Today, guest contributor Shawn Walker-Smith describes his lifelong vision of having kids, how he and his husband Robert finally made the leap, and how that decision changed their lives (overwhelmingly for the better!).
We Chose to Have Kids
What the journey to building a family can look like
Sitting on a black 50’s style banquette, our little group waited for a table to become available. The sound of forks hitting plates and general conversation punctuated the kitschy atmosphere of the restaurant. We were with friends—a cis-gendered straight couple—and my husband and I were lamenting over the hoops and hurdles we would have to go through in order to have a child. One of the pair, well-meaning I am sure, waved it off blithely. “Having a child is not something you can plan,” she said. “It just happens.” After taking a beat to recover myself, I reminded her that as a gay couple, we couldn’t just fall down drunk and wake up pregnant. It took planning. Bless her heart.
Is It Just Me, Or…
The decision to have a child—or many children—is as varied as the grains of sand on a beach. For some people it is the desire to provide a home and care for a child in need. For others, it is an obligation to pass along the family name. And yet for some it is a way to fulfill an unnameable instinct to mother/father a little human in the world.
I had always wanted to have a family. My plan was to leave my home town, go off to college, get married, and then return to my little seaside town and raise a family. Used to having young children around, it just felt natural to me that I would have a kid of my own some day. Needless to say, I followed the plan for the most part. I did leave Southern California to attend university in the Northern half of the state. I started the first of a few careers and even met the man I would eventually marry.
My husband, a native Northern Californian, had grown up being the penultimate child of seven. While he acknowledged the existence of younger human beings in the world, the concept of him—a gay man—having a family seemed totally foreign . Truth be told, I think the idea of him being a father at all had simply never occurred to him. That’s just how he is about some things.
Before we married, I mentioned to my now-husband that I had always wanted a family. That’s about as far as the conversation ever went. He was always decidedly mum on the subject.
So You Wanna Have a Kid?
The hard-shell seats of the Alameda County Social Services Agency, were filled with an array of folks. Middle-aged and older folks were dotted among the younger population of attendees. The ethnically diverse gathering seemed to lean heavily toward the “straight identified” (my assumption). I did, note at least a few other gay folks, smiling broadly at each other as if to say, “You too?”
I was there in support of my sister and I had no expectations. I was there for support, not to participate. Besides, this was an informational meeting—no obligation, no commitment—so I could lean back and relax. By the end of the meeting I was picking up all the handouts.
Later that night, as my husband and I sat on the couch, eating dessert, I “What would you think about us having a kid?” Now you have to understand that my husband rarely makes quick decisions. For him to come out with a response quickly is a big deal.
“Okay,” he said right away. Calmly. Almost in a casual kind of way, as opposed to the OMG-I’m-freaking-out kind of way I was expecting. And like that, we were on our way to growing a family.
Now the Real Fun Begins
We only ever worked with the county for our process. We attended classes (which every new parent should be required to attend) and read loads of books. There were background checks and questionnaires, home inspections and home visits/evaluations. I often say to prospective adoptive parents, “If you are used to being a very private person, this process will make you very uncomfortable.” You do get used to it, though.
We had heard both good and bad things about the county adoption process. It could be slow and laborious as you waited to be matched with a child. But the good experiences seemed to outweigh the negative. I can easily say that a lot of our positive experience depended on our case workers. My youngest son’s case worker is still a good family friend and great coffee companion.
For our first son, the process was perhaps nine months, and it sped by quickly. The first sleepover went from an overnight into a long weekend. Before we knew it, we were painting and outfitting his room. A few months in, we found a good school, and by Solstice our adoption was finalized. Four years later, we would be doing it all over again.
Having our two boys has changed the dynamic of our lives. I often say that the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, and the single most rewarding, is becoming a parent. Birthday parties, school bake sales, illness, emotional challenges, and don’t get me started on childcare. Helping them navigate first friendships, first crushes, and having to have “The Talk.” As a parent—gay, straight, or otherwise—you are confronted with challenges and joys that you simply are not able to expect.
Recently someone asked me if, knowing what I know now, would I still have kids. Our journey as a transracial, gay-parented family has had its twists and turns. But my answer always comes back to, “Yes, I would.” I cannot imagine not having these two amazing, resilient, and fantastic young men in my life. Plus I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for them.
Shawn Walker-Smith is a dad, spouse, and former pastry and baking guy. He supports local food spots, great desserts, and the Oxford comma. You can catch him on Twitter (@theswalkersmith), Facebook (@SWSEats), and Instagram (@SWSEats).