“Some of the most heartfelt, and life-changing thoughts are often expressed without words,” wrote RaiseAChild contributing writer David Humiston when he sent in this week’s “Let Love Define Family®” series installment for Huffington Post Queer Voices.
Priscilla, just shy of her fifth birthday at the time and a child with special needs, could not walk or talk when Michael and Bruce Boden-Baumann first met her. Yet, she managed to speak deeply to both men with her soul-stirring actions. Both men, who were meeting with Priscilla and her foster Mom at the time, found themselves helplessly smitten when Priscilla earnestly scooted up to Michael and gestured imploringly with her arms to be picked up. Tenderly clambering up into his welcoming arms, she embraced Michael in a manner that spoke soft volumes to the hearts of both men and set the wheels in motion for a future that none of the three could have predicted.
Michael tells me that he was struck with Priscilla because she was “absolutely beautiful,” and she clearly had an equally powerful effect on Bruce. Both men knew at once that Priscilla was indeed special. As much as she may have needed them, it’s clear that both men began to feel their mutually special need for her to join their family.
When discussing the idea of fostering, Michael and Bruce, married in 2008 and together since 2001, had concerns. They were getting older and they had long spoken of plans to travel the world as a couple. They admitted that they had no experience with raising children, let alone a very young one with special needs.
Originally, both men had sought to reach out to foster LGBT teens that needed a safe, understanding and encouraging home environment. They discovered that the San Diego LGBT Center had a home for such teens, and they were referred to Walden Family Services, a group that struck a chord with Bruce because he recalled seeing them for several years at the San Diego Pride Festival. Michael and Bruce both felt an urgent need to help kids through their tough teenage years by showing them that people do care and that they, as gay adults, could be positive role models. Priscilla changed the direction of their love, but not the intent.
Wanting to help Priscilla in any way they could, Michael and Bruce offered to provide respite care to give her foster mother some free time. She took them up on their offer, and it was not long before Priscilla was spending two and three days a week with them. Six months later, Priscilla's foster father, who was in the U.S. military, was told he would be transferred out of state. Priscilla needed a new foster family. There was no question in anybody's mind about where she should go. The three of them were already very well acquainted, so when the agency approached them about taking Priscilla in as a foster placement, there was nothing more for them to discuss.
For the first month or two, both men were still under the assumption that they were just going to be a temporary home for Priscilla. Her special needs meant that she would likely need care for the rest of her life. They understood that Priscilla's biological mother was still in the picture, and that reunification with her biological family was still the end goal. As the months went on, however, it became increasingly apparent that reunification was most likely not going to become a reality. Michael and Bruce soon realized that their "temporary" placement arrangement could actually turn into a "permanent" placement. As that realization set in, so did their conviction that parting with Priscilla was no longer a real option for them. At first they tried to convince themselves that Priscilla needed to be with a younger family that might give her the long-term care she would need, but they realized that they could hardly bear the idea of parting with her. Hearts changed to a point of no return, they did the previously unthinkable and became a permanent family on Priscilla's seventh birthday.
Priscilla still doesn’t speak, but she finds ways to communicate. Sign language proved to be less useful than anticipated, but they have used an iPad application called “Go Talk Now” that has opened increasing avenues for them to connect. "Go Talk Now" uses pictures and words in combination so that Priscilla can describe her thoughts more easily. Hugs and kisses are still used as primary communication tools by seven-year-old Priscilla, who Michael says has the approximate cognitive function of a two-year-old child but is making advances, bit by bit, every day.
Michael and Bruce have been invited guests at speaking functions promoting adoption. As Michael and Bruce speak enthusiastically about love, commitment, and unbreakable bonds, I have little doubt that their enthusiasm is as infectious to an entire audience as it is one-on-one. Michael tells me that he enjoys every minute of parenting from late nights to early mornings and everything in between. It’s fulfilling, he says, to watch her blossom, and he’s a proud papa. He describes his adoption of Priscilla as a blessing and a beautiful gift, though I think he gives at least as much as he gets in that regard. Priscilla’s biological mother lost her parental rights, but she finds that she is glad for Priscilla in her new home. Biology isn’t everything, Michael reminds me, and when people say how beautiful Priscilla is, he often responds that she “gets it from her father.”
Have you ever thought of building a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting? 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 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. 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. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.
Join RaiseAChild for a very special National Foster Care Awareness Month Celebration in Los Angeles on Sunday, May 1, 2016 to benefit RaiseAChild and our partner agencies including Penny Lane Centers, Adoptions at Vista Del Mar, The Village Family Services, and Walden Family Services. More information is available at http://honors.preclickbid.com or by calling (323) 417-1440.