By Stephen and Adam Podowitz-Thomas
As the Easter and Passover seasons are wrapping up in the Podowitz-Thomas household, we’ve been thinking more and more about how we’re going to share our religious traditions with our children. As an interfaith couple, we’ve had to navigate recognition and appreciation of one another’s beliefs throughout our relationship, but when talking about how to raise our children, we’ve noticed that things have the potential to get more complicated.
Stomping on glass at the end of our wedding ceremony.
One thing we’ve done for ourselves, and we hope to continue with our kids, is emphasize the commonalities of our religious experiences. A central aspect of our separate religious upbringings has been the importance that community played in our faith, particularly the role of a congregation.
Adam’s spiritual community growing up was his Presbyterian church, located in a pre-Revolutionary sanctuary. His congregation was a place of support, safety, and most importantly, delicious food at their regular congregational potlucks after services.
I grew up attending services at my family’s local shul (i.e., synagogue in Yiddish) in a tight-knit community. As a young child, many of my friends grew up observing the Sabbath without any form of work or the use of electronics. Having time to spend with friends and family encouraged us to come together, share a meal, prayers, and other religious rites that can easily get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life.
Bringing people together in celebration was also an important element of our wedding, conducted jointly by a Methodist minister and a Rabbi. But even more essential to us was that we both felt represented in the aspects of the ceremony itself. Incorporating elements from both our traditions, including a chuppah, sharing a glass of wine, and a benediction from our minister, as well as stomping a glass, the ceremony turned into a somewhat eclectic blend of the Northeast, the South, Judaism, and Christianity, but represented who we are, both individually and as a couple. And this blending is also who our child is going to be; hopefully, with the addition of traditions from their birth families.
This blending of traditions has also played out in our celebration of holidays. Over the years, Adam has attended community Passover seders with me and our mutual friends and we have decked out our apartment with garlands and stockings every Christmas. We’re looking forward to making our child’s first latkes for Hanukkah and watching them hunt for eggs at Easter.
Our cat, Amelia, was not in the Holiday spirit.
In short, we’re not sure how it’s all going to go. We’re not sure how our child will identify religiously and we’re not sure, ultimately, that it matters. Through our years together as a couple sharing our own beliefs with one another, we’ve come to appreciate that feelings of support and respect are really the most important thing. And as long as we pass that lesson on to our child, we can be happy with the job we’ve done.
For more information about Stephen & Adam’s adoption journey, visit our adoption page.
Early April 2013 a story on social media started immediately “going viral”. 72,000 people shared a story called, “PARENTS PUT 16 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER UP FOR ADOPTION AFTER LEARNING SHE IS GAY”. Almost as suddenly as the story had taken off, it halted. Blushing page administrators started removing it quickly as details, such as the family living in “Southern Carolina” pointed to a growing understanding. The story was fake. It was, in fact, a satire from the site Deacon Tyson Bowers III.
The story was not far fetched. Writer and LGBT youth advocate Cathy Kristofferson states, “Youth who come out to their parents are rejected by those parents at a rate of 50%, with 26% immediately thrown out of the house to become instantly homeless and many following soon after as a result of the physical and verbal abuse … Empowered by the gains in equality and acceptance with the heightened visibility the adult gay community has welcomed of late, youth are emboldened to come out at ever-younger ages while still reliant on parents who are a flip of the coin away from rejecting them.”
For a teenager named Corey, the story not only could have been true, it WAS true for him. It happened two years earlier than the social media fraud.
Corey did not have an easy life. He was a popular jock guy in high school, but by the age of 15, he had been handed more than his share of abuse. His parents were conservative, religious, on welfare and on prescription narcotics. According to Corey, his birth father beat him at times, and neglected him at others. Corey was raised with a belief that gay people were not only sinners, they were sin itself. His birth father made sure that Corey was aware that gay people all were killed at some point before they reached old age.
Corey had been meticulous about keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He was athletic and he was popular as a “ladies man”. “It was all to keep everyone from knowing,” he told me. Finally he started telling some of his extended family. This left him feeling exposed and vulnerable at home. If the subject were to come up, he was no longer in a position to deflect and hide as he had been before. Whatever security he had felt before was gone, and his self doubt and self loathing were at all time highs.
One evening, the issue of sexual orientation came up, in a big way. As Corey prepared for an evening at a family relations’ house, a news story about gay rights came on the television. Corey reacted with a subtle positive endorsement. His birth father exploded, “If any fag lived in this house, I would shoot them in the head with a shotgun” he screamed. Corey bolted from the house immediately. He was feeling feverish, scared and sickened. Did his father know? Was that a threat for him, or just a reminder that he lived in a den of hatred?
At the party, Corey got drunk, and physically sicker. He ended back at home and as fever raged, his despair imploded into his gut. His parents, suspicious, ignored him. Several days later, at 2 am in the morning, he was up, unable to sleep, delirious and suicidal.
