Brian Leonelli-Blain first saw Carter in the middle of 2015 when he was looking on Connecticut's Department of Children and Families (DCF) "heart gallery". Brian immediately knew there was something special about this boy. Brian told his husband Jeffrey about Carter and soon they reached out to the DCF, only to find out that Carter was already in the process of being adopted by a different family in South Carolina. And so, the aspiring dads thought that that was the end of it. Little did they know that their family journey was only beginning.
Brian and Jeffrey, today both 30 years old, met at a happy hour in Milford, Connecticut, just down the road from where they live now in Hamden. Jeffrey is a personal care assistant for the Hamden Board Of Education, and Brian is a financial aid advisor. They were married in 2014 and shortly after began to think about their future family; they always knew they wanted to adopt.
A few months after Jeffrey and Brian found Carter's profile online, the DCF called Brian and Jeffrey to let them know that the first family hadn't worked out, and wanted to see if they were interested in meeting 14-month-old Carter. "About a week later [after they called]," recalled Jeffrey, "we met him and instantly fell in love."
When the men first met Carter, he was pre-adoptive. They spent many nights in the hospital with him before they were finally able to take him home in February of 2016. A few months later, when Carter's adoption was finalized, they became legally a family of three.
Carter suffered brain damage at birth and as a result may never be able to live on his own, but that hasn't stopped this family from living their best lives. Brian and Jeffrey refer to son as their "Peter Pan boy" as he may never grow up like other children, and will most likely require the same kind of around-the-clock care throughout his life as he does now, but they see it as "a lifetime of adventures."
"Raising Carter has completely changed our lives," shared Jeffrey. "We both feel like we found our purpose in life." Times haven't always been easy for the family, but they've learned to pull each other up when someone is feeling down. They've had to be their son's biggest advocate, both for his medical care and education. "You are your child's biggest voice," added Jeffrey. "Do not be afraid to be that parent, the one that teachers and doctors talk about. The bottom line is you are fighting for your child who is the most important person in your life."
Carter has also inspired his dads to live their own best lives and get fit for their son. Before Carter came into their lives, Brian and Jeffrey could usually be found binge-watching a Netflix series during the weekend and eating not particularly healthy food. "We knew in the long run, that we could not continue this lifestyle as Carter would eventually get bigger and require more physical activity," explained Brian. "We lost a combined 95 pounds together, and we accomplished this by eating better, working out, and taking walks with each other."
Some of Carter's favorite things to do with his dads is watch "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," listen to the music at church, go for walks in New York City and New Haven, and going out to eat as a family. "We enjoy simplicity in life," said Brian. "Everyday is a blessing. Our son goes through a lot medically but overall he is a happy child."
There are many inspirational qualities of the Leonelli-Blain family that stand out, but two in particularly are their strength as a family and belief in one another. Sure, not every day is challenge-free, and they still do face moments when they miss the ease of only having to worry about themselves; "But even on the worst days, we close our eyes and try to envision life without Carter, and it's impossible," said Jeffrey. And the husbands are strengthened by their own relationship: "Marriage is filled with ups and downs but I truly met a man who will endure the ride."