by BRIAN JUSTICE
In this wondrous age of advanced reproductive technology and progressive social mores, the options available to LGBT people who want to start a family are plentiful, but confusing. Aside from the bureaucratic and legal issues that accompany every option, and may vary from state to state, there are profound practical and emotional considerations.
The excitement of beginning the process, by whatever means, is all too often accompanied by frustration at the unexpected, the unplanned and the unexplained.
Overland Park resident Eric Rosswood, however, has provided enlightenment with his book Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood (New Horizon Press, 2016), with a foreword by Melissa Gilbert.
“I am a Libra. I like to compare the pros and cons of everything,” says Rosswood. “When my husband and I decided that we wanted to extend our family, we tried to do a lot of research, but it was really hard to find information from the perspectives of people who had gone through it.”
After a year of gathering what comparative information they could, Rosswood and his spouse, Mat, decided to adopt, and they are the proud dads to 3 ½ year-old Connor. But still, “Someone told me once that if you can’t find what you’re looking for, make it yourself,” says Rosswood, “so I decided that I was going to do something to make the process easier for other people.”
Rosswood is an activist with 85,000 followers on Twitter, and he is a frequent contributor to TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com. Through his outreach he was able to connect with people who had gone through the various options for starting a family, including adoption, foster care, surrogacy, and more.
“It was really important for me that the book included perspectives from people who’d gone down each path and find out what went well on their journey, and what didn’t,” he says. “What they wished they had known when they started, and what kind of tips and advice would they give other people.”
Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood includes the stories and experiences of 34 people, both couples and singles.
“I wanted their stories told in their own voices,” says Rosswood, so the parents wrote their contributions themselves and submitted them to him.
He found, for instance, that it was not uncommon for people in the LGBT community going through the foster care process to encounter agencies and social workers who were enthusiastic and supportive, only to run into roadblocks and hostility, even, from the children’s birth parents.
But every path to parenthood addressed in Rosswood’s book has its own particular issues, and the anxious wait itself is a common thread. About their own experience with open adoption, Rosswood says :“After you do all of the paperwork, the home studies, and everything else that you need to do, it’s totally ‘hurry up and wait.’ We were in a state of limbo that we had no real control over whatsoever, and that was a very stressful time for us.”
Eventually the Rosswoods – they combined their last names, Ross and Wood, when they married – were matched with a young woman who was 13 weeks pregnant.
“The birth mother is awesome, and we got to follow along with the journey. We were there for sonograms, we heard his heartbeat, and we actually became very close.”
The couple and Connor maintain a warm relationship with the birth mother through Facebook, phone calls and annual visits.
Of the approximately 600,000 same-sex couple households in the United States, around 115,000 have children. And, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, approximately 23 percent of same-sex couples in Missouri are raising children under the age of 18. As the rate and number of LGBT families increase, valid information and shared experience will become only more important.
Nancy Simons Bean is a licensed clinical social worker in Kansas City and runs an adoption agency, Adoption and Counseling Services for Families, licensed in Kansas and Missouri. She has arranged adoptions within the LGBT community for more than 30 years and is active in the Modern Family Alliance.
“When I read the book, I thought that it was a good guide for people who want to create families but were unsure which avenue was right for them, or what it might bring into their lives,” she says.
At Bean’s invitation, Rosswood will participate in an educational conference sponsored by the Alliance in November.
LGBT parents who have read the book find the appendix, “Questions to Ask,” enlightening in terms of their own experience and what issues they would advise prospective parents to consider. Raymond Cattaneo and his husband, Dustin Cates, went through the process of adoption and have been dads to their son Emmaus since his birth almost 5 years ago.
“As a pediatrician, I value the importance of communication within a family,” says Cattaneo. “Happy, successful and loving families ask questions, listen to others, offer support and allow for the airing of frustrations. No one can predict exactly how an open adoption will finalize, but the book’s ‘Questions to Ask’ about open adoption will help the family prepare as much as possible.”
Jennifer Coville-Schweigert and her spouse, Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert, chose assisted reproduction to have Amelia (4), and Lincoln (1 ½) and found that two questions in ‘Before Choosing Assisted Reproduction’ spoke to their own experience. They used the same donor for both children, and “it was very important to us that we knew him,” says Coville-Schweigert. “When the kids get older and ask about him we wanted them to be able to have the opportunity to meet him if they want to.”
So, while that issue was one that they had discussed and decided upon beforehand, another question in that section struck a chord. It addressed something that had taken them by surprise, that being feelings that might arise when one partner is not biologically related to the child.
Tiffany carried both children, and Jennifer relished her role as caregiver and nurturer throughout both pregnancies. She was surprised, however, both by the maternal instincts that she immediately felt toward baby Amelia, and quite taken aback by the baby’s instinctive preference, in her very early years, for her birth mother.
Jennifer wishes that she had known to expect that. “There was a period of frustration and hurt and resentment,” she says. “If there’s anything that I could tell the non-birth moms, it would be that it’s OK to feel that way and that it’s completely natural. Just know that it will resolve itself.”
Now, she says, “Amelia is biologically Tiffany’s, but she is all ‘me.’ It’s that nature versus nurture thing. She looks like Tiffany, but she has my personality, my facial expressions, everything. It’s insane.”
Rosswood hears frequently from other LGBT parents who have read the book, “and many of them tell me that they wish they could have had the book when they were starting their own journey. But the big takeaway for me is that there are so many different possibilities, but there is so much planning involved, too. And just when you think you know everything about a certain path, you find out new information from other people about things that you never thought of. And I think that that is probably the most impactful thing that I hear.”