Thursday, May 31, 2012
Our Journey to Becoming a Family
Jennifer and Brenda had been together for ten years when they decided the time was right to have a child. This was the winter of 2009, just before the Varnum v. Brien ruling in Iowa, so there were no expectations that the legal issues around parenting as a same-sex couple would be easy to navigate. And unfortunately, as we would find out later, even being legally married did not completely mitigate the legal issues we would face. We were married in May 2009 in Iowa, and we continued our efforts to get pregnant, with confidence and hope that our new married status would help with legal issues surrounding parenthood.
After Brenda experienced some IUI attempts, we decided to pursue IVF to better our chances. Time was not on our side as Brenda had just turned 40. Our first IVF cycle, in October 2009, was successful, and we were thrilled! The staff members at Iowa University Hospitals were great with us, as were the folks at The Sperm Bank of California. But just as we always do, we had to ask them explicitly if there were going to be any problems working with a same-sex couple.
Throughout the pregnancy, we experienced many of the joys and concerns of any new parents-to-be. Brenda struggled to find the least frilly, hey-look-at-me-I’m-pregnant clothes, and Jennifer had to figure out how to put a crib together. People threw us baby showers, and family and friends were excited for us. Thankfully, anyone who may have had problems with our growing family kept their opinions to themselves.
But beyond all the normal stuff, we had looming problems that opposite-sex couples (even those unmarried, even those who use donor sperm or eggs) never have to think about: Would Jennifer’s name go on the birth certificate as a legal parent? If not, what legal rights would she have at the baby’s birth? Would she have legal authority of the child if something happened to Brenda during/after child birth? If Jennifer had no legal rights to the child, could the child still be covered under her insurance as a dependent? All of these questions needed answers. We retained a lawyer in Des Moines, at no small expense, to get answers about the birth certificate from the Attorney General – the answer was NO. We retained a lawyer to revise our wills and establish Jennifer as the legal guardian, although her legal relationship to the child would still be left up to the whims of a judge. We retained a third lawyer to deal with adoption issues. All told, we had nearly $7500 in lawyers’ fees. So much for the benefits of legal marriage. We met with Human Resources staff multiple times to talk about insurance coverage for the child, which he would have under Jennifer’s policy.
After our son was born, we were immediately faced with our harsh predicament when it came time to fill out the birth certificate application. Not only would Jennifer’s name be excluded, but Brenda would have to mark herself as Single, and not married. The euphoria of having our child in our arms was dulled by this gut-wrenching experience. We jumped through the hurtful and deceitful legal hoops because we did not want to delay the filing of the birth certificate, which would delay the inevitable adoption process. We cried and raged at the system many times throughout the pregnancy, and after, until Jennifer was able to legally adopt Lloyd Bennett as her own child. The silver lining to our legal predicament was that Jennifer was able to adopt as a step-parent, which is much less onerous than a second parent adoption. But even the adoption was an almost unprecedented event. At the time, the judge hearing the case had ruled over one other same-sex step-parent adoption. Everything was tenuous and unsure until he granted the request. In the end, we received a revised birth certificate with both our names listed as parents.
Four months after our son’s birth, we could both, but especially Jennifer, stop holding our breath and breathe a sigh of relief. Lloyd turns 2 in June, and he brings us much joy and fulfilment. While we would do it all over again, we would like to hope that the legal system could figure out how to be more equitable, and less discriminatory to same-sex couples. We do not know what challenges we may face in the future, but we will meet them head on, as a family.