Across town, a woman named Mindy was closing up her household. Husband Dale was sound asleep, as were her two sons. Only her daughter Aubrey had the late night candle burning. As she strolled by Aubrey, who was diligently typing on the computer, Mindy opened her mouth to scoot her daughter off to bed. Suddenly she saw something chilling on the computer screen over her daughter’s shoulder. Written in the chat box was the statement, “I am desperate. Things here are so bad, I want to slit my wrists. I am not kidding.”
Mindy dove in head first. “Who IS that?” she asked Aubrey. Aubrey told her that it was Corey. Mindy had met him when he had taken Aubrey to the homecoming dance. Aubrey explained that he was sick, but his parents were ignoring him. Much to Aubrey’s shock, Mindy declared, “We are going to get him.”
Some mama-grizzley instinct took Mindy over. “It was like I was possessed by someone else. I knew I needed to act, and to do something, but everything I did was against my nature and not how I usually act as a person.”
Forty minutes later, Mindy and Aubrey were at the trailer in which Corey lived with his family. He came out and got in their van. His father wandered out and demanded to know what Mindy was doing. The normally honest to a fault Mindy heard herself telling a lie. In a casual nonchalant demeanor, especially one for almost three in the morning, she heard herself say, “Oh hi! Sorry to disturb. We had invited Corey to go to the mountains with us. We thought an early start would be best.” Corey’s birthfather turned flirty and asked Mindy when she was going to come take HIM to the mountains. Mindy laughed coyly, played the part and flirted right back. After a few minutes, the van was on its way, with Corey in it.
When they returned home, Mindy was in for the biggest shock of the night. When Corey walked into the light, she could see he was almost blue, he had pneumonia, and she knew that without her intervention, he would have likely died. For Dale, he was just mystified. “I came downstairs in the morning to cook breakfast and there is this kid sleeping on my couch. He wasn’t there when I went to bed!”
For the next few weeks, Corey’s birth parents did not inquire as to where he was. Finally, nursed back to health, he returned home and the growing awareness of his homosexuality again became the unspoken issue. Finally, he decided to confide in his mother. He figured that she was oppressed and passive, and likely to keep it to herself.
That was not the case. She called Corey’s birth father who stormed home and broke into the house railing at the top of his lungs. “He was yelling and screaming about how a fag was living in his home and he can’t believe the devil was in his presence. I locked myself in my room when my brother came home. The first thing my father did was tell him about how his brother was nothing but a worthless fag,” Corey recalled. All three family members rattled on his bedroom door for hours. Later they retreated, and Corey escaped to the bathroom with a much stronger door and lock. He sat in a corner of the bathroom with his possessions in a paper bag, afraid for his life. In the wee hours of the morning, when the three had passed out, he escaped the house–never to return.
He went back to his friend Aubrey’s house. This time, it was not just Aubrey and Mindy to his rescue. Dad Dale, and brothers Andrew and Mason all stepped up as they had during his illness. The family had come to love him. For them, he belonged. He was home. They did not know at first that he was gay. They just understood that he needed them. When they did find out that he was gay and had been driven from his former home because of it, it did not matter, not even to conservative dad, Dale. They already loved him, and for some unapparent reason, they seemed to need him too.
The family met together so that each person could have his or her say. It was unanimous; every single member wanted Corey to stay permanently. Dale described what happened next, “Initially we set Corey’s bedroom up in our basement. We gathered what we could since he didn’t bring anything with him. His first bedroom in our home was made of walls with moving blankets tacked to the ceiling. There was a bed, a nightstand, an old dresser and a box fan. That kid was so freaking happy. I think that moment really made Aubrey, Andrew and Mason appreciate what they have. Made me cry to see Corey with next to nothing and be happy about it.”
The next year was a challenge for all involved. At first the birth family created noise. The small community also backlashed against Corey’s new family. Andrew and Aubrey were both taunted at school for going after a gay brother, and some of Mindy and Dale’s family and friends out and out rejected them.
Corey stood strong, and it inspired his new family to do so as well. Dale stated, “I had issues growing up and I wish I had been as strong as Corey to stand up for myself when I was a teenager. Corey has taught me a lot.”
The family got a court date. They were extremely nervous and had documented all the events leading up to the adoption. They watched the door of the courtroom waiting for their adversaries to arrive. They waited and watched. Time passed.
Corey’s birth family did not show up. They had no apparent argument to contest the adoption-like legal guradianship, no concern. Their offspring was gay and they signaled that they were perfectly willing to adopt him out as a consequence.
For Corey, Mindy, Dale, Aubrey, Andrew and Mason, the day became known as “Gotcha” day. A family got Corey, and he got them. Aubrey, Andrew and Mason became tireless advocates for Corey and LGBT rights in general. Eleven year old Mason, who previously had been disinterested in things outside of a little boy’s world made a rainbow freedom art project that he dedicated to his new big brother.
