Mark Mihopulos, 32, and Andrew Mihopulos, 34, live in Babylon, New York with their French Bulldog, Tzatziki. Mark is a local kindergarten and first grade special education teacher, and Andrew is a teen librarian who runs a range of fun arts, STEM and literacy programs at a local public library. The two have just begun the process to become foster parents. We caught up with the dads-to-be to hear about their experience.
How long have you been together, and how did you meet? We have been together for 6.5 years and married for 2 years. We met through friends, out in downtown Babylon Village. Instantly, we were attracted to each other and the rest is history.
Why did you decide on foster care as your preferred path to parenthood? Did you consider any other options? At first, we discussed together why we wanted to become fathers. We agreed that we want to share our love with a child in need and we want to provide unconditional support and care for a young person. For us, it is important to nurture our child by developing their confidence to explore their identity and to explore the world with wonder and amazement. While researching paths to parenthood, we learned through conversations with friends and co-workers who had been adopted themselves, those who had grown up with adopted relatives and those who had built their families through domestic infant adoption and through surrogacy. Keeping in mind our motivations, we narrowed down the options and began to explore adoption agencies.
We began to feel comfortable with one NYC-based agency that offered educational webinars and learned from these interactive virtual presentations about a range of paths to parenthood and about the benefits of open adoption. We learned that many of the international programs either involved nations that have laws prohibiting LGBT people from adopting or required long visits to the countries and were limited to the adoption of youth with severe medical special needs. This pathway didn't feel right for our family, as we are both professionals who could not take off enough time to provide sufficient support for these children nor for the travel involved. As a result, we began the application for domestic infant adoption. In our discussions and thoughts, we worried about being able to balance work and the demands of a baby. We considered the experience of our baby growing up in daycare and explored how our parents could help us. We also imagined the potential search process involving social media and expectant parents and their families. We kept reading and researching to learn from those with experience.
A local support group, Long Island Adoptive Families helped us change our minds by opening us up to another option we had not yet considered: adoption from foster care, via the Long Island branch of the agency, You Gotta Believe. At first, we inaccurately assumed that if we chose this method, we would ultimately face loving a child whom we would likely have to return to their biological family. Our goal was to be permanent parents and we felt that being foster parents was simply not our goal. As we heard from people who had built their families through this uncommon process, we learned about the many children and young people who have been legally freed from their biological parents and whose extended families could not adopt them. We felt that we had found the path to a child that fit our motivation for fatherhood. These children are in need of love; many have experienced trauma both in their path to foster care as well as across their experience in care. Far too often, these children are wrongly viewed as "unadoptable." Through a very special, very focused, very passionate adoption agency, You Gotta Believe, we will be able to provide permanency and love to someone who really needs it.
Many prospective parents are weary of the challenges that can come with adoption an older child from the foster care system, but you are expressly looking to do just that. What is your motivation to do so? What are you most excited/worried about? Through You Gotta Believe's MAPP/GPSII ten-week course, which specializes in Teen Permanency, we learned about the experience of adopting an older child or teenager from people who had much experience in their own lives. The class taught us about trauma and support, behavior and response, attachment and love, and the process of becoming parents on this pathway. The facilitators, an adoptive mother of a teen and a young man who had aged out of foster care before being adopted, spoke with honesty, humor and strategies. This empowered us to feel we were capable of handling the challenges that a young person in our home could or would present.
We are mostly worried about the unknowns involved in the search and matching process. We wonder about being prepared for what we have yet to experience. We worry that the child feels comfortable and supported through their transition to our home and to our lives together. The course used guided meditations and creative arts experiences to envision ourselves as people in foster care, focusing on emotions and relationships across life changes. This helped us to relate as human beings to this population. We are most excited about becoming positive forces in our child's life. We look forward to forming bonds through sharing common interests and fun experiences and mutual growth. We are energized to work through the challenges to help our child understand that they are loved and supported unconditionally. It is exciting to anticipate their growth.
