Alternative Families Increasing Numbers of Children Are Growing Up with Gay Parents - a Reality That Prompted a Pediatrics Group to Take Notice

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Byline: Lisa Friedman Miner Daily Herald Staff Writer

As a child, Donna Rafanello dreamed of becoming a mom, playing pregnancy when most girls her age were content wrapping baby dolls in blankets.

"I always had a basketball up my shirt," she recalls.

Never once - not when she finally admitted to herself that she was gay, not when she came out to her parents - did Rafanello ever believe she would have to give up her dream.

In fact, she and her long-time partner Lisa Stumm considered having a wedding but nixed the idea. Instead, they exchanged vows privately more than 16 years ago and saved the money for any medical bills they'd face in having a child.

After weighing their options, the two Palatine women decided Rafanello would carry the baby and Stumm would adopt. They chose a Chinese donor so the baby would look like Stumm, who is half Chinese.

Sadie is almost 4 now, a typical preschooler in many ways.

She knows there's a difference, though, between her home life and that of most of her classmates.

"I have two mommies," she says matter-of-factly. "My friend Ian has only one."

Sadie is not alone. While statistics are hard to come by, increasing numbers of children are being raised by gay couples - a fact recently acknowledged by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a policy statement earlier this month, the Elk Grove Village- based AAP came out in support of co-parent or second-parent adoptions for children of gay couples. That means if one gay parent has a child - through artificial insemination, a surrogate mother, adoption or other means - his or her partner should be allowed to adopt the child as well.

Second-parent adoptions are legal in Illinois and most other states, so the policy could have little overall effect, yet it's notable because of the message it sends.

The policy drew both praise and fire.

"I thought it was wonderful," Rafanello says. "It's a brave stand to take because it's not popular with everybody."

Dr. Eugene Diamond, a Chicago pediatrician and long-time faculty member at Loyola University School of Medicine, agrees with the lack of popularity part - but not with the statement.

"This is a terrible policy and it is in no way representative of the membership of the AAP," says Diamond, an academy member and president of the American Association of Pro-Life Physicians. "The last thing the American Academy of Pediatrics should be doing is promoting this politically sensitive lifestyle."

One family's story

From the start, Donna Rafanello and Lisa Stumm wanted a family.

Stumm initially pushed for adoption so both women would have the same ties to the child. Rafanello, however, wanted to fulfill her childhood dream of carrying a baby.

The women chose a sperm bank in California, where staff members seemed receptive to lesbian families. They agreed to use an "identity-release donor" so Sadie can meet her biological father when she turns 18.

They could have left it at that. But both women wanted Stumm's ties to Sadie formalized. So she petitioned to adopt, a process that would guarantee her legal rights and allow Sadie to have medical coverage through either parent.

"It was important that we be recognized as a family legally," Rafanello says. "It validated Lisa's role in Sadie's life."

Now, Rafanello is Mommy, Stumm goes by Mama.

While Sadie realizes that most kids have one mom and a dad, she knows three other lesbian families.

"She's been exposed to other kids with two moms so she doesn't think she's different," Stumm says.

Once, while at a carnival, Sadie went to redeem her tickets at the prize booth. She eyed the Barbie doll and then reached for Ken. "She said, 'Oh, I need a dad,' " Stumm recalls.

Sadie has important men in her life, the women say. She spends time with her grandfathers, her uncles and family friends. …