Mindy describe the events of the past three years. “I want the world to know that Corey is a beautiful human being. I want them to know that any pain we went through or will go through is worth it. Why is it worth it, because love is the most powerful force. I want the world to see Corey’s pain and know it is not necessary. Sexuality is such a small part of who we are. First and foremost Corey is a loving, genuine, caring, intelligent human being. Who he is attracted to and who he marries is of little significance. I’m certain his partner will be as kind and loving as himself. Isn’t that what this world needs? I want the world to know that standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves is vital to our survival. Standing up for what is right is not always easy, but it is always right. Our family fell in love with Corey for Corey…his sexuality did not change who he was. I also want the world to know that we are a family. I want people to understand that genetics are just science. Families are built from unconditional love. ”
For Dale, it is a little simpler. He told me that he still sees Corey’s birth father around their small town. “He knows how to put on a front,” Dale commented. “He smiles and acts like nothing is a big deal. He says, ‘thanks, appreciate what you are doing for my boy.”
In those encounters, Dale does not say much. He turns and walks away. Quietly, inaudibly, he whispers, “I have news for you. He is not your boy.
He’s my son.”
If you are interested in giving a home to an LGBT youth like Corey, please email: email@example.com
Post script When the above blog piece broke and went viral, Corey’s birth family came forth on Facebook and berated his version of events. Here is a sample of their comments. Judge the story from both sides for yourself:
Corey’s birth brother: “For all you that read my brothers little pity story on here, it’s a joke and I’m honestly in shock someone has enough nerve to lie about shit like that. Yes some is true but the major key points are false. If anyone has a problem come to me my brother is a fake and a coward. He has the power to manipulate a person better then anyone I know.”
Corey’s cousin’s reply:”They knew exactly what they were doing. Funny how Corey’s “story” was published the day after gay marriage becomes legal in some parts of MI.”
Corey’s birth brother : “Exactly fucking homos. You know why every homo is successful. Because they our selfish and all they care about is themselves.”
Corey’s birth mother: “I cant believe it myself, we never kicked corey out, he left. he was in no danger from his dad, he would never hurt corey, he just don’t believe in gays he don’t support it, he has his beliefs.”
Corey’s birth brother concludes: Karma is a bitch and it’s coming his way.
As the original blog author, with 45 pages of notes on the story corroborated by five independent individuals, I know what Corey’s adoptive family told me was true, and the birth family’s protests do more to convince me of that than to dissuade me. Meanwhile, over 100 families have contacted Raise-a-child with interest in taking in a homeless rejected LGBT youth.
TNF: Tell me about your family.
Henry: Our Son is nearly 2 ½ , he is the light of my life and just the sweetest, goofiest little person I know. Our Family consists of our boy Ben, my Husband Joel and I. Joel and I met in 2005 and were legally wed in Boston, October 10, 2009. I still remember when the Reverend that married us said “May their family tree be fruitful,” we had only discussed having children casually although we both loved the idea of being Dads. It would not be until later in 2010 when they stopped enforcing the Gay adoption ban in our then home of Florida that we really began to pursue Parenthood. We initially thought that adopting through our state made the most sense for us, neither of us felt that using a surrogate was that important. Our feelings were that there were already babies in need of homes, we did not feel the need to create a new life. Joel and I were part of the first openly Gay and Lesbian group going through the process of becoming Foster Parents in our county. It was our hope to adopt via Foster Care but that did not work out for us. We were blessed with two incredible placements, two beautiful babies but they were both reunited with their biological families. Somewhere during our Fostering journey we were privately introduced to a young lady that was 5 months pregnant with a boy. She wanted to give the baby up for adoption and after a few meetings decided that we were the perfect couple. The process was difficult, the climate for Same Gendered adoptions was/is not the warmest in Florida but we had an incredible law team in our corner and shortly after Ben’s October, 2011 birth we became the first Same Sex couple to jointly adopt a baby in Broward County Florida. When the Judge said that we had now paved the way for other families like ours to be created I nearly burst with happiness. That was a perfect day.
TNF: How did you meet your husband?
Henry: I met my Husband at work, I broke the cardinal rule of “no fraternizing” and honestly it was the best bad thing I have ever done. We moved in together pretty quickly, rather organically. We kind of just woke up one day and said, “wow, when did all this happen?” One day just magically turned into the next and we are now heading towards 9 years together.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?
Henry: This is an interesting question, we are quite conservative and traditional in values. We do not live in a very “Gay” area. The majority of our friends are actually either heterosexual or Lesbian so all in all we are quite a regular family. Having said that we are still a two dad family and although we have never faced obvious discrimination, we are still highly visible in our community and often approached with curiosity, albeit it lovingly it still plays as a constant reminder that we are indeed different.
