Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Laura Newpoff
Missy and Leslie Anderson with Vivian, Ryder and Alexandria. (Prizm photo by Staley Munroe)

Same-sex couples face journeys fraught with unforeseen difficulties but filled ultimately with joy and love.

 

(Editor’s Note: Pick up the November issue of Prizm to read this story as part of a special section of the magazine that includes ads from agencies and healthcare providers that welcome LGBTQ families.) 

By Laura Newpoff

Andrew Kohn and Don Jones tied the knot the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark marriage-equality ruling in 2015. They had been together eight years and wanted to start a family, but their then-hometown of Washington, D.C., didn’t feel like the ideal place.

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Ohio did, though not in every way.

After their move, Jones had to go in front of a Licking County judge to adopt their daughter, Harper. “The adoption judge was not the nicest to us,” Kohn says of the proceedings. “He supposedly takes photos with all the families he presides over, but he didn’t with us.”

The couple now has two children: Harper, 5, and A.J., 3. In addition to the unfriendly judge, Kohn and Jones had to endure other hardships on their journey toward parenthood. Their story—and those of others who pursue adoption, fostering, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy—illustrate the uncertainties and immense joys same-sex couples experience when they decide to start families.

‘Our Own Family’

Kohn, 39, and Jones, 45, moved to a farm in Granville to be closer to Jones’ family. They explored foster care but quickly realized they weren’t equipped to deal with the issues some foster kids face.

Adoption research led them to Choice Network in the Columbus suburb of Worthington, which has the Human Rights Campaign’s seal of approval and is a member of the Family Pride Network of Central Ohio. In fact, Choice founder Molly Rampe launched the service with the goal that at least half of its families would come from the LGBTQ community.

Harper and A.J.

Kohn and Jones put their profile book together to send to pregnant mothers. They included pictures of the nursery they had set up and photos from their lives to give the women a good sense of who they are and the home they’d provide.

“People were picking us quickly,” Kohn recalls. After meeting one mother from Toledo, they agreed to proceed. The baby, however, was born with no calcium in her bones and died a day later. “It took us months after that to re-evaluate things,” he says.

A woman from Detroit brought the next pregnancy into their lives. She already had a child she wasn’t able to care for and became pregnant again. She said she chose Kohn and Jones because, as a black woman, she felt that a gay couple knew how to deal with adversity as minority members of society.

Sixteen months after Harper was born, the woman became pregnant again. Kohn and Jones offered to adopt this child, too, and had the baby for two weeks.

“This baby was born with one kidney and six fingers. She had issues, and we had things in place at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to take care of her,” Kohn says. “On Christmas Eve…she asked for the baby back. She didn’t want to be alone for the holidays, and Don took the baby back to her in Detroit.”

They adopted A.J. in 2016. Rampe called and told them she was driving home from Cleveland with a 6-week-old boy in her car. She asked if they wanted to be considered for adoption again.

“An hour later I get in my car to meet them in Delaware,” Kohn says. “My husband was in the garage using his iPhone flashlight to find a bassinet.”

A much nicer judge in Franklin County (the couple now live in Columbus’ Clintonville neighborhood) helped them finalize A.J.’s adoption and Kohn’s co-adoption of Harper.

“Our journey wasn’t an easy journey, but it was fulfilling,” Kohn says. “As gay people, a lot of us create a family outside of our own bloodline to welcome in others. It never occurred to us that we also wouldn’t have our own family with children.”

Adoption was a perfect fit because Kohn and Jones were open to raising children who aren’t related to them by blood. The adoption process cost the couple about $25,000 per child.

Hannah Botkin-Doty, a lawyer with the Columbus firm of Artz Dewhirst & Wheeler who specializes in LGBTQ issues, says couples also can pursue private adoptions. An example could be a person adopting a cousin’s unwanted baby or a friend adopting from a friend.

Tori and Tia Kolasa with Miara.

Open Hearts and Homes

If the opioid epidemic continues at its current pace, Ohio will have more than 20,000 children in foster care by 2020. There are only 7,200 foster families right now, though.

That gap, predicted in a new report by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, is prompting outreach to the LGBTQ community from agencies that help foster children, says Candelaria Mota, director of community impact at the National Youth Advocate Program in Columbus. The organization offers foster parenting services and behavioral mental health services.

“Now more than ever we need our LGBTQ community to join forces and help children in need,” Mota says. “If someone has been thinking about it and doesn’t know whether they qualify, our group and others can help them find out. You can be single, married, divorced, renting, working full-time and have other circumstances. Our program needs families willing to open their hearts and homes to a child deserving of stability and quality care. The opportunity to give back and the need is there.”

LGBTQ Ohioans are stepping up.

