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.