TNF: Is it tough being a gay couple where you in Durham? Do you feel accepted?
Henry: We feel extremely accepted here in Durham NC. We live in a pretty cool blue bubble in an otherwise red state. We are actively involved in LGBTQ parenting groups here so our Son see’s lots of different types of families. I am also working with some wonderful people who are hoping to finally open a LGBTQ Community Center here in my town. My function will be to hopefully oversee the parenting programs, offering resources and help to the parents in our community. I will also offer guidance for those wanting to become parents either via Fostering, Adoption or Surrogacy. We will also offer a place where children of LGBTQ parents can gather, find fellowship and thrive. When Ben was born I created DADsquared, it was initially meant to be a place where Gay Dads could gather and help one another, It has grown into one of the largest on-line communities for same gendered families and those hoping to grow their families. I hope that much of what I have learned with DADsquared along with my training as a life Coach can translate into my role with the Durham Community Center.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Henry: There really are no words. I grew up wondering If I could ever be a happy, self-loving, well-adjusted Gay man. I never dreamt that in my life time I would see doors opening that would not only help me marry the man of my dreams, but to also be able to experience the honor of being called Daddy. It’s quite something. My Mother passed away in 2004, she never met Joel and never got to see me this happy. I know that as Ben was making his way through the heavens to join us she got the chance to hold him and kiss him, I know he met his Abuela somewhere out there and that gives me great joy and peace.
TNF: Tell us a bit about your site and why you created it?
Henry: As I said above, when Ben was first born we felt a bit alone, we did not have many similar families around us and I just wanted to see others like us. It began with the Facebook page and grew into the actual Website. We have so many wonderful members that share their experiences and resources with each other. We have an awesome group of Pro’s that we work with like great Attorneys, Doctors and Adoption Agencies that have literally helped us help others create families, how amazing is that? We have also helped bring families together, we help people locate other families around them that they did not know existed. When I get photos sent to me of a new baby or of two families that have met because of DADsquared with smiling faces looking back at me because “Johnny has two dads just like me,” I literally at times burst into tears. Sometimes in life we ask ourselves, “what is my purpose in life?” “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Well luckily because of my involvement with DADsquared, my family and my Coaching practice, I no longer ask myself those questions.
Thank you Henry and Joel for sharing your story with us. What a beautiful family! We love Dadsquared!
By Brandy Black
TNF: What is Colage?
Robin: COLAGE is a national organization that unites people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents into a network of peers and supports them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities.
TNF: What is your role there?
Robin: I am the National Program Director so I oversee and develop our programming, work directly as a mentor to people with LGBTQ parents and provide support for LGBTQ families.
TNF: Do you have LGBTQ parents?
Robin: Yes! I was born into an LGBQ family I have two moms (one is bisexual and one is a lesbian) who both wanted to have children and found my donor dad through the gay and lesbian community. Both my moms birthed a child (me and my brother) with the same donor dad who was part of our lives growing up. My dad’s partner has also been in my life since I was 5 so we call him my bonus dad. In COLAGE we call that a, “bothie,” when you have both moms and dads. I also am bisexual and plan on being a parent myself so my children will also be part of this community!
TNF: What inspired you to be involved?
Robin: I grew up in rural northern New Mexico extremely isolated from other LGBTQ families. I was born in the 80′s and my family was quite closeted for safety and because of the nature of the times. I grew up ashamed, scared, alone yet also with a fierce sense of pride. I always knew I was missing something, a place where I was understood, supported and loved for all of who I was. When I was in my early 20′s I decided to write a book about my experience because I didn’t know of any resources at the time. In my research I found COLAGE and my long lost family.
TNF: What are some key initiatives of Colage?
Robin: COLAGE’s three main initiatives are to unite people who have LGBTQ parents, provide programming and resources that foster community building, and to provide training and leadership opportunities for youth to become advocates. We have an extensive collection of resources for parents and COLAGErs on our website, online communities, 15 community groups across the country as well as national programming for youth to receive more in depth leadership training.
TNF: What age is appropriate to introduce your kids to Colage?
Robin: Traditionally, our programming starts around the 3rd grade level, partly because this is when we have seen other resources for LGBTQ families drop off, and also because this is a time when youth really needing to be able to talk about their families and see that they are not alone. We do think it is valuable to provide COLAGE spaces for people of all ages and work with parents who have younger children to utilize our resources and do community organizing to support their family.
TNF: Do you have any events coming up that our readers could attend in LA, New York or any other markets?
Robin: Yes! Our national team will be in LA April 12th providing a full day of programming for youth ages 6-18, a parent cafe, as well as a public panel of COLAGErs, and events for adult COLAGErs. For more information and to purchase tickets, check out our Eventbrite listing. We also have active chapters in both LA and New York that hold events year round. Both of those communities can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
TNF: Do you have any tips for LGBT parents or parents-to-be?
