our paperwork.

For both our children’s birth mothers it could not have been a worse time to have a child – one was a teenage mother who just wasn’t ready to raise a child and the other was in her thirties, getting divorced, and equally not in a position to raise this child.

We took Anna home from the hospital when she was just six days old. And we have adored her ever since. With Milo we were matched in the sixth month of pregnancy. We were invited to doctors’ appointments and we were there at the incredible moment when the ultrasound revealed he was a boy!

The joy when you get chosen . . . we felt like we had to compete for each baby, being interviewed, being scrutinised. James and I had sleepless nights hoping we would be chosen. I love telling my children that. They were prayed for. They were so WANTED!

One of the main considerations in matching is a common view on your preferred degree of openness. You agree how your future relationship will work. You map out what contact will take place.

An open relationship with the birth families was important to us. We wanted to know the full story about where our children came from, so we could share it with them. But we weren’t seeking face-to-face contact. Our children’s birth mothers were there if our kids wanted to reach out. They respected our privacy but we could contact them with any questions.

Both kids have always known that if they would like to meet up with their birth mother, we will help them to do so. They’ve seen pictures and we created birth story books. For now they haven’t wanted to meet, but we are very relaxed about it when they do choose to.

Historically an unwed mother carried a stigma, something shameful that would transfer to their child. We want to be so clear with our kids – no-one is responsible for the accident of their birth. This applies to every single person on this earth.

We also want our kids to appreciate that their birth mothers made a very difficult decision – one that took a lot of strength and selflessness to make.

Neither of our children have a relationship with their birth father. This is very common. We tell them it’s just a fact of life.


Birth mothers see gay couples as kindred spirits


James has an interesting theory that makes sense to me too. There is a counterculture connection between birth mothers and gay or lesbian parents. Put another way, there is a connection, a relatability, as we are equally ‘outside of the mainstream’; creating a ‘you understand me’ feeling.


Without adoption there would be no grandchildren


My parents didn’t expect to be grandparents as both my brother and I are gay. And James is a single child, so the same holds true for his parents. We have found this to be quite a common situation – without adoption they wouldn’t have this fabulous experience. And they adore our two.

Both James and I were fortunate growing up as our parents took our being gay in their stride. However, it’s been interesting to see other couples that have had a difficult relationship with their parents. These relationships have been transformed when the children arrive. Maybe it was ‘traditional family values’ that caused the discomfort in the first place – and now these parents see their child being a great parent in their own right. The grandparents start opening their minds, becoming less judgemental – there is finally the common ground of parents trying their best to raise good kids.


Who will do the mom stuff?


We were very conscious of this in the early years. We didn’t want our kids to miss out. I’d ask them: “What do you think your friends do with their moms?” and we would make sure ours had these experiences too. Either we would do it with them – dads can do mom stuff just like moms can do dad stuff, or if one of us wasn’t the best person for the job, we would find a friend, or they would do whatever it was with Grandma.

I’ll never forget when Anna was in kindergarten and decided she wanted French braids. James wasn’t the least bit daunted. He got on You Tube and did his homework. He was so competent the other moms in the playground were deeply impressed.

We’ve been blessed by a great school community and the other moms have been fabulous. As the stay-at-home parent, James was always included. The mom’s group emails would be addressed to ‘all the moms and James’.

Whether it’s ear piercing, shopping for bras or advice that’s needed, we find the best person.

We believe it is important for a child with gay parents to find role models of their sex to identify with, for this reason we deliberately had an au pair.

It was a heart-warming experience to overhear a girl saying to Anna: “Where’s your mom?” to which Anna responded: “I don’t have a mom; I have two dads” and the girl replied: “How cool!”.


You will stand out


People went out of their way to include us. Yes, we stood out, but in a good way. I have so many wonderful memories of people reaching out to us.

Lots of families didn’t know what was appropriate to ask or talk to us about. I’d say to them: “Just ask!”. Being gay parents makes you really interesting to some people. I’ve found you just need to demonstrate that you are open to talking about it. We are educating those around us just by contributing to the conversation in a positive way.


Have you faced any prejudice?


We live in San Francisco which is known to be progressive. But I’m glad to say that visiting family in North Carolina and Arizona hasn’t caused us any difficulties – people look at us a little longer, but we’ve never had any problems.

Once in the airport a young white couple with African American children looked over at us and the mom said: “Welcome to the club!”. It was really sweet – that immediate understanding that we live similar experiences.

And I am so grateful to say, the kids have never been bullied or challenged.


We still get asked whether we adopted or used a surrogate


To us being a parent had nothing to do with being a biological parent.

I have no judgement at all as to how people choose to build their family. But it does amuse me when I hear people saying they’re choosing assisted reproduction over adoption so they can have more control over the outcome. Yes, you can select a donor based on their physical features, IQ scores, academic results, hobbies and interests. But if you think you can control who your child will become . . . their personality, what they will achieve . . . well good luck with that!

I say to gay friends “Don’t decide between donor conception and adoption based on controlling the outcome. Remember that you were full of surprises for your parents. Whatever route you take to build your family, you will inevitably be in for some surprises too.”

Surprises or not, we cannot imagine having different kids to the ones we’ve got. We love them with all our hearts. We wouldn’t change a thing!