Seven years ago, in a bar in New Orleans, Clayton Shelvin and Andy Forester met for the very first time. Andy came in with his then-boyfriend and tried to set Clayton up with one of his girlfriends, "Not realizing the obvious," concluded Clayton. Months later, they reconnected on a dating app. Two years after that, they were married on April 18, 2014.
The husbands both saw children as a part of their future, and knowing how many kids in Louisiana need a home, they wanted to adopt; they wanted to make a difference in the place where they lived. Even though Clayton was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Andy is from Frankfort, Kentucky, they feel a strong connection to New Orleans. "This city has given a lot to both of us," explained Clayton. "We are both involved in the community in an effort to give back."
Unfortunately, when they started along their path to fatherhood, they became discouraged. They found a lack of resources for gay dads who wanted to adopt in the south, and finding a team of professionals who wanted to help them become fathers was a challenge. "We struggled in our very conservative state to find people who really had experience in gay adoptions and who could guide us through the process with the experience of working with same-sex couples," said Andy.
Andy and Clayton
Sadly, about a year into the process, Andy's father passed away and the family found the loss incredibly difficult. As a result, the couple decided to take a break which lasted six months. "We had to really get back to a place mentally where we were ready to put ourselves out there again; to take a chance on adoption," shared Clayton.
When Clayton and Andy restarted their adoption journey in 2016, things began to fall into place. They opened up to their social worker and got to know her, and she became a true advocate for the dads-to-be. "Our greatest piece of advice," said Clayton, in retrospect, "Get a good social worker! It makes a real difference." They became licensed in six months and then began looking for a legal team whom they felt they could trust. This again took time, and the dads had to lean on one another a lot during the process.
It was also during this period that Clayton and Andy found Gays With Kids. Even though it was quite late into the process, the gay dad community helped reinvigorate the couple, giving them hope once more.
Clayton (left) and Andy with their daughter
In April 2018, Clayton and Andy's social worker heard about a 5-month-old up for adoption. She phoned the husbands on a Sunday evening, April 29th, and shared her news. By the following Sunday, Clayton and Andy, after traveling to where their daughter was, the new dads sat in a hotel room, holding their 5-month-old baby girl.
"From the minute we met her, she felt like ours," shared Clayton.
The dads have taken to fatherhood like ducks to water. Everything they do, all the plans they make, revolve around their daughter and her inclusion in their lives. "We want her to experience things with us," said Andy. "She comes along to dinners, outings in the city, and to visit friends."
Clayton and Andy are working on maintaining an open adoption relationship with the birth mom with whom they felt an instant connection. "She is extremely young and we knew instantly that she was in a situation where she had tried to do all that she could in 5 months," said Andy. "Our relationship with her has been really great and she gave us the space we needed to really figure out what we wanted our relationship to look like with her," added Clayton. The new dads share photos and updates with the birth mom and they hope to continue that into the future.
Although this wasn't the adoption journey they envisioned, the dads could not be happier. When they first began the adoption process, they had imagined being matched with a pregnant birth mom, experiencing the birth and having time to prepare. "We have learned that in the adoption process, we did not have any control." shared Clayton. "So much of it was left up to the universe to decide." Their advice to future adoptive dads: "Learn to not stress so much and enjoy the ride."