Second-parent adoptions thrive in many Ga. counties

In honor of National Adoption Day: What makes a family?

Adoption by same-sex couples has been a mixed-bag of rewards and setbacks throughout the United States for many years. Since the 1990s, however, the tide has changed in the country, with many states allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt.

Here in Georgia, step-parent adoptions aren’t allowed because same-sex marriage isn’t legal. However, for many gay and lesbian couples, there’s a way around that: second parent adoptions.

It isn’t permitted throughout the state. In fact, chances are, unless you go on a certain day and get a certain judge in Atlanta in Fulton or Dekalb county or Athens in Clarke County, you won’t succeed in your quest for dual dad or mom status.

Once upon a time, most same-sex couples who didn’t come into a relationship with children from a previous heterosexual union generally remained childless.

With the constantly evolving tide of lesbian and gay civil rights coming down in our favor, many family couples have decided to take the leap into genuine parenthood.

What is National Adoption Day?

With the advent of National Adoption Day, the plight of homeless children around the country was brought to the attention of  potential parents who had previously thought of themselves as not applicable.

Originally founded in the year 2000 by a group of businesses and non-profits, which included The Freddie Mac Foundation,  The   Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Children’s Action Network, the coalition began working in November of that same year with National Adoption Day Sponsors, foster care programs, attorneys and various courts around the country.

Two years later, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and an organization known as Casey Family Services created the National Adoption Day Coalition, which allowed 34 cities nationwide to finalize 1,350 adoptions.

Since that time, the count has continued to increase dramatically:

In 2003, courts and community organizations in more than 120 jurisdictions coast-to-coast finalized the adoptions of 3,100 children. In 2004, more than 3,400 children were adopted.

By 2011, National Adoption Day was celebrated throughout the country, with more than 300 events held annually and a total of 40,000 children adopted.

In recognition of National Adoption Day,  which generally is celebrated the Saturday before Thanksgiving (but has evolved into National Adoption Week and National Adoption Month in some parts of the country), GAVO has chosen three same sex couples with three very different stories to tell to profile in this special issue.

Two dads and their  daughters

Our cover family Seth Woodard-Persily, 39, and Nathan Woodard-Persily, 30, are the proud pops of twin daughters Brittany and Caitlan, now both four.

Seth and Nathan met at a friend’s birthday party seven years ago. The two have very separate careers: Seth owns a digital marketing company and Nathan owns a health and fitness spa. Together they share very busy lives with their two daughters in their Midtown home.

They had been together just a year when they decided to take the plunge into the beginning of exploring parenthood. Unlike many same-sex couples who adopt through an agency or the foster care program, they took a different path.

“We found a surrogate mother, through an agency,” Nathan explains. “Then we found an egg donor. The surrogate we wound up going with was a perfect match, and pretty much an angel. She’s a neonatal nurse and we knew she’d take good care of herself and the kids.

“We chose the egg donor – not a relative – also through an agency. Essentially they give you everything you’d ever want to know about a person: IQ, grades in school, family background, medical history. “

Seth chimes in: “We were looking for someone who was intelligent, athletic, attractive…much the same qualities you’d look for when seeing someone. It’s not that much different from online dating. We chose based on the agency information, and we talked to the donor beforehand.”

While it may sound like the Woodard-Persilys wanted America’s next supermodels, there was another important factor they both considered.

“It had to do with why they were donating the eggs,” says Nathan. “We wanted to feel that it was charitable and for the right reasons,” Seth concurs. “That meant a lot to us.”

For these two, the second parent adoption procedure, which was finalized through a judge in Fulton County, was relatively painless, but the entire procedure of finding an egg donor and finding a surrogate was a long, difficult process that took about two years. The actual adoption was easy, but it was just one small part of what it took to get the kids.

“We had to fly around a lot,” says Nathan. “To Los Angeles, New York, Texas – the kids were born in Texas.”

“And there were more willing doctors in other states,” says Seth. “The egg donor was in Los Angeles, and the surrogate was in San Antonio, so we were flying across the country a lot, and then the girls were born prematurely in a hospital in Texas, so we had to stay there for a few months.

Although one of the men is the biological father of the two girls, Seth and Nathan prefer to keep that detail private. Clearly, they both feel equally paternal.

“Being a father was something I always wanted to do,” Nathan recalls. “Then I met Seth and he wanted children also.

“Everybody’s been fantastic,” Nathan continues. “My parents live nearby, they see the kids all the time, and they spend the night over when we’re out of town. We go to New York and Florida to see Seth’s parents and they fly in. The kids see them at least once a month.”

Currently Britney and Caitlan attend pre-k at the Weinberg Center, where they interact with other children that have same-sex parents.

Being around other children who have two mothers or two fathers is not a new thing for them, so it hasn’t been an issue,” Nathan offers. “As far as straight parents go – how the kids react depends pretty much on how the parents react, and everyone’s been fantastic. We go to PTA and have play dates and all that other stuff with the parents. At that aqe and with the environment they’re in, there have been no problems. When they get to a bigger school, that could change, I suppose.”

While the pair have had no second thoughts about the responsibilities of parenthood, they’re quick to point out that it’s not a task everyone is ready to undertake.

“Adoption was the most wonderful thing we ever did,” Seth insists. “But it will change your life. Before you make the decision, be sure you know everything that’s involved. You have to change everything.

