We Got That Call: Brian Sheerin’s Family Story

I knew at a very early age that I was gay. Like many of my non-gay friends, while I was growing up, I had dreams about a full life with a career, and family of my own.  When I came out in my late teens, having a committed partner an/or children seemed like an impossible thing to hope for.  We gay and lesbian people were expected to live our lives invisibly.  As my twenties passed, I turned my desire to give into social work with large helpings of social activism on the side.  It didn’t pay much, but it was fulfilling.  

As a result of my and a friends’ effort, we achieved parity for employee-sponsored healthcare benefits.  The outcome of this labor-contract negotiation, afforded members of the largest union in the country, would now have the same coverage for their partners, as same sex couples had.  While taxed differently, this was the first of its kind, and it allowed many union members to provide their dying partners with health care.  

The HIV epidemic came and like many other gay and lesbian people I lost way too many friends.  Even when there didn’t seem like a lot of evidence to the contrary, I always believed the future would be a brighter place in which to live.  While working on a research project in my 30’s I met the man who would become my husband. This wasn’t either’s first relationship, but we knew from the beginning that it would be our most important adventure of our lives.  We both felt impossibly blessed, to have survived the epidemic, when so many hadn’t. 

For me, the hardest part of coming out had been accepting that I would never be a parent.  Similarly, my husband divorced his first wife, because she didn’t want children. We had watched our coupled gay friends separate on holidays, go their separate ways to their individual families.  Given our age, and what we witnessed in friends relationships, we just didn’t wouldn’t settle for a second hand life.  Early on in our relationship, we made a decision that we would bring each other to extended family events, and that if we weren’t welcome we would make holiday plans of our own.   That actually didn’t happen, we were embraced by most of our respective families.  Legal marriage was on the horizon.  We decided to celebrate our relationship with a band and tuxes.  On August 8, 1998, we threw a commitment ceremony and party, for over 150 of our family and friends.  Literally people came from all over the world to be there that day. 

We each got to dance with our mother, and although neither of us was trendy, we were the first of our friends to celebrate in this way.  Coming from a large and demonstrative family, we shared the want of children, and importance of family.  We both came out during a time where homophobia was rampant.  That said, we didn’t know if it was possible, but we knew we wanted children.  

In the fall of 1999, we began to explore our options on becoming a parent.  We met with a social worker; who specialized in assisting Gay Men considering parenting.  In discussing all of the options, she casually mentioned that multiracial children very often are placed in foster-care.   If these children aren’t placed in adoptive families in the earliest part of their life, they almost never have a chance at finding a forever family.  We looked at each other, and in instant both came to the same conclusion.  However we became parents, people would know we needed assistance anyway, and it didn’t matter if our child would look like us.  We wanted a child as much as a child needed a home.  I didn’t think my love for my husband could grow, but it certainly did at that moment.  

We filled out the paperwork, received our FBI clearances, had home studies, and started attending the adoptive parents committee meetings.  They had a program called the waiting room.  We were the only Gay couple there, but we were embraced just the same.  Several months after we finished all of the paperwork, we got that call.  A teen mother, who was poor, uneducated and didn’t have the support of her parents, was in need of help.  She wanted to keep the baby, but knew she couldn’t do it all alone.  She said she picked us because we were gay.  Where as her parents were dysfunctional and rejecting, her uncle and his partner had been wonderful to her.  In July of 2000, with less than 5 months after filling out the paper work we became parents to our first child. 

In the late summer of 2001, shortly after our oldest daughter’s 1st birthday, we began to talk seriously about adopting a second child.  We called our attorney, started the paperwork, and began to make plans.  Previously, the social worker explained that many birth mothers are reluctant to give two men a baby, and that that it could take more than two years to be matched for a prospective adoption.  Unbelievably, for the second time, it didn’t’ work out that way.  By a strange turn of events while on a vacation, we met a woman who would introduce us to the birth mother of our second child.  She was 4 months pregnant and needed to find a good home for her baby.  After speaking with her, we immediately asked our attorney to arrange a meeting. 

