AT A GLANCE
Names and ages: Ed and Al
Professions: Disability and long-term care specialist (Ed), social worker turned stay-at-home dad (Al)
Relationship status: Together six years, domestic partners since 2011, married in 2013.
Children: Zelphia (2 years)
Location: Sacramento, CA
Always wanted children: No. As an older gay couple they were content just enjoying each other’s company. It wasn’t until the opportunity presented itself that they rediscovered their desire for children.
Process to becoming parents: Received message from family friend who became pregnant while living with the Occupy movement. A few months later they adopted her child through open adoption.
Advice or insight for other parents: “Don’t underestimate your ability to be a foster, or [be] a parent.”
Favorite playtime activity: Playing in the yard, singing the ABCs, and all things iPad
Children call them: Pappa (Ed), Daddy (Al)
For Ed and Al, a couple in their forties, changing diapers was never part of the plan. That is, until a young woman from Ed’s past came to them with an offer that would change their lives forever. Within a few short years, they had adopted daughter, become experts in wheelchair-accessible caregiving, and built a family -- one capable of withstanding life's challenges, including a battle with cancer.
Ed and Al met in 2008 through Ed’s work as a disability and long-term care specialist. The couple fell quickly into infatuation. Al would drive five hours from Pennsylvania each week to visit Ed in New York, even knowing Ed had plans to move to California. When Ed was ready to go, he did not make the trip alone. The two of them shipped off to the West Coast together.
They spent their first two years in Los Angeles. “We largely lived the party lifestyle,” explains Ed. Gay cruises, leather bars, and late nights on the town were a staple for couple, even after Ed got a work offer from the state and they relocated to Sacramento.
There, between nightly happy hour specials and Mr. Leather contests, they filed for domestic partnership. Before long, they began planning their wedding. The date was set for July 2012 in New York. Invitations were mailed and the venue set when, in early April, Ed received a Facebook message from his previous partner’s daughter.
She had lived with them at age 14, a tumultuous period in her life. “I acted like a mother to her in a number of ways – we developed a very strong relationship.” They were close enough that despite Ed and her father’s breakup, the two remained in contact.
Now she was 18 and participating in the Occupy movement.
Her message read: “Oh, are you getting married?”
“Yea. Are you going to come?” Ed replied.
“Well, I don’t know, because I’m kind of pregnant.”
“Oh, you are?”
“How about a wedding present? Do you want a baby?”
Ed’s mind was racing, debating the seriousness of her offer and his own desire for such an outcome.
A day later, hung-over from a night out, Ed turned to Al and asked, “Honey, what do you want to do for the next 20 years?”
“I knew what you were asking, because I knew she was pregnant,” Al says. “My first thought was, well, we have to change our lives, if we want that.”
“It didn’t take us long to make the decision,” Ed says about the moment the two took the leap into potential parenthood.
“We had never looked for kids, we had never wanted kids – we were kind of like newlyweds. Frankly I didn’t think it would come to pass,” Ed says.
At first they thought that they would go and get married, and then pick up the baby in Ohio. But the baby was due in just three months, very close to their wedding date. So, Ed and Al made the difficult decision to call off their wedding.
Ed’s parents were the first to hear the news of the wedding cancellation and possible new family addition. “It felt like the best news we could have given them,” says Ed happily.
In order to be ready when the baby arrived, Ed and Al each borrowed money from their parents, and then began meeting with adoption professionals.
Meanwhile, the birth parents were following the Occupy movement from Ohio to Chicago, hopping illegally from cargo train to cargo train. “We knew from the beginning we were going to have to [accept] the baby on her terms.” Ed says. All parties did agree, however, that the birth parents would somehow have to make their way to California, where adoption laws and practices were relatively favorable for same-sex couples. Because they had no IDs, Ed and Al couldn’t send them any type of transportation tickets.
Instead, Al offered to rent a car and bring them to Sacramento. He left on a Wednesday at noon and returned that Saturday morning – a 3,000-mile trip. Once in Sacramento, the birth parents decided to join the Occupy camp down the road from Ed and Al. The dads-to-be tried to connect the birth mother with pre-natal care services, but she would go when she felt ready. The young couple did come by to shower occasionally and accepted food that Ed and Al took to them at the camp.
“What could you do? She’s a smart and savvy kid. She never jeopardized herself,” says Ed. “While we had a certain amount of frustration that we couldn’t control the situation, we knew from the beginning we weren’t going to be able to control it. Furthermore, we knew she was being protected by the birth father.”
One week before the baby was due, the expecting mother had an appointment with the doctor. She stayed overnight before her appointment, and the next morning when Al woke her, they discovered that her water had broken.
They rushed with her to the hospital. Ed and Al worried that their ability to be present for the birth would be rife with complications. As Ed explains, the opposite occurred. “We were worried that the hospital was not going to treat us well, but everything went great! We were in the birthing suite; I cut the cord. [Al] did the skin-to-skin time.”
What began as a Facebook message just three months ago resulted in Ed and Al in a hospital, holding their newborn daughter, Zelphia, for the first time. In that moment, bar-hopping became so passé.
By that time, the couple’s adoption professional had conducted a home study and initial assessment with the birth parents. Because of both parents’ willingness to sign papers relinquishing their rights – including the birth father, who was firm in his stance of wanting what was best for the baby – the adoption professional was confident that Ed and Al would not even require a lawyer to complete the process.
It wasn’t long before Ed, Al, and Zelphia were at the courthouse. “The judge who finalized our adoption usually handles divorce cases and could not have been anymore overjoyed,” Ed recalls.
Almost two years later, Ed says Zelphia’s birth parents see photos of her on Facebook and are pleased with how well she is doing. “They wanted something good for her,” Al adds.
Since Ed uses a wheelchair, the family has gotten creative in making caregiving as wheelchair-accessible as possible. But in reality, it is just a natural extension of Ed’s everyday adaptation to living with a disability.
A year after Zelphia was born, the family faced a serious challenge: Ed was diagnosed with stage three cancer. He lost 60 pounds through his radiation and chemo treatments. Though he continued to work during his treatment, Ed says remaining optimistic was difficult: “I have to say, I only made it through because we had her.”
Now, back to full health, Ed has added adoption to his list of causes he champions. “Don’t underestimate your ability to foster, or [be] a parent,” he encourages. “Don’t ever underestimate it. There are so many kids out there who need love, and there is so much love in gay couples. Go for it. Do it, do it, do it, and never look back.”
As starkly as their lives have changed, it’s easy to see that both Ed and Al remain themselves. Sure, their focus has shifted but, as Ed says, “It’s so wonderful to have something that you never thought you wanted.”