Family

Parenting, Family, Airstream

Our Lives as LGBTQ+ Parents

When I was medically retired from the military in 2017, we made the decision to move back to our home State of Vermont. Living in a state that supports our family without objection made that an easy decision. Our lives as parents, however, has been much more difficult. It wasn't our intention to have more than one child, let alone two newborns a mere five-weeks apart in age. When we received the second call asking if we were willing to adopt our youngest daughter Charlotte, how could we have said no? In fact, it was one of the best decisions we've ever made.

It's true. When both of our girls came home for the first time, our lives changed overnight. Waking up at 3am to feed two newborns when you need to be at work by 6am is no joke. Simply put, it was rough. Not everyone might agree with us, but we say it was for the better. We now see the world through a different lens. One in which the future our daughters will grow up to view is now our priority. Their future families are now our priority. Everything we do is now based on that future.

In fact, we recently purchased an Airstream and are living out both of our dreams of traveling as a family. We are currently traveling full-time around North America showing our girls all that our country (and the world) has to offer. What better way to learn about something than seeing it in person? When it's time to learn more about the Hoover Dam, we'll drive to it. When it's time to learn about forests and the trees that live within them, we'll spend a month in Yosemite National Park. We hope to give them a different perspective of the world they live in. One in which anything and everything is possible.

We also plan to take our motto of "Acceptance Through Visibility" with us on this journey, having conversations with strangers, showing everyone that love is what makes a family. Our travels will take us to many of the U.S. military bases, National Parks, and baseball stadiums across the United States. Visibility and personal connections are how we change things, so hopefully, we're doing our part, especially as parents!

— Papa West

Family

How and When We Met

Jonathan and I met back in 2005 by chance when I made the decision to move back home before completing all of my courses and earning my degree. Don't worry, with Jonathan's help, I completed the three classes left and earned my BS in Political Science from Florida State University. Jonathan, on the other hand, breezed through college and received his BS in Music Education from the University of Vermont.

How, when, and where we earned our degrees wouldn't typically help describe how a couple met, but timing really is everything in this case. If I had finished my degree in the standard four years it usually takes, I likely would have been in a completely different location when Jonathan was given the opportunity to move to Florida. Would I have still been in Florida when he first moved down from Vermont? Maybe, but probably not.

The first time we found each other was online. A more than average way to meet someone nowadays, but this was in the early years of Facebook when you needed a college email address even to join the website. We chatted online for weeks leading up to his big move. Per his request, I also vaguely remember driving to what would be his new apartment, so he could see what the exterior looked like.

Our first in-person meeting was at his apartment shortly after he moved in. He invited me over to dinner. While I won't go into the details of that fantastic night, I can say that he knows how to cook and loves to talk about politics. Two of my favorite things by the way; food and politics. We've been together ever since. Traveling up and down the East Coast multiple times for jobs, buying and selling two homes, enlisting in the Army, starting a family, and now traveling the country with our two daughters Grace and Charlotte. The rest, as they say, is history, but I prefer to call it fate.

— Papa West

Family

Our Wedding

We didn't have a formal wedding. It just wasn't in the cards for us. We met in September of 2005, were engaged in 2009, and legally married in 2012. Why did we wait so long to get married? Well, there was this thing I really wanted to do. I wanted to enlist in the US Army. For obvious reasons, Jonathan was hesitant to agree to the idea. He would, after all, need to follow me wherever the Army sent us and sentiment surrounding the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was concerning.

After several weeks of badgering him, he agreed to support my decision to enlist. Within weeks I left for Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The separation was a mere 90 days, but it felt like an eternity. No phones, no mail for the first few weeks. It was the first and longest time we've ever spent apart.

Upon completion of BCT, I went to language school at the Presidio of Monterey in Monterey, CA. We were to spend at least two years in Monterey. This was when we decided it was time to get married. Naively, we assumed that finally getting married would recognize Jonathan as my legal spouse, thus granting us the benefits that come with being married in the military. We were, after all, able to legally marry in many states. We learned very quickly how unequal our rights were when I presented my marriage certificate from the State of Vermont to my command. They were unable to accept my marriage certificate as evidence of being married, they said. It was one of the lowest moments in my career as a soldier. We were legally married, yet treated as a single soldier forced to live in the barracks and pay for housing off-base at the same time.

