Salt Lake Gay Couple Behind Viral Wedding Proposal Become Foster Dads
They've gone viral, appeared on Ellen, and were married by Queen Latifa. What can top all that? Fatherhood.
Over 5 years ago, you might remember seeing an amazing proposal that took place in a Home Depot in Utah. With the help of close friends and family, Spencer organized an incredible flash mob to sweep Dustin off his feet. If you did see it, you're one of the 14 million viewers who did. (If you have been living under a rock, you can see the video below!)
The fiancés quickly became an overnight sensation thanks to this unbelievably romantic stunt. They even appeared on Ellen and were given engagement gifts. (You know you've made it once Ellen starts giving you stuff.) Dustin and Spencer were also part of a symbolic wedding ceremony with many other couples who were married during the 2014 Grammy's event, by Queen Latifa, while Macklemore sang "Same Love."
And for their next act? Fatherhood.
Almost two years after their marriage, in the spring of 2016, Spencer and Dustin Reeser-Stout started their journey to fatherhood. Surrogacy was financially out of reach for the husbands, and not necessarily their first choice, so they began thinking about adoption. Then, a close friend who worked for Utah Foster Care encouraged them to look into fostering.
"We mentioned that we were considering adopting, and he told us that they were pushing a huge campaign to get more people to sign up to foster," said Spencer. "There is a huge need as there are more kids in the system than available foster families."
At first, Spencer and Dustin were concerned that they would come up against challenges and prejudice as a gay couple, but their friend assured them that it wouldn't be an issue. So they started by attending a community event organized by Utah Foster Care. At the event, they listened to speakers explain the process, and heard a foster family give testimonials and share their experience. Spencer and Dustin left feeling inspired and ready to help.
"We both left that night, looked at each other in the car on the way home and said, 'Well, we're doing this aren't we!?'" Within a few weeks, they were sitting in their first training class - one that would take them over the 32 hours needed to become a licensed foster parent in the state of Utah - ready to start their journey.
They were licensed on the first Monday in August 2016, and by Thursday of the same week, they received a call from the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). There were two little boys waiting for them at the Christmas Box House, a childcare agency in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dustin loading up on last minute baby and child supplies
"The placement committee reviewed our file and felt like our home would be a good fit for them, but they had very minimal information to give me except for their names, ages and brief situation about why they were placed in the system. I had so many questions and I was in shock because I didn't realize we would be getting a placement so quickly! I immediately called Dustin to see if he was ready to become that "instant family" and if he felt right about the scenario, and there was no hesitation."
Spencer left work early that day and the couple went on a huge shopping spree to get everything they could think of to start caring for the young brothers. By 6pm, Spencer and Dustin pulled up to the Christmas Box house and went inside. They were taken to a foyer where they anxiously waited for the social workers to bring the boys out. "We heard crying and shuffling, and when the door opened, two little angels appeared," remembered Spencer. "Timmy*, Christiano's older half brother, looked at me with tears crusted all over his face, and walked straight to me with his arms out to be held. My heart broke and I started bawling." The social worker gave 11-month-old Christiano to Dustin and then they all moved to a small room for about 20 minutes to play and get acclimated to their foster dads before going home.
*Not his real name
Dustin (left) and Spencer with the boys in the back
That first night, it was a priority for Spencer and Dustin to get their sons into a structured schedule. They fed and cleaned Timmy and Christiano, got them into their new pajamas, brushed their teeth, sang songs and read stories before putting them to bed. "That has become our nightly routine ever since," said Dustin.
Throughout the two and half years of fostering, Timmy and Christiano's biological family was required to have weekly visitations with their sons. As the boys were part of a sibling group of six, including four half siblings, they would see their biological mom and dad, grandparents and the older siblings during these visits.
In the spring of 2017, Timmy's biological father completed his court-ordered requirements for reunification and was granted custody of his son again. "That was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences for all of us," said Spencer. "We sobbed the day we dropped him off."
Dustin with 5-week-old Demetrias
The separation was also incredibly hard on Christiano; he was one and a half at the time and did not understand what was happening. Christiano experienced anxiety and separation issues for almost a year as a consequence. "Even though the licensing process tries to prepare you for the emotions of reunification, it is still one of the hardest things we have ever had to do," explained Dustin. "We loved him as our own boy for nine months and had to send him back into a situation that was definitely going to cause him even more trauma, but that's the risk of foster care."
During the summer of 2017, Spencer and Dustin were getting ready for their lives to change again. Christiano's biological mother was going through her court-ordered process for reunification and the dads were preparing to reunite them. She had become pregnant with another little boy during the process and was full term. She gave birth to Demetrias in July, but after 5 weeks, DCFS called Dustin and Spencer and asked them not only to keep Christiano, but asked if they would be willing to take on a 5-week old baby boy. The dads didn't hesitate.
"Those first few months while caring for both Christiano and new baby Demetrias were probably the hardest months of our lives," shared Spencer. "I think we were finally able to relate to all parents in a way we never had before: sleepless nights, baby cries... Parenting infants is so hard."
On October 16, 2018, Spencer and Dustin finalized the adoptions of Christiano and Demetrias, after a two and a half year foster journey.
Photo credit: Tiffany Burke, Follow Your Art Photography.
"We had a huge celebration that day at our home with all of our family and friends," said Dustin. "We decided we would make it an official anniversary and call it our "Chosen Day" because it's the day we chose to become a family with these little angels." The dads plan to celebrate every year by doing something special to commemorate the experience.
The Reeser-Stouts have maintained contact with Christiano and Demetrias' biological family, and through their joint experiences, have become friends.
Photo credit: Tiffany Burke, Follow Your Art Photography.
As Spencer and Dustin shared, they've found the whole parenting situation at times very hard, especially on their relationship. "Our first year being dads was probably the roughest of our entire time together as couple," said Spencer. "Life changed dramatically and we lost ourselves to the new situation … we felt like daddy-hood consumed us and as miserable as I am making this sound, we really did struggle." Now the dads are happy to report that they're into the swing of things and they've learned to put themselves first, too, sometimes. They have a regular nanny who allows the dads to get out, make time for themselves and each other. "We are WAY better dads with a nanny!"
"It's just an honor to be living in a time that we get to be dads legally," continued Spencer. "When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a dad, and when I came out it was my biggest sadness thinking that I had to give that up to "be gay". Life just gets better and it makes me so happy to see more and more gay families visible in the community!"
From left to right: Spencer, Dimitrias, Dustin, and Christiano