Robin: Find community, be open, listen to your child (we all have different experiences with our families), and realize that your child has an identity connected to yours and that is a wonderful and challenging thing at times. When we are connected to other people who have families like ours, we are able to see that our difference is our strength and become empowered individuals with a unique and blessed experience to offer the world.
This guest post is by Mercy Verner, a birthmother.
I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. It started a little over a year ago. I found out I was pregnant. I stared at the test, as if it would change. I realized that it was not going to change, and I immediately freaked out.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t take care of another human being. At least, not in the way that I wanted to. I wanted my child to have more than what I had growing up.
I decided that that is what I needed to do. I needed to give my child a better life than what I could give. I went through all the options associated with adoption. I browsed many adoption websites and a few places, but none of them seemed right.
Then I stumbled across a website that dealt with same-sex couples and I learned about open adoption. I looked through the possible adoptive parents and one couple – Matt and Trey – stuck out from the rest. They looked a bit goofy, and they seemed truly happy with each other.
I explored their profile and watched a video about them interviewing their cat about being a big sister. It reminded me so much of my family, and right then and there I knew that they were the perfect couple.
As our relationship with them began to grow, they felt like part of the family. Months had gone by and things were going the way I wanted them to. I was almost ready(ish). In my head, I knew exactly what I needed to do, but my heart was aching. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready at all.
Then the contractions started. I was so scared. I wasn’t ready to let go. I just wanted to keep her in there and never let go. Unfortunately, the reality set in. I was at a regular check-up after being in inactive labor for eleven days.
As the doctor checked me, she spoke those few words that I definitely did not want to hear just yet. She informed me that I would be having a baby that night. I was freaking out, and trying to stay cool at the same time.
It did not work that well. I didn’t have anything ready. I made my way up to labor and delivery; it became even more overwhelming. I laid in that hospital bed, trying to sort out my thoughts, and waiting for the nurses to give me an update about how everything was going.
I thought that I couldn’t do it; it just seemed to surreal. Then the father walked into the room and it somewhat reassured me. He had been there through the entire pregnancy and I was so happy to have him there.
It was a hard pregnancy, with many decisions. I don’t know how I could have made it through all the craziness of pregnancy without him. In a few short hours, we welcomed our daughter to the world. August 19, 2013.
I spent that night with my daughter. I could hardly sleep. I woke up with every little sound she made. The next morning I was awaiting the arrival of Matt and Trey. It felt like an eternity for them to get to the hospital.
They finally arrived and I was so glad they had made it and were there with me. I spent the next week with all three of them. During that week, the father and I had to sign the final adoption papers.
That was the hardest thing to do. Just hearing what was happening. It was easier just to not talk about it. As I signed them, I began to panic. I tried my hardest to stay strong. I wasn’t about to let myself be selfish, especially when it came to my daughter.
I kept telling myself that I love her and that this is the best thing I could possibly ever do for her. As they left my hometown and we made our goodbyes, I could feel my heart breaking. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want to go.
I knew that I would see them again soon. I was so skeptical. I thought that we would hardly talk. Oh boy, was I ever wrong. I talk to them all the time, and whenever. We Facetime when we can and I receive pictures of her almost daily.
I get to see my daughter grow up, I truly love the concept of an open adoption. It helped that I could still be mom. It definitely is hard but it is something that is a day-by-day challenge. I absolutely love my relationship with Matt and Trey and especially my daughter.
I was so scared that this would be a nightmare, but I was wrong. My family has grown so much more.
It has been many weeks since I have been able to blog about our journey as two dads. In November, I had surgery on my right wrist and found myself in a cast for a couple months. After too long of an absence, it is time to resume sharing our story with The Next Family. We left off with our return home from Texas with one-week old Harper.
It only took two weeks in Harper’s life until everything took a sharp turn toward the unknown. It started as a normal Friday that included a pediatrician appointment. Harper was jaundice, and we had been treating it with a bilirubin blanket at home for several days. On this Friday, we were hoping to get the good news to stop using the bilirubin blanket, but the day didn’t proceed as planned.
Over the period of a week, Harper had been undergoing daily blood tests. Over a three-day period, her hemoglobin level had dropped to a critically low level. We were instructed to proceed to the hospital for a blood transfusion. Before the hospital intake was finished, Harper was transported to the children’s hospital a half-hour away.
After arriving at the children’s hospital, Harper was taken to a private room where many doctors and residents surrounded her. We were asked question after question. Inquiries were made about the medical history of the birth family. One of the positive aspects of an open adoption is the availability of the health history of the birth parents and birth grandparents. In one of my obsessive moments, I had scanned all of this medical information and had it readily available on our smartphones.
Before our second intake of the day was complete, it was determined that Harper would be transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We were a total emotional wreck. We were scared, confused and speechless. My parents had met us at the first hospital and travelled with us to the children’s hospital. Harper was taken out of the room to receive an IV, and Matthew and I had reached the point where we needed some alone time. My parents gave us a hug and reluctantly left the hospital.
