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My Baby Story (Chapter 20- protecting the family)

19 Jul

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When Judah was around 2 years old I began to get concerned that Carol had no legal rights to our son. I was the biological mom which gave me all of the rights. That meant if something happened to me, our son could be taken away from Carol. We had heard many horror stories. It wasn’t unusual where a family member of the deceased parent took the child and/or a judge who opposed same sex parenting had the child removed. How could we protect ourselves? Well, the only thing that could protect our family entirely is being able to marry but that wasn’t an option for us.

Now, our first step was to have our Wills and Powers of Attorneys drawn up. The delima was we needed a lawyer who was familiar with doing those kinds of documents for gay and lesbian couples. We learned it was very important to find counsel who was familiar with how the laws didn’t protect gays and lesbian couples so that they would make sure to include specific terminologies to make it harder to question. The other thing we needed to all have the exact same last name. If you remember Judah and I had hyphenated names with Carol’s as a part of it. That way it would keep others from knowing who was the biological mother since many feel that would be the one with the legal rights (to the child). The other part to having exactly the same last names- if something were to have happened to me, it would show a judge that it was my wish for us to be a unified family. Folks, those were options to help Carol with having legal rights to our son but they weren’t solid if challenged. Our best and most protected option would be to have Carol adopt Judah. Here was the problem though. Only two counties in GA had precedence in doing same sex adoption and they were both in a city three hours away.

Damn this country! Damn my state! I just wanted to live my life with my partner and child. And here I had to think about how to protect them. We all have to do that but for us it was a lot more complicated as you could see. Not having a lot of money to do it all we had to prioritize. We felt the first step would be for us to have a Will and Power of Attorney. Since our local attorney’s had not handled Wills and Powers of Attorneys for same sex couples we were concerned we wouldn’t have the needed terminology to protect us. Even so, we needed to have something so we hired a local attorney who was incredibly kind and good to us. And so, even though we knew our “i’s” weren’t totally dotted and our “t’s” weren’t totally crossed having those documents did give us a little comfort. It was a start.

I knew we needed to set our sights on Carol adopting Judah. I always had that in the back of my mind trying to figure out how we could do it. Meanwhile, Carol wouldn’t even entertain the idea of adoption. Listen, not because she didn’t want to by any means but because she knew it would be expensive and it frustrated her that we didn’t have the money to do it. HOWEVER, I felt we couldn’t let our lack of money get in the way. I know that sounded crazy but surely there had to be a way. We’d have to be a little creative that was all. The two counties who did same sex adoption were 3 hours from where we lived. How could we live there? We didn’t have the money to rent an apartment. Carol had a terrific job that she couldn’t just quit. There had to be a way to do it. Just had to be. Each time I brought up the idea to Carol she’d get angry with me. To her it seemed insurmountable but I couldn’t accept it. Here was the thing. Carol was a realist. She systematically lays it all out and reviews it to see if it is possible. Because money was an issue then in her mind it could be done. AND then there was me. I have never known the word, “Can’t” especially in important situations like this one. Of course having the funds to do the adoption certainly would have made things easier but I really felt that meant we couldn’t do it. I had always been a person who found untraditional ways to reach the goals I wanted. This was no different. We had to make it happen. I had to make it happen. My first step was to get Carol at the least to meet with an attorney in that city (where they did same sex adoptions) to get all of the details. You know to find out how long we’d have to live in that county before filing and other pertinent information we would need to make plans.

I need to back up just a moment here. We did know a discrimination lawyer where we lived who had once offered to help us. My father was a lawyer and this gentleman had been a friend of his. He was gung-ho about it. He told me he’d look into a few things and get back with me. After a few months when I hadn’t heard from him I contacted him. When he wouldn’t return my calls or e-mail’s I knew he had changed his mind. It bothered me and made me mad. Now, I understood there had been no precedence in my city for gay couples adopting but Carol and I wanted to take that chance.

Now, since the lawyer (who offered to help us) lived in our neighborhood I figured I’d run into him at some point. I often took long walks in the neighborhood with my dogs, so I knew I’d see him (as he also walked). Well, sure enough during one of our evening walks we ran into him. It was at that time he said, “You know MaLea, there just isn’t anyway we could win.” He seemed highly focused on the winning which really upset me. Frankly, I knew we had a greater chance of losing because of where we lived but I was willing to take that gamble. I had always been a fighter and I was willing to take my chances. However, the lawyer didn’t like loosing which seemed to be his argument. His only advice for us was for Carol and I to “just go to Atlanta to do it”. JUST GO TO ATLANTA? Sounds so easy to him but not so easy for us. I was very disappointed because I really wanted to open that can of worms here. It was about time but no lawyer wanted to fight that hard for something that more than likely would could loose over. Ironically, they were willing to fight with Martha Burke who wanted women to be able to join the Augusta National. That was over 10 years ago and they lost. But it planted a seed where today the Augusta National has finally allowed women to join. I had hopes of planting that seed for gay adoption and to bring that discussion to our community but I couldn’t do it alone. And I had to think about my family and the importance of making the adoption happen. And so, looking at going to the other city three hours away became our only option.

