4 min

Childish ways

Co-parenting lesbians make history

FAMILY OF FOUR. Writer (and comic stripper) Noreen Stevens bowls with daughter Savannah; Dillon came later. Credit: Ted Town

Twice in the last 12 months my partner Jill and I made Manitoba history.

Last fall we had the dubious honour of being the last same-sex couple in our province denied the opportunity to jointly adopt. This spring, seven years after deciding to have kids, we became the first same-sex couple in Manitoba to adopt.

Over the years we’d had a dozen inseminations at a fertility clinic, learned we’re both infertile, took fertility drugs, had two surgeries, conceived, miscarried, applied to adopt, met a surrogate, decided against that possibility, made arrangements with a known donor, completed three dozen home inseminations, conceived and miscarried again, declined three adoption opportunities and applied to foster.

More or less in that order.

There were many setbacks, hopes dashed. But to our surprise it was also a time of incredible growth as we stretched our minds and hearts to consider the myriad ways we could bring children into our lives. Early on we realized with some relief that it was not a question of if, but when and how, we’d have kids.

When I last wrote about our parenting journey (Sep 2001 Xtra), our foster-daughter, Savannah, had been with us a year and we were awaiting the birth of her sibling who would also need a foster- family.

We nicknamed the baby Lil’ Bit and prepared for its arrival, painting another bedroom and getting out the newborn baby clothes. Then we waited. The reported due date came and went.

Child And Family Services (CFS) had lost contact with Savannah’s birth mother and it was possible she was no longer pregnant. Meanwhile our departure to a family wedding approached. We left an itinerary with CFS, and checked our voicemail every couple of hours for word of Lil’ Bit’s arrival.

A few days into our trip the call came. The baby had been born the day after we left Winnipeg and was now ready to leave the hospital. Savannah had a brother, Dillon. A few hours later I flew home to receive our foster-son.

We settled into life as a family of four, but our future together was tenuous. We had long ago fallen in love with Savannah and now Dillon had found his way into our hearts. We wanted to adopt both of them – but could we?


Manitoba’s NDP government had recently passed a bill amending several laws affecting same-sex couples, but the changes fell short of full equality and had completely bypassed the Adoption Act. Four lesbians couples – ourselves included – initiated a legal challenge of the existing adoption law, and the community lobbied hard. Under pressure, the government struck a panel to assess whether the Adoption Act’s exclusion of same-sex couples would withstand a challenge under The Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. Six months later the panel recommended sweeping amendments. The new law, which would take six months to pass and another six to enact, would eventually permit same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Amid these legal machinations lives, including ours, hung in the balance.

As well, Savannah and Dillon are Aboriginal, so permission to adopt would come from their band through the Aboriginal child welfare agency responsible for children from their community. To our advantage we were all the kids had ever known since they were a few days old. But we’re lesbians. And white. Naturally, they would prefer that the children be with an Aboriginal family. As the weeks stretched to months waiting for an answer, we were dogged by the unshakeable fear that the children could be moved from our home at any time, and perhaps separated.

A year came and went then quite unexpectedly, the answer came. We – one of us, anyway – could adopt them. The next day Dillon turned one.

We were thrilled. The children were safe and secure and we had gained control over a situation in which we had been utterly powerless. Fostering required that we live in the moment, adoption allowed us to dream of a future together. In our joy and relief, we finally realized the depth of our fear that we could have lost them, and they us.

A month earlier, the Manitoba government had passed the new Adoption Act, but it wouldn’t be enacted for another three months. Caught in legal limbo, we could either wait and adopt together, or one of us could adopt the children right away. We chose to secure the children’s futures then and there, and sort out the joint adoption later. On Sep 30, 2002 we flipped a coin and I signed the Adoption Placement Agreement (APA), becoming Savannah and Dillon’s only legal parent.

Three months later our social worker effected a bureaucratic miracle. In a few days we completed a multi-step process that normally takes months, this time as a couple, and on Jan 7, 2003 we both signed a new APA, becoming the first same-sex couple in Manitoba to adopt.

In many ways nothing has changed. Diapers, kisses and bedtime stories had long ago bound us together. But in other ways we came to realize our lives have profoundly changed.

The shift came in phone calls and e-mails to share our news, in the adoption announcements we sent out and the visits, cards and gifts in response which affirmed our connection to one another and to a larger community and family. It came in renaming the children: keeping the first names their birth parents had given them, adding new middle names, Cree words to carry that part of their identities with them always and also giving them a new last name to connect them to our family.

And in ever-widening circles around family, friends, community, our story truly has a cast of thousands, people we met on the journey, each of whom moved us forward in some way. Savannah and Dillon’s birth parents are two, in particular, who we think of often. They hold a special place in our hearts for giving life to Savannah and Dillon and we are reminded of them daily in the faces of the kids. That they lost their children, and Savannah and Dillon lost them, is one sad note in a story that otherwise has a happy ending.