The Family Redrawn
Now more than ever, no two Long Island families look alike. More and more same-sex couples and GLBT parents are having children and forming families. Read on as gay and lesbian locals share their stories: their journeys, their triumphs, and their hardships.
LaurieAnn and Heather Norwood
Farmingville resident LaurieAnn Norwood is passionate about educating and empowering couples during their journey into parenthood: in listening to her enthusiasm, it is evident that LaurieAnn speaks from personal experience. LaurieAnn and her wife, Heather, have been together eight years; the two met online and after dating three years decided to tie the knot and got legally married. During their engagement, the topic of children came up, and both women knew they wanted to have kids at a young age. They decided to start a family in 2006.
“We actually kept the fertility process to ourselves,” LaurieAnn remarked.
Their process was particularly special, as both women were planning on being pregnant simultaneously, and they wanted to wait until they were both pregnant before telling their respective families.
When they had announced their first pregnancy, their families were both excited and supportive.
“Their reactions are something we will remember forever,” she reminisced.
Unfortunately, their journey into parenthood was met with other challenges. She and Heather had a total of two inseminations and five in vitro fertilization (IVF) transfers in order to get pregnant with just their first-born, Ryan, who is now 3 and a half years old.
In addition, the two had both suffered miscarriages before Heather became pregnant again in 2011–this time, with twins.
“It was extremely draining–emotionally, mentally, and physically,” LaurieAnn stated. “[But] all of that quickly vanishes when you see those two pink lines on the pregnancy test!”
Heather went into labor prematurely at 27 weeks into gestation. The twin boys were born an hour and 15 minutes apart, weighing only a little over two pounds each. Both boys required extensive medical help. Sadly, after three days, their first twin, Parker, passed away. Today the surviving twin, Zachary, is a healthy 2-year-old.
“Losing Parker was the hardest thing either of us have ever faced,” LaurieAnn shared. “He holds a special place in our hearts, and we miss him so deeply every single day.”
Later the two had another addition to their family: their youngest son, Oliver, is only 10 months old and genetically Heather’s though LaurieAnn carried him. This meant a personal dream came true for LaurieAnn: “I have always wanted to carry my wife’s baby, and it’s so exciting that we were able to do that!”
Ryan, who LaurieAnn carried, is almost four and preparing for school. When asked what her plans were in terms of schooling, LaurieAnn stated that she and Heather, who is a stay-at-home mom, will be homeschooling their three children while planning to expose them to homeschool groups and events that are welcoming of all families.
“When [discrimination] comes up, we plan to use communication and education as our tools of defense,” she remarked. “We are raising our boys to be confident and proud of who they are and where they come from.”
LaurieAnn also shared that Ryan is already starting to observe that some families are different than his own. She noted that she and Heather choose to not shelter their sons from different families, teaching them with the hopes that different-sex families are doing the same for same-sex families.
“Our children are raised in a loving home by two parents who are committed to one another,” LaurieAnn stated. “Our children will be well-rounded, well-adjusted, and well-educated, loving people not because we are a two-mom family, but because we are raising them with love and respect.”
When asked what advice she would give same-sex couples who wanted to start a family, LaurieAnn simply remarked, “just start.”
“Since the journey to parenthood is very calculated for same-sex couples, waiting for the right time is impossible.” You also don’t know how long it will take to have a baby in your arms,” LaurieAnn shared. “For many, it takes [a long] time.”
Manny and Jose Velasquez-Paredes
Seeing parenthood as a long and daunting process certainly holds true for Manny Velasquez-Paredes. Manny and his partner, Jose, who met online eight years ago, live in Calverton. The two were looking to plan something to do after work one evening and happened to notice that Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) offered free parenting classes for people hoping to adopt children. The two had always talked about having a family, and after the first class, began to attend all the sessions to become certified foster parents through You Gotta Believe!, allowing them to be certified foster parents by the state of New York.
Both Manny and Jose, who work for different departments at the New York State Department of Labor, shared that though all of the pieces fell into the right order for them, they were met with some resistance by their loved ones.
“We had some relatives and friends who couldn’t understand our need to be parents. Perhaps their own insecurities or prejudices redirected them away from this new journey we were embarking on,” Manny shared, “[but] we have plenty of friends and family who have been behind us the entire process and have helped us to achieve the dream of being a family.”