After our walk that day and running into the lawyer Carol felt it was a sign we needed to drop the idea of adoption entirely. In her mind we had our WIll and Power of Attorney. Why did we need to break our backs trying to do something that was basically impossible? After all we had always said that if something was “Bashert” which means if it was meant to be then it would happen.

During this time when Carol was fighting me to drop the notion of her adopting Judah I saw on the MEGA Family Project website an attorney who handled same sex adoption. She was in Atlanta which was where we’d have to do the adoption. I don’t know why I felt it was so important for Carol to adopt Judah but I had this drive to make it happen hell or high water.

One afternoon I decided I’d call the lawyer I saw on the MEGA website. I figured what the heck. At least I could talk to her and get the information. Up to that point we didn’t have any information and were only surmising what we needed to do. Maybe Carol was right. Maybe it was going to be a bigger process than I thought. But, I had to look into it and see.

I spoke to the lawyer in Atlanta for 45 minutes and when I hung up with her I felt good. I had this feeling we could make it happen. It was true that we’d have to live in Atlanta. That meant we’d need to find a place in the county we were going to do the adoption. The attorney told us about the two counties that did same sex adoption and she gave us her recommendation as to which one would be better. I gathered all of the information the attorney gave me and I went back to Carol to speak to her about it. Carol rolled her eyes at me when I once again brought up the subject of her adopting Judah. Honestly, she was down right pissed at me for bringing it up again. But, I just couldn’t let it go. I asked her to please trust me and to not say no yet. I asked her to listen to the information I had gathered from the lawyer. She agreed- not happy about it but agreed. Somehow during the course of this conversation I was able to convince Carol to agree. I’m sure she did it to get me off of her back. I also think she felt it was going to be impossible and soon I would have dropped the issue. However, I was on a mission and I was going to make it work.

I had everything laid out as to what we had to do. I got Carol to agree with me as to the county we wanted to do the adoption and off I went on my mission.

The county we chose didn’t require a home study. That was where a social worker would come to your home to asses the child with the parent who wanted to adopt. Now, it wasn’t that we minded having a home study. Not at all. What concerned us was the cost. A home study would have been an extra $500. And so we chose the county that didn’t require one. Meanwhile, Carol was still not convinced we could do it. Where were we going to live? She’d have to commute to her job over 4 hours away from the city we’d have to adopt. What about our animals at home? She had more questions than I had answers. She was very nervous about it because of the expense. Her questions and financial concerns were all valid. BUT, I knew I could figure it out. I knew I could make it happen. Listen, I have NO idea from where my confidence came but where ever it did, it kept me going. Meanwhile as Carol posed each of her concerns to me, I saw them as wonderful challenges to overcome. I have to be honest here. I had NO IDEA IN HELL how I was going to do it but that by no means worried me. I just had to take one step at a time to find each of the solutions.

My first step was to contact every gay and lesbian organization I could find in the Atlanta area to see if any of them could help us find a place to live. Maybe a family had a garage apartment or a basement apartment we could rent. And what I meant by rent was maybe in exchange for us living there I could possibly baby sit for them or if they were elderly I could help them shop or clean. I felt strongly there had to be unconventional options out there for us. After a solid two weeks of contacting an assortment of organizations in Atlanta (ones I belonged to and many I didn’t) I had no answers. I began to worry but I couldn’t give up. For one I had to prove to Carol it could be done and the other I really felt our live’s depended on it.

One afternoon while I was sitting at the dining room table I was starring at the many papers in front of me. They had all of my notes and contacts. I was trying to figure out what to do and hoping something new would jump out at me. And that was when I got a call on my cell phone. It was from a woman I had left a message for at one of the gay organizations. When I answered the woman introduced herself. She told me she was the executive director for a Jewish non profit organization called, “The Rainbow Center” (who helped GLBT folks and their families). Gosh, the timing of her call was amazing. I was at the end of my rope for ideas and I didn’t know where else to turn. The director took a long time to speak to me to find out what we needed. Much of what I needed wasn’t something her organization provided however, instead of telling me she couldn’t help, she stayed on the line with me. Not only was she kind and encouraging but she was compassionate and understanding. This woman didn’t know me from a hill of beans and yet I felt as if I had known her for years when we spoke. Bottom line was she gave me hope and restored my faith in knowing there were people out there who wanted to help. She had options and ideas I had not thought of and for those things I am certain we couldn’t have done it without her. Not just her help but her friendship was priceless. She helped me take one bite at a time by simply solving one problem at a time. If she didn’t have an answer for me, she gave me hope without making promises and then she got back with me with options. And when there wasn’t anything she could do for us at certain times she at the very least made herself available to give support. She was with us every step of the way which we were very grateful.

It was August of 2007. Judah was 4. With our new friend’s help (the director from “The Rainbow Center”) we found a very small apartment in the county we needed. The owners were also two moms who had triplets so they had already moved into a larger home. They were trying to sell the small apartment but since it wasn’t selling, they were willing to let us rent it. Not having had any other options by that point we took it. We had to pay the women for the rental but it wasn’t the way out cost of what it would have been if we had actually rented an apartment. We were relieved when our first hurdle was gone. Once we finally found an apartment it was time to meet with our lawyer in Atlanta.

