We thought the world had changed. In 2006, when my wife and I got married, our only option for us was to travel to Canada to get a marriage license. It was eleven years ago, but it feels like another lifetime. A time when states were throwing Defense Against Marriage Acts up as fast as they could, when the only lesbians on TV were talking, laughing, loving, and breathing after 10pm on premium cable.
Things were pretty much the same when we decided to have a baby in 2008. We lived in New Jersey, a state that considered us to be in a civil union, in spite of our legal Canadian marriage. We knew from the moment I got pregnant that we would be doing a second-parent adoption so my wife could have her rights protected as our daughter’s mother. I was a practicing lawyer at the time, so I downloaded some forms, jumped through the hoops, and my wife adopted the daughter she helped conceive on a chilly, sunny Friday morning.
My in-laws came with us to the adoption. We took pictures with the judge and basked in the warmth of the staff. They see some gnarly stuff in family court; a couple of lesbians adopting a baby is a good day. We got some breakfast and I went back to work and my wife went home with our daughter.
Three years later, my wife had gone from medical student to resident and I was at home with our daughter when we decided we were ready for kid number two. My wife, champion that she is, carried this baby through the rigors of overnight calls, insanely long days, and too many hours on her feet. Things felt different, though, because in New Hampshire we were considered married. Our relationship was finally recognized. This meant that my rights as the other mother of our new baby should have been guaranteed from day one. I wasn’t a practicing lawyer anymore. I didn’t have the access or the time to find the forms I needed to fill out to adopt this baby. But it was probably fine now that we were married. And then Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fell. And DOMA was struck down as the Supreme Court declared marriage a fundamental right. And the White House was lit up like a rainbow during Pride. It seemed unnecessary to second-parent adopt our second child. Gay people had won! We won!
And then the election happened.
Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, with Mike Pence, conversion therapy advocate, as his number two. Oh, and both chambers of Congress have Republican majorities! And, by the way, there’s a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of the United States that these monsters are going to fill!
Suddenly, all those rights we won over decades looked shaky in the hands of a narcissist-in-chief and his band of simpering sycophants in the GOP. Within half an hour of Donald Trump and Mike Pence being sworn in, the LGBT protections page disappeared from the White House website. Our marriage certificate no longer felt secure. My name being on our daughters’ birth certificates no longer felt like protection against a government that hates LGBTQ people. That New Hampshire deemed me enough of a parent to warrant a space on B’s birth certificate didn’t feel like enough.
I became a lawyer because I believed in the power of the law to change society, and to protect the people. After this election, my wife and I realized we had to use the law to protect my rights as B’s mother. And we had to do it fast.
A little over a week ago, I finally set aside my phone anxiety enough to contact the family court for my county. I found the number for adoptions and called, somewhere between hoping no one answered and wanting to get this phone call over with. All I needed from the court were the forms to file a petition to adopt my daughter. The woman on the other end of the line took down my address, asked me a few questions, and said the forms would be in the mail. I sent my wife a an email to tell her that the woman on the phone was nice.
I have to adopt my five-year-old daughter to be sure that no matter how far down the pit we fall under our new president, no one will try to take my kid away. But, you know, at least the lady on the phone was nice.
This morning, I took the forms out of my bedside table, where we put them to keep our 8-year-old from reading them. What are you worried about your kids finding in your bedside? Not sex toys; government documents.
I starting filling in the easy stuff — names, dates of birth, addresses — and then I had to stop. This form, from the nice lady at the court, exists so I can ask the government if I can be my own daughter’s legal parent. I got so upset I had to put them away.
I’m angry at the injustice. Angry that I, who planned with my wife for our daughter’s conception, went to the doctor with her, smoothed her hair and spoke softly to her when she was scared during her C-section, who spent years caring for both of our children so my wife could complete her residency and fellowship, who changed more diapers than I can count, fed, clothed, rocked, sang to, danced with, read to, and loved and loved and loved this child could be considered a stranger to her in the eyes of the law.
No, she is not my blood. You only have to look at her beautiful face to understand that she is my wife’s brilliant offspring. But she is my child. She belongs to me and I to her as much as I belong to the child I did carry. I’m more than angry. I’m hurt and enraged at a system that will force me to look at my perfect, hilarious, mischievous child and be forced to explain that there are people in the world who don’t understand that I am her Mama. I have been her Mama since the moment she was conceived, from the moment I felt her move in my wife’s belly, and from the moment she emerged into this world.
