On Aug. 18 at 1 in the morning, Matthew Smith and Trey Darnell, who had always wanted to be fathers, made a decision: They were going to pursue adoption no matter the obstacles.
Four months later, they went “live,” meaning their profile went up on the Independent Adoption Center’s website.
Now they’re waiting for a phone call that will change their lives.
Matthew, a nurse, and Trey, an airline pilot, have been a couple for seven years, after meeting online over their shared appreciation for a hamburger chain out West. “It’s kind of like Five Guys (Burger and Fries),” Matt explained.
Matt, who was born in Glendora, Calif., grew up in California and Boulder, Colo. He moved to this area in 2000.
“I made the pilgrimage from Kingsport to Johnson City,” Trey said and smiled.
Turns out, their parents live less than five minutes apart in Kingsport. Theirs has been “it’s a small world” kind of relationship.
Two years after they became a couple, they began saving for the adoption process. Last June, they bought a house in a kid-friendly neighborhood with a family addition in mind.
Once the decision was made to go for it, the couple plunged into a maze of paperwork and daunting realities.
“The state of Tennessee doesn’t allow same-sex couples to adopt,” Trey said. “One of us will be the official adoptive parent. Six months later, the other can apply for second-parent adoption. That’s why we stepped outside the state because there are very little resources for same-sex couples.”
“It was very disheartening for us,” Matt said.
None of the local adoption agencies would handle their application, and a social worker had to come from Nashville to do their home visit. Since she started working with them, she has become an important ally, Matthew and Trey said.
Once they found the IAC, things got easier. “Our agency is a big advocate of same-sex adoption,” Trey said. It also specializes in open adoptions.
When the couple decided to bring a baby into their lives, they looked at their choices — surrogacy, closed adoption, open adoption — and thought it would be good to establish and maintain a relationship with their child’s birth parents.
“We want to know as much about the birth family as possible,” Trey said.
That includes their medical history, which is often a huge question mark for children of closed adoptions.
In open adoptions, the birth parents can visit with the child, email, receive photos and call. Trey and Matthew have been told some moms keep in contact long enough “to get their fix,” then they disappear.
“We hope that doesn’t happen with our child’s birth mom,” Matthew said. “We want her to come over for the holidays. We want her to become a member of our extended family.”
Ann Wrixon, executive director of IAC, said the agency works with babies, newborn to 1 year old.
“Typically, it’s a baby-baby, right from the hospital,” Matthew said of the babies placed with adoptive families.
Asked if they had a preference for sex or race, the two made it clear they just want to be dads. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a boy or girl, if it’s of a different race or if comes from a family where drugs and alcohol are factors (though Wrixon said only about 10 percent of IAC’s birth mothers have drug or alcohol problems).
“We just want to have a baby,” Matthew said. “We’re going to be great parents.”
The nursery in their new house is ready, decorated in shades of gray that will work well with either pink or blue accents.
They’ve been reading the books and know that babies learn a great deal through touch. To encourage tactile learning, Matthew said, the nursery is furnished with an array of textures: a soft fuzzy rug, a nubby ottoman, a smooth piece of wood. Books are on the shelves, books Matthew read as a child then passed on to his now 9-year-old sister. He has reclaimed his first pair of shoes, and his and Trey’s childhood stuffed toys surround their baby-to-be’s first Teddy bear.
The onesies have been bought. One says, “My daddies love me.” The burp cloths and bibs, blankets, and other accoutrements required for a baby have been purchased, too. And there are three strollers of different weights for different occasions.
“We’re trying to get as prepared as possible,” Matthew said. “That’s been good for us to occupy our time.”
When they look ahead to life with their child, they know it’s not always going to be easy.
“We think about what it will be like for our child to be in school, whether they’ll be bullied or ostracized. We’re concerned about that,” Matthew said. “We love it here and want to raise our child here, however, we’re willing to make accommodations so our family can be safe and healthy.”
The couple say the have very similar backgrounds so they expect to be on the same page when it comes to parenting. They were both raised to be polite, to say “yes, ma’am” and “no ma’am.”
“I think we’ll lead by example,” Trey said. “We want to give our child every opportunity, to encourage creativity, uniqueness, to make them feel comfortable in who they are. We want them to grow up to be well rounded and have a big education.”
Matt plans to cut back on work to stay home with the baby as much as possible. “I think there are benefits to stay-at-home parenting. I really hope we can make that work, to be available to a baby and child as much as possible.”
They’re waiting for a call that can come at any time from as far away as California or as close as North Carolina. The IAC website says the agency operates in California, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, New York, Indiana and Connecticut, with plans to extend to Florida, Matthew said. “We could get a phone call from any state.”
They have a toll-free number for birth mothers to call. When it rings, “we stop breathing and get kind of excited,” Trey said.
Wrixon said the average wait time for placement is 15 months beginning with the home study. It could happen any day.
“We’re going to be happy parents,” Matthew said, “excited to welcome a baby into our lives.”