Gay Dad Life

Open Adoption, Birth Mother Connection: What Should You Do?

A relationship special and meaningful for some; for others, fraught with fear and sadness.

Many gay dads who choose to adopt struggle with how much involvement they want from the birth mother and other members of the biological family. Sometimes, deciding whether to include the birth family is an easy, even affirming choice that strengthens the family. But sometimes gay dads lose contact with the birth mother and her family. Sometimes the birth mother, despite her good intentions, is unable or unwilling to maintain contact, leaving dads unable how to explain to their child what happened.

Every situation is different, vastly different often. But no matter the situation, you're not alone. In this article, several gay adoptive dads share their own experiences with open adoption and birth mother connections. We hope it will help you sort things out and will make talking to your kids about your unique family a little easier.


Nathan and Peter

Nathan (photo above, left) and Peter (photo above, right) created their family through adoption from foster care. It was finalized in May 2014. They live with their three kids in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

At first we agreed to an open adoption with once-a-year visits on Mother's Day, supervised, and at a public place with the biological mother. However, after several months of red tape and waiting for the birth mother to sign the agreements, the adoption was postponed because the birth mother was unable to be located. As a last ditch effort, the judge agreed it was in the best interest of the twins to have the courts demand a termination of parental rights and move the case to adoption.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

I share with the twins the truth about being adopted, trying to explain that sometimes mommies and daddies can't always care for their babies how they should and that because their mommies and daddies loved them so much they found other mommies and daddies to take care of them. I never speak negatively about biological parents or siblings, but am honest and open about who they are.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

Don't feel pressured into doing what others think are best for your family. Only you and your husband know. Every situation is different, and that's OK. What works for one family, may not be appropriate for the next. Do what feels right your family.


Octavius and Seth

In a relationship for six years and married for three, Seth (photo above, left) and Octavius (photo above, right) adopted their son Julian at birth. Initially they had a wonderful relationship with the birth mother. Sadly, she fell back into her addiction and died of an overdose. Recently, and completely unexpectedly, a pregnant woman approached them to find out if they were interested in adopting her unborn child; the birth mother is due in a few months. Octavius and Seth were profiled in a recent article on Gays With Kids.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

Sadly, our son's birth mom passed away due to an overdose. This was very hard to hear as we thought that she was doing better and was preparing to have some role in Julian's life.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

We are still figuring out when and how to have the conversation with Julian about his birth mom. We have a beautiful picture album that she sent him for his first birthday that we review and talk to him often about. While we explain to him who the woman in the photos is (pictures that were taken when he was born), we don't talk about her current state. Fortunately, we are still in contact with the birthmother's parents and assume they will play an important role in how we shape the story around his mother.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

I think having a network of dads like us has been invaluable. Between our friends and groups like this, we have been able to develop a clearer outlook on the challenges we will face and how we can deal with them. Everyone may not live in an area where there are tons of gay families around. I would suggest that if you can't connect with other LGBT families physically, then connect with a few via social media. Having people that have walked our path before to discuss these circumstances with has been beyond beneficial.


Erik and Douglas

Erik and Douglas (photo above, right) have been together for more than ten years. They live in Chalmette, Louisiana. They have adopted one girl and are hoping to expand their family in the near future. Erik (photo above, left), a regular writer for Gays With Kids, talks extensively about his family's adoption experiences in his first piece, “Our First #GayDadStory: Erik Alexander Shares How His Family Came to Be" as well as in a post titled “The Loving Process Behind Our Open Adoption Plan."

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

Yes. We knew that we wanted a few visits in the first year for them to see the baby's growth in person. Throughout that first year, we would also send updates through text messages. After the first year, the personal visits would end and instead we would continue to send them updates two or three times a year. In our minds, we already planned to be in touch each year during summer, around her birthday, and again at Christmas time­–important milestones that would make for a perfect time to provide these updates.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

Both families brought Alli Mae gifts at different points through the first year, from clothes to jewelry to stuffed animals. At first, I always got sad looking at these gifts, but I soon came to realize that I needed to see the beauty in these gifts, and not the pain. Each stuffed animal Alli Mae received was a symbol of her birth family's love, which would always be with her, just as the love of her two fathers would always be with her. We all developed a friendship through this

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

The unlikely friendships that we made through this process and the love and appreciation we have for everyone involved is a beautiful feeling. I could not imagine our adoption any other way. I think about the birth families often and wish each member happiness and light every day of their lives.


Craig

Craig, a single gay dad with six children, lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. He adopted his children, now in their early or mid twenties, all from foster care: In 1998 he took in an (African-American) sibling group of three boys in 1998; their sister joined them two years later. Then, ten months after that, he adopted two (Caucasian) boys. All kids experienced neglect; some suffered physical abuse. Four suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, two from PTSD, three have been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, two with bipolar disorder, and one has an intellectual disability. The oldest three kids had lived mainly with their birth families; the youngest three had spent almost their entire lives in foster care. Craig (photo above, center) was recently profiled in an article in the Huffington Post and Gays With Kids.

