When Amanda and I met in 2002, we knew we would build a life together and have a family someday, but I am not sure either of us could have predicted the constellation of the two white moms, 3 African-American kids, 2 cat family we now commonly refer to as “Team Lehman.” We grew up at a time when there were not popular role models for LGBT families. We each came out a little after Ellen did, and the role models of openly gay individuals were generally just that… individuals.
We were married in 2006 and started to seriously think through our options for starting a family soon after. We attended a panel discussion about options for LGBT people starting a family. After learning about alternative insemination, foster care adoption, and private domestic/international adoption, foster adoption spoke to us and felt aligned with our careers in urban education and our goals and values. We left with the clear message that this path would not be easy, but was the right one for us.
So we did what educators do, we read everything we could get our hands on, we found the AFT (Adoptive Families Together) support group and started attending around the same time we started our MAPP classes in fall of 2009. We made connections with other foster adopt families. We heard many stories of both how rewarding and how challenging this path would be. We were told by our MAPP Parent Instructor, “stay open – it’s great to have an idea of what you want, but stay open to every possibility.” So we finished our classes and then our homestudy and decided we were open to a sibling group and wanted babies or younger children.
The few months we waited felt like forever, and then the email from our social worker came.
There was a sibling pair, 6-year old Corianah and 4-year old TeJon. We were told they were bright, resilient, and had challenging behaviors. We got a fuzzy picture of them and headed to a disclosure meeting to learn about their removal from their birth home at 1 and 3, their transitions in the foster care system, and the other siblings they had been separated from in the transition. We wanted to immediately say yes but their social worker made us sleep on it, telling us we needed to be sure because these kids were especially sensitive to transition and she wanted to be sure this transition would be their last.
We did say yes and we started visits and then went from 2 adults in our 2 bedroom condo to a bustling instant family of 4. We were about as prepared as I think we could have been, but we soon learned to embrace the unexpected. We didn’t expect to do 4 school transitions for our 6 year old as we worked to get her in the right school for her with the support she would need. We didn’t expect to move to a 4 bedroom house with a backyard less than a year after placement. We didn’t expect to start considering therapy our after school activity as we sought every service we could for the two of them and then drove all over the city to make it happen. We didn’t expect to master the “fireman carry” as our main mode of getting the kids to leave the park because their social worker was right – they were sensitive to every transition. We didn’t expect to constantly answer questions like, “Are you really his mom?” and “Does she take after her father?” We didn’t expect to fall in love so quickly despite all the challenges – and there were many. Most of all, we didn’t expect to feel like we had been truly “matched” with our kids. We did all belong together. I honestly cannot imagine two kids with bigger personalities and we learned to embrace the messier lives we now led.
The first year was really difficult, the second year was hard, and as time went on, it got slowly easier in moments. We became better parents, kids adjusted, and we fell into a groove. We started to be able to tease out what issues would get better with the transition and what needs would remain and how we could get the appointments, services, and training we would need to help our kids. We knew early trauma had a life-long impact – we read it in books – but now we were living it.
Embracing the unexpected has continued for us.
In 2013, we decided to grow our family again. We started the process to adopt through foster care and then realized we needed to “stay open” and reconsider the needs of our now 9 and 6 year old. We pursued private domestic infant adoption and Josiah joined Team Lehman in 2014. In 2015, we learned how to navigate CBHI services to help TeJon with his mental and behavioral health challenges. In 2016, Corianah came out as transgender and began his social transition by announcing to the YMCA camp director, “My name is Jack, I identify as a boy and President Obama says I can use whatever bathroom I want.” We have become fierce advocates for the needs of kids with early trauma, for mental health services, for LGBT families and kids, and for post-adoption services. We have created a community of LGBT, trans-racial, and adoptive families. We have gotten used to the fact that our family will never “blend in” and we embrace it. With Jack now 13, TeJon about to be 11, and Josiah now 3, we know there will be even more unexpected events to come…and we again are as ready as we can be and probably not as ready as we’ll want to be. When Amanda and I imagined a family 15 years ago, I am pretty sure we couldn’t have predicted “Team Lehman,” but we wouldn’t have it any other way!
About the Family
Dana and Amanda live in Roslindale with Jack (13), TeJon (10), and Josiah (3). Favorite family outings include the Aquarium and the Zoo. They also enjoy time in the backyard, takeout dinner, and reading books in bed.