Fortunately, a few months went by, and the US Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA was a United States Federal Law passed and signed into law by then-President Clinton. It defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes. This law was THE reason why the Army was unable to recognize my marriage.

Many people worked behind the scenes to repeal this law, but Edie Windsor worked harder than any of them. Do yourself a favor and learn more about her. Edie is the reason why marriage equality found its way to the United States. Edie is the reason why I was able to serve my country on the same equal ground as the soldiers I was already serving with. Edie was the reason.

I remember putting my uniform on the morning of June 26, 2013, anxiously awaiting to hear the court's decision before I had to walk out the door. Just minutes before it was time to go the breaking news alert flashed on the screen. “DOMA Struck Down by US Supreme Court — Marriage Equality in the United States!” We both cried tears of joy that morning because we knew a hard-fought battle had been won.

— Papa West

Family

It’s Time for Congress to Pass the “Every Child Deserves A Family Act”

For those of you who know us, we spent many years trying to build our family.  For those of you who don’t, we started our journey with private adoption and failed multiple times. Our first daughter passed just 45 minutes after birth.

Adopting a child is not only an emotional rollercoaster but an expensive one at that. Not many families can afford the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to hire an attorney or work with an adoption agency. And the last thing that qualified foster or adoptive parents should have to face is unfair and unjust discrimination. Yet in far too many places across the country, qualified LGBTQ parents are turned away simply because of who they are. That’s why it’s time for Congress to pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

By chance, we started working with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services’ Foster Care program and were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to adopt both of our daughters Grace and Charlotte after months of caring for them as a foster family.  While there is plenty to improve inside many of these systems, it comes down to a very straightforward question.  Do these children have a safe place to go in an emergency?

Recently the City of Baltimore was in the news because there were not enough beds to care for all the children in care.  There are simply not enough Foster Families in Baltimore to care for all of the children in need. And if the agency limited their foster pool based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status, the situation would go from bad to worse. Simply put, Grace and Charlotte, the girls that have stolen our hearts from the moment they first came home, would not be with us today.

We took pride in becoming foster parents, and we would not have a family today if it weren’t for that opportunity. And while the cost for same-sex couples to start a family can be financially impossible, thankfully many Foster to Adopt programs help overcome that issue by facilitating low or no-cost adoptions.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would prohibit any child welfare agency receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any potential foster or adoptive family on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. It would ensure that qualified parents have the opportunity to build a family of their own. It would also prevent discrimination against LGBTQ foster youth. If Baltimore City had not already taken action to protect families like our own, our lives would not be complete, and our family would cease to exist.

There are hundreds of cities across this country just like Baltimore that are in dire need of Foster Parents. If you support our family and the tens of thousands of families just like ours, then NOW is the time to take action.  Far too many qualified parents are turned away simply because of who they are. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would do more than protect the LGBTQ+ community. It would create loving families across the United States!

— Daddy West

Family

Emma's Story - A Story of Love & Loss

It had only been a few weeks since we had finished all of the required training classes to become certified as a foster family by the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. At the time, we were still an Active Duty military family, so finding the time to commit to such an undertaking was tough. Even when it wasn't as easy as we had wanted, we found a way to get it done in just a couple of weeks. Those details matter, because only a few months prior we had lost our first child.

Daddy & Papa West in 2013 while stationed at the Presidio of Monterey in California.

This is where her story begins. It's difficult to remember the exact day we received the email from our attorney who had been guiding us through the adoption process. At the time I was a Cryptologic Russian Linguist in the US Army (meaning the Army trained me to speak, read and write in Russian) and I recall being more than 2/3rd's of the way finished with a language course funded by the Intelligence Community in the Washington, DC area. I was stationed at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland and lived just within the Baltimore City limits, so on top of studying the Russian language for eight-plus hours a day, I was bound to the reliably unreliable Amtrak schedule between Baltimore and DC.

