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.
By John Jericiau
I often have this same recurring dream. I just woke up from it in fact. I’m in my Honda Odyssey. It’s been parked outside a party or some kind of get together. The event has ended and I’m in the driver’s seat about to start it. The road that I’m parked on is extremely steep, and I’m parked facing uphill. There is snow on the ground and all my windows are foggy from the cold except for the front windshield. I have black gloves on.
I proceed to turn the key to start the engine, and nothing happens. The engine doesn’t turn over. However, I do begin to roll backward. Ever so slowly at first, but I quickly pick up speed. Nothing I do to prevent this from happening works. I can’t turn off the car. I can’t shift gears. The other partygoers that are meandering back to their cars start to scream. I feel large objects as my Odyssey drives over them.
My rationale mind takes over and I decide that I have to do something. My speed is increasing and I don’t want to crash someone’s dinner on the way down the hill. Blindly I cut the steering wheel one direction as hard as I can, and the behemoth I was trying to control raises its left front and left rear wheels. I softly (never with a bang) land and slide for a bit on the entire right side of the vehicle, until I come to a gradual stop. No crash, no explosion. I’m not hurt. Partygoers come running and I fearfully ask if I hurt anyone. Not a soul. It’s only then that I remember that I had a baby sleeping in the car seat behind my seat. I whip my head around to see that he is still sleeping soundly.
I’m not sure why this is floating around in my head. Some say that dreams are a reflection of our best hopes and worst worries. I shouldn’t be worried about snow. I live in Southern California (although I’m originally from New York.) It’s fairly flat in our beach community, although we spend a fair amount of time in the mountains surrounding us. Plus, in all my years I’ve never seen a car accident happen, let alone be in one (and I have probably jinxed – double jinxed – that streak.)
I have had some problems with my Honda. Now and then it would fail to start, much like in my dream, and I would have to find a jump. I recently had a new battery installed, covered by the warranty. And there was the time in the first month I had the Honda, where I felt that there was a delay from the time I pressed on the gas until the time where I started moving forward, and I rolled backwards in my driveway a few feet until the wall of my house stopped me. I’ve kept that boo boo covered for 1 ½ years with an Obama supporter magnet, but after many times finding it thrown on the ground by people passing by my parking spot at a store, it recently disappeared completely.
I’m surprised that I don’t have nightmares about my greatest fear: child abduction. I’ve stopped watching ‘Nancy Grace’ or ‘America’s Most Wanted’ long ago because of the head games those shows would play on me. I imagine that because of all the haters out there (and now that Fred Phelps has died there is at least one less) who will stop at nothing to extinguish my happiness, they will try to hit me right where it hurts. Not my wallet, but my heart. And as any parent knows, steal my kid and game over. I know it’s crazy to think that someone would take a child just because of whom their parent loves, but I’ve lived through 9/11, and I’ve read about the murders in Russia, so I’ve got to keep my guard up.
So as I’m sitting in my house listening to the boys play in the backyard, and there comes a lull in the noise, I find myself running back to check on them, or yelling back there “Everybody okay?” or I ask them to sing that song from ‘Frozen’ yet one more time.
As I’m driving I’m constantly studying my surroundings, inventing scenarios and the solutions to escape them. If that oncoming bus suddenly veered into my lane, what would I do? If that mild mannered Pit Bull on the ground ahead of us suddenly charged out at my boys, which foot would I use to kick it and knock it out? Or if someone in a nondescript van snatched one of my boys who was lagging a half a block back while we were walking down the street, would I chase it or call for help? The police would take about 5 minutes to get to my house; Uber about 3.
It’s tiring being so vigilant, always having to be on your toes. But the alternative is frightening, horrific, and maddening. So I will stay prepared, and maybe someday I will wake up from the nightmare called hate.
By Rob Watson
I wrote Fred Phelps a requiem. It was widely read on the day of his death, and I have spoken on air several times as a de-facto Fred Phelps “expert”. (Please, no one put THAT distinction on my resume!) In one of the on air conversations, the host asked the son of a friend of mine what he thought about Fred Phelp’s death. The young man, who is also gay, answered without any vitriol, “I’m glad he is gone.”
