This week’s installment of the Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US Let Love Define Family series highlights an LGBT-headed family that has found love and acceptance and a good quality of life in a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains.
Located 70 miles west of Denver, the small ski town of Fraser is known locally as the “Icebox of the Nation,” although the “official” title was won by International Falls, Minn., in 2007 after a protracted “cold war.” In the last population survey in 2012, the town’s tiny population was slowly chugging toward the 1,200 mark. Long winters and an economy based on tourism make life in Fraser difficult, but the locals are dedicated and extol its virtues.
Eric Van Herwaarden, 36, and Philip Naill, 42, of Fraser, Colo., are partners in business and life. Two and a half years ago they also became partners in parenthood. As the owners of the graphic and web design agency O2 Creative, which they operate out of their home, Eric and Philip get lots of “together time.” Now that they are Papa and Daddy to two-and-a-half-year-old Jacob P. Vandernail, life is busier than ever.
Living in the mountains proved challenging as the couple sought a foster/adoptive placement, but they did not encounter any anti-LGBT discrimination in their application and trainings with a Denver-based agency. They speak highly of the certification worker, caseworker and guardian ad litem who answered their questions, provided resources, and helped them through the process. After certification, the men received seven calls about potential placements that did not work out, but the eighth time was a charm.
“When we least expected it, we got the call that changed our lives forever!” said Eric. “There was a baby boy all alone in the NICU! We had requested a child 0–3 years old, but we never expected a newborn. The first time I held him, I knew he was ours -- even with the long road ahead of us.”
The long road Eric referred to meant many things: the long process through which parental rights were terminated in order to free the baby for adoption; the surprising changes in relationships with friends and family as some reliable people became unsupportive while other people stepped forth with unexpected reinforcements; the many medical and therapeutic needs of the baby.
“The people I thought would be most supportive were the least supportive and visa versa,” Eric said. “I found that having a child does change your relationships with people –- for good or bad. And that is OK because we made choices for our family not others."
“It was hard for people to understand the process so our support system completely changed during this time,” Eric added. “During this time we really had to rely on each other to get through it. It was an emotional roller coaster and on top of that we were running a business -- I was holding the phone with my head and shoulder, typing with one hand, and holding a bottle in the other hand.”
In the first two years of Jacob’s life, he had many doctors visits in Denver and endured a couple of surgeries, as well as physical, occupational and speech therapy. His speech therapy continues.
“Philip always wanted to have kids, but I was not interested until one day I realized that I did not just want to live for us -- I wanted to share our love,” said Eric. “I liked the idea of foster/adopt because kids in the system did not choose to be in the system, just as we did not choose to be gay. It is not an easy life for any of us alone, but together we can create a beautiful life where love makes a family.”
While Eric had anticipated difficulties in pursuing a family through foster/adoption, he was surprised. “Personally, I was really nervous at every step of the process because I don’t like being judged but amazing things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. I don’t feel the process is any different then for a straight family. I never felt treated different and never felt judged by the social workers.”
Eric is proud of his family. “Philip is an awesome daddy and Jacob is a very sweet and brave boy. He has not had an easy start but no matter what he goes through he comes back with a smile. He loves other kids and likes to make others feel better if they are sad. I am most proud of his resilience –- from doctor’s visits, to surgeries, to therapies, to dealing with a lot of colds -- he continues to catch up with milestones and amazes me how fast he is turning from a baby to a little boy.”
As Eric and Philip grow their family in one of the coldest towns in the country, they nurture one another and their young son with great care. Among the many milestones they look forward to is the day they can legally marry in Colorado, when all three will take the legal last name Vandernail, symbolizing their unity as a family in their own eyes and those of their community.
Corinne Lightweaver is Special Projects Manager at RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children – All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,000 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.raiseachild.us and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”