I’m livid that I have to look at her and explain that Yes, baby. I am your Mama, but we have to do this so no one can say otherwise.
I’m angry at the world, and I am angry at our own stupidity for not doing this when she was a baby. Why did we not spare her, spare us, this conversation? Things had changed. The President of the United States said they had changed.
But there’s a new president now. So, I will do the papers and we will go to court and I will tell B that I have always been her Mama and I will always be her Mama.
And I will tell her something else. Love is something we choose. We choose each other. I choose my wife every single day. I choose these children. And by doing these papers, I hope she will understand that she is my family, not just because I am married to her biological mother, and not just because I was there for every milestone in her young life, but because I choose to be her Mama. I choose her every minute of the day, and I will continue to choose her regardless of what the future brings. I choose her. For her, I will play the game and sign the papers, and ask the court to bless what we know is already true.
It doesn’t matter who is in the White House: She is my child. I am her Mama.
1) I’m in tears this is outrageous and beautiful and so many other things
2) I always wanna pronounce “sycophants” as “psychopaths”. I guess both work in this instance?
3) I’m glad I’m not the only one with phone anxiety (I got desensitized during my PhD when I had to phone Moroccan Farmers every day to beg for interviews).
I get a wicked amount of anxiety from phones, glad to hear it in the article and see you post acknowledging it here :) ..Mostly over it now myself as well but occasionally it surfaces again. Damn phones, damn feels.
This is so powerful and such a brave thing to write, Lucy. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us. All the love to you and your babies and your wife.
You always write so beautifully about your family that it makes my heart swell with happiness even though what you’re writing about here also breaks my heart. I hate that you have to do things like this. I hate that the rest of us have to do things like this because of the hateful, insecure people in power right now. <3
Thank you so much.
Oh Lucy, this was heartbreaking and beautiful, and I’m so sorry you have to go through this.
Thank you. We’ll get through it. Writing about it helped a lot.
I love you and your whole beautiful family. Thank you for sharing this. <3
We love you, too.
Beautiful and heartbreaking and enraging. Thank you for sharing this with us.
You’re welcome. Thank you for reading it.
My wife and I have a daughter and I feel like we are lucky to have second parent adoption. It doesn’t make me livid it makes me grateful and happy. In France it’s illegal for lesbians to have reproductive assistance. Here we have the legal means to make a legal family with 2 moms. My daughter has both of our names on our birth certificate and that is amazing.
It doesn’t bum be out to have to go through 2nd parent adoption, it makes me happy to be a legal family.
I don’t think the point is that “legal adoption” is bad. The point is that other couples, heterosexual couples, do not have to legally adopt their child to parent them. Just because they are married, the dad’s name automatically appears on the kid’s birth certificate.
Hence, it is discrimination; especially so, if people who get married to other people who already have kids and make a family do not have to do that (I don’t know if US law requires step parents to adopt or not).
Even if not; the only way for gay people to have children is for only one of them to be the birth parent and be genetically linked to the child. If marriage recognised that, as it does for straight folks, then life is much easier and fairer for them.
Not everyone can jump through the legal hoops or get the advice required to get legal adoptions, can they? There is also that.
I didn’t know that France didn’t allow same-sex couples to adopt kids. That is very weird… also, appalling.
Regarding the last part: I mean, not everyone can spare the money or effort required. They would still do it because they need the kids and themselves to be safe, but how fair is that?
I don’t know if I’m furious or heartbroken.
Well, I am certainly both of those things. :)
Lucy, this is lovely. Thank you for sharing some very personal stuff. I HATE that you have to do this. I hate how uncertain our futures are.
I also came across this article recently that goes into detail about the infuriating form, for those who are interested:
On June 26, 2015 as the news from the Supreme Court was coming out, my wife and I were heading to court in Austin so I could legally adopt our 1 month old son. I had been through this 5 years earlier when I adopted our older son. My wife had carried both boys. A few days later we went back to the same court to get legally married to my partner of 14 years in the State of Texas, something I never thought would actually happen. A couple of months later the state issued new birth certificates that included me as a parent for both of our boys, something else I had never thought would happen.
