The obstacles to family building faced by the couple featured in this week’s Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series installment have run the gamut, but Tess and Nikina Miller persevered and ultimately have two lovely children with whom they’ve already created a sweet treasure-trove of family memories.
Quinten and Jaida Miller, ages three and four of San Antonio, TX, live in a land of contradictions. They have two loving parents, both of whom have legally adopted them, but only one parent is permitted to be listed on each birth certificate. Their parents have jointly adopted each child, but are not allowed to marry in their home state. The federal government gives them more rights and benefits than the state government does because one parent is in the military.
By the time the children are old enough to understand, perhaps these contradictions will be resolved in their best interests. For now, due to the justice afforded in the post-DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) world, their devoted mothers Nikina and Quintessa “Tess” Miller are able to give their children the same government benefits as any other military couple.
Tess, 44, is a plastic surgeon in the U.S. Air Force, where she practices all types of plastic surgery with a specialty in breast reconstruction for cancer patients. She is also the medical director of After Hours Aesthetics, a subsidiary of Texas Plastic Surgery, that she and Nikina own. Nikina, 33, is director of operations for the practice, which is unusual in that it offers services after regular business hours and on evenings, weekends and holidays.
“We are a proud military family,” explained Nikina. “We are able to receive benefits as a family but, more importantly, our family is acknowledged as a family. I am acknowledged as spouse and treated kindly and with respect. Our children have not and will not know a fear of severe consequences from the military if exposed for having a same-sex headed family.”
Originally, the couple had hoped to become parents through both pregnancy and adoption. In 2009, they officially launched their journey to become parents, simultaneously pursuing both pregnancy and certification as foster parents. Both women tried to become pregnant with medical assistance, but after repeated disappointments they faced the growing certainty that parenthood through giving birth was not to be. Then fate intervened. They received a call from their foster-adoption agency on Thanksgiving Day.
“They told us they had a little boy in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) withdrawing from drugs,” said Nikina. “He had been there one month and would be released in two days. I remember how excited we were when we arrived at the hospital. It was love at first sight. We spent the night with him and then took him home the next day. The hospital was wonderful. They treated us as if we had had him ourselves and sent us home with so many wonderful supplies essential for a newborn.”
After so much loss and grief, little Kevin’s arrival was a joyous event for Nikina and Tess. Like any other parents, they devoted themselves to him 24/7 and rejoiced as he grew stronger. However, in the back of their minds, they understood that his arrival meant there could eventually be a departure -- and another loss -- for Tess and Nikina. They knew the foster-adoption path for building a family also had risks.
“You have a dream of this family you want to have and you fall in love with your child but the truth is this is not your child,” Nikina said. “There is great risk in fostering to adopt, but we found it impossible not to love Kevin unconditionally from day one.”
Like the quest to become pregnant, the road to become foster-adoption parents was also rocky and full of ups and downs. Suddenly, their empty nursery was host to three babies.
“When Kevin was just under four months old, we were placed with our son Quinten, who was six days old,” Nikina explained. “Six weeks later we were placed with our daughter, Jaida, who was seven months old.”
Despite the disappointment of not being able to bear children, the Millers were ecstatic with their new family.
Then, abruptly, their happiness shifted dramatically within a fortnight.
“Two weeks later we got a call that turned our world upside down,” said Nikina. “There was a rule in place where no foster family could have more than two children under the age of 18 months that weren’t siblings. We were told we had 24 hours to choose which two children we wanted to keep and which child we were going to give up. We were heartbroken, angry and totally devastated.”
“We decided to make our decision based on a couple things,” Tess explained. “The first was which child would most likely be reunified with their parents. Kevin’s case was moving toward reunification and his grandmother was preparing her home for him. The second was which child would have the easiest time being adopted. We spoke with our case manager and she said statistically African American children are harder to place and even harder to get adopted. Because the other two children were African American and Kevin was not, we believed Kevin had the best chance of being adopted if his grandmother could not reunify with him. It was an absolutely impossible choice. We still grieve the loss of Kevin in our lives.”
Ultimately, Kevin was not placed with his grandmother, but found a loving home with another family. Tess and Nikina said the fact that 13 families submitted home studies in an effort to adopt Kevin warmed their hearts and comforted them. In another twist of fate, the agency actually found the family that had adopted Kevin’s sibling the year prior and asked that family if they wanted to adopt him, which they did. He now lives with his biological sibling and his new parents.
Amazingly, after taking a few months to heal, the Millers felt ready to expand their hearts again. And this time, they picked a relationship they knew would be temporary by offering a home to a foster child they knew would not remain with them.
“We were not looking to adopt, but we wanted to give a child a home until they were reunified,” said Nikina. “We were placed with a little girl nicknamed ‘Miss A,’ who was 18 months old. Because her mother stopped drugs, completed her service plan and got a job and housing, Miss A was reunified with her mom in 15 months. We were proud of her mom and what she had accomplished. We get pictures of Miss A from time to time and she seems to be doing very well.”
Although Quinten and Jaida’s adoptions are not considered “open adoptions,” the Millers have found a way to keep limited but ongoing communication with the children’s biological families. The arrangement allows the biological parents to receive news about their children.
“I set up an email account for both of our children and gave it to their biological parents,” said Nikina. “Every so often I send photos of the kids to their biological parents or little emails letting them know how the kids are doing and new milestones they have met. I don’t leave any identifying information in the emails or on the photos, which is something I do for our children’s safety, but I keep in touch because I know one day the children will like to know where or who they came from.”
Ultimately, building their family through foster-adoption was a fulfilling choice for Tess and Nikina.
“Knowing that we could not love these two little people more if we had birthed them is an incredible feeling,” said Tess. “Foster-adoption was absolutely the best decision we have ever made as we feel these children without a doubt were meant to be ours. We think it is important that they see the world and are exposed to different people, cultures, and families from all backgrounds. We feel very blessed that we are not only able to shower them with love, but afford them opportunities we could have only dreamt of as children.”
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 foster/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”