June 01, 2022
LOVE Is What Makes A Family 🌈

In celebration of Pride month, we are overjoyed to share the words of our friends Rachel and Cortney Blank, Orlando-based moms to two adorable kiddos. Learn about their fertility journey, the ways that benefits at work have helped them grow their family, and how you can be a better ally to the LGBTQIA+ community in your roles as parent and professional. 

 

We're Both "The Moms" by Rachel Blank

For as long as I can remember, I thought I would have kids one day. I never wanted to be pregnant, so I figured I would adopt when I grew up. Well, I came to terms with my sexual orientation in my teens and it seemed increasingly more likely that adopting would be my only option. That is, if the agency allowed same-sex couples to adopt, or if the birth parents were open to letting LGBTQIA+ individual(s) raise their child.


Blank Family Photo

Fast forward 15-something years and I’m proud to say that I’m happily married to the love of my life, Cortney, and we have two beautiful children. It was not easy to get there though! When Cortney and I started dating, same-sex marriage was still not legal in the majority of the United States (and the world). “Gay Marriage” (or as I call it…marriage) has been a hot topic of debate for decades. But until recently, there has not been as much talk or news coverage about LGBTQIA+ families.


Sure, you will sometimes here a “heartwarming story” about the gay foster dads who adopt 5 siblings out of foster care after they waited for a forever home for years without luck. I put “heartwarming story” in quotes because this is anything but. For decades…LGBTQIA+ individual(s) have been the bottom of the barrel when it comes to access to adoption and parenthood in general. Faith-based adoption agencies, and state laws that allow discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, are often to blame. Many couples have only had success by fostering to adopt as there are less restrictions based on sexual orientation or gender identity to become a foster parent. 


“Same-sex parents in the United States are four times more likely than different-sex parents to be raising an adopted child…13% of same-sex parents have an adopted child, compared to just 3% of different-sex parents.” (LGBT adoption statistics)

A map of adoption non-discrimination laws across the US 


In addition to the difficulty of adopting, the other primary avenues to have children (surrogacy and in vitro fertilization) have been unattainable to many, especially LGBTQIA+ couples. Similarly, most health insurance companies do not provide any fertility coverage to same-sex couples. After all, infertility as defined by the Mayo Clinic is “not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most couples.” So, either all same-sex couples are infertile…or none of us are. We could try for 50 years to naturally conceive, but without medical intervention, two women really won’t have any luck.


Our journey to motherhood

When my wife and I sought help from a fertility specialist, it turned out that our insurance did not deem us as “infertile” and we would have to pay out of pocket upwards of $30,000 to attempt to have a child via in vitro. This, of course, did NOT include the cost of the medication needed for the process.

Fortunately, a few months after our initial consultation I was offered a job at a company that offers not only a fertility benefit (including in vitro fertilization, egg retrievals, etc), but also an adoption reimbursement. Little did I know I’d have to use both.

Meds

We were both on hormones at the same time

Egg Retrieval Blank Family

Egg retrieval

Blank Family

Our oldest daughter


Cortney and I decided to do a process called reciprocal in vitro. In other words, we used my eggs and a sperm donor, and Cortney carried our children. During the pregnancy we discovered that many other LGBTQIA+ parents strongly suggested adopting their own children. After consulting with a family lawyer with experience with this, it turned out the safest thing we could do would be for me to adopt all of our children as they are born.


I had to adopt my biological daughters

This is where things get a bit crazy. My wife and I are legally married and were so at the time of conception. I am on the birth certificate for both girls. I am their biological mother, Cortney carried. So why on earth would I ever need to adopt my own kids? It’s simple, to protect them and myself from discrimination.


A birth certificate is considered a medical document. They don’t perform a maternity test to allow a second female to sign as a parent. Also, as I mentioned, same-sex marriage has only been legally recognized in the United States for seven or so years. As you can imagine, some states, cities and businesses are not too happy about it and will do (and do do) anything in their power to not recognize our marriage. By doing what is called a confirmatory adoption, I have gone through the courts to legally claim my girls as my children. 


Acceptance can be a daily struggle, but it doesn’t have to be

I can’t count the number of times I have been referred to as Cortney’s “friend” or questioned about which of us is “the mom.” When our youngest was in the NICU, the doctor even referred to me as the aunt, which further added to my anxiety over being the non-gestational parent. 


Over the two and a half years of being one of TWO moms, Cortney and I have encountered many situations that were awkward, uncomfortable or downright insulting. Though often not intentional, the way same-sex parents are questioned, talked to or denied things that a heteronormative couple would not be…can make motherhood just that much harder.

Love makes a family

Our oldest kiddo at pride representing that LOVE makes a family

How can you be an ally for ALL families?

  • Stop making assumptions: the nuclear family is far from the norm.
This one applies to any families that do not have one mom and one dad. Many kids are raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, two moms, two dads, foster parents, single parents, non-binary parents, step parents, co-parents, etc. 


    By erasing the assumption that a child probably is being raised by two parents, one of each gender, you can stop a lot of hurt before it happens. This assumption can come back to the kids and make them feel like outsiders because “their family is not like everyone else's.”

    • Wording matters. Try not to appear insensitive

    I won’t hold it against anyone who asks questions. In fact, Cortney and I encourage it and are very open about the fact that we are a married couple with two kids. However, there are times when we find ourselves talking about our journey and someone keeps coming back to “well, technically there is a father,” or “which one of you is the real mom?

    We all understand biology; a sperm donor is biologically the father. However, our family was created with two women wanting to raise children as our own. As for the “real mom,” it is more polite to ask who carried the child/children.

    This also applies when someone is pregnant, starting a family through surrogacy or planning to foster or adopt. Making light about things when it comes to growing a family can be hurtful. For instance, insinuating that starting a family is going to be easy can trigger a lot of emotions.

    “Why don’t you just use a surrogate?”
    “You’re so lucky! You get to look through a catalog of men for your designer baby.”
    “You could always just adopt.”
    “Why do you need to adopt? You’re both women.”
    “I wish I had two dads, {insert stereotype here}.”

    Be careful with how you word things. Family planning is not easy, cheap or without intense emotions for some people.

     

    • Stand up for families that are different than yours

    As I stated earlier, LGBTQIA+ couples are often discriminated against by adoption agencies, state legislatures, company policies, etc. We are not the only ones. When you see or hear someone being treated differently because their family doesn’t meet someone’s expectation of “normal,” stand up for them.

    We are currently living in Florida, where surprisingly we have more LGBTQIA+ parent friends than we did in California. Unfortunately, new legislation passed that prohibits public school teachers from talking about sexual orientation from kindergarten until the third grade, and only “age appropriate” topics after. 


    This legislation is framed as keeping children safe and making sure teachers do not overstep and encourage students to question their sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Don’t be fooled by those claims that this is to protect children. In reality, it threatens the safety of LGBTQIA+ students who do not have a safe space at home to ask questions. 

    It erases my family from existence in schools. When my daughters start school and other students have questions about why they have two moms and no dad, the teacher legally can not provide any answers. If they choose to explain that some children have a mom and a dad, some have two moms or two dads, some have a grandma or uncle or whoever it is that takes care of them…well, that teacher could get the school sued.

    Without talking about anything inappropriate or sexual in nature, a teacher can lose their job and get a school into a lot of trouble for merely acknowledging that families like mine exist.

    So I implore you to think about your perception of what a family is. And when you come across one that doesn’t fit in the box of the 1950’s ideal American family, think about some of the ways you can make the world a little bit more accepting for those parents and their kids.