I Had To Adopt My Own Daughter – And As Half Of An Inter-Racial, LGBTQ Couple, It Was Far From Easy

Chelsea Schilling’s daughter was created out of love. But as the non-biological parent she faced months of anxiety during the adoption process, knowing that if anything happened to her wife, the little girl could be taken away.

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It’s not often I talk about adopting my daughter, even though the day it became official was one of the best of my life. It was the day after Mother’s Day, 2018.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t talk about it. Partly because I think it’s ridiculous I had to adopt my own kid in the first place, but also because it makes people uncomfortable. Most folks don’t realize what this process means for LGBTQ couples.

They’re not sure how to react, and then they feel awkward. Maybe they don’t think I should be raising a child in the first place. Their discomfort makes me feel uncomfortable too, and then that adds to their discomfort. It’s a vicious circle. So, instead, I just don’t discuss it.

We brush away how we had to struggle with this long and complicated process since before Mac was even born. The looks, the questions.

When straight couples announce they’re having a baby or talk about their kids, they’re not automatically met with a ton of questions about how it happened. “Who carried the baby?” “Did y’all use a surrogate?” “So is she your kid or your wife’s kid?” “Is she yours – does she have your DNA? Or your wife’s?” “Do you know who her father is?” “Don’t you think she needs a daddy?” “How did you do it? What did you do? How did it happen?” You get the idea. Why does my personal situation mean it’s open season to ask the most intimate questions?

If I can make someone feel more comfortable about the idea of an inter-racial LGBTQ family, if I can turn intolerance into acceptance, it’s worth it.

As an educator – I’m a high school teacher – I know people will only learn if their questions are answered. And I’m all for helping as many people as possible to broaden their understanding. But it just doesn’t feel like people are asking because they want to know.

It’s more like they think my family is some kind of zoo exhibit. I try not to mind. If I can make someone feel more comfortable about the idea of an inter-racial LGBTQ family, if I can normalize it, my discomfort isn’t important. If I can turn intolerance into acceptance, even in the smallest way, it’s worth it.

Kim and I are just two regular people who fell in love – something that happens every day around the world. You remember that old song? “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage”? That was us.

We met in college back in 2008 and became friends straight away. We’re both big fans of the New Orleans Saints, and on the night we won the Super Bowl in 2010, Kim told me she had feelings for me.

Soon after, we started dating. In March 2014, we got married. We started to build our house in the May and moved in during the October. Soon after that, we discussed having a baby. So far we’re pretty much following the traditional story, right?

We knew it would be expensive. Sperm donor clinics are insanely overpriced. We didn’t expect anyone to make it easy for us. There are so many rules and regulations to navigate, even if you’re a perfectly healthy, fertile and straight couple. Oh, and let’s not forget that, even then, there’s just a 1-in-4 chance it will work.

I can’t being to say how much I admire Kim. She’s the real hero of our story – I was the sidekick.

To begin with, we needed to find an obstetrician/gynecologist. We had a false start with the first doctor we visited, but then we found Dr Taylor. She was so supportive – we just knew she was the right person for us. She suggested weight loss would make it easier to have a successful pregnancy, so Kim went to work.

She did six straight months on the Whole30 program, ran every morning and worked out each afternoon. She was determined to make her body the perfect place for our baby to grow. At the same time, she was tracking her cycle, recording her basal body temperature and doing everything she could so that we’d know when she was at her most fertile. And all this on top of her job!

I can’t begin to say just how much I admire her. I was doing my bit – trying to diet, reading pregnancy books, cooking and generally being Kim’s support system. But she’s the real hero of our story – I was the sidekick.

And so, that’s how we got Mac. Our daughter was born to a couple who planned for her and worked hard for her. A couple who are married, with careers, who own a four-bedroom home. And, just like any other couple, we created Mac during sex. The only difference between us and an average heterosexual couple is that I didn’t create the semen I inserted.