Did you try to structure contact between your child and their biological family?

With each of my adoptions, parental rights were terminated. I legally had no obligation to communicate with birth families. But after being contacted by another family who had privately adopted the younger sibling of my three youngest sons and who had contact with the birth mother, I decided to arrange a meeting. My sons were 4, 5, and 6 at the time and had no memory of her. We exchanged introductions. stuck to a pre-arranged format for dialogue and took pictures. With minimal fanfare or expectations, my sons were able to see the woman who gave them life but who did not have the ability to care for them. Upon returning home, our lives continued as usual.

With my last two sons, the situation was entirely different. Their birth mother said that she wanted contact. So did my sons, since they were 9 and 10 when coming to my home. But the birth mother never followed through with her promises. No birthday cards, no Christmas gifts, nothing. My sons were devastated and then accused me of stealing items that she sent. As their fantasy of their birth family grew, they labeled me the bad guy who despised their past. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Simply put, I had no way to contact her.

My daughter has maintained contact with her birth mother.

How do you talk about your child's biological family when they ask questions?

The contact with the birth mother centered around my children, not me. Because the facts could not be changed, I had nothing to fear–unless I let my own insecurities get the best of me. I refused to go that route, and with that mindset, I set appropriate boundaries to protect everyone.

Adoption is loss. It's a form of trauma. All of my children have deep hurt–some greater than others. Most are available to verbalize their feelings, since I have always made such conversations totally acceptable with no shame. Without hesitation, I do my best to celebrate their lives before me. In other words, they will always have two families.

What advice do you have for other gay dads struggling with how to include the biological family in their adoptions?

In hindsight, I wish my adoption training had included more insight into the birth family relationship. Initially, I thought my children wouldn't want a relationship with their birth families. After all, they had been neglected and abused. Their parents made little effort to change and had lost their rights.

Within the first year of adopting, I saw that I had been judgmental in my thinking. Birth families did matter to my children. On the plus side, I never said anything disparaging about either birth family to my kids. Otherwise, those unkind words would have forever remained with them and come back to haunt me.

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Entertainment

Amazon's New "Modern Love" Series Includes Episode on Open Adoption

The episode is loosely based on the New York Times "Modern Love" essay written by sex columnist and activist Dan Savage.

In 2005, Dan Savage, the gay sex columnist, contributed one of the most talked about essays for the Modern Love column in The New York Times. Better known for his acerbic wit and cutting political commentary, Savage exposed a more vulnerable side in this piece, sharing the highs, lows and everything in between that comes from the experience of pursuing an open adoption.

His son DJ's birth mother was experiencing what Savage called a "slo-mo suicide": homeless by choice, in and out of prison, and surrounded by drugs. Though Savage has chosen an open adoption so that DJ's birth mother would be a presence in his son's life, she often disappeared for months and sometimes years at a time without contacting the family, leaving their young son with lots of questions and no satisfying answers.

The piece ends on a heartbreaking note, with Savage simply seeking some sort of resolution. "I'm starting to get anxious for this slo-mo suicide to end, whatever that end looks like," he wrote. "I'd prefer that it end with DJ's mother off the streets in an apartment somewhere, pulling her life together. But as she gets older that resolution is getting harder to picture."

At the time, many interpreted Savage's story as a cautionary tale for those considering open adoptions. But in 2016, on the Modern Love Podcast, he asserted that was not his intention: "DJ's mom is alive and well," Savage said. "She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday." He added that he "would hate to have anyone listen to that essay or to read it — which was written at a moment of such kind of confusion and despair — and conclude that they shouldn't do the kind of adoption that we did," Savage said. "I think that open adoption is really in the best interest of the child, even if … it presents more challenges for the parents. So I encourage everyone who's thinking about adoption to seriously consider open adoption and not to be dissuaded by my essay."

Now, Savage's piece is getting the small screen treatment as one of 9 episodes included in Amazon Prime's adaption of the column. The episode inspired by Savage's essay, "Hers Was a World of One," contains some departures from Savage's original story — Savage's character, played by Fleabag's Andrew Scott, adopts a daughter rather than a son, for example, and the episode concludes closer to the upbeat note struck in the Podcast version of hist story than in the column.

Either way, we welcome any and all attention to the complexities of open adoption. Check out the episode (which also randomly includes Ed Sheeran in a couple scenes) and tell us what you think!

