Here's What Adoption Is Like For LGBT Couples

"Don't think of us as 'gay parents,' just think of us as parents."

Same-sex parents are increasingly common these days. 

According to the Family Equality Council, they are four times likelier than their opposite-sex counterparts to be raising adopted children, and six times more likely to be raising foster children. Yet despite this and the fact that the U.S. has legalized same-sex marriage, many states have restrictions on adoption by LGBT couples.

Studies have shown that children of same-sex parents fare just as well as children of opposite-sex parents. Unfortunately, same-sex parenting still faces many social prejudices, chief among them that LGBT couples cannot make good parents. (Just last week, a Utah judge ruled that a baby girl was to be removed from the home of her lesbian parents and the ensuing backlash saw a swift reversal in his decision.)

Considering the often painstaking process of adoption, doing so as a same-sex couple is doubly challenging. This November for National Adoption Awareness month, A Plus reached out to two gay couples about their experiences adopting — and how it has completed their families. 

Kevin and Brian Fisher-Paulsonight n have been married for 28 years (or seven, by the law's reckoning). They live in San Francisco with their two adopted sons, Zane and Aidan, and their rescue dogs, Qp, Krypto, Buddyboy, and Bandit.

Kevin Fisher-Paulsen
Kevin Fisher-Paulsen

Brian and I came to the idea of family late. Brian was/is a dancer and he toured a lot, and did not want to raise children while on the road. Sometime around my 41st birthday, I told him that my biological clock was ticking, that I felt this ache inside me to raise children, and that if we waited much longer it would be too late for me to be a fully involved parent. We considered many options, including surrogacy, foreign country adoption, but eventually focused on foster care/adoption because so many of the children in the foster care system needed so much love and help.

We settled on an agency called A Better Way, and on April 1, 2003, a social worker called to tell us that we were matched with children: newborn triplets, one of whom had a hernia, and another of whom had a hole in his heart and a colostomy bag, and was not expected to live. We are the kind of gays who go for the long odds and so we said, "Yes."

This was back in 2003, at the cusp of gay adoption, before many of our compatriots joined the process (it has been estimated that nowadays 1 out of 4 LGBT families either has children or is in the process). We had no support system, and our days became feed the baby, burp the baby, change the baby, soothe the baby, put the baby to sleep, only to start the process all over again with the second child, and then running back and forth across the Bay Bridge to visit the third baby in the neonatal intensive care ward. We quickly turned from that witty gay couple with time for canapés and cocktails into those two exhausted middle-aged men.

The boy with the colostomy bag had three surgeries and was not allowed to be picked up, not allowed to be fed. I sat through the night with my hand on his chest (the only place without a tube or a monitor). In pain most of the time, the baby cried and cried. One night one of the nurses said, "Why don't you try singing to him?"

My mother was not a lullaby kind of woman. In fact, she was tone deaf and I never learned your basic children's lullabies. But I did fulfill the stereotype of gay men, and knew a panoply of show tunes and television theme songs. So I sat in the dark, softly singing, "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a night ship ...," and all at once, the baby stopped crying, just looked at me and gurgled.

During the foster-to-adopt process, after 13 social workers had told us to name the babies, redo the monogram, and change the will to include the babies, a born-again Christian social worker decided that the triplets would be better placed with the birth mother, because even though she was a schizophrenic who had been institutionalized four times, and even though she was seen shaking and pinching the babies, and even though the courts had previously ruled her ineligible to parent, she was a single heterosexual woman and thus better suited to raise a child.

We fought the matter in court, spending our life savings, but the social worker had lied in his deposition, claiming that the birth mother was cured of schizophrenia and prepared to parent. Sadly, we lost the babies who we had loved and care for since birth.

It was not until years later that we learned that the babies had subsequently been so badly abused by the mother that they were moved out of the county.

After losing the triplets, Brian and I went back to A Better Way and we went back to the most-adopt process. Our sorrow was great, but this much we knew: there were children who needed us and, frankly, we enjoyed the parenting.

Kevin Fisher-Paulsen
Kevin Fisher-Paulsen

A little more than two months after losing the triplets, we met Zane, a baby who had been born addicted to crack cocaine. He was, even as a baby, "wild" and had been deemed unadaptable. But again, we like the long odds, and our journey called family continued. After a year and a half of fostering, we adopted Zane, baptized (him) in the church we had attended (Most Holy Redeemer) and started the process to foster another boy, who we named Aidan. Aidan was born addicted to methamphetamines and that produced yet another series of drama, but ultimately, the four of us have formed this bond and we overcome all of the challenges given to us.

Because of Zane's birth condition, he deals with hyperactivity and mood disorder. Because of Aidan's birth condition, he deals with anxiety and attention deficit. But Zane was the most valuable player on his soccer team last year, and Aidan's basketball team won the [Catholic Youth Organization] championship, with me coaching. Never thought that I would ever have even attended a basketball game, but there is that thing about family: it expands what you do and who you are.

