This week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” installment spotlights the journey of “older” prospective parents, who set a deadline for achieving their dream family and then achieved it.
The backyard was bursting with pint-size pirates running about in black hats and wielding plastic swords. The giggles and shouts of happy children filled the air. Dads Ross Smith and Aaron Knight surveyed the scene with satisfaction as they celebrated the fourth birthday of their twins. The boys’ colorful cake was topped with one light-haired pirate representing Isaiah and a dark-haired pirate representing Xavier. A water slide, bubble machine and swashbuckler piñata provided plenty of entertainment for the buccaneers.
The Smith-Knight family’s journey to this special milestone took getting past some obstacles. For this particular couple, they felt their age could be a substantial barrier. And, without information to the contrary yet, they feared being a gay couple would rule them out as adoptive parents.
Today, Ross is 51 years old and the credit risk officer for a mortgage company, and his partner Aaron is 48 years old and the vice president of sales for an advertising firm. The family lives in Lake Balboa, Calif. Just two years ago, they feared their family unit would always remain a unit of two.
Ross had a longtime interest in adoption.
“My former partner and I were together almost 17 years before he passed away and we had talked about the potential of adopting but this was in the early ’90s and you really couldn’t do it then,” Ross explained. “Then when Aaron and I got together almost ten years ago, we discussed having a family but we weren’t really sure it was an option for us as a gay couple.”
Fear of rejection kept the couple from exploring their options, but every once in awhile they would revisit the topic. Then came a fateful turning point and a deadline.
“When I was turning 49, we kind of looked at each other and went, I’m going to be 50 in a year -- if we’re going to do this, I don’t want to be 80 and do it!” said Ross. “So we did some research and we made a decision between ourselves that if by 50 we’re not in the process in some way, then we’re going to hang it up, we’re not going to do anything more."
“To a lot of people, age doesn’t matter but to us it does,” he continued. “We didn’t want to be ‘too old,’ by which I mean whatever is ‘too old’ for us, not for other people.”
Because Aaron’s grandparents adopted him when his parents could not take care of him and Ross had been adopted by his own stepfather, the idea of adoption was very personal to them. Still, figuring out how to start was overwhelming. They began calling private adoption agencies and got a surprising response.
“The agencies tried to steer us toward surrogacy for some reason,” Ross said, “and we knew we weren’t going to pay $75,000 to have a family. With adoption we assumed there was some sort of a cost, but we didn’t know what that meant. We didn’t have a longing desire to have our ‘own spawn’! The child would not have been both of ours biologically, so we would rather not have the child come from either one of us. Because we were both adopted, we both understood the process of not being biologically related but creating a loving family bond.”
In December they attended an event called "Maybe Baby" at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and felt again that the event “really emphasized surrogacy and getting a baby.”
Fortunately, the event also gave the couple the opportunity to meet Rebeca Grande from The Village Family Services (TVFS), a family wellness agency and foster adopt partner of RaiseAChild.US. Rebeca visited them at their home and discussed their hopes and needs. “Aaron and I both made a decision that we did not want any child under two years old,” said Ross. “We thought for us it would be better to pick a child that is already here and needs love.”
The couple was very comfortable with Rebeca and excited about the prospect of adopting through the foster care system. Ross recalled that she told them, “You will be surprised that this can go much more smoothly than you think.”
Ross and Aaron attended a TVFS orientation event on January 2, 2013, met their case manager, Cristina Bostanian, and then took the eight-week course. CPR and First Aid training and a home study followed. And, amazingly, the couple actually attained their dream by their deadline -- to the exact day.
“I was handed our fost-adopt certification on May 20th, which was my 50th birthday,” Ross said. “Rebeca called and said she was coming over with something -- she didn’t even know it was my birthday!”
The couple was ready for the next stage: determining what they were looking for and then pursuing a match.
“I was all set to be an advocate for us,” said Ross, who said he anticipated an arduous process, “but there wasn’t a lot of drama and trauma. We learned to be patient. It felt like it took months and months to find a match, it felt like an eternity, but when we look back it wasn’t so long. We had said we wanted two boys, preferably biological siblings, between the ages of 3 and 6 and of course it would be really funny -- but it would never happen -- if they happened to be twins!
“We told that to everybody we knew and they said, ‘You’ll be lucky if you get one kid! If you want brothers, you’ll have to take a larger sibling group than two. If you want twins, you’re nuts. It will never happen!’”
Like Rebeca, Cristina was very attentive and became their personal advocate at TVFS, working with them for a year.
“In September 2012, Cristina called and said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I said yes, because I was driving home and sitting in traffic. And she said, ‘What do you think about twin three-year-old boys?’ I called Aaron right away!”
After meeting the boys’ caseworker at the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), reading their full profiles and viewing their photos, the couple was overcome with emotion and already began feeling attached to the twins. They visited the boys at the foster home. While they were enchanted with the boys, they were dismayed by the environment in which the children lived.
“The foster mother did everything by the book,” said Ross. “She did everything she was supposed to do (they were fed, they were clothed, and she took them to the dentist when she was supposed to), but there was not a lot of warmth.”
DCFS had the couple meet with the boys twice a week for three weeks, beginning with short visits and then taking them for the day. Next, the boys had two weekend stays with Aaron and Ross. The boys moved in Friday, Oct. 4.
The journey, said Ross, was “amazing, terrifying, frustrating, challenging, joyous and ultimately completely worth it.” There were hurdles with the birthmother, but the couple felt completely supported by their advocates at the foster adoption agency. Isaiah and Xavier’s adoptions were finalized on May 12, 2014.
Ross and Aaron had support from a larger community as well. “Our families and friends were beyond thrilled and very supportive,” said Ross. “They wanted this for us almost as much as we did. The outpouring of love and support went beyond our imaginations.
“The best part of parenting these boys is the opportunity to give them a chance at being whatever they choose to be and unconditionally support and love them through the rest of our lives,” said Aaron.
They describe Isaiah as outgoing, friendly and social. “He has some language challenges that he is attacking, and he is now catching up with the rest of his peers. He has a hypnotic smile and is so thoughtful and always wanting to help.”
His brother Xavier is “charming, sensitive and sweet,” they say. “He has a love of learning. When he came to us he would barely acknowledge his environment or speak. Now he sings at the top of his lungs and laughs all the time.”
Ross says prospective parents shouldn’t let fear, age, or concerns about cost get in their way, pointing out that there is no charge for adopting from the foster care system. In fact, there is supplemental monthly financial support and medical insurance available for foster and adopted children.
“Do it!” says Ross. “Make that first foray and know that there will be someone to help you. You won't regret it.”
Corinne Lightweaver is the Communications Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,200 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”