Never Give Up: Adoption Advice from a Canadian Gay Man Who Fought the Government…And Won

This guest post is by David McKinstry, an adoptive father. 

“In for a pound, in for penny.”  

I remember my grandparents using that old adage when they’d tell me about making the decision to leave Ireland and the United Kingdom bound for Canada in the early 20th century. They said once the decision was made, there was no turning back and they faced the fact they were “in for a pound, in for a penny” and would meet all adjustments and challenges head-on and with determination to make it work.  Likewise, I assumed that headstrong position when I decided, early in my life, that I would be a parent someday, one way or the other. 

Living through the 1980’s as a young man, it wasn’t a time in history predisposed to gay people adopting children. In 1983 I was still not ‘out’ and inquired about adoption as a single man which drew the ire of some social workers who said, “when we have couples wanting to adopt babies and children, why would we give you a child over a couple?” 

My first lover, a med student at the University of British Columbia, bought into my desire to adopt but he unfortunately passed away in a car accident. There weren’t many gay men lining up to date a guy who wanted to adopt children, so I figured I would become a single dad. However, I was still told no respectable social agency would endorse me as a candidate for adoption. 

I had been adopted as an infant and I had been raised with the belief that adoption was just another way in which children found their way from heaven into the arms of their forever families.  While I was part of the University of Toronto varsity swim team in the mid-1970’s, I attended an international swim training camp in Fort Lauderdale. Wanting to be straight like all my peers, I found a University of Texas swimmer named Becki with whom I had sex on the beach at New Years. This was mostly to prove that I was heterosexual like all my swim team mates. 

I was surprised to learn she was pregnant and happy to hear she was going to carry the baby to full term and give it up to be adopted. However, it sunk in quickly that I’d never see ‘my child’ and I was devastated having created a second-generation child that had to be given up for adoption (twenty-two years later I sought out my son and we had one long conversation over the phone).

Many years later, now accepting that I was a gay man, I met my first husband Nick and together we navigated the uncharted waters of surrogacy and adoption in both Canada and the United States.  Every time we paid our $10,000 US registration fee for surrogacy, within months that state’s legislature would outlaw surrogacy or as it was commonly known by lawmakers as baby-brokering. That happened four times to us in less than 18 months. 

We finally connected with a law firm in California that handled the placement of babies born to university women who wanted to give their baby up for adoption but have some part in deciding who would get to raise their child. As my husband lay on his deathbed due to an AIDS diagnosis, we received word that a young woman who was 5.5 months pregnant had chosen us to raise her baby. 

Tragically, Nick died hours later but knew we were going to get a child. I immediately started renovations to accommodate a baby and the nursery was almost completed when I received a call from the lawyer explaining that the woman carrying our baby had been in a car accident. Her baby – our baby – bad been born prematurely at 6.5 months into the pregnancy and lived long enough to be christened Nicole. She died 8 hours later. Once again, now on my own, I was back to square one. I was back with my penny.

Two years later I met Michael, my present husband. I had become a thorn in the side of the Canadian Government in my efforts to change laws that would allow gay men to adopt children. Finally, as I discuss in my new book Rebel Dad: Triumphing Over Bureaucracy Two Adopt Two Orphans Born Worlds Apart, I got the opportunity to do an international adoption in India. Perhaps my bad fortune was (at long last) changing.

I went to Delhi, India to visit to 18 approved orphanages from which our government would allow a Canadian to adopt orphans. After 17 near misses at the other orphanages, the 18th orphanage on my list agreed to find me a child. Three months later they called me to inform me they had a darker skinned boy, about 5 years old, and if I wanted him, I could have this boy.  Because of his darker skin tone, he wouldn’t be adopted by locals or Indian’s living abroad, all of whom wanted to adopt lighter skin children than themselves.  I didn’t hesitate to say “YES !”

While waiting to bring my son home to Canada, I received a call from the Children’s Wish Foundation about a mom and her 4-year-old son at the airport and in need of one last holiday together. Michael and I own Woodhaven Country Lodge and, at the time, were regularly called by charitable groups to provide free respite care holidays. 

This woman, Susan, had AIDS and US airlines refused to allow her to board a plane to either fly over American airspace or to land in Florida to visit Disneyland with her son because of her Aids status. We had just had a cancellation that morning and so I said, “send them up to Woodhaven!”  

Susan and her son Kolwyn arrived Friday afternoon and settled in to their suite.  Later that evening while enjoying supper in the dining room, Susan overheard guests asking me when I’d be returning to India to bring our son, now named Nicholas, home.  Intrigued, she asked if I was worried about leprosy or AIDS in a child I might adopt from India.  Rather off-handedly, I said “Nicholas might as well have our blood in his veins.  He is our son and we aren’t concerned with health issues.  We just want our son home.” 

As we would later learn, those words were like music to Susan’s ears.  She had tried to find relatives to adopt her 4-year-old son, but everyone wanted her child to have an AIDS test before agreeing to adopt him and Susan refused to give him to anyone who put conditions on the adoption. 

Early the next morning, I found Susan having coffee in the Woodhaven library and she asked me to sit down with her.  Within seconds she said, “I now know in my heart why God didn’t let me get on that plane to Florida.  I was meant to come here and ask you and Michael to adopt my son, Kolwyn, so he can be a little brother to your son Nicholas and live here at Woodhaven with you and Michael. I can’t die with peace until I find my son a new family and I think you’re what I’ve been searching for…would you adopt my son?” Again, much like with Nicholas, I immediately said yes. I became Kolwyn’s co-legal guardian with his mother and he moved in with us 3 weeks later. Unfortunately, his mother died at Casey House, a Toronto AIDS hospice, 7 weeks later.  

Meanwhile, I continued to fight our government and its tardiness regarding finalizing the international adoption of our son Nicholas, languishing in the orphanage in India. Finally, after waiting 11 months to come home to Canada, the Immigration Department finally gave me clearance to bring Nicholas home. I flew to India to meet my son for the first time and within a week we flew home to Canada to be reunited with his other Dad and his brother Kolwyn…and our lodge full of five Golden Retrievers. After years of battles, heartbreak, and hardships, I had the family I knew I was meant to have.

This was a journey of tenacity and dogged-determination. We entered the Canadian history books as the first gay couple in Canada approved to co-adopt our children and pave the way for other gay couples to win the dignity and legal right to co-adopt children in 2001. 

Please don’t give up the dream to be a parent through adoption. If you’ve read this blog, you know how frustrating this path may become.  I sometimes wish biological parents had to be scrutinized by the overworked network of social workers before having children – maybe you think so too. If they did, maybe there would be fewer disadvantaged kids in foster care.

If by sharing my story, and by releasing Rebel Dad which goes into more detail, I hope my message reaches those who are still sitting on the fence; those who don’t know where to start; and those who think that they are too old or single to start a family. You will need to become a maverick and be tenacious. If you stick with the program, it will happen…just as it did for Michael and me.

Yes, we had to deal with things such as the loss of their mothers, but we did it with kindness and compassion, and, most importantly, together as a family.

Your Friend,

David

As the first openly gay Canadian man approved to adopt internationally, David McKinstry set a legal precedent in 1997. A few years later, with his second husband, Michael, he did so again when they became the first gay Canadian couple to co-adopt children. David lives at Woodhaven Country Lodge near Peterborough, Ontario, with his husband Michael. Their two sons, Nicholas and Kolwyn, have finished university and are traveling the globe with their girlfriends.

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