Just a few weeks prior, we had matched with a birthmother in Texas. Not all of the details were clear just yet, and she still needed a sonogram, but we were told to get ready because we were having a girl. Her name would be Emma, so that's what hung above her crib.

It happened with an email. In an attempt to blunt the sharp and painful nature of what we were about to learn next, our attorney chose to use that email to explain Emma would not live more than a few minutes after taking her first breath. I remember feeling frantic and hopeless as I read those words and even more so as I sat on the train headed home to be with my husband. It was the first time in my life I can remember crying in public without a thought for what those around me might have been thinking.

Even though we never got the chance to meet her, hold her tight, or tell her how much she was loved, she’ll always be our first baby.
— Daddy & Papa West

Emma's story is incredibly painful even to this day. The door to her bedroom, the one where her name hung above what was supposed to be her crib, stayed closed for weeks. Regrettably, we were unable to attend her funeral and have yet to visit her in Texas. I know that we will someday. Not only is it essential for Grace and Charlotte to learn her story, but for all of us to get the chance to say goodbye in person.

In reality, Emma's story hasn't ended. She is the reason we were able to complete the foster care training and move forward with our dream of becoming parents. She made us stronger, more determined to become a family, and we do our best every day to remember the joy she brought us.

— Papa West


Parenting, Family

Her Lucky Coin, A Watch Battery

Not once had we ever imagined that a watch-sized battery could be so dangerous. One morning Charlotte told us she had just finished eating her snack. The comment was odd because we hadn't given her anything to eat since we had just recently finished breakfast, so we prodded further only to hear her say, "I swallowed my lucky coin." She then showed us a small toy calculator the girls had both been given to use as a "supercomputer" (@pbskids #superwhy). Not even a minute went by before we were speaking with someone at Poison Control. They explained that it was hazardous and could burn a hole through her esophagus (think feeding and breathing tubes) in as little as two hours and we should rush her to the nearest Emergency Department.

To make a long story short, we found out how fast and agile a Tesla Model 3 can be on our drive to the nearest hospital with someone able to help. We were in Southern Vermont at the time, so that meant driving to Albany, NY. Typically a 90 min drive, but "safely" done in 45 minutes that day. The 1st set of X-rays showed the battery in the worst possible place (lodged in her esophagus requiring surgery to remove), but fortunately, the 2nd set of X-rays confirmed that it had passed down into her intestines (now we hope that it passes in less than a week).

In a single moment, our life as a family almost changed for the worse.

In a single moment, our life as a family almost changed for the worse. I'm sure some statistics show how unlikely it is for the worst to happen in a situation like this, but as we rushed her to the hospital, that's all we could think of. This photo was not staged btw. It happened in Clarkston, GA, a small Southern town incredibly welcoming to refugees from around the world at a local coffee shop (@refuggeecoffee). The night before we had watched the season 2 finale of @queereye and were compelled to see the town for ourselves since it was only about a 30-minute drive from Atlanta. I just happened to have my phone out taking pictures when she leaned over and asked daddy for a kiss. I (papa) stay home with them during the day, so they tend to show me more affection. We were both a little surprised in the moment, but the combination of that photo, in that town and our day spent at the hospital left us wanting to be better parents. If you've made it this far down (thanks), please take a minute and get rid of or secure batteries your children have access to because it might just save their lives.

— Papa West


Family

Charlotte's Story - A Story of Love & Adoption

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Three years ago on 18 September, just around 5:00pm, daddy, Grace and I were just sitting down to eat dinner. Little did we know our 2nd daughter had just been born. It wasn’t our intention to adopt twice, let alone two infants only 5-weeks apart, but later that night as we were all getting settled into bed our phone rang. It was relatively late on a Friday night, but we immediately recognized the number. It was someone from the Baltimore City Dept of Social Services. On the other end of the phone was the deputy director with a straightforward question.

