Staci and Vanessa had always wanted to be parents, they just didn’t know when.
“I wasn’t sure when I’d find my soulmate, and didn’t think it was going to be that soon in life. But I’m glad it happened that way,” said Staci, a captain and paramedic with the New York City Fire Department, who has lived in New York since she was 20.
She and her partner Vanessa, a native of Queens who is a firefighter and serves in the Air National Guard, decided to have a baby in early 2014. “I am a big kid myself,” said Vanessa, “So I needed more kids around!”
Once the decision was made, they were meticulous about it. They had decided that Staci would be the one to carry the baby, so they began with a series of tests to make sure she could conceive, a process that she found a bit nerve-wracking.
Ultimately, though, everything went to plan – at first. They managed to get pregnant on the second try, and the pregnancy went smoothly. When it was time for their baby to be born, Staci’s water only partially broke. She wasn’t completely sure if it had, so on the advice of her midwife, she went about the rest of her day like normal. But when contractions came in the middle of the night, she knew it was time to go to the hospital.
Because her water had partially broken, the hospital induced her and gave her an epidural, taking away the couple’s preferred option for a natural delivery. It was a long labor process – the baby just didn’t want to come. “I started sending energy that it was time to get going,” said Staci, “and Vanessa got down and started whispering something to our child through my belly.” It worked. Suddenly, the baby was crowning.
Their child – a son named Dejan – was beyond their wildest dreams. “He didn’t look anything like I imagined him,” Staci said. “He was the most perfect baby I had ever seen.”
On the second day in the hospital, Vanessa went to sign the birth certificate. “I’m sorry,” said the nurse, “but if you’re not married, you can’t sign your name.” Vanessa was crushed. She knew in her heart that Dejan was her son, and not having her parental relationship recognized (and all that entailed, including not being able to take him out of state) was devastating. The hospital employee advised her that the best way to resolve the situation was to get married and then go through a step-parent adoption process. So, three weeks later, they got married and began that long journey.
“We were lucky that we lived in Brooklyn at the time, because it ended up taking about a year instead of multiple years, which it can take in other boroughs,” said Vanessa.
In addition to submitting paperwork, responding to questions, and waiting, the process included a home study. Despite having planned Dejan together and worked together during the pregnancy, a social worker needed to come to their home and evaluate Vanessa’s fitness as a parent. The couple found that particularly invasive.
After a substantial financial and emotional toll, New York finally recognized Vanessa as Dejan’s parent a year after the adoption process started. “It was great that now legally, on paper, I was his parent – but at the same time, it was weird because I had always been his parent,” said Vanessa.
Today, Dejan is three years old and the family is doing great. Staci and Vanessa feel like they have a new purpose in life. They enjoy taking Dejan upstate to go apple picking or to petting zoos. Vanessa likes to box at the fire department, and Dejan has taken up the sport, jumping around the fire department boxing and doing sit-ups with the other firefighters. “He always finds a way to bring a smile to my face,” said Vanessa.
The couple wants to grow their family and has already started planning for a second child, but knowing they will have to go through the same invasive, expensive process again looms heavily. Even though they are now married, they will still need to go through the adoption process again to make sure their parentage is recognized everywhere. “Times have changed,” said Staci, “but those old school rules haven’t. And it’s time.”