Kevin Fisher-Paulsen
Kevin Fisher-Paulsen

So somewhere in mysterious San Francisco there is a blue bungalow wherein lives two white, gay, middle-aged men; their African-American son; their mixed-race son; and a pride of rescue dogs. I would tell other LGBT couples to join us on that journey called family, knowing that there is sadness on the journey, but there is also great joy.

Here is concrete advice: make lots of friends. You never know who you are going to need to heat formula, or soothe a baby in a rocking chair, or change a colostomy bag with. The thing about children is that it will help you to know who else in your life is your family.

Peter McKay and husband Chris live in New York City with their adopted daughter, Darcy.

Peter McKay
Peter McKay

My husband Chris and I had always known we wanted to be fathers and adoption was always our first choice for starting a family. I have several adopted relatives, and it seemed the clear choice for us since having a family was the most important thing, not being biologically connected to our children. We were specifically interested in domestic open adoption, both for practical reasons (to our knowledge there were no foreign countries that would place a child with a gay couple), and because we loved the fact that our child's birth parents would be able to choose the adoptive family, and that our child would be able to have a relationship with them. For us, love is not a zero-sum game.    

After focusing on careers and education for the first eight years of our relationship, we began searching for an adoption agency in the summer of 2012. We naturally gravitated towards secular agencies and after looking closely into several options, we attended an information session of Friends in Adoption (FIA) one fall evening in 2012. Dawn Smith-Pliner, the founder and director, is a gregarious and warm spirit who instantly made us feel like part of the FIA family. We signed our contract soon after that, and then spent several months completing paperwork and working with a designer to create a profile of ourselves that would be presented to women who were pregnant and considering placing their child for adoption.

Once we had finished our paperwork and been approved as an adoptive family, our profile went live online and we began the wait for a match with a birth mother.

Our case manager called me on a typical Tuesday afternoon a few weeks later, and when she said that she had been speaking with a birth mother, I interrupted and asked, "Is this the call?" She assured me that yes, this was the call we had been waiting for, and my heart leapt to my throat as I collapsed into a chair. We know other adoptive families who waited for several years to be successfully matched with a birth mother, so we were excited and cautiously optimistic about what was to come.

Over the next several weeks, we met with the pregnant woman who had chosen us as the adoptive family of the child she was carrying. There is no rule book for how to build a relationship with a birth mother, but the three of us easily connected, and it was clear to Chris and me why she had chosen us from the approximately 800 adoption profiles she said she looked at online from dozens of agencies.  We all felt like we were cut from the same cloth and we soon began to cherish the relationship we shared.

The birth mother asked us to be in the delivery room for the birth of our child. We eagerly said yes, and we rushed to the hospital a few weeks later as soon as she went into labor. Many hours later, Chris and I were by her side when our daughter made her first appearance. The doctor asked what her name was, and after a quick huddle to finalize the name from the two finalists, Chris and I introduced Darcy for the first time. She was wide-eyed and curious and hungry and thankfully very easy-going. Two days later, we breathed a sigh of relief when she was given a clean bill of health and cleared to be released from the hospital.

Peter McKay
Peter McKay

Besides being exhausting and momentous and joyous and terrifying, the first two months of Darcy's life were unremarkable. However, at Darcy's two-month visit to the pediatrician, we were referred to a liver specialist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital due to the jaundice Darcy had been showing for a few days. After several weeks of appointments, Darcy was diagnosed with a very rare genetic liver condition called progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis Type 2 (PFIC2). Among the many symptoms of the condition, the worst by far was the intense body-wide itching that was caused by bile from the liver getting into the bloodstream.

On June 30 of this year, just before her second birthday, Darcy had a liver transplant, which saved her life. I was fortunate enough to be able to donate a piece of my liver to her, which will grow into a full new liver in less than a year. Incredibly, Chris and I were both potential donor matches for Darcy, which leaves no question in my mind that Darcy was always meant to be our child. Even though Darcy has always been my daughter, we are now a part of each other. We are biologically connected in a way that I never could have imagined.

Peter McKay
Peter McKay

Every adoptive family faces challenges. As much as an agency can prepare a family for what to expect, every situation is so unique and there will always be tough moments. Many gay and lesbian adoptive families face additional trials and tribulations, from prejudiced politics to narrow-minded neighbors. We are so thankful for the support we have received from FIA and from all the doctors, nurses, and medical staff we have gotten to know; for the connection that we still have with Darcy's birth mother; and for our incredible families and friends, who have cheered us up and cheered us on. After a whirlwind year, we are excited for the future of our family and for Darcy to be a big sister before too long.

Each day is a new chapter in our lives as parents. Each day we face a situation we have never faced that we have to figure out how to manage. Each day we are just like the millions of other parents in this country, gay and straight, and across the spectrum of sexuality, gender, ability, class, and race. Yes, we are two gay men raising a child, but please don't think of us as "gay parents," just think of us as parents.