I agree. He is gone, and it is time to let go of our need to focus on him. I have been fighting for LGBT rights for a long, long time. Fred Phelps was not always in that fight, but it feels like he was. It feels like he has always been and always will be anti-gay hatred personified.
He emerged after an event occurred that was so graphic and raw, that it tore not only at the heart of the LGBT community. It caught the attention of the mass population in a way that hundreds of thousands of deaths of gay men had not.
A young man named Matthew Shepherd was beaten and found crucified on a Wyoming fence.
The shock and horror of Matthew’s demise was magnified with what, or more to the point, who, came next: Fred Phelps.
Phelps and his Westboro Church were opportunistic. The high profile of the Matthew Shepherd case was the perfect chance for them to grab the notoriety they craved. While the nation reeled in shock, they picketed Matthew’s funeral and proclaimed that the young victim would burn in hell. We had not seen such bold insensitivity on the part of the homophobic voice before and it offended not only those who disagreed with it, but also those who shared its sentiments.
The Phelps clan’s appearance at the funeral began a very long and notorious career of protesting at as many visible AIDS victim and LGBT funerals as they could find. They also targeted Pride events and celebrations. They became the lightning rod of hatred towards gay people. When after time, they felt they were not getting enough attention for that hatred from an apathetic American public, they morphed their protests to include fallen American service people. They could barely rationalize this activity and were naked seeking to incite by picking targets of people whom the public revered.
I do not respect Fred Phelps, nor do I forgive the pain he inflicted, but I value him. I value what he contributed to the struggle for LGBT equality. I am grateful that because of his presence, millions woke up to understand homophobia better and to confront it. I am also glad he is gone, just like my young friend. I do not want him imprinted on the consciousness of our children.
His activity had a dramatic and unintended consequence. He and his family became the mirror that many Americans had to face about their own attitudes about LGBT people. They did not like what they saw. Others who did not harbor such negativity themselves were made aware that such oppression existed. My blogger friend Ono Kono was one, she wrote, “Two decades ago, I was unaware of the struggle of LGBT people. Back then, I was a busy working Mom, juggling career and family. I cared about others, but I was asleep when it came to their plight…I thank you Phelps clan for opening my heart to love, in spite of your hatred for my LGBT brothers and sisters. I saw the cruelty in your eyes, echoed by the pain in others who watched you. I don’t know what brought you down your path to hatred. I can only say, I thank you for being so open about it, but only because you helped me wake up to the horrid truth that people who hate still exist.”
Fred Phelps and his Westboro Church believe what many who are homophobic out of “religious” principles espouse. Their anti-gay stance is based on a poorly thought out, superficial reading of the colloquially translated Bible. “The Bible says that being gay is a sin”, is the popular notion.
The Bible does not actually say that. What it actually represents is specific writings from ancient times, addressing situations in those times and places that have nothing to do with modern LGBT people. In order to make it apply to our current life, its proponents have to take passages out of historical or cultural context and demand only a calculated literal understanding of them. Fred Phelps has been their undoing.
Fred Phelps has been consistent. There is no way to approach Biblical interpretation, stay true to it, and not conclude that God does not only hate gay people, but that He wishes us dead, stoned, specifically. The Westboro Church has simply expressed the extreme but logical extension of the “Christian Principles” other anti-gay people also state and claim to support.
Phelps held a mirror up to the homophobic Christians as to what their “principles” looked like. They did not like what they saw. They saw hatred, but did not feel like haters. It forced many to take a more educated look at scripture and found their original uneducated comprehension was lacking. They found there were many ancient mandates there that did not apply to modern life, and they found that the passages they had ascribed to gay people both did not apply, nor did they feel the ramifications reflected the bigger core principles of love that they valued.
Fred Phelps became the example that no self respecting Christian wanted to become. Many actively readdressed their values and public tolerance of LGBT rights began to surge.
One of my blogs about my family got on the Phelps’s radar about a year ago. It inspired this tweet from Fred’s daughter, “Fag marriage is not about ideology or who’s “nice”. It’s about obeying God as a Nation!” My sincere response to her was: “Thanks Margie. Your family has done more to propel gay rights forward than mine ever could. Congrats.”
That is my requiem to Fred Phelps. He was a man with a mission. His failure to succeed is his triumph.