Tori and Tia Kolasa became foster parents. The Westerville couple have taken in nine children since 2015, eight of whom have had some kind of connection to the opioid crisis. Through Mota’s organization, they were able to adopt 2-year-old Miara in July and are hoping to finalize the adoption of another 2-year-old girl this fall.

Tori Kolasa says the foster route is best if parents understand they might get their hearts broken. A foster family might be moving toward adoption only to have a child’s legal family come back into the picture and take the child back. It happens even after an extended time together.

“It is absolutely one of the hardest things we’ve ever done, but we’re also some of the luckiest,” Tori says. “We have two of the most amazing children we ever could have asked for, and it was actually a lot faster (about two years) than other cases go.”

Of all the options available to couples who want to start a family, fostering comes at no cost. Foster parents receive subsidies and medical benefits to help care for a child. Each Ohio county sets its own rate, which ranges from $10 to $118 per day, according to parenting website, WeHaveKids.com.

“Foster care takes a very strong person to live on that precipice that the child could be taken away,” Botkin-Doty says. “But if it does go through, you’re not paying tens of thousands of dollars for fertility.”

The Andersons. (Prizm photo by Staley Munroe)

‘She Looks Like Me’

Leslie and Missy Anderson have been together for 17 years. They got married in Canada 11 years ago. Missy now is pregnant with what will be their fourth child.

The couple chose the fertility route because they wanted a known donor. In 2008, they decided Missy would carry the baby, who was “conceived at home using the turkey-baster method,” Leslie says with a laugh.

Ryder turned 10 this year. Missy also carried their daughter, Vivian, who’s 6.

Two years ago, Leslie wanted to carry, so they turned to Dr. Akas Jain of Reproductive Gynecology & Infertility in Westerville after five rounds of insemination with another doctor didn’t work.

“We did six rounds of insemination with Dr. Jain, spending probably $1,000 a month just trying,” Leslie Anderson says. “Dr. Jain said, ‘Girls, you are spending so much money and I don’t know why, but you’re not getting pregnant with this insemination route. He recommended in vitro fertilization. Missy carried successfully before, so he said we should probably put (the eggs) in her.”

Leslie went on fertility medicine and underwent a procedure in which some of her eggs were taken out and fertilized. Two embryos were put into Missy; one took, and the result was Alexandria, who is 18 months old. Two other embryos were frozen, and Missy is carrying one of them now.

It was a $20,000 process, but the couple say insurance picked up a large portion of the cost.

“When I look at our 18-month-old old and she looks like me the most, that’s really the only difference” among the children, Leslie says.

In addition to reciprocal in vitro fertilization (that’s the name of the process when one woman’s eggs are extracted, fertilized and implanted into her partner), Jain also performs intrauterine insemination for women in same-sex relationships. That’s when donor sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus.

Jain works with men in same-sex Relationships as well. In that process, sperm from one or both partners is used to fertilize a donor’s eggs. A surrogate (a woman who donates her own eggs) or gestational carrier (a woman who is not related to the child she’s carrying) then must carry the child.

This is perhaps the most expensive path to parenthood, Botkin-Doty says.

Some clients take out second mortgages on their homes to pay for the process, which can run as high as $100,000. Significant—and seemingly small—legal issues also must be ironed out before insemination of a surrogate or gestational carrier. That can include everything from dietary restrictions to asking the carrier not to get into a hot tub, Botkin-Doty says.

‘My Way to Give Back’

Jessica Pakosz has two children of her own but in 2013 decided she wanted to help others who want children. She decided to help a male couple because fewer women seemed willing to be gestational carriers for men in same-sex relationships.

Her agency connected her with a gay couple. After a background check, full medical workup, psychological evaluations for her and her boyfriend, weeks of shots, medication, suppositories, blood tests and more, she was pregnant.

During her first trimester, though, she miscarried in a public restroom at her office. It was an experience she describes as traumatic.

As soon as she could, she tried again with the same couple, only to endure more complications. Things worked out the third time.

Pakosz, who lives about 30 miles northeast of Columbus in the small Union County community of Marysville, hid her pregnancy for seven months because of worries she’d be judged for carrying at all—and especially for a gay couple.

“I’d wear a NorthFace jacket to my son’s football games to cover up my stomach,” she says. “But once I came out with it, nobody had a negative thing to say. … Maybe it was more in my head that I was worried.”

She gave birth to twin boys in 2014.

“The dads got to experience this like they would with a wife,” Pakosz says. “They got to come to every one of my doctor appointments. They got to listen to every heartbeat.”

“This was my way to give back.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer who spent nearly 20 years as an editor and reporter at Columbus Business First. Follow her at lauranewpoff.com or on Twitter @lauranewpoff.

 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com