As we met with our lawyer she explained how the adoption process worked in the county we chose to do it (and live). The attorney told us it would take up to six weeks to complete the adoption process. At that point we’d have a hearing with the judge when it would be approved or not approved. In the meanwhile the attorney told us we needed to change our driver’s licenses to our apartment in Atlanta and have our bills sent there as well. This would establish our residence in the county. Carol asked our attorney how her having a job in another city would hinder our chances of the adoption passing. The attorney told us that many people have multiple residences but it is the main one that is considered in adopting. So, we just needed to take care of those couple of things and we’d be set. OK, now here was the deal folks. Carol and I were using the apartment in Atlanta as our main address but our jobs were in Augusta. Carol had to keep working where she was. Meanwhile, we had friends who felt we were being deceitful and felt it was wrong. They couldn’t see the importance of what we were doing and why we had to do it in the way we did. It really upset me when some of our closest friends began voicing their disapproval. I wanted to yell off the roof tops, “What the fucking hell, people! We are trying to do what we can to protect our family. The fucking government of ours was forcing us to walk the gray areas because we had no protection under the law! And we were going to do what we needed to get that protect.” How about those folks walk in our footsteps before judging us. I’d love to see what they’d do to protect their loved ones. Meanwhile, we weren’t doing anything wrong. We did exactly what we had to do and we abided by the law the entire way.

Anyway, everything seemed to be going as planned. We kept in touch with our lawyer and our hearing date was on time. It was mid September and we were so excited for the date. Well, I was excited. Carol had a bad feeling about it. She had not had much luck with the legal system. It had screwed her in the past. But, I was optimistic. Those 6 weeks to our court date seemed to have lasted forever. The morning of our hearing date we woke up very early. We had rented a car because we knew ours would not have made it that far. We had been having problems with it, so we didn’t want to take a chance on that important day. After the court hearing we had plans to celebrate with friends who were meeting us there. It was an exciting morning for me. About an hour into our drive to Atlanta we received a call from our attorney. Carol had answered the phone. After a few minutes she yelled, “WHAT? YOU DON’T THINK THIS IS GOING TO GO THROUGH?” My heart stopped. After Carol hung up the phone she told me all that our lawyer had said. Apparently, the judge (we were going to have) had recently been sued by another lesbian couple who had done an adoption two years prior. When the two women split the biological mom wanted sole custody of the child. So, she sued the judge who granted the adoption (allowing her partner to adopt) to try to get the adoption nullified. Her reasoning? Well, she was suing the judge for not asking for proof that the couple had been living in Atlanta because in fact they were living in another state.  AND so, the judge felt we hadn’t provided enough proof that we had been living in her county. Carol was furious and so upset. During the remainder of our ride to Atlanta Carol just kept telling me, “See, I told you I had a bad feeling. I knew it!” 

When we arrived at the courthouse, we met with our lawyer. She told us the judge was going to meet with us and the judges attorney was going to be there too. Our attorney warned us that the adoption was not going to be approved. I was so mad at that lesbian couple who because of their selfishness would be punishing so many like us. Meanwhile, it was worth a shot to meet with the judge. Maybe we could change her mind. If anything it was worth a shot.

Our friends waited in the waiting area with Judah while me, Carol and our attorney met with the judge and her attorney. The judge was cold and distant. She certainly didn’t care about our plight. First thing she did was to challenge Carol for working so far away. We tried every which way to convince her to make the adoption happen but she refused. As the judge spoke to us we found her so incredibly insensitive. She clearly had no understanding as to why lesbians like us would have to do what we did to allow our partners to adopt. She made it sound as if we were conniving women who for no reason would want to screw her. Now, we understood she was being sued by an idiot women who happened to be a lesbian but frankly I wanted to yell at her for her lack of sensitivity to us. Finally, Carol had had enough. She started crying and told everyone she had to leave. The judge and her lawyer left. I and our lawyer tried to console Carol. She felt defeated and she felt her character was being judged. It was a sad day but even after all of that I wasn’t going to give up. Carol was ready to throw in the towel and walk away. She was heartbroken and I’m sure pissed at me for pushing the entire thing.

Our attorney told us we could switch our case to the other county. We still had another option. Gosh though, that would mean we’d have to find a place to live there. In essence we’d have to start all over again. One of our friends who was at the courthouse with us that day lived in Atlanta and asked us to go to her house to think things through. She felt we could discuss things and see if we could figure it out. And so, Carol, Judah and I went to her house. As we were driving there I started thinking of anyone and everyone I knew who might live in Atlanta in that other country. I figured when we got back to our friend’s home, I would just start calling people. Carol thought I was nuts. She couldn’t believe I wasn’t throwing up my arms and quitting. But, I honestly did not see that as an option. The callousness and indifference of the judge that day propelled me into making the adoption happen. Like hell was that old bitty judge who knew nothing about making it through adversity like we did was going to hurt my partner. Like hell was I going to allow Carol’s character as a mom to feel challenged. Carol was going to become Judah’s mom officially and dammit I was going to make it happen. “I am women, hear me roar!”

 

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