The total cost for both adoptions was $8000 and I was frustrated I had to spend so much money for MY boys. Now I am grateful I did. They can try all they want to take away my legal status of marriage and my parental rights, but I have covered all bases and am not going down without a fight.
BTW, when we explained the adoption of the baby to our 5 year old, we told him it was to make our family even stronger. He was curious about his own adoption and we answered all of his questions. My boys will never doubt the love we have for them.
Your girls won’t either.
I love the way that you wrote this and the love that you have for your family. I hate that you have to go through this, though. I really hope that it turns out all right and that you get to adopt her and that you get to stay married.
What timing! I was in court this morning legally adopting my youngest son. Same mixed feelings. Same as in the Andrea Lawlor piece linked above, I had to answer all those questions about my income and assets. My criminal record. My health. Then, when I get the new birth certificate with my name on it also, I’ll get passports for all the kids. Because, Trump.
Congratulations on your adoption! I hope it was a joyful time (even if the whole process can be demoralizing).
It’s heartbreakingly beautifull. I’m sorry you have to go through that all over again. I’m sorry that your sense of peace and security got ripped away. There is no denying the love you feel for your daughter and that she’s truly yours. She’ll know that every step of the way. LGBTQ rights won once, and I know they will again.
Thank you for sharing your story, Lucy <3
This was a really beautiful and moving piece, thank you.
Sending you and your family so much love Lucy.
Hey, we’re in NH too! Glad to hear the process is pretty straightforward – we may be doing this soon as well (we need a baby first, working on it). You don’t need to be a lawyer to do it yourself, do you?
I do think it would take a lot to reverse Obergefell and it’s not going to be a priority for the new administration. I think they’re going to hurt LGBT people in more subtle ways. But I also thought Trump would never be elected, so my gut feelings have not proved to be worth much.
We live in MA now but I just called our local family court and asked for the forms I needed. You can try the same in NH or you can find a lawyer to shepherd you through the process.
Thank you so much for writing this. My wife and I are expecting our first baby any day now, and even though both of our names will be going on the birth certificate, we are still preparing for her to adopt our child. Most of our family and friends don’t realize this is something we have to do, and even though I feel a responsibility to shine a light on the absurdity of my wife needing to adopt her own child for their relationship to be accepted, it hurts in a way that I hate to even acknowledge it.
Congratulations on your impending parenthood. The legal hoops are more than infuriating. I hope they don’t diminish the joy of having a new baby.
Thanks so much for sharing. I am in the midst of doing a step-parent adoption in CA. I really related to so much of what you described.
Our kids were born in AZ. At that time, the laws specifically excluded same sex parents from any parental rights. We had contracts at all times in case of emergency. Luckily there was no need to ever use them. At the same time, our lawyer warned us, that there was a legal gray area, if push came to shove.
Since then, we have moved to CA, which has been a breeze in terms of day-to-day life— everything from public schools to doctor visits. (Sadly, I think the path has been smoothed by giving the kids my last name. Coupled with the fact that they look just like their other mom. Nonetheless, I’ll take what I can get.)
With the recent election, we have decided to go through with the adoption despite considerable cost.
Our lawyer also recommends waiting until the adoption is complete to apply for passports because it is somewhat difficult for minors with one parent to get a passport.
We haven’t told the twins (aged 7) about it, because I am pretty sure they would be so confused. Eventually they will, We have a social worker visit at some point. Oy!
Good luck to you and your family.
I am sorry you guys in the US have to go through this! My wishes are with you.
On a totally, not-that-important note, and I don’t know whether it is inappropriate to ask, but,
Why does the author profile say: “Kate has written two articles for us?” *Puzzled*
Thank you for sharing something very personal, Lucy. All the love to you and your family
So frightening to read this. It makes me feel so lucky to be in the UK – here, I’m legally my daughter’s mum, even though my partner and I aren’t married. We don’t have to adopt, we just put our names down together at the fertility clinic.
But reading this reminds me how lucky we are *and* how fragile some rights are.
I’ll keep wishing for the best for all the families in the US, but it looks like a scary time ahead.
I am on both kids’ birth certificates. In that sense I AM already both of their legal parents. But nothing here feels safe at the moment so completing a second-parent adoption is further security against a challenge to our family.