Upon waiting for an inspection before getting certified, Manny stated that they had received a phone call that changed their lives: a couple they had known experienced tremendous personal issues and called Manny and Jose to take their baby boy, Max, who had just turned 13 months, while the child’s 3-year-old sister, Jaslene, went to a relative. Max was barely able to sit or move easily due to severe neglect, and Manny and Jose taught him to sit, stand, and walk in less than a month. About a month and a half later, Jaslene came to live with them, too.
Even two years later, Manny is still in awe. “It hits me–I’m a dad. Holy crap. I am in charge of assisting these children grow up and become productive members of society.”
Though Manny and Jose are helping raise their two children, they feel that the foster care system could feel slow. “We are still in that process, and it can be overwhelming at times […] if Jose and I are truly the best parents for these two kids, then they will become our adopted children.”
In the meantime, Manny also added that he and his partner have had positive experiences thus far with the school system.
“If we were to be discriminated by administration and staff, we would handle it directly with the Board of Education,” Manny stated. He also acknowledged that there may be issues with his children’s peers, and continues to teach them how to confront such issues with a positive and polite resolve.
Manny remarked that he and Jose are also preparing to have conversations with their children about the topic of “non-traditional” families, backing their decision with the firm belief that children should be informed with the ability to make up their own minds. “In the end what matters is that they are loved by two people who would do anything for them. What is considered a ‘traditional’ environment?”
Ultimately, Manny and Jose feel that a couple needs to be ready, stating that raising children is a full-time job, and that readiness allows for the couple to survive through numerous challenges a child can bring.
“I just want our children to be happy and healthy–and to become the best leaders they can be in whatever path they choose,” Manny remarked.
Jennifer Dukoff of Bay Shore shared the same sentiment. Jennifer, who is a single parent, beamed with pride that her daughter, Hannah, has known she wanted to be a doctor since she was 2 years old.
“All the dolls in the house are patients. They all have bandages, casts, and are taken very good care of by Dr. Hannah,” Jennifer said.
Since Jennifer performs ultrasounds for high-risk pregnancy, she had a copious amount of access to information, doctors, and testing, making her quite familiar with the process of starting a family. Jennifer is also a co-organizer of a gay parents group on Long Island called Lesbian & Gay Parents & Families of Long Island, a social group for gay parents and their children. She also remarked that reaching out to other gay couples who have gone through the parenthood process is a helpful resource in getting insight. Although she had always known that motherhood was going to be a natural choice for her since her youth, Jennifer shared that it was still an emotional process.
“Becoming a parent in the ‘non-traditional’ way requires a lot of planning and preparation and money–and every step of the process can be exciting and stressful,” Jennifer replied.
At 37 years old, Jennifer (now 42) had her daughter (who is now 4 and a half) and decided two and a half years ago to post an entry on the Donor Sibling Registry in order to locate any siblings Hannah may have.
“I felt that it would be a natural process for her as it is for many donor-conceived people to search for siblings–and I didn’t want her to look back 15 or 30 years to either not find them or play catch-up for a whole life,” Jennifer shared.
The registry found a match: a little boy only three weeks younger than Hannah. As of today, they spent the past two and a half years as a family, with seeing each other a few times a year, using Skype and the Internet, and sending packages.
“It has been an amazing journey, one I feel blessed to be on,” Jennifer reminisced, “I know Hannah and her brother love one another–and for that, my mommy-heart melts.” This year, they also learned that there is a little girl in Australia who is their sister, and they hope to maintain a relationship with her as well.
Though the process was “non-traditional,” Jennifer noted that she thinks the world is changing–and that there are many kinds of families for many different reasons. When it came to Hannah, who is going to start Kindergarten this September, Jennifer adhered to her philosophy that it is the guardian’s responsibility to educate the teachers about the child’s situation. She is teaching her daughter about various family dynamics and continues planning to address each question with honesty and confidence.
“After all, love is all you need,” Jennifer remarked.
When asked what she would say to people who believe that raising a child in a “non-traditional” environment causes issues for children, Jennifer said that all the research shows that children with same-sex parents can be well-adjusted, just like any other child: growing up with a gay or lesbian parent neither puts a child in a risk category nor gives the child a lesser chance of being well-adjusted than a child raised in a “traditional” home.
“I would tell the naysayers that love, lots of hugs, proper modeling, respect, good parenting, and constant involvement in one’s child’s life makes a good environment, and has less to do with what the genders and sexual orientation of the parent(s) or guardian is.”