NORFOLK — Two-year-old Ella is like most children her age.
She loves playing outdoors, coloring on the walls, and keeping up with her favorite television shows. But as she clings to her fathers, playing around them and trying to get their attention, it seems that above all else, what she loves the most is spending time with them.
Today, the small family feels like they have the picture-perfect life, but for Tom Higgins, 51 and Bernard Redmond, 37, getting to this point was not easy.
“I always knew that I wanted to have children,” Higgins said. “But I also knew that I wanted to do it with someone that I loved. I didn’t want to live a lie.”
Redmond and Higgins, who have been together for 11 years and married for two, originally had very different views on parenthood.
“I honestly wanted to have fun and stay young, you know?” Redmond said, laughing. “But when Ella came into our lives, I couldn’t imagine anything different.”
When the opportunity to adopt came to Higgins through his work as the development director of the Samaritan House, he immediately took it.
Through a co-worker, Higgins was put in touch with a young woman who was pregnant, homeless and living on the street. Higgins managed to place her into a program that helps foster children who have aged out of the system.
“She’s (the woman) lived a very difficult life,” Higgins said. “She was brought over from Russia when she was about 11 years old and raised in a foster care system in Virginia Beach. She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and was also dealing with a number of other problems that would have prevented her from caring for a child of her own.”
After getting to know both Higgins and Redmond, the woman approached the couple and asked if they would be interested in adopting her baby.
So the couple agreed to adopt Ella as a newborn, through a private adoption process.
“We would not be recognized as the official guardians until after she was born, meaning the mother could have changed her mind at any point,” Higgins said.
“It was a very stressful time,” added Redmond.
As a same-sex couple, the fathers went through a number of other difficulties that a heterosexual couple would not have faced during a private adoption process.
For instance, if they had been applying as a heterosexual couple, they would have been able to sign a surrogacy agreement that would have only cost up to $2,000, then fill out the court paperwork.
It’s that simple.
Both Higgins and Redmond also ended up paying more than $20,000 for the adoption.
“She’s worth every penny of course,” Redmond said. “But putting a price tag on a life, that’s what bothers me the most. That money could have gone to raising and supporting Ella now and in the future.”
In order to be considered the legal parents of Ella, they also had to be officially married, which for the couple, was done in more “appointment type” manner than traditional.
“I basically said, so what day looks good for you? Would Thursday work? ” Higgins said over Redmond’s laughter.
Getting married was no problem for the couple once they arrived at the courthouse in Norfolk on Jan. 14, 2016.
“It wasn’t my ideal wedding,” Redmond said. “But we did what we needed to do. It was actually a very smooth process.”
After waiting months and helping provide emotional support for Ella’s biological mother, both Higgins and Redmond were finally united with Ella on Feb. 10, 2016, the night she was born.
But even during the night of the adoption, the couple faced another problem that a heterosexual couple would not have had to deal with.
“A social worker who approached us at the hospital clearly had an issue with same-sex parents,” Higgins said.
The hospital would not let the couple take Ella home, even though the birth mother had signed away her rights.
“She said that Ella’s birth-mother could hand her over in the parking lot — like it was an illicit drug deal,” Higgins said.
Despite the obstacles they faced, both financially and socially, the couple agrees they have an amazing support system from strangers, friends, and family.
“She’s the apple of my eye, and I couldn’t imagine giving all this love to anyone else,” Redmond said.