Tell us more about your adoption agency, You Gotta Believe. You Gotta Believe is the only NYC agency that exclusively focuses on finding permanent families for older children, teens and young adults in foster care. The organization originated out of the founders recognizing a connection between aging out of foster care and homelessness in Brooklyn. They are a small agency of driven individuals who have fervor for their work, which focuses on supporting older children and teens who have been legally freed from their birth parents, making them in need of adoption. Every person involved in the process is open and honest and most are personally invested in the cause. They take great care in preparing and supporting their families. During the orientation and MAPP/GPSII classes, the organization prepares and empowers potential parents, without pressuring them, as their true desire is to create permanency through families for these young people. You Gotta Believe provides careful and gradual transition from care into the forever family's home through a six to twelve month visitation period, allowing all members of the adoptive family to grow together with ongoing support. You Gotta Believe emphasized to us that there will be 24-hour support from their professionals, both for us as parents and for our child. We don't feel alone on this journey; we feel supported and confident.
One very unique aspect of this agency is their deep commitment to supporting the LGBTQIA community, from welcoming LGBTQIA parents to their inclusive trainings (two sections of which are respectively held at Manhattan's LGBT Center and Long Island's LGBT Network in Bay Shore, NY) to their emphasis on the experiences of the disproportionate population of LGBTQIA youth in foster care. You Gotta Believe explained to us that a young person's coming out is a common reason some foster families choose to disrupt the placement, rejecting the child for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Formally, they require that all of their families agree to be affirming homes through a pledge at the home study signing and a specific required course on being affirming families. Additionally, according to their website, You Gotta Believe is affiliated with the NYC Administration for Children's Services LGBT Action Group and The Center's LGBT Foster Care Project, supported the Heart Gallery NYC's first PRIDE photo exhibit of LGBTQ youth and families and has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign with their All Children-All Families Seal of Recognition. This significant LGBTQIA emphasis helped us to feel understood and comfortable sharing the very personal questions and concerns that arise across the experience of adoption, as well as during the search process.
Where in the process are you? This past spring, we completed the 30 hour MAPP/GPSII course for New York State licensing for foster care, which is required because we will technically be fostering our child until they are legally adopted. We recently signed our home study after a wonderful visit from a warm and friendly gentleman who encouraged us and shared his advice and expertise. Currently, we are involved with the search process for a child. We regularly review the state photo listings and AdoptUSKids.org for potential children about whom we would like to learn more. If the child's home county feels we are a positive match, based on our home study, we can learn more about the child in order to determine if they are a good match for our family.
What has been the most challenging part of the process so far? For us, the most challenging part of the process so far has been trusting that we are on a journey that will bring us to the right family. It will happen when it is supposed to happen and we have to trust that, even when we feel impatient.
What has been the most surprising part of the process so far? The most surprising part of the process has been learning about the realities of foster care and the system of adoption for older children and teenagers. Our eyes have been opened to the less than hopeful and often traumatizing experiences of these youth living in group homes, foster homes and residential facilities. If more people were aware of the impact these experiences have on these youth in adulthood, more people would explore adoption from foster care. If more people knew about the positive experiences of families with these young people, this pathway to parenthood would be much more common. One book that resonated with us is Nia Vardalas' Instant Mom, which reflects on the family building journey of the writer and star of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and her husband. This adoption from foster care knowledge has motivated and empowered us incredibly!
What advice would you give to other gay men considering fostering children, particularly older children? We highly suggest exploring why you want to be parents. Search your heart deeply on your own and together. Make sure it is about what you can give as opposed to what you can get out of the experience. If you truly want to be fathers, investigate adoption from foster care. Get information: learn directly about the experiences of people who have been adopted, those who aged out of the foster care system and adoptive parents who have faced the challenges and enjoyed the joys of parenthood. Also, ask questions to assure your agency is affirming to all adults and youth who identify or could in the future identify as LGBTQIA. Lastly, enjoy the journey at every stage of the process!
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