Sometimes things happen as fate. Sometimes it takes hard work to make things happen. In this Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series installment, contributing writer Beth Hallstrom explores each possibility with a special couple.
Amadeus and David Santos of Denville, New Jersey, spent the Fourth of July this year celebrating freedom and independence, thankful for their two children and the trailblazers who helped make adoption by same-sex couples possible in the Garden State.
Married in 2013 after same-sex unions became legal in their home state of New Jersey, Amadeus, 39 and the corporate real estate manager for AT&T Wireless, and 47-year-old David, who is a clinical social worker for hospice, are planning to renew their vows next year. The ceremony will include their children, Zyel, who will turn seven in this month, and Camila, who is five.
"The first wedding was supposed to be simple and quick but they ended up opening the church for us, so it was a bigger deal than we intended," Amadeus recalled. "Next year we're having the real one, a big, family event. Now, we can focus on our wedding because we already have our beautiful family."
Amadeus said he dreamed of being a Dad for years while David noted that, while he was never opposed to the idea, he never seriously considered fatherhood until their chance meeting in New York City seven years ago.
"I was in New York during my grandmother's funeral and I called a friend to see if he wanted to get together for a drink. Joe, my friend, said he wanted me to meet someone. I just wanted to have a casual drink, not meet anyone new and now, seven years later, look at us. I really feel my grandmother brought us together," Amadeus said.
Amadeus also said he had recently ended a four-year relationship with a man who did not want children because that, he said, "was a deal breaker."
After much research and several false starts with private adoption agencies that do not deal with same-sex couples, Amadeus and David turned to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families.
"It's funny, but I was guarded because of what I had encountered. I asked if they allowed gay couples to foster and adopt and they said, 'Oh, honey, of course!' We felt so welcome there and it was all thanks to the Galluccios" Amadeus said.
The DCF was the Division of Youth and Family Services in 1997 when Maywood, New Jersey, couple Michael and Jon Galluccio led a class action lawsuit to change DYFS policy and allow same-sex couples to adopt children in the agency's care.
The Galluccios wanted to adopt their foster son, Adam, then two, and who had been with them since he was three months old, as a couple. Until the landmark decision was made only individual adoptions were permitted, forcing gay couples to double the time and cost with two separate court proceedings.
"New Jersey is the first state in the country to agree to treat gay and unmarried couples the same as married couples," attorney Michael Adams said in 1997.
Amadeus and David were so inspired by the Galluccios' courage, they became friends with Michael and Jon and forged ahead with their own plans to build a family with DCF help.
"They (the Galluccios) are the real heroes," Amadeus noted. "All children benefit from adoption. We are only taking advantage of the hard work done by others, thankfully."
Zyel came to them when he was almost two, exhausted and wearing only a hospital gown after he was removed from his mother's care.
"We had just been licensed two weeks before. You go through the training and you tell yourself you can't get attached because the placement could be temporary but, the first time we put our arms around him, we knew he was our son. We knew, temporary or permanently, he was our son," he said.
Calling that first night, "Chaos, but happy, phenomenal chaos," Amadeus, a native of Portugal, prepared a traditional ethnic soup for Zyel to eat. They also ordered pizza and that was when the new dads heard Zyel say his first word: pizza.
"I wanted him to have something special, something that said, 'family,' when we brought him home. Even now, Zyel will ask me to make that special soup for him. It was wonderful but our heads didn't catch up with our bodies for about six months!" he said.
Camila was not quite a year old when she was placed with Amadeus and David on May 5, four years ago.
"Zyel was good with her right from the start," Amadeus continued. "She had a teething ring and he took it from her and came running in to the kitchen with it and scolded us, 'She could've choked on this!' He is very protective of her."
With the family complete at four members--- although Amadeus admitted anything is possible -- all the Santoses are eagerly looking forward to the wedding and to seeing the far-flung relatives who will gather for the celebration.
"There is a path everyone takes to parenthood and sometimes they have to deal with difficulties like miscarriage or difficulty getting pregnant or a placement that doesn't work out. But, you go through it because it's worth it, having a family is worth it. We'd do it all again in a heartbeat because we know what the end result is," Amadeus said.
"Fostering and adoption can be an emotional roller coaster but, at the end of the day, when the decision is final and you have your family, it's the greatest day of your life," he added.
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 400,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. For information about how you can become a foster or adoptive parent, please visit www.RaiseAChild.US.