He achieved the most epic fail in modern history. Not only did he not inspire a single person to his point of view, he drove millions away in revulsion. For everything he lost in personal credibility and respect, he helped fortify the well being of those he sought to destroy.
His contribution is iconic for that very reason. It is a lesson that today’s fundamentalist Christians who seek to discriminate under the banner of “religious freedom” need to absorb. My hope is that at the death of Mr. Phelps, they take a sober look at his legacy, and seek not to emulate it. He is their current and present wake up call.
My hope that in my sons’ lifetime, they will not know a “Fred Phelps”. He is gone, and needs to stay that way.
By Brandy Black
Paletas by day, dance parties by night and and an engagement photo shoot in-between. Power mom Jennifer Roper is an inspiration and truly fabulous. I don’t know how she stays on top of it all while raising her daughter in Los Angeles with her wife. I finally caught up with her in all the madness to find out what makes this woman tick!
She tells me about her family…
My wife and I have been together for 11 years but were just married this past June, 2 days after the verdict to legalize same sex marriage We set the date before we knew but figured it was going to be a huge celebration or a giant F-you, either way a it was going to be an crazy, fun, emotional fete. Our (then 7 year old) daughter chose her role in the wedding to be the ring “burier” She not only brought the rings down the aisle but did a reading of a poem she wrote and read the lyrics to The Cure’s song “The Love Song”
Tell me about Si Paletas and what inspired you to start the business?
The only thing I feel like is really “me” has to do with food, travel, celebrations/gatherings and aesthetics. Combining all three led me to Paletas..beautiful to look at but made by hand with interesting flavors and totally inspired by my Mexico travels somehow it all led to these crazy interesting ice pops. My daughter certainly loves being the test taster.
You have been our family photographer for years now, how long have you been LA’s family/wedding/corporate photographer?
I graduated from art school and had always know I would be in the arts in some fashion. Photography always satisfied my voyeuristic nature and I loved the off the cuff aspect of weddings, events and portraiture. You can treat every event the same or look for something new each time and I choose to do the latter. I thrive in being thrown in to a new situation and having to flourish. It is the same feeling i get when traveling.
You have been an inspiration to my family in that you have a deep love for travel, tell me where you’ve been and why it’s so important for you to travel with your family?
Just like I mentioned above I LOVE being in the midst of unfamiliarity. I often explain that when i am in a country I don’t know the language I feel like the rest of my senses (or survival instincts) kick in on overload. I become hyper aware of people and social nuances and I love that. We started traveling with our daughter since day one and my biggest hope for her is to instill a curiosity for the world. It is too easy to become myopic with a child and we always want to remind her that there is so much more in the world than our immediate surroundings. As a family we have been to Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Quebec along with many domestic trips. My wife was born and raised in the Czech Republic and I have traveled most of Europe and beyond. We leave for Turkey in a few weeks!!
What else should I know about you?
That is about it. Although we live in Los Angeles I don’t feel like we have a very LA lifestyle. We are pretty focused on our neighborhood in our daily life then try to get away, locally and internationally as much as possible. My daughter thinks she is going to grow to be a photographer but she doesn’t realize I won’t allow it and will steer her into something sensible like the Peace Corps.
By: Stephen & Adam Podowitz-Thomas
The fish swam lazy laps around the tub, ignoring the ring of grime, and wondering what it had done to deserve this temporary imprisonment in porcelain. My grandmother had arrived with the carp from her parents’ fish shop on the lower east side, intent on turning it into gefilte fish for that night’s dinner.
“Hold on a second,” my husband, Adam, said, “she put a live, whole fish in the bathtub?”
While it was certainly one of the stranger things my family used to do, the story exemplifies the impression food from my childhood has left on me. I was telling him the story because we were working on a recipe for a Passover dish, something that came from my past, and something we hoped to share with a child of our own in the near future.
My husband and I had been talking about growing our family through adoption for sometime before we decided the moment was right to start the process. We carefully researched our options and settled on domestic open adoption because we wanted our future child to know their birthparents. We hope to have an open relationship with our child’s birthparents, as well. We wanted our child to have very positive associations with being adopted and know that everyone in their extended family (particularly, us and the birthparents) loves them.