Within a few moments, Harper was returned to the room. She had an IV inserted into her head. Band-Aids were stuck to both arms where attempts at starting an IV had failed. As the staff left the room, Matthew and I fell apart. Even to this day, seeing pictures of Harper like that is very emotional. It was the toughest thing I have ever experienced.
Before we had a chance to process what we were experiencing, Matthew’s parents arrived at the hospital. Matthew’s half-sister began to tear up as she saw Harper with all of the tubing and chords monitoring her vitals. We politely asked Matthew’s parents to leave the hospital and allow us to support each other and Harper. It was an emotional moment for everyone involved.
There was one positive outcome of this intimidating experience, solidifying our new family unit. It was one of the first times in our lives that we had to turn to each other for support and not rely on our parents for comfort in this moment of uncertainty. It was now our time to claim our position as the parent and be strong for our daughter. Over the next four days, we continued to stand strong for our new family.
The first night in the PICU, Harper was under two enormous blue lights for the jaundice. Her red blood cells were breaking down at an alarming rate, and the cause was unknown. Harper was not producing enough red blood cells to replenish the red blood cells that were being rapidly destroyed. She would need a blood transfusion while the physicians worked to determine the cause. Until all the tests were completed, Harper was not allowed to eat.
One of the most difficult things in life has to be caring for a sick infant. She was so hungry and crying for food. There was no possible way to explain to her what was happening. She was connected to several different monitors. The bilirubin lights required her to be blindfolded. She was connected to a pump that was administering the blood transfusion. We were unable to pick her up and hold her. The only method of comfort came in the form of a small dosage of a glucose solution called Sweet-Ease. The Sweet-Ease provided a couple of drops of sugar and purified water to calm her when she cried. It provided only a few minutes of peace for Harper.
Harper underwent a heel stick every couple of hours over a four-day period to monitor her hemoglobin levels. In the end, she only needed one transfusion. Harper is currently six-months old and is under the care of a St. Jude’s hematologist. We still do not have an explanation for the rapid destruction of her red blood cells. This past week, St. Jude withdrew a fair amount of blood to send to the Mayo Clinic for genetics testing. It is my understanding that part of the testing will simulate a sickness to see how Harper’s blood will react when she is battling a common illness. It is actually fascinating stuff. We are still waiting for the results. Several months of blood test have indicated that her body is now producing enough red blood cells to maintain what is considered a normal level. We are very hopeful that the current test results will be negative and point to an anomaly. In this case, no news is good news. Harper provides every indication that she is a happy and healthy little girl.
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Chemotherapy finally ended in mid-October, and soon plans were being discussed about starting radiation. I had another surgery that I was waiting to have approved, one that would, for all intents and purposes, be my version of reconstruction. The surgeon needed to go back in and remove more skin and fat, as I remained a bit deformed and misshapen after the double mastectomy in April. Once the second surgery was approved, I spoke with my Oncologist, and he said to proceed with it before starting radiation – otherwise I would have to wait a while, until my skin had completely healed from treatments. And I did NOT want to wait any longer.
Surgery was performed December 2nd, with an overnight stay at the hospital, and then it was back home and back to doctor appointments, follow-up appointments, lab work, and consultations to plan for the next round of treatments. Once I consulted with Dr. Ilahi, my Radiation Oncologist, it was decided that I could get through the holidays and begin radiation on January 7th. I was beyond thrilled! During the interim, I had gotten a follow-up PET scan, and on November 14th was given the report that there was no evidence of previous tumors in any of the areas where it had been given. In other words – the chemo had worked and I was cancer free! This made me really question why I absolutely needed to continue on and put myself through radiation; but Dr. Ilahi said that it was an extra measure to help prevent it from coming back – like, by a large percentage. So with that information, I knew that it was something that I needed to do, as much as I did not want to do it. For myself. For my wife. For my children. If it increased my odds of STAYING cancer free, then hell yes I would be doing it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went, and I began to slowly start feeling better after chemo life. Dragging my feet, I went in and started the routine:
Treatments would be every day, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 PM, for six and a half weeks
Dr. Ilahi would see me every Wednesday to check my skin
There would be 33 treatments, of a particular dose, and none could be skipped
Since it is like sun damage, the negative effects would build, each week getting a little worse (and would end up like a bad sunburn…so they said)
Fatigue would be a side effect, but it wouldn’t get too noticeable until around week four
Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture…LOL
Me, on the table, about to begin treatment
By week three, my skin was already a ruddy red color, all across my chest on the left side (where they were radiating). I battled with nausea, which boggled the doctor and techs’ minds, because supposedly nausea is not a common side effect when getting radiation in the chest area. But then again, EVERYTHING makes me nauseous. By week four, I started getting tired. And I started noticing, for the first time, that my left armpit was getting really dark. They were blasting me in the armpit, too?? I had no idea. By week five, I was getting really tired, really easily. My chest became blistered, but no skin had opened up. I developed itchy, little, red bumps on my upper back from exit radiation. My armpit got darker red, and started to hurt. By week six, I was tired. Like, bone dragging, dawg ass TIRED. I was using up to four lotions/creams at a time, multiple times per day, on my chest and armpit areas. They both hurt and itched all the time. By the final week, which would only be three days, I was beyond ready to be finished. I could barely stay awake during the day or evenings, and couldn’t wait until kids went to bed at night so that I could retire to our bed as well. I had prescription hydrocortisone for the itchiness, and was using it rapidly. And with three days left, my second degree burns under my arm had opened up, now requiring Silvadene cream twice a day.
