Nick and Shawn live in California and always knew they wanted kids; in fact instead of asking for gifts for their wedding, they asked for donations for the adoption process. Although they found the path to become same sex parents stressful, they were selected to adopt twin babies, Nora and Smith. They kindly shared their journey to fatherhood with us.
Many people say that having a child makes them feel complete. Would you agree with this statement? Why?
Nick: Growing up gay, even the idea of being able to get married seemed hopeless, let alone having children. But that all changed when Nick met his now-husband, Shawn.
Was starting a family something you have always wanted to do together? On our first date, I broke every dating rule imaginable. I grilled him with the marriage and children question. However, the desire for both was just one of many dreams that the couple shared. When Nick and Shawn married in, they asked for donations to the adoption process in lieu of gifts. A year of saving and scrimping later, they were ready to start their journey to becoming parents.
How did you decide which option to choose in becoming parents?
Choosing the route to becoming a parent as a same sex couple is really quite complex and more stressful than most would think. You have to consider several factors including cost, risk, timing, and what you feel comfortable with. We knew we would love to provide a home and new opportunities for a child (children, in our case). Plus, my dad was adopted and it kind of just felt natural that we choose the adoption route because we have witnessed firsthand how it can change someone’s life. Once we decided to adopt the next hurdle was to decide private adoption versus foster-to-adopt.
We did our research and even started the foster-to-adopt process, however as we got deeper into the process we realised for our first child we were nervous about the risks as far as reunification with biological family members, so we decided to go via a private agency instead.
“The costs of this can run anywhere from $40-50,000, and as teachers raising the money we knew would be our biggest obstacle so got savvy and in lieu of gifts at our wedding we asked for donations towards the adoption process, and this gave us a significant kickstart. After that, we just had to really save and cut back on spending. It took a littler over a year before we were able to move forward with our agency. Once we moved forward, the next step was the waiting game.”
“That process is not easy either, as months go by and you don’t hear that anyone has picked you, you start to doubt yourselves. However, Shawn was great about trying to distract us; he booked travel and fun things for us to do every month to keep our minds off of the fact that our profiles were being sent out without a response. But, after ten months of waiting, we received the best and most surreal call of our lives. Our agent said, ‘Nick and Shawn are you sitting down? You have been matched with a birth mom!’
“We freaked for a full minute, then heard, ‘Are you still sitting down? She is having TWINS!’ By then we had lost control of all of our emotions, cried, hugged, laughed, cried some more. While not always easy, the journey to adoption has been the most beautiful experience of our life and we have grown even stronger as a couple because of it. The twins – Nora and Smith – are the sweetest and best icing you could ever imagine on our cake.
Now that you have children, do you think it is the same or different from that of opposite-sex families?
It’s chaotic, it’s survival, it’s energy, it’s exhausting and it’s fun! Both of us wake up with the twins at around 6:30am and take turns having showers so one of us can monitor the twins as they play. We both quickly get dressed, shove bottles in their mouths, and then one of us shuttles them to Nana’s house for the day! Shawn gets out of work at around 2:30pm, so he picks them up. Then it is feeding, which means picking up pieces of noodles, eggs, peas, and carrots off the floor. More playtime, then bath, book, bottles and bed around 8:30pm. I think this is exactly what it looks like in most people with kids house regardless sexual identity.
“The weekends are way more exciting, even though they still begin at 6:30am (ugh). We have recently developed a little network of same sex families, and that has been fun getting together and watching our babies meet, as well as comparing stories of sleepless nights from either our babies, or when we used to be able to go out!
“The reception to our family has been pretty much all positive. If there has been any negativity we have either been too tired to notice, or just haven’t been exposed to it yet. We really do feel the twins have brought our families even closer, and united those who love us even more. Our house is never empty, there are always visitors – our home has literally and figuratively never been this full. Also, gifts, for some reason everyone loves to give us gifts. I don’t know if it is because we are novelty or what, but people love giving us anything that says ‘I Love my Two Dads’ or ‘Daddy and Papa’ you get the drift!
How important do you think it is that schools incorporate LGBTQ relationships, marriage and families into the curriculum at primary school age?
“We work in education and think that a lack of same sex relationships and LGBTQ figures in school curriculum is harmful to our youth and future. As an adult, it is easy to pinpoint where the fear and shame of not fitting into our heteronormative society stemmed from: the lack of role of models, exposure, and education around LGBTQ individuals. I lacked exposure and education around who I was and what I was feeling when I was growing up, so when I finally saw shows like Ellen and Will & Grace, they were life-changing: it is OK to be gay!
“As a counsellor, even to this day I still have students struggling mentally due to the fact that they ‘do not fit in’ because they’re questioning their identity. In fact, I have dealt with incidents of self harm because of this. Sadly, we still have very little education and positive role models in the curriculum, and so we have made it our personal mission to be those positive role models.
“For many years in our work in education, we would not speak openly about our relationship in fear of parent retaliation; but we now feel it is crucial for our students to know who we are in an effort to help them understand who they are.”
What is the best advice that you can give to LGBTQ couples who are thinking about starting their own family?
“To use that inner strength you used when you came out. All of the strength it took to speak your truth and expose your identity, despite the fear of judgement and rejection from society and loved ones; use that strength and apply it to the whole process. You will need to be strong to take the risk of putting yourself out there in the adoption or any process. Use that courage to forage your own path when parenting, too; everyone will give you advice and often you will doubt yourselves, but be confident in your abilities to raise your children the way that works for your life.
“Lastly, use the boldness you used to come out to be proud of your family, especially when you are out in public. Show the strength and diversity of love.
How do you deal with discrimination towards your family? What do you say to people who don’t believe children should grow up with two parents of the same sex?
“To be honest, we haven’t faced a great deal of overt discrimination towards our family. It is one of my biggest fears that one day someone will tease the twins for having two dads, or say something to us as a family. However, it just encourages us to have more pride and strength in who we are as a same sex couple to ensure the twins know that our although our family is ‘non-traditional’, that’s what makes us beautiful, confident and strong.
“Having a family has actually encouraged us to be more open with who we are as a same sex couple because we never want our children to think they need to hide or feel ashamed.”
“We regularly get a lot of confused faces as they try to figure out the dynamic of two guys with two babies, but we actually think it is quite fun. We love to keep people guessing. Once, at the grocery store, the bakery attendant said, ‘It is soooo nice that you guys are giving mommy a break,’ and Shawn confidently said, ‘Nope, no mommy, just two daddies.’ The look on her face was priceless.
“When they say babies have a way of bringing people together, they are not kidding, we have been showered with love, kindness, and I really do think we have helped to change people’s perspectives and schemas on what a family looks like.”