Once we found the right open adoption agency, we were off and running. From our first information session to “going live” (in adoption lingo, that’s screened, approved and available to match with birthparents), we took about 1 1/2 months. That’s pretty fast for our agency, considering we had background checks, health screens, home visits, and many rounds of edits to our “dear birthmother” letter, but we were motivated to get it started.
And then began the waiting part of the process. Given how fast we got the paperwork portion done, you can probably tell that Adam and I like to keep things moving. Rather than just wait, we decided to use the time to think about the things that really mattered to us growing up.
One of the things that makes us both think of family is food. Adam grew up in Georgia and North Carolina and has fond memories of helping prepare his mother’s mac ‘n’ cheese and his Aunt Deanie’s dill bread. I grew up in New Jersey in a family with Eastern European roots, and I loved visiting my grandparents in New York, where they would cook stuffed cabbage, borscht, and sweet noodle kugel. Adam and I have decided that there won’t be any fish swimming in our bathtub, but thinking about our family traditions made us realize how much food has been a part of them for both of our families. We decided our love of cooking and the foods we remember fondly growing up were things we wanted to pass on to our child.
We set out to find those recipes and create our own versions of family classics, but between spending many years in school and moving to the other side of the country, we had forgotten many of the basics.
My first stop was my mother. I wanted my bubbie’s borscht recipe for us to try out that weekend. “She never wrote it down,” my mother responded. The same held true for most of my grandparents’ recipes.
Adam didn’t have much more luck. His family was a bit better about putting things down in writing, but when it came to Aunt Deanie’s dill bread, we hit a dead end. He knew which cookbooks some of the standards–brownies, biscuits, and beans–came out of, but there was no way to completely recreate the more special, and therefore more important, recipes.
While we didn’t have much luck sleuthing out written recipes, we still had our taste memories and the little bit of information our parents could provide. Armed with this base minimum, we have started experimenting. We’ve been taking advantage of online resources and cookbooks with ingredients and techniques that sound like they will reproduce the food we remember. Sometimes things don’t come out quite the same, but in most cases our intuitions have served us well. We’ve been incredibly stubborn, recreating recipes over and over again, changing small ingredients and tiny processes until it tastes the way it did when we were five.
One of our early successes was with kreplach soup. I remember going to a diner in New York near my grandmother’s house that had the most amazing kreplach, small “Jewish dumplings” often filled with coarse ground beef. It took grinding meat dozens of different ways (some were too fine, some had too much gristle, others had the wrong flavor), not to mention playing with the dough (figuratively and literally–our cat decided pieces of dough looked like balls she should steal off the counter and hide under the couch), until we got it right. But wow, when we hit, we hit it spot on.
We have also found ways to blend our food traditions, including stunning versions of sweet potato bourbon kugel, pecan pie rugelach, and dill challah. Believe it or not, Jewish and Southern food pair unbelievably well, at least if you’re willing to leave out the ham hock in the green beans (which Adam still swears is a sacrilege). By sharing the flavors from our childhoods, we’ve learned more about one another and begun developing our own traditions that we’ll be able to share with our future children. We may not be a traditional “blended” family, but we’re certainly discovering new ways of combining our pasts and developing an image of our future.
With all of the work we’ve been putting in to these recipes, we decided it might be worthwhile to record them, both so we can recreate them in the future, and to hopefully make it easier to pass them on to our future kids. Our blog, Biscuits & Brisket, was born from this effort. As is so frequently the case, writing the stories that we associate with these foods has brought back other memories and more recipes to try. It has also created more traditions for us.
While we’re still waiting to match with a birth mom, we’re feeling increasingly confident that when we do, we’ll have the ability to share our love, both for each other and with our child, through our food. We’ll teach them about the traditions that we hold dear, and create more of our own. And we won’t have any fish swimming in our bathtub.
Read more about Stephen & Adam’s journey to adoption on our profile page.
It happens often, and it’s happening right now. Even though I have three boys and all the activities in their lives to orchestrate, there are times when our household is running like a well-oiled machine, humming through life day by day with ease. I have no worries, except wondering how I’m going to spend each moment of each fabulous day.
This is not one of those times. Maybe it’s because one parent (my other half) has been travelling for work a lot in an unpredictable pattern. It might be because the boys have passed around a cold virus like a ping-pong ball at the rec center. Or perhaps one might say it’s because we have three boys under 7.
