Lola Shahdadi and Lynne Witmer got to celebrate their first Mother’s Day last weekend. That’s because on April 11, 2016, they finalized the adoption of their daughter, Ella Irene, and officially became a family of three. In this week’s installment of the HuffPost Queer Voices RaiseAChild “Let Love Define Family®” series installment, Lola and Lynne graciously accepted a request from Deyanira Contreras, the RaiseAChild bilingual Parent Advocate, to let her join them in the courtroom. There is definitely a first time for everything and everyone.
We happened to meet in the parking lot of children’s court as I walked around the corner of the lot towards the elevator. I recognized baby Ella, Lynne and Lola instantly from their pictures. Up until this point, I knew of them through RaiseAChild — we had not met in person yet, only over the phone. Ella was poised in Lola’s arms and Lynne walked a few steps ahead with an occasional head turn to check on the girls behind her. I introduced myself and greeted them. Ella watched me as I shook her moms’ hands and hers as well. She observed the moment intensely from her position in Lola’s arms — almost knowing that something big was about to happen. And it was; she was officially being adopted.
“The fear often attached to entering into the [foster to adopt] process is understandable, but there is more empowerment available to families than you might initially think,” the couple said. “Penny Lane treated us no differently as a lesbian couple. We felt welcomed and respected 100% the entire time. Very safe.”
The road to finalization took nine months. In one of those rare occurrences that happen in the Los Angeles county foster care system, Ella, Lynne and Lola had not stepped foot in court — until today. “We had the dream scenario,” Lynne stated right before walking through security, “I almost feel bad. Most people are here for such tragic reasons and we’re not.”
In their words, “the stars aligned for us with Ella.” Both women recognized that their journey through the system is not a common one. Ella was born Aug. 12 and the couple picked up their baby from the hospital at just six days old. The biological mom had relinquished her rights at birth and Ella was there to stay. Instant love.
Today just made it legal.
As we waited to step inside the courtroom, a few friends and family members arrived to accompany the forever family on this occasion. All greeted the family with warm congratulatory hugs and Ella smiled delicately at every gesture. Dainty and observant, she widened her eyes in search of one or both moms, only easing into the arms of who was holding her at the moment, after locating them.
Despite the commotion and anxiety of the waiting area, it was easy to spot the families that were finalizing adoption, cautiously huddled together as near to the door of the courtroom as was permitted. Children and families beautifully dressed and smiles spread across their faces — almost strategically blended in the frantic walk of social workers, lawyers, children and families awaiting a turn for their hearing.
After various check-ins with Lynne and Lola, their lawyer confirmed “It’s time!” when she waved at them from the door to the courtroom. In a single file line, Ella’s entourage, led by her moms, of course, walked through the waiting area. I held the door for them as each of them took their place inside directly in the middle and across from a smiling judge. Cell phones and cameras took position under the clock, apparently the best spot for capturing the whole thing. There I stood, camera in hand, adjusting the settings to the dim courtroom lighting, making sure I had a clear view of their faces. I wanted to capture it all.
The judge began talking and Ella was asked to choose a plush toy from a collection in the back of the room. She was instantly attracted to the multi-colored bear. Ella sat in Lola’s lap and Lynne held her hand, occasionally looking up at the judge to see where the voice she heard was coming from. Perhaps in her little mind she did not require the formalities of this proceeding. She knew she belonged to them all along. But it was important, and that she knew, because as the judge asked her moms if they agreed to care for her as their natural child, after they answered, Ella looked up and also commented in agreement. She had her say in this also. That image is forever sealed by the sound of Ella’s voice. We laughed as tears rolled off our face. But all three times the judge asked if they agreed, moms asserted and Ella would look up and also respond. She agreed. That sealed the deal in her heart.
Right hands were raised, papers were signed and after 15 minutes or so, we all exhaled. The judge invited the new family to her podium for a picture.
Lynne and Lola positioned themselves behind the judge’s chair and she extended her arms out to hold Ella, blew raspberries on her tummy and sat her on her lap.
Judge Pellman steps into a courtroom every day, but that day was a first for Ella, Lynne and Lola. That day, in that courtroom, they officially became a family.
Have you considered building a family through fostering, adopting or weekend hosting? RaiseAChild.US would like to help you. Visit us at www.RaiseAChild.US and RSVP to join us for free, fun and educational RaiseAChild.US events throughout Southern California:
- Sat., May 14th 11:00 AM to 12:30PM Andaz West Hollywood Hotel
- Mon., May 16th 6:30PM to 8:00PM La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Los Angeles
- Tues., May 17th 6:30PM to 8:00PM The Garner House, Claremont
- Wed., May 18th 6:30PM to 8:00PM Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.
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