The next day, we drove to D.C. and met the woman who would bring our second child into the world.  We liked her instantly and, even though she had circumstances vastly different from ours, in a different time or place I’d like to think we would have been friends.  This birth mother had a clear vision of what she wanted for her child’s adoptive parents, needed to have the following qualifications; 1) have other bi-racial children, 2) provide a safe and loving home, free of physical and mental abuse as well as substance abuse, 3) provide yearly updates, and 4) be open to a meeting after the child reaches 18 Those were exactly the same criteria as we wanted too, and the same promises we had made to the birth mother of our first child.  Research shows, that it is in the best interest of the child to have information and opportunities to meet their bio-families if the child would like to.


Our attorneys worked together to figure out the details of health care coverage, hospitalization coverage, and legal fees. During the next 4 months we had periodic emails and phone calls and our relationship with the birth mom strengthened to the extent that she even invited us into the delivery room when the time came. There’s always some anxiety when adopting, but all throughout this process, there was a confidence that this adoption would not fall through.

From the moment we met our child’s birth mother, there was never a minute our future child wasn’t loved or cared for, nor was there ever a time we didn’t envision our life together as a family.

Becoming an adoptive parent takes a great deal of planning. There are background checks, clearances from the FBI, evaluations, medical exams, financial disclosures, and becoming certified as a foster parent. In the case of out of state adoptions – as ours was – there are was also interstate compacts, which add another level of “red tape.” The attorneys ensured us everything was pre-arranged, including all of the paperwork that would ensure we’d be able to leave the hospital with the baby right after she was born, and return to our home state. We thought we had taken care of everything.

When we got the call that our birth mom was in labor, we hopped in the car immediately to meet at the hospital in DC, which was about 5 hours away. But because labor came so quickly, rather than being admitted to the hospital we’d all agreed upon, she was admitted to a “faith-based” facility – just outside of D.C. in Takoma Park, MD. While we just missed the birth, we were there in time for the first feeding. We immediately ran into the hospital to meet our newest family member.

Rather than being greeted as new parents, we were blindsided by one terse nurse after another who seemed to take great delight in finding ways to make seeing our daughter next to impossible. While all other new parents were provided two bracelets (required to access the nursery), they would allow us only one. This all-important bracelet was our gateway to feedings, holding the baby, and participating in the bonding, which is so necessary for a new baby and her parents. It hadn’t mattered to these nurses that we had our pre-certification as foster parents in place before she was even born. It hadn’t mattered to these nurses that our child had a right to bond with both of her parents. And it certainly didn’t matter to these nurses that my husband and I had to make the excruciating choice about which one of us would get “the bracelet” to go in and feed our daughter her first bottle while the other waited outside. These nurses also refused to allow our older daughter to see her baby sister except from behind the glass partition. This was vastly different treatment than different-sex parents and their families received.

Then came the worst news yet. One friendly nurse who had witnessed the horrible treatment we received let us knows that a couple of nurses and a member of the hospital’s clergy were attempting to disrupt our adoption. The very minute our daughter’s birth mother signed over her parental rights, and just before the state could sign off on the interstate compact, they planned to step in and place the baby in foster care. This would have prevented us from taking custody of the child immediately and was also contrary to the birth mother’s wishes.

We called our attorney, who told us to not let our daughter out of our sight for even a second. He then coordinated with the birth mother’s lawyer and the kind nurse who had alerted us to this planned disruption to sneak the birth mother, who was having some complications, out of the hospital and drive her to the state capital (about 45 minutes away), so that we could appear in front of a judge and immediately be awarded custody as foster parents by the state of Maryland. Those two nurses and one member of the clergy who tried to stand in the way of our adoption turned what was supposed to be a joyful, well-planned, legally sanctioned and serene consensual agreement between the birth mother and us as the adoptive parents into a traumatic event.

What happened that day has been the guiding force behind my family’s advocacy in gaining non-discrimination protections for prospective LGBT parents in the foster care and adoption process?  I just can’t help but wonder what would have happened to our family if the hospital staff had succeeded in taking our daughter from us. Today, she has 2 loving dads, a sister, 3 doting grandparents, 6 aunts, 7 uncles, and 17 first cousins. She has skied the alps, snorkeled one of the biggest reefs in the world, pitched many little league games, scored some goals in ice hockey, and has continued to be a source of joy beyond measure.  In these twelve plus years, same-sex families have become more visible, but our struggle continues.  Too many children languish in foster care because of sheer bigotry.  No child should go to sleep without that sense of security that comes with a family.

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