While these might be factors that shake up the schedule, most parents are well aware that this is just how life works. Just when things are running smoothly and you’re getting a handle on your to-do list, getting back to consistent workouts, and actually reading a book, a rogue wave comes along to wash away all your careful planning.
Colds and other illnesses are always a danger. Besides having a miserable child, you have a miserable child who is banned from all their activities (so they are with you nearly 24/7 to infect you) and who is extra clingy (and ready to infect you with a productive cough that has your face as a target.)
The extended family is always a threat to a calm life. Aging parents have more reports of discomfort and pain than a classroom full of kids, and you’re recipient numero uno of those reports. Siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles have their own lives and troubles, babies and divorces, accidents and arrests, and depending on your relationship with the particular relative, you may feel like you have an extra child or two.
Other things I call administrative in nature can take up a huge chunk of your time and energy, and believe me sometimes these things are the bane of my existence. Finding time to work on these silent killers (silent because they get no press, no pay, and no applause) can be frustrating. This is usually how I find myself spending the hours of 9:00pm to 11:00pm much to the chagrin of my other half, who nevertheless understands that I honestly have no other time in my day to perform the administrative duties. Preparing taxes (heavy on my mind right now), paying bills, and picking out summer activities. Planning vacation, making doctor’s appointments, and buying new clothes for boys who are growing like weeds. Laundry, dishes, and general cleaning. I say general cleaning because forget about getting to more specific cleaning. Weeks have gone by where I’ve noticed a random pile of dirt or a toy in the corner, and I have literally not had a second to pick it up. Sounds utterly crazy, but I know you know what I’m talking about.
Renew a passport. Call a friend. Get a vehicle’s oil changed. File some papers. Buy the monthly anniversary gift. Reorganize the closet in the foyer. After a while the list that constantly loops through my brain becomes a loud numbing buzz, one that paralyzes me and prevents me from doing anything on the list. So I get nothing done that can be characterized as a “project.” Except now I am really really good at making lists. And complaining about the length and difficulty of them to anyone who will listen – which is no one because who listens to an aging parent?
Rainbow Families DC is offering a special opportunity for LGBT parents, family members and their children, as well as prospective parents, to come together for a day of learning, networking and fellowship.
The 2014 Family Conference by Rainbow Families DC presented by CT Fertility and Pink & Blue Surrogacy and Fertility, LLC. will take place on Saturday, April 26 from 8:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. at Georgetown Day School (4200 Davenport St NW high school campus) in Washington, DC.
The conference’s keynote will be provided by Judy Gold, Emmy award-winning actor and comedian.
The 2014 Family Conference will bring together hundreds of parents and families, expert panelists, service providers, businesses, schools, and others interested in connecting with the Rainbow Families DC community. A full day of diverse workshops will be available to conference participants, as well as discussion groups, social networking opportunities, and a resource fair featuring information and tools in a variety of topic areas of importance to LGBT parents and prospective parents.
The conference will offer four learning “tracks” for participants:
- Paths to Parenthood which includes discussions about donor insemination, surrogacy, and adoption options, as well as considerations for raising children across racial and cultural boundaries;
- Educating Our Children, Changing Our Schools will address family diversity in K-12 learning environments, how to navigate and build a relationship with your school as LGBT parents, and how to equip children for middle school;
- Supporting Our Families includes being a dad in a “Mom’s World,” advice on parenting techniques, and topics related to multicultural families; and
- Legal, Financial, and Legislative Hot Topics covers how to ensure children have two legal parents and basic financial planning for the LGBT family.
The conference also includes a fun and nurturing day of activities designed for children. Kids’ Camp, for kids 2.5 years old through elementary school age, is a full-day of engaging and age-appropriate activities led by energetic volunteers and a group of outstanding activity providers from some of the best programs in the DC Metro area. These activities will be presented alongside COLAGE, for children in middle and high school, which offers unique programming for youth with LGBT parents, run by adults who also have LGBT parents.
Online registration for the 2014 Family Conference is $40 per person for Rainbow Families DC members and $50 for non-members through April 24th (if spots remain available) at www.rainbowfamiliesdc.org. Registration for kids’ activities must be made online and are $25 per child for members and $30 for each non-member child. On-site registration will be available beginning at 8:30 A.M. on Saturday, April 26 for adults only; no on-site registration will be available for Kids’ Camp.
