By Laura LaVoie
This is a mostly true story. Names and some details have been changed to protect the individuals involved.
Helen and Amy have been together for over 20 years. They met at time when same-sex relationships weren’t as talked about as they are today. They live in the southern United States where they work in conventional jobs. Helen is a social worker for her county and is proud of her successes with children mired in the foster care system.
More than 10 years ago, Helen met a troubled young boy who was bouncing back and forth to different foster care situations. Like many of these children, his birth mother had a drug problem that prevented her from caring for her child, and she was no longer in his life. Helen worked closely with the boy, Jacob, to help him adjust to the realities of foster care. Over several years, they developed an amazing bond. Helen realized that she needed to be the one to step up and adopt Jacob.
It was a great dream, and it never came true.
America’s system for child welfare, especially in the south, can be biased against same-sex couples interested in adoption. Helen and Amy needed to formulate a plan for investigatory home visits and the language they would use to communicate with state officials. Things appeared to be going well, until there was an unexpected change in the case.
Miraculously, another family appeared that wanted to adopt Jacob. This family fit neatly into traditional expectations of an “ideal” home for an 11-year-old foster child, and they won the case. Devastated, Helen and Amy were no longer a part of Jacob’s life because of a misperception that same-sex couples make unfit parents.
More than a decade later, Helen was able to reconnect with 21-year-old Jacob. As it turned out, his adopted family was not the idyllic group they presented. His troubles didn’t end when he went to live with them. Worse, he told Helen he felt abandoned by her and Amy at a very critical time in his life. Helen could only respond that she had wanted him desperately, but the choice was taken from her.
Today, Jacob, Helen, and Amy are close. He addresses them as both as “Mom”, and the family that legally adopted him is not a part of his day-to-day life.
When this story was shared with me, my emotions went from from sadness to anger. To know that you have the ability to love and care for a child, but are denied the experience because of social and political agendas, is beyond heartbreaking. While Helen, and Amy have Jacob in their lives again, they missed out on 10 critical years when he craved their support and they yearned to help him prepare for adulthood.
I made a choice not to be a Mom. Amy and Helen did not. They wanted it more than anything, but the opportunity was taken away from them. So much has changed over those 10 years – these days a majority of Americans support marriage equality. I hope Helen’s story is one for the history books. I believe parenthood was denied to Helen and Amy simply because they weren’t the “right” kind of mothers. That is not the world in which I want to live.