99 Problems

Published on January 17th, 2017 | by Andrea Lawlor



This morning we went downtown to the probate court so that I might adopt my own child. He’s three and a half, and all he knew was that he got to “do paperwork” with Baba. He was excited about that prospect—although, to be fair, not as excited as he was to come to a department meeting with me in December.

The people at the court downtown are famously kind—all my pals in the local non-gestational queer & trans parents’ group have raved about how the court workers place helpful post-its on the forms, how you don’t need a lawyer, how they waive the social worker visit, how they take a polaroid of your family after. Our clerk even rushed our court date to get us in before the inauguration. I’m grateful for the rush, for the post-its, and for the nice Polaroid, which they gave to us in a frame with a souvenir certificate. I’m grateful that the entire proceeding took ten minutes, and that we encountered no trouble. But it didn’t make me want to celebrate. Joni Mitchell said, We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall keeping us tied and true. Well, we shouldn’t, but maybe now we do.


When my girlfriend and I decided to try to get her pregnant, we went through a long process familiar in parts to queer people and to single mothers by choice. We made many decisions together along the way to having our beloved baby; I’m not sure how many babies in the history of human conception have been as planned as are the contemporary queerspawn of AFAB artists and academics. Like any nongestational parent supporting a partner through pregnancy, I tracked the baby’s progress from blueberry to peach to mango to endive (for real!), I finished the first-trimester leftovers my girlfriend turned against, I sorted hand-me-downs, I went to all the appointments. I racked up tons of fun praise from strangers for doing these very basic things, because the bar for being a good dad is low.
And, despite our shared political and aesthetic dispositions against the institution, I went with my girlfriend down to the justice of the peace when she was eight months pregnant and we got married, to protect our family from legally hostile strangers. Because of this, I am listed as “father” on our baby’s birth certificate. When the Supreme Court repealed DOMA two years after our baby was born, I took “second-parent adoption” off my to-do list.

Come November 9th, like many queer and trans people, I began scrambling to get my paperwork in order before January 20th.  Here’s the first form I encountered:

  • RELATIONSHIP TO CHILD BEING ADOPTED: (I’m not even going to get into a whole thing about being a baba here. Parent is simple but elegant and true.)
  • LENGTH OF TIME YOU HAVE RESIDED WITH CO-PETITIONER: For 12 or 13 years, but we’ve been involved for much longer. There was also that year we were long distance after living together for three years—does that count? What about the time we separated for ten months?
  • DESCRIBE THE STABILITY OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CO-PETITIONER: I’d be glad to describe the stability of my relationship with my partner in detail just as soon as all couples planning to have kids have to do the same thing (not a bad idea, actually).
  • DESCRIBE YOUR COMMITMENT TO THE CO-PETITIONER: Sure! Right after you describe your commitment to your co-petitioner.
  • IF YES, PLEASE STATE WHICH OF THE BIOLOGICAL OR LEGAL PARENT(S) YOU KNOW: Our child has one biological parent, two legal parents, and one donor. I know all of us.
  • WERE THEY MARRIED TO EACH OTHER AT THE TIME OF THE CHILD’S BIRTH: Yes, “they” (his mother and I) were married to each other when our child was born. Our friend who gave us sperm was not married to anyone and still isn’t, though he is a major catch.
  • DOES THE CHILD HAVE CONTACT WITH HIS/HER BIOLOGICAL PARENTS: Yes. He lives with his birth mother, who is his mother and my partner, so he has quite a lot of contact with this birth parent of his actually. We also have contact with our beloved friend who gave us sperm.
  • IF YES, HOW FREQUENTLY, HOW RECENTLY, AND WHAT IS THE QUALITY OF THE CONTACT: His mother just wiped his nose before rocking him to sleep about 10 minutes ago. We have brunch a few times a year with our beloved friend who gave us sperm, and we’d love to see him more! Very nice quality!

Also, why do they need to know my assets, or who my life insurance beneficiaries are? Classist assumptions about who’s fit to parent. The narrative we had to fill out added insult to the injury of having to get a CORI check. The letter from the courthouse reminded us that “PROPER DRESS IS REQUIRED,” which as you might imagine made me want to break out my old Queer Nation tee shirts.


But instead, I put on a tie, my girlfriend (she’s still my girlfriend) put on a pretty sweater, we wrangled a turtleneck and semi-nice sweatpants onto our child, we brought our forms downtown, and now I have been legally designated a “second parent.” After having co-parented our child for his entire life. So while I’m always happy to cross something off my to-do list, I’m not feeling particularly celebratory today.