If you are an LGBT family in DC and want to learn more about the 2014 Family Conference, check out Rainbow Families DC
Vladimir Putin is used to winning. He is undisputedly a winner from the recent LGBT confrontation-free Olympic Games. He now has his eyes set on the Ukraine and he has taken control of the internet in Russia. The biggest snowjob was not the white wet stuff on the ground in Sochi, it was the year of neigh saying by the Olympic and Russian authorities about treatment of gay people in the former Soviet Union.
Last week came news that Mr. Putin has been nominated in another contest—for a Nobel Prize due to his influence on the conflict in Syria.
As a dad, more than as a gay man, the idea of Putin getting any kind of an award is unfathomable. His treatment of LGBT people is horrific, with gay men being hunted, humiliated and abused, as seen in the film Hunted.
Then there are the million children. Putin and his policies are one of the single greatest forces of child destruction in the world.
It is estimated that across Russia there are about one million un-parented children living in poorly managed foster care homes, and many living is overcrowded orphanages. The abuse of these kids is legendary. According to a Human Rights report, the children are force to stay still and not move, be tied to furniture, lie in urine soaked sheets, stand en masse in wooden pens even in winter, be beaten, starved and ignored. When the children reach 15 or 16, they leave the system. A UNICEF report estimates that a third of them then live on the streets, twenty percent become criminals, and ten percent commit suicide.
The children who have been rescued from this squalor are among the most damaged of the world’s orphans. Parents worldwide have reported how the children they receive into their open arms are ones with all hope and vigor drained from their beings. Saving them is a long process.
Journalist Mary Gold described her own experience when she got her daughter who had been in a Russian foster care home, ““We have since heard horror stories of dreadful conditions in some homes, of babies with dummies taped into their mouths for hours on end; of children who are still being bottle-fed at the age of eight and haven’t been taught to walk or talk. We discovered that our baby had left her cot only to be washed. She had never breathed fresh air — the room in which she was confined was stiflingly hot — and neither had she seen her own reflection. When we collected her four months after we first met her (the time it took for the adoption process to be completed), she was 17 months old but still weighed a pitiful 17lb.”
Russian doctor Vera Drobinskaya told the BBC last year that she discovered conditions in the one orphanage were so bad that “at least 41 children had died over 10 years, apparently of neglect.”
A group in Russia is charted with a desperate band-aid mission. The group called Russia Without Orphans has targeted Moscow where they estimate there are 18,000 orphans. Their goal is to create a solution for the 4000 of those kids who are not placed in foster care homes. The perk of the program is that the people who sign up for it get a state funded apartment in which to raise the kids. The requirements are that the participants must take a minimum of 5 children “of which at least three teenagers over 12 years or children with disabilities”.
This is a situation that calls for a massive international relief effort. Putin’s government is not the least bit interested. Rather than establishing means to better care for parentless kids, they seem fixated on minimizing the potential international parent candidates by propping up homophobia. The parents from the United States have been banned for over a year. CNN also reported, “Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree banning foreign same-sex couples — as well as single people from countries where same-sex marriages are legal — from adopting Russian children…The portion affecting singles appears to stem from concerns Russian lawmakers have publicly expressed that single prospective adoptive parents could turn out to be gay and enter a same-sex marriage in their home countries.” This action closed down prospective adoptions from over a dozen countries. Whether blinding bigotry drives this policy or whether LGBT abuse is a smokescreen to distract the world from Russia’s social failures is open for conjecture.
As a dad, I need to speak up. Will I be listened to? Probably not, but if I don’t sound out on this, I can’t expect others to either. If no one does, then a million children will stay trapped, abandoned, and facing a horrific present with a destructive dysfunctional future.
Dear President Putin,
I am the dad of two kids. You are essentially the father of a country and one of the most powerful men on earth. There are days that I am not sure I have the power to make my kids clean their room. Yet, I have the audacity to write to you and offer you advice to your horrifically failed systems regarding the Russian children. I also represent the one community who could be your greatest resource for help, the world’s LGBT families.