“Our life has changed – we’re much less part of the gay scene now. We’re not able to go out in the way that we used to. Most of our friends have stuck around. Some of them we really don’t get to see that much anymore. But we’ve developed a much closer relationship with the ones who have stuck around. When you have kids, there’s much less time for the superficial sort of relationships you might have when you’re out and about.

If you’re thinking about adoption with your partner either though artificial insemination methods or an adoption agency, Nathan is adamant about the way the two handled the procedure.

“We went with a law firm that does a lot of same-sex family adoption” he says. “It was a really smooth process. In Georgia, it also depends heavily on the judge and we were lucky that there are lots of great judges in Fulton County.”

Jackson has two moms

Sharon Burrow and Jackie Miller met on Really. The two hit it off immediately and even found themselves discussing the possibilities of parenthood on their first date.

They’re a busy pair who make their home in Decatur. Burrow maintains upkeep for state government buildings in downtown Atlanta, and Miller works in the banking compliance industry.

Still, they’ve found the time and energy to make a happy life together and to add a new addition to their family.

They’ve been together as a couple for six years now (they met on Nov. 23) and legally tied the knot on Nov. 23 in Washington, D.C. four years later, officially making them a married couple.

Their son Jackson, who only recently entered their lives, is just barely under five months old.

“We tried to conceive,” Jackie recalls, “unsuccessfully. After a time we decided it was more important to be parents than to procreate, so we decided to pursue adoption.”

They’re not hesitant about admitting it took a great deal of investment on their parts to eventually bring Jackson into their family.

“It was a long process,” says Burrow. “We chose an agent because they were comfortable with open adoption, which will allow us and him to maintain a relationship with his birth parents.”

So just exactly how does going through an agency work?

“Perspective adoptive parents basically put up a dossier on themselves,” Burrow explains. “And the parent or parents get to look it over to decide if they think they’d be a good match.

As fate would have it, Jackson’s parents were driving across the country and they were in Georgia when it came time for his mother to give birth. She already knew they wanted to place him up for adoption and they had a relationship with the social worker Burrow and Miller were working with.

“So we got a call,” Burrow recalls. “And Ashley [the social worker] asked if it would be okay for us to meet. We got him  the very next day. We had the chance to meet with the birth parents, who were set to be released the following day. They checked back in with us almost every day on their trip back to California and now we stay in touch regularly through Facebook and email.”

Despite the fact that the couple are in their middle years, they’ve both  confirmed they had no misgivings about bringing a young baby into their lives at a time when many parents are sending their children off to college.

“We’re both in our 40s. But we don’t feel it,” Miller laughs. “We’ve had no reservations. I guess we worry a little bit about when he’s older – how long we’re going to be around when he’s in his 20s and 30s, but we knew we could give him a happy life.”

Both of them point to family members that have supported their decision as they moved forward in the process. In fact, Burrow’s parents, who initially had some issues with their daughter’s sexual orientation, attended his recent baptism ceremony.

“They were both there,” she confirms. and they were supportive. My parents love me dearly and they love him. Especially for my father, I see he’s moving in the right direction.”

Burrow and Miller’s experience has led them to offer up important advice to prospective gay and lesbian parents: “I would suggest an attorney or facilitator,” Miller offers. “If you don’t do an open adoption, it’s a lot faster, but you won’t know your child’s history, nor will they. I think it’s important to know where you come from.”

Jackson’s adoption will be completely finalized in Dekalb County on Nov. 25, when judges will set aside a specific time in honor of National Adoption Day to hear the various adoption cases.

“It’s important that you do it in Fulton or Dekalb,” says Burrow. “If you go before another judge in Georgia and you’re turned down, that’s it. It’s over in the entire state. You would have to establish residency in another state and start the entire process all over again.”

With the adoption finalization now merely a formality, Burrow and Miller are looking forward to a life with their new son.

“It was definitely God’s hand that brought him to us,” Miller beams. “His parents just happened to be in Georgia at the right time, so we were absolutely blessed, and he is very much loved.”

A family of four

Realtor Marshall Berch and his partner David Goetsch, who works with the Human Resources Department at Emory University, are the fathers of two sons: Noah and Jonathan.

“David and I met back in the early 1980s, when we were working in the hotel business together,” Goetsch recalls. “We adopted Noah five years later, in 1993, when he was just two years old. Initially we did a one parent adoption, and then came back a year later and did the second parent adoption.

The 1990s were clearly an earlier period in the advancement of LGBT equality and second parent adoptions by same-sex couples were rarely permitted at the time, even in Dekalb county.

“At that time in Dekalb County there was just one judge who would allow second parent adoptions,” says Goetsch. “Under the advisement of friends, we sought out that particular judge.”

Five years later the two men decided to adopt another child.

“We got a late night phone call saying they were looking for a family for another two year-old boy. That’s how Jonathan came into our lives.”

Four years ago the family was the focus of a short on CNN.

Noah, like his two fathers, is Caucasian. Today he is 22, openly gay and majoring in apparel design at the Rhode Island School of Design. His younger brother Jonathan is 18, of mixed racial heritage and a senior in high school, where he is heavily involved in sports.

“He’s straight, and he’s very much a jock.” Goetsch laughs. “It’s interesting to see how they interact. They’re but very close but very different. I think they respect each others’ differences very nicely.”

This family’s advice on adoption, perhaps because they went through the procedure during a much earlier time, may seem a bit simpler: make sure the judge is on your side before you step foot in the court.