Six months ago, Cooper Smith and Todd Koch didn’t know when they’d find a child to adopt. But just in time for Father’s Day, they have two under three months. Life couldn’t be … better?
Full disclosure: I have known Cooper Smith and Todd Koch for half a dozen years. They throw killer parties, especially the one last Christmas in their cavernous Oak Cliff home. So when they said they were hoping to adopt in 2009, my first thoughts were: "You’ll still have the Christmas party, right?"
Smith laughed. Of course, he said — only it might be a little tamer. Think child-care in the circus room instead of karaoke.
Well, not only did they succeed in adopting a child last March — a lovely little angel named Claire — just this week they lucked upon another. They came about both in much the same way: One set of adoptive parents change their mind at the last second and the agency calls frantically to see if Smith and Koch are interested. They have become the go-to gays for adoption, Operation Kindness with humans.
But the couple, who have been together 10 years, don’t resent it in the least — it has led to their family, and just in time for Father’s Day. Here’s their journey to double parenthood in three months:
Both men agree they always wanted children, although for Koch at least, he has almost given up on that as a possibility.
"For me, I have always wanted children and a family," says Koch. "When I came out, in my mind that ‘want’ changed to ‘can’t,’ and I put it out of my mind for a while. Then over the years as I started to meet very courageous gay people who were parenting children, my attitude of ‘can’t’ changed to ‘will.’
Smith, who comes from a very large extended family, refused to give up. He’s hoping for three or four kids.
So the twosome set Smith’s 33rd birthday in 2007 as the target for beginning the process. It took almost 18 months, but it worked.
The home study
The first step in the process was the home study, a "fairly invasive process that requires multiple background checks, extensive financial disclosures, personal references and a lengthy interview about your life, your family and your relationships," according to Smith.
Once that was complete, they had to decide what they were looking for.
"We considered everything — surrogacy, adoption, foster-to-adopt, newborn vs. older child," says Smith. "We decided that adoption was the best option for us. Surrogacy is extremely expensive and neither of us had strong feelings about having biological connections to our children. We asked ourselves, ‘Why go to such extremes to create a new life when there are so many kids in this world who need good homes?’ As my grandma jokingly said, ‘You better get that baby before anyone else can screw it up before you have a chance to!’"
They decided to look in California because the laws there are more accommodating to gay couples. They had some heartbreaks: One mother got in a snit and backed out; another teenage girl decided she wanted to keep the child when it was born.
Then came the call about Claire.
On March 3, they got a call from the California agency that a baby girl had been born two days earlier. By the end of that week, they were in California, holding Claire in their arms.
"Before we got to the agency, I was certain that I was going to cry when I saw her the first time," Smith says. "But when they brought her in, my eyes dried up. I picked her up and it was an instant connection — love at first sight."
"As cheesy as it sounds, I was in awe and forgot to cry," adds Koch. "It instantly hit me that I was a father."
The second adoption proceeded much like the first, only this time they were a bit savvier.
"The phone rang late Thursday afternoon [June 11], and less than a week later we had a second child. I hope they’re all this easy!" says Smith.
"I feel we were both much more at ease with the second one, knowing we had just been through this before and had handled it well," says Koch, before adding, "Let talk again in a few months."
The realities of parenting
"To sound totally clichÃ©, it’s been both the hardest and most amazing thing I’ve ever done," Smith says. "Collectively, it’s a lot of work. Just when you think you’re done feeding, burping, changing and putting the baby to bed, you have to clean up after yourself … and the next thing you know, the cycle starts again."
The lack of continuous sleep is the worst part, they agree. "I am not going to lie, parenting a newborn has been tough," says Koch. "Sleep deprivation, the constant feeling that you are doing something wrong, and baby brain are all very difficult. I have had it easy, because Cooper has integrated raising our daughter into his work life. During the day when I am at work, Cooper is in the trenches with feedings, diapers and tantrums … and that’s just his employees! He also has Claire and Mason to watch."
But there have been many rewards, especially, "watching Claire’s personality develop. She’s gone from a newborn who sleeps 90 percent of the time, and cries and poops the other 10 percent, to an infant who looks at everything with wonder, coos when you talk to her and loves hanging around with her daddies," Smith says.
So, what are the plans for Father’s Day?
This time last year, they weren’t parents. Barely a week ago, they were parents to only one child. Now, they have two. What does that mean for Father’s Day around the Smith-Koch household?
"We’re very grateful to have been blessed with two healthy children and can’t wait to watch them grow up and to help them become anything they want to be." Smith says.
Koch drops the niceties.
"I better be getting some pretty sweet fathers day gifts. Hear that, Claire and Mason? Get to shopping!"
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.