Parent Survival Guide Parent Survival Guide Issue 02 (Spring) - Page 26

Marry legally and the next thought concerns children.

Chris and her former wife hadn’t waited for Mississippi to grant them the right to marry. They flew to Massachusetts in 2009 and got married there. Their Certificate of Marriage for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is dated November 19, 2009 and was recorded by the clerk on November 24, 2009.

The catch was that their home state of Mississippi didn’t recognize their marriage as legal.

Chris and her former wife hadn’t waited for the law to come around to recognize their rights before they embarked on the journey of building a family, either. They adopted a six-year-old boy in 2007. Chris’ ex-wife was the legal parent; her name was on the adoption papers. Chris had two grown children and her ex-wife wanted to be the legal parent, and besides, their relationship was stable. Chris was committed: this was the person with whom she would spend her life, and their child would be her life.

Chris spent time with her son, doing the ordinary daily things with him that all parents do: playing with him, sharing meals, taking him to school, taking care of him. She coached his baseball team. He called her “Mama.” She says, “He was my Man.”

After Chris and her former wife were married, they set about expanding their family. They wanted a baby of their own. They tried the turkey baster route and it ended in miscarriage, so they opted for in vitro fertilization.

They researched sperm banks via Google and chose one in Minnesota. They agonized over the choices of sperm donor. One night they were in bed with fifteen donor pamphlets and they decided that they’d each throw five pamphlets into the middle. There was only one donor they both threw: a tall Romanian.

“We wanted someone tall and not overweight,” Chris told me. “I showed my friend at work and she said, “Oh my God, that sounds so good!””

Losing a child, under whatever circumstances, is the most primal, most devastating wound.

They ordered the sperm and went to a fertility clinic in New Orleans that didn’t discriminate against same-sex couples. Chris’ former wife was younger and wanted the experience of being pregnant. She carried the baby. Chris accompanied her to almost all the obstetrical appointments. Her name is on all the clinic paperwork.

Their little boy was born in 2011. He arrived a few weeks early via emergency caesarean section, so they couldn’t fly to Massachusetts to have him, as they’d originally planned. In Massachusetts, both their names would be on the birth certificate. That wasn’t possible in Mississippi.

A recent picture shows an adorable tyke with mischievous dark eyes and an impish grin. For his first year, Chris stayed home with him after her wife’s maternity leave ran out. Her former wife made a lot more money. Chris was making minimum wage.

The loving family was shattered in January, 2013. First, Chris’ mother died. Ten days later, Chris’ former wife wrote a letter saying she was leaving. The marriage was over—the marriage that still wasn’t recognized in their home state.

Chris was heartbroken and struggled to adapt. For a while, she had the baby every other week. Her older son visited whenever he wanted. She paid child support and split all costs for school and after school activities. She and her former wife agreed that they would raise the children together.

The former wife had left Chris for a man. Six months later, the former wife married the man in Mississippi, which perhaps seemed legal because Mississippi didn’t recognize her prior marriage with Chris.

However, Chris knew that they were married. She felt uncomfortable with her former wife’s bigamy. In August 2015, just a few months after Obergefell v. Hodges, Chris filed for divorce in the state of Mississippi.

Receiving divorce papers angered her former wife, who took the boys and refused to allow them to see Chris.

It was almost fourteen months before Chris saw her sons again. When visitation resumed, her older son refused to see her.

Losing a child, under whatever circumstances, is the most primal, most devastating wound. To have it inflicted by a former partner on a parent is cruel beyond the pale. It’s cruel to the parent, whose arms and heart ache to hold her children; it’s an unmitigated and unending cognitive dissonance to be suddenly cut off from beloved children. It’s just as cruel to the children.

26 spring 2017 PSG