I write because I can. I write because we come from two different worlds. My sons enjoy the Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass stories. To them, they are pure fiction. For you and I, they seem to be an allegorical reality. I come from this side of the looking glass, from atop the rabbit hole. You rule the other side—the one where the leaders wear the picture of a big heart while screeching for their subjects to lose their heads.
Here is why I am writing to you. You are a child abuser. You are nominated for a Nobel prize, but you abuse the children of Russia.
Your children services infrastructure has failed and the children it tortures are among the world’s most traumatized when they emerge from it. That is, if they are lucky enough to emerge from it at all.
Meanwhile, in your through-the-looking-glass logic, you attack gay families and call us child molesters. A University of Cambridge study showed that gay dad lead families are the most likely to come to the rescue of kids like the ones you have trapped in a hopeless and bureaucratic system. An Australian study, the most comprehensive and accurate of its kind, shows that kids raised in LGBT families fair BETTER than they do in heterosexual ones.
It is inconceivable therefore that you shut the door to countries who allow such families to adopt. Even in the United States a few decades ago where LGBT couples were not allowed to marry anywhere, they were still allowed to be foster care parents in most of the states of the union. While the anti-gay forces towed their party line that marriage was for only for heterosexuals with children, they were pragmatic enough to know that they needed our families to take kids who would otherwise suffer with neglect.
Down the rabbit hole, such logic does not seem to exist. Instead, you insist that children either suffer in groups, or are put in your “best case” scenario, that in our country would itself be considered substandard. I know what these kids really need because my two sons are special needs kids. They would not be OK in Russia.
Both my sons were adopted as babies from drug addicted heterosexual parents. They are now eleven years old, born four months apart from each other. My oldest has had therapy to help him process language, to understand sequences and conceptual ideas. It was only a year ago for example, that he could understand what the words “yesterday” and “tomorrow” meant since the actual days they represent change…daily. He had to be taught things that most kids will learn by osmosis.
My other son has severe issues with the ability to focus and used to write everything as a complete mirror image of itself. He too had to be taught…everything. We had to teach him how to turn things around, and make them right.
This is just what I am pleading for you to do in your own country. Turn things around and make them right. I am hoping that the dad in me can reach the dad of a country in you. To that point, one of the things I have learned as a dad is that you cannot do it all alone. At times, it is OK to ask for help. That has been true for me. It is obviously true for you.
You cannot solve your orphaned children situation alone. Forcing even three special needs kids into a home with two other kids and an adult paid to parent them, is not the answer. While it is better than children chained to a bed, it is still far from the minimum those children require for healthy lives.
My sons just returned from a three-day science camp. As I cuddled with my son Jesse in a pile of stuffed animals, he told me about his adventures. He rested his head against my chest and I could feel his world in this teddy bear pile, get as safe and warm as is humanly possible. I gently kissed his head, as my mind wandered to the idea of a Russian Jesse, alone, shut down, with no daddy in sight. My heart breaks knowing there are a million Jesses in your country.
You need help. Rather than restricting your adoption policies, you need to open them wide. Rather than rejecting families who do not biologically procreate, you need to embrace them.
Magic can happen on this side of the looking glass—if you reach out for help, you will get it. If you confront the situation as it really is, and let the world know you need one million families who are willing to love the most needy kids on earth, those families will step up.
They will forgive you, and they will be there for those kids. They will love them, nurture them and heal them. People will call them heroes, but they will consider themselves to be the lucky ones, because they will have the privilege of loving. I am not speaking in theory. This is characteristic of hundreds of LGBT foster families I know.
If you reversed your policies, and emerged from the “Wonderland” world, making things right-sized and no longer backwards, then these families could do what they were meant to do. Others would look at them and tell them how they all deserved Nobel Prizes for their work.
They would not accept those accolades, however; they would want the prizes to go instead to someone who made it all possible.
They would want to give the prize to you.
By Shannon Ralph
There are days when you think you are actually doing pretty well at this parenting gig. Days when your children seem almost content.Almost happy. Days when you are in the zone—the parenting zone. You all know what I mean, right? Days when you look at your children and you think maybe—just maybe—their financial futures will not be riddled with the pock marks of extensive therapy debt. Days when you see nothing in their future but promise and success and roaring accolades. Days when their little souls seem at peace and their little psyches intact. All because you are one fucking badass mother.
You can read more by Shannon Ralph on her blog
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.