It got to the point that I was in tears.
Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end
Three days from the end, and it finally got the best of me.
The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)
But the end was in sight…
For more on Tanya Dodd-Hise you can visit her blog
Photo Credit: Richard Bonser
TNF: Tell me about your family. Are you married? Do you have kids? How many? How old?
Megan: Kristin and I are engaged, and don’t plan to set a date until it is at least recognized in our state. We have a three-year-old daughter (Kenleigh), and we are working on another this year. (Hoping for a boy!) Kristin has had her fair share of health issues throughout our journey, from ovarian cancer in 2009, to her 10th surgery this past December (2013). She has now had both ovaries removed, so we are in the process of planning for IVF using my egg, this time around.
TNF: How did you meet your wife?
Megan: Kristin and I went to high school together. We shared some mutual friends, and always had an attraction to each other. Kristin has always been a little bit on the shy side of things with us, so of course, I had to come out and let her know I was interested. She always seemed kind of timid toward me, maybe because I was a little too outspoken, and wild. But after some persuasion, I got her to come out with me for the day. Needless to say, I can’t count 2 nights since that day that we have spent apart.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?
Megan: I think we are different than other families. Not so much in the aspect of us being a same-sex family, but more so in the way we live, and raise our child. We are very much into health and fitness, and do our best to convey the importance of this lifestyle to our daughter. I have a personal training company (Big Head Fitness), and Kristin has a line of organics (“The Lesbian Housewife” TLH Organics). We involve our daughter in almost every area of our businesses, and allow her to learn the importance of why we do what we do, all while implementing her own creative ideas.
TNF: Where do you live? Is it tough being a gay couple where you live?
Megan: We live in San Antonio, Texas, and it isn’t as tough as it sounds. We have a very welcoming community here, and have only come across very few situations that we feel we have been treated “different”. We don’t know many other gay couples here with children, but we hear about them all the time. lol
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Megan: Having a family has changed both of us in such a positive way. I think every parent can agree that life is so much more fulfilling when you can share and grow with a little person. I enjoy coming home to Kristin, and Kenleigh every day, more than I have ever enjoyed anything else in life. We can make what we want of it, and grow together no matter the circumstances.
TNF: Now that Texas is celebrating the latest ruling on same-sex marriage, will you now take action on getting married?
Megan: We are very excited about the recent stride toward equality, just waiting for the ruling to go through the court of appeals and hoping it holds up! If it does, and we are able, we will set a date for late this year
Thank you Kristin and Megan for a great interview. Fingers crossed on a boy! Congrats on the recent ruling on gay marriage in Texas. I think I hear wedding bells!
TNF: Tell me about your family.
Ben: We are three fun loving and down to earth gentlemen. Nick and I have been together since 2005. Our son Sawyer was born via adoption in January of 2013. He is the best thing that has ever happened to us and we thank God every day for the gift that his birth parents gave us. The three of us are currently planning Nick and my wedding which is set for August of 2014.
TNF: How did you meet your husband?
Ben: Nick and I met eight and a half years ago through mutual friends in our hometown. We were both hesitant at first, especially Nick because he had just publicly come out and I was the first person he dated. It was definitely love at first sight. We actually told one another that we loved each other after only dating for two weeks. Nick then transferred colleges to be closer to me. We began to live with one another after a year of dating and bought our first house while still in college less than three years later. Nick and I have always been a fast paced couple. When we set our minds on something we go for it. It may take us awhile to make our minds up, but then we do not stop until we achieve our goals. That is something we would like to instill in our son Sawyer: never stop until you reach your goals.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?
Ben: We feel very similar and different to families in many ways. No family is the exact same to any other family. In a sense we are all different. However, that being said, we worry about Sawyer just like every other parent, we feed him, bathe him, teach him things and are proud of his every accomplishment. However, our journey to parenthood may be different than the average ‘typical’ family. As every adoptive parent knows, the adoption process is hard and stressful, but the end result is indescribable. I love my family and would not ask to be in a different family.
TNF: Where do you live and is it tough being a gay couple where you live?