Gay Adoption

8 Phrases That Show the Love of Open Adoption

In 8 phrases, Molly Rampe Thomas, founder and CEO of Choice Network, explains why her agency believes in the power of open adoptions


#1: "Never ever"

Many times, people come to us believing deep down that they could never ever imagine having an open adoption. The truth is, many of our families had to experience a ton of pain before taking the path to adoption. Their heart is wrecked and they can't imagine sharing the shambles with another. Or the path just simply hasn't been straight and the bumps have bruised them. The goal is to get to a place of wholeness and healing so they can say "I could never, ever imagine a closed adoption. When I see with truth, I see that open adoption benefits my child, their first family and me".

#2: "Take courage"

It takes courage to look past fear and be ready to love. Open adoption is love. It takes courage. It is the ability to say "I have and want to do this, no matter what." What we know for sure is that what we give in this journey, we will receive. Give courage. Receive courage. This adoption journey takes courage.

#3: "Fear not"

In open adoption, there is nothing to fear. In fact, open adoption is our greatest gift to our children. Our biggest fear should be first families not having peace in their heart. We should never fear open adoption. We should fear secrets, shame and any past history untold that can harm our child. What they don't know, the world will show them. So tell them all they need know and tell it with love and total, complete honesty.

#4: "No victim"

Some of our families' biggest fears is that their children will be a victim of their adoption. They have incredible fears for themselves and their child's first families. "Poor me, poor them or poor her" is a story we hear often. We celebrate the journey though. Open adoption is about reviving and restoring the knowledge that greater things will come. Knowing that we are not a victim. We are whole, healed, free and open. We see the beauty in the journey and we appreciate it.

#5 "Choose love"

It is true that love can conquer so much in adoption. We need to give it freely and often. We have to love so hard that we balance the pain involved in a bond of a mother and child breaking – a bond broken for us. Love. Love. Love. In all things, choose love.

#6 "Be willing"

Sometimes families just first need to be willing. Willing to be open. Willing to hear what open adoption can bring. Willing to hear the research that demonstrates the benefits about open adoption. Willing to really see our child's first family and want only good for them. Willing to say "Without peace in their heart, I cannot move forward". Willing to see adoption is hard, but done well it can be a beautiful thing. Simply be willing to say "Here I am. Teach me, show me. I am ready to be vulnerable and ready to do what it takes to adopt and do it well."

#7 "THIS good"

Peace in everyone's heart makes you look back and say "I never knew adoption could be THIS good." Adoption is richness. Adoption is healing. Adoption is truth. Adoption is grieving. Adoption is good.

#8 "Hope is alive"

And in the end, hope is alive in open adoption. I love hope. I love when first families and adoptive families give themselves permission to hope. I love bringing hope in this work. Hope is real. Brokenness is restored. In adoption, hope is alive.

Molly Rampe Thomas is founder and CEO of Choice Network, an adoption agency that trusts people and their choices. The agency is on a mission to change the definition of family by welcoming all pregnant people, all children, all families, and all choices. Choice Network truly believes in the power of love and never backs down to fight for good. For more information, visit choicenetworkadoptions.com

Gay Adoption

So You've Matched With a Birth Parent. What's Next?

A pregnant person has chosen you to parent their child. How can you prepare for the first meeting? Here are five easy ways.

A pregnant person has chosen me … we are meeting her! How can we prepare? Here are five easy ways.

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Gay Dad Life

Gong Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time.

Today we're celebrating, alongside our families, the Chinese New Year! As we usher in the year of rat, we asked some of our dads how they honor this special time, what they do to celebrate, and how they're instilling these traditions in their kids. Here are some of their responses.

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News

Indiana Court Says Couples Using Sperm Donors​ Can Both Be Listed on Birth Certificate — But Ruling Excludes Male Couples

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the case, a major victory for LGBTQ parents — but the Attorney General may appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Friday, a US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling from a lower court that said that both parents in a same-sex relationship are entitled to be listed on the birth certificate — previously, the state of Indiana had required the non-biological parent within a same-sex relationship using assisted reproductive technologies to adopt their child after the birth in order to get her or his name listed on the birth certificate, a lengthy and expensive process not required of straight couples in the same situation.

It's a double standard LGBTQ parents have long been subjected to in many states across the country. So this represent a major win. As reported by CNN, this ruling "takes a lot of weight off" the shoulders of LGBTQ parents, said Karen Celestino-Horseman, a lawyer representing one of the couples in the case. "They've been living as families and wondering if this was going to tear them apart."

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated the case, according to CNN, for more than two and a half years, which is one of the longest in the court's history.

However, because all the plaintiffs in the case involved female same-sex couples using sperm donors, the ruling left open the similar question of parenting rights with respect to male couples. Indiana's Attorney General, moreover, may also appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

We'll be following the case closely and be sure to keep you up to date. For more on this recent decision, read CNN's article here.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

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So, what effect does this have on our children? Does it unintentionally cause us to be more jaded with our interactions involving others? For some the answer may be a resounding "no." But as we look deeper into the situation, we often find that through survival our interactions with others have changed and we may not even realize exactly how much we are projecting on those around us.

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A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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