“We have a newborn who is immediately available for adoption. Would you like to adopt her?”

I think we both said YES before she was even able to finish asking her question. Her next question was, “can you come to the hospital right now to meet your daughter?” It took us all but 15 minutes to get out of the house and on our way to meet her.

Charlotte’s story is hers and hers only to tell, but we do know and have told her many times that her birth mother held her one last time and with tears in her eyes, asked the nurses in the room to find her baby girl a good home.

Charlotte was born at 1659 (4:59pm) and all three of us, Grace included, met her just a few hours later at the hospital.

It was a surreal and unforgettable moment that I know we will never forget.

At only 3 years old, she has grown into a strongwilled, curious, brilliant little girl and will no doubt go on to do incredible things!

— Papa West

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Family

Grace's Story - A Story of Love & Adoption

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Gracie's Day, the day she officially became a West. Here's her story.

A friend of ours who was adopted at a young age once reminded us that our daughter’s story belongs to her and no one else. Even sharing some of the most minute details with close friends and family can be too much. In many ways, adoption stories can be extraordinary, but they can also be heart wrenching and painful for adoptees and their families. With that in mind, it has always been our intent to be open, honest and truthful with both of our girls. We do our best to talk about adoption, birth mommies and birth daddies in ways they understand. As the years go on, we will continue to tell them more and more about their story, but it is and will always be their choice to tell their story.

So this story really isn’t about Grace. It’s about the struggle, self-doubt, and pain we experienced on our journey to meeting our eldest daughter Grace for the first time. 
— Papa West

It was the Summer of 2013 at a friend’s wedding on the Maryland coast. They chose a tiny, no-name town, but I remember exactly how we felt being there amongst so many of our friends, their family and how unbearably hot it was. The temperature started to drop, and the wind picked up just enough that everyone was able to relax and enjoy themselves. If it hadn’t been for that tiny bit of wind, it’s hard to say whether or not this would be a story at all. The atmosphere completely changed and allowed us to wander off for no other reason then that the sun was about to set, so we took what ended up being a blurry, overly exposed photo together precariously standing on a rock as the sun was just about to fade away. We sat for a few minutes on that rock in silence, with only the sound of the music from the wedding in the distance behind us. Everything about that moment just felt right.

We had previously talked about wanting to have kids. In fact, it was something we both wanted to do, but the early 2000s weren’t as nice to us and those like us as they are now. Not only were there legal barriers that prevented us from adopting, but the financial cost was just too much. The idea of having children of our own seemed out of reach, and just that, an idea. 

It’s hard to recall precisely what we said to each other that night, but I do remember talking about how much love there seemed to be between the bride, groom and their two families. Now, this isn’t to imply in any way that this doesn’t exist in our own families, but there was something extraordinary in the air that night. We wanted to have that and be able to share it with children of our own. That night, on that rock we made the decision to start a family of our own.

Not more than a few weeks later, on Father’s Day no less, we took the first step in that direction. For those reading this who have no idea what this process involves, it can be confusing, stressful, time-consuming and leave you questioning your decision to start in the first place. I can't tell you how many times I wanted just to give up. Whether it was the original attorney we worked with, the bureaucracy of the foster care system or even the loss of our first daughter Emma, there were countless moments of self-doubt and grief. 

After we completed all of the training hours, background checks and home visits required to become a foster family the calls started pouring in. There is an incredible need for foster and adoptive families, and the pure volume of requests we received asking to care for a child temporarily was overwhelming. When we received the call for Grace, for whatever reason, we said yes. Something about her stood out to us. Less than 45 minutes after that call, directly from the hospital, she came home for the first time. 

We fought hard for Grace. There were meetings with attornies, foster care workers and even court dates. We weren't required to be present for the majority of the court dates, but we made it a priority to be present. We wanted the magistrate or judge to see our faces, to see who we were and to see how much we loved this little girl and how important she was to us.

Our journey to becoming a family was difficult, but every single second has been worth the struggle, self-doubt, and pain. And you know what? We plan on doing it again!

— Papa West