Ben: We currently live in a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. Compared to other places that I have either lived, been to, or read about, being a gay couple and family is acceptable and we are treated nicely. We do not fear going places or the idea that we could be physically harmed for who we are. However, that is not to say that we feel as though we are treated equally. A lot of people will ask us who the “mother” is or who the “man” of the relationship is. In addition, we choose not to show public displays of affection of any sort, including holding hands, because you simply do not see that from same sex couples where we live. We are happy with how we are treated for the most part, but there is still a long way to go before we feel we can be truly accepted and ourselves out in public.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Ben: Having a family is everything to us. Since Nick and I began dating 8 ½ years ago all we have ever talked about is starting a family together. We would sit on our couch and dream about what being a parent would be like. It is everything we dreamed and more. Nick and I were born to be Sawyer’s parents; I truly believe that. I wake up everyday thankful for my family. To all those couples or individuals out there wanting and wishing to have a family it can come true, you just have to work for it and be patient. The end result is worth every struggle, tear and doubt.
Thank you Ben and Nick for sharing your story with us. Congratulations on your engagement!
It looks like my partying days are over. This weekend my neighbors, who also have a son in my oldest son’s first grade class, celebrated a 40th birthday. We’ve gotten close to them since we carpool to the school with them, they are both runners, and they are just fun awesome people.
We quickly accepted the invite to the surprise party, which was planned as more of an event than a party. A stretch limo would pick us up at our house at 7pm. Five pairs of strangers (to us) would meet at our house just before 7, and I would get some help stocking the limo with the neighbor’s booze that I had stashed in my refrigerator for safe keeping the night before. Beer, vodka, champagne – you name it. I laughed to myself as I thought about the three margaritas I have consumed in the last year, and how I am such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, and my husband only slightly less of a lightweight.
Our neighbor was indeed surprised as we picked her and her husband up at what she thought was just going to be early dinner at a beachfront hotel. Most of us had already begun the celebration with champagne. Surely I can handle a glass of champagne. Immediately I felt the sensation of alcohol coursing through my veins, and almost immediately I saw my husband with a crooked smile across his face. I sensed trouble brewing.
The thirty-minute ride to downtown was half screaming and half getting to know each other, with the requisite disco music blasting in the background. The other partygoers ended up being really really nice people. Almost all the couples had children right around the ages of our three sons, and a number of iPhones were whipped out throughout the night with pictures and videos to share.
The night was somewhat of an A-list club crawl, as the limousine dropped us off and picked us back up from three different hip clubs. The first was Perch, an “elevated resting place” on the 15th floor of a downtown skyscraper. It’s website calls it “a French inspired rooftop bistro that offers unobstructed views of Downtown Los Angeles that makes it feel as though you are floating at the skyline.” Checking IDs at the door, I could swear that I saw the bouncer chuckling to himself as he saw the year of my birth. I put some swagger in my walk as I moved through the door, and everyone headed directly for the bar. Since this place was pretty much a bar on a roof, I chose to gaze at the views as Alen got me something I might like (it was sweet, so I did).
Next we hit Ebanos Crossing, a “revelry of sexiness and culture” where, according to the website, “within our walls you will enjoy an award winning artisanal cocktail program coupled with delectable, vibrant cuisine, where the cultures of the journey are reflected all around you.” It was loud, it was dark, it was crowded, and worst of all it was closed. Yes, closed, but somehow someone in the party had connections and we were let in to a Black Eyed Peas party. Many drinks were ordered, and I knew by this time that I needed to cut myself off at two drinks, and I needed to gently cut my husband off as well. I just needed to find my husband, who at some point simply disappeared from our group of tables. I hit the restroom, and then searched far and wide for him, Will I. Am, or Fergie. I finally found Alen dancing a nondescript dance in the middle of the dance floor with two of Will I. Am’s most voluptuous groupies. I returned to our tables to give him time to work off the alcohol and minimize the hangover that I was sure was going to crush him the next day.
We made a quick swing through The Standard, a boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown LA with a rooftop pool and plenty of eye candy. In my younger days I would sunbathe poolside with friends. Now I was just praying for something to eat, but it was not meant to be, as the limo clock was ticking and we had to be home by 1am.
We arrived in front of my house fifteen minutes early, so we sat in front of my house blasting the music in the limo and having our last celebratory shots. I was imagining my head on my pillow just a few feet away from the limo, where I was being forced to fill and refill my glass. Luckily nobody was noticing me as I dumped my drinks out over and over again, raising my empty glass in the air and singing happy birthday just one more time.
It’s fun to meet new people, especially other parents who have great stories about their family and are very supportive of mine. It’s fun to take a limo around Los Angeles, to places you’d never pick on your own to go. I don’t need the alcohol to have a good time, but I do need better hearing to converse with loud music and more energy to make it past 1am. Oh, and a handful of Advil for my husband.