Because of that, I had to go to court to adopt my own child. The baby I read and sang to each night while she was in Kim’s uterus. I’d play with her, poking the bump so that she’d kick back. I looked after Kim just as well as any parent-to-be would care for a pregnant wife. I read the books, did research, went to prenatal classes. The 48 hours Kim was in labor were the longest of my life, but I was right there for her.

I can remember every second of it, the pain and the joy. Sitting outside the operating room, staring at the protective booties I had to put over my own shoes before I was allowed in. Thinking how these were the shoes of a wife, a teacher, a friend, a sister – but soon they’d be the shoes of a mother.

Kim needed a C-section in the end. It seemed to be the most violent procedure ever – like they were sawing my wife in half before yanking that baby out of her. Mac began to cry as they held her up. Kim told me to go with her – we’d agreed it beforehand – but it was so hard to walk away from her side.

They wrapped Mac up and put her in my arms. She was mine, and I was hers. There was no doubt about it.

Then I looked at Mac on the warming table. They were cleaning her and shoving tubes down her throat to clear away liquid. I reached for her hand, and her tiny fingers curled around mine, she grabbed on so tightly. I know, of course, that it’s a reflex newborns have – but it still felt awesome.

As though she knew I was there to make sure she was ok, to protect her. As the medics did what they had to do, Mac’s eyes were clenched tight as she screamed and wriggled. Then, I spoke – and her eyes opened immediately to look at me.

The nurses said she recognized my voice. I explained, through my emotional tears, that I read and sang to her every night…it made sense. They wrapped Mac up and put her in my arms, and we sat there. She was mine, and I was hers. There was no doubt about it. Just love and a fierce determination that I would never let anyone hurt the tiny bundle in my arms.

Our wonderful friends set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the adoption. As word of it spread on Facebook, a LGBTQ-friendly lawyer came forward and offered to take our case at half the rate other firms had quoted us. It was such a time of contradictions.

On one hand I was overwhelmed by the love and kindness we were being shown. It meant the world to both me and Kim. But then there was anger and anxiety, too. How was it right that I should have to pay thousands of dollars to be Mac’s mom? Why should I have to explain myself to a judge, spend nights worrying that the application might be rejected?

I can’t tell you how many diapers I have changed, how many feeds I have given, how many nights I have stayed up with our baby girl. I’ve taught her to crawl, watched her take her first steps, taught her new words. When she’s been sick, I have taken time off work to stay home and nurse her.

It didn’t matter what I’d done, the bond I had with Mac. Legally, she was solely Kim’s child until a judge decreed otherwise.

When the adoption was granted, Mac was 21 months and 10 days old. That was 648 bedtime stories, 648 days of kisses, feeding, tears, laughter and mess. And 648 days of being terrified in case something happened to Kim and I might lose her. It didn’t matter what I’d done, the bond I had with Mac. Legally, she was solely Kim’s child until a judge decreed otherwise.

Next to Kim, Mac is my best friend. She’s my daughter, my baby girl. We planned for her, provided for her. Everything was in line with accepted social standards – if you were a mixed sex couple. Because we’re not, then as the law stands, without adoption I have no parental rights.

I hate the thought that my child’s life could be controlled by someone who doesn’t know her. Who doesn’t know her favorite toy is the office set I got her, or that she can’t go to bed without her musical seahorse. I do, because I am her mom. I know that the movie Moana cheers her up when she’s upset. That if you don’t stroke her hair during the first diaper change of the day, she gets fussy. That her favorite shirt is the blue and red button-down. And yet none of that would matter if the judge had decided I shouldn’t be allowed to adopt her.

I’m relieved my worst fear didn’t come true. I’m now legally recognized as Mac’s parent. I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to Kim, but at least if it did, our family is protected. Mac will stay with me.

Next time you discuss what ‘family’ means, I hope you’ll remember our story. I hope more people will recognize that just because it’s not ‘traditional’, the bonds within it aren’t any less valid or important. I hope you’ll speak up. Even if it does make someone uncomfortable.

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