"Children are full of love," beamed Ben. "We have experienced more happy interactions with our baby than we ever had without."
It's been a year since first-time dads Ben and Aaron Ptashinsky-Skinner adopted now 1-year-old Charlotte. And since then, they've been stopped numerous times by people who are full of praise for the family and want to hear their story. Charlotte is a gregarious toddler with a big smile and she's changed her dads' lives. "There is nothing like fatherhood; I'm living my best life because of my daughter."
Here's how a simple Google search of "gay adoption Orlando" made Aaron and Ben's world complete.
Twelve years ago Aaron posted a boyfriend application to his MySpace blog. Ben saw it and was curious. "I was very interested, so I filled it out!" Little did he know that he was completing a form to meet his future husband. By 2011 Ben and Aaron were engaged, and in 2015, married. The couple lives just outside of Orlando, Florida, in a suburb called Windmere.
As their relationship blossomed, so did LGBTQ rights in the United States. Aaron and Ben began to consider fatherhood as it finally seemed to be a possibility, and adoption was their chosen path. The reason? "In our particular case, we wanted to provide a life for a child who would not be given the opportunities we could give them, without adoption."
Their Google search led them to Heart of Adoptions whom they loved, and although it took them awhile to get their stuff together, once it was submitted, they were matched in a month.
"[Our birth mom] was 6 months pregnant when we were matched," said Aaron. "We were able to attend the gender reveal a week after being matched and the room was filled with tears and love. [She] was so amazing to let us be a part of that. Treated us as if we were actually the biological fathers of our baby."
But even though the dads-to-be were blown away by how inviting their birth mom was, they found the adoption process an emotional rollercoaster – one that they had very little control over. On top of that, they learned quickly that the adoption agency would always need to put the wellbeing of their birth mom over the adoptive parents.
When their birth mom was 7 months pregnant, she moved 1,200 miles away from the dads due to a family incident. The dads became very anxious. "She stopped going to doctor visits," explained Ben. "However, she did stay in touch and made us feel like the parents to her baby." So as scary as it was for the husbands, they decided to move closer to the birth mom for 5 weeks around the time of the birth so they could be there as support and also for when their daughter arrived.
On July 28, 2017, Charlotte Ptashinsky-Skinner was born and her dads fell instantly in love.
Has life changed for the dads? "As cheesy as it sounds, my life has been enriched," said Ben. "We still are able to do everything we did in our old life - dinners, travel, movies, etc - however, we have this beam of light who gives us purpose everyday." The dads have a fantastic and vast support team – from a mother-in-law who watches Charlotte three times a week, to an incredible nanny who now feels like a member of the family – the dads are extremely fortunate.
Sadly Ben and Aaron have lost contact with the birth mom but they hope it's only temporary. Recently Charlotte's biological grandmother reached out to them and they were able to share photos which made them all very happy.
Before they became dads, Aaron was worried that folks might treat his family differently, but his fears have been assuaged; those who come into contact with the dads see how much love they have for their daughter and his fear is yet to be realized.
The dads' strengths as parents is how well they compliment each other. "There are times when Daddy is frazzled and Papa jumps right in and saves the day!" explained Aaron. "We always work hard to be great husbands which makes us great dads." This, and they're also teaching their daughter the importance of kindness. "In our world, the thing missing the most is compassion," said Ben. "At 12 months, I can already see her understanding compassion, kindness, and love."
Since becoming dads, Ben and Aaron have also noticed that they've become even closer with their own families. "It is truly a blessing seeing the family come together and just love," said Ben. "Our sexual orientation isn't ever the topic of conversation; we are just a family."