Most of Trump’s cabinet picks have this in common—a startling history of virulent anti-LGBTQ action, inextricable, of course, from their collective history of white supremacist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, misogynist, and predatory capitalist action. We submitted to this deeply offensive process, as a family, in order to protect our child from the threat of the incoming administration. Unlike so many others, at least we have the option. For now.

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Family photos by Steve Dillon, excepting court polaroid

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About the Author

Andrea Lawlor teaches writing at Mount Holyoke College, is the recipient of a 2020 Whiting Award for Fiction, and has been awarded fellowships by Lambda Literary and Radar Labs. Their publications include a chapbook, Position Papers (Factory Hollow Press, 2016), and a novel, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, a 2018 finalist for the Lambda Literary and CLMP Firecracker Awards. Paul, originally published by Rescue Press in 2017, is out now from Vintage/Knopf (US) and Picador (UK & Ireland).


  1. Raine Dozier says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Andrea. It’s not what I want to read, but such a thoughtful explication of this whole fucked up process!

  2. Susan Glatki says:

    I am sorry that you had to go through all this to adopt your own child. I am sorry that currently there is a political atmosphere that made you afraid you would lose what you have legally formed as your own family. Congratulations that your family is now doubly protected. Know that not all adoptions are like yours and therefore many of the questions are necessary. I have helped many adoptive families who are adopting non-biological children, who are adopting children who are nieces, nephews or grandchildren, and who are promising to maintain post adoption contact with the child’s biological family members so that the children do not lose that link to their ancestory, health history, or other family members. I have also had to guard against people wanting to adopt children for monetary reasons, for sexually deviant reasons, etc. If you look at those questions from the perspective of a child, ensuring their protection, safety, security, and wanting to ensure that the adults have taken these into consideration, your head might explode for different reasons.

    • Andrea Lawlor says:

      Hi Susan, 

      Thanks so much for reading my essay! And thank you for your work on behalf of children in the system. While I am deeply sympathetic to the needs of adopted children, I think you are missing the point of my piece–my child should not have had to be adopted. He was planned for and conceived by my partner and me and, in fact, would not have had to be adopted if I was a cis-man legally married to my partner and using donor sperm. This is discrimination.  

      All my best,

  3. Brenda says:

    Sorry you had to do all this. I too am the non carrying Partner although, luckily I did not have to go through the hoops you did to adopt our son. In CA it’s a stepparent adoption and basic paperwork. None of the questions you had to answer. We didn’t even have to go to court, the papers were mailed to us. But, I did feel all the feelings you did. We are married, he is our son, he was planned and loved theough the whole process, why do I have to do this! Why do I have to take time off from work, fill out a ton of papers, get documentation from the doctor and pay fees to prove my son is mine. One day this won’t be. I have faith in the next generation. My nieces and nephews don’t have this prejudice. Here’s to hope!

  4. Leigh Fowler says:

    I love this post. My partner and I have been through second parent adoption twice for a total of 8 adoptions. We have 4 sons. My partner gave birth to the first, and I gave birth to the next 3. As soon as a few attorneys started doing second parent adoptions in NC, we jumped on board. A few years later, those adoptions were undone (well, the state said they were never really good in the first place). Years later as the laws changed, we married and did the adoptions again. I adopted our oldest; she adopted the next three. It was all so crazy. We didn’t celebrate either. I didn’t want the kids to even realize we had previously been in a legally precarious situation. Plus, it was bitter-sweet given the circumstances. They are now 17, 15, 15, and 8. The world has changed for the better since they were born. But, today, Trump became our president, so I am not feeling very celebratory.

    • Andrea Lawlor says:

      Hi Leigh,

      Wow, that is such an extreme level of unnecessary bullshit. I am so sorry (and angry) that your family had to go through all that.

      Sending love and solidarity,

  5. Pingback: LGBTQ Parenting Roundup: Thus Begins a New Era Edition - Mombian

  6. Michele Barale says:

    What a terrific piece, Andrea. Thanks for writing what needs to be said.

  7. Aime DeGrenier says:

    Thanks for this Andrea. My wife and I went though this 13 years ago, just a year or so before we were legally able to get married. I remember the process being especially scary as the paperwork required ME, the birth mom, to also be included in the adoption process. I burned some of the papers, never wanting our kids to come across them. I eventually threw out the signing pens too. While I’m glad we could make it legal, the process we were required to go though still stings!

    I did keep the polaroid though!

  8. Maureen Carey says:

    Thanks for sharing your family’s story. Similarly, my husband and many other Irish long-term green card holding residents also decided to take a drastic legal action in response to Trump’s election. They went ahead with getting American citizenship after hesitating for decades. Including many who had always said they never would, because of their allegiance to their home country. And yes, the officials were very nice. We live in interesting times.

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