By Tereasa Nims – Staff Writer

Lesbian couple finds fulfillment in motherhood after building diverse family with 4 children

Patti Stephens, her partner Leigh Wolfer and Mickey Howell play with their children Sydni, Ashleigh and Paul. – TEREASA NIMS/Dallas Voice

Five years ago Leigh Wolfer and Patti Stephens would have never envisioned their house filled with children.

Now they can’t imagine it any other way.

"I’m a mother. I was born to be a mother," Stephens said. "I wanted to be pregnant and care for children."

Now she and her partner of 12 years have four children, ranging from 13 months to 5 years old, in their Fort Worth home.

They have a 5-year-old biological daughter, Sydni, whom Stephens gave birth to. They have a 2-year-old, Paul, and 20-month-old Ashleigh, who were foster children that the couple later adopted. They are also fostering a 13-month-old, Mia, who they hope to adopt within the next month.

Sydni is the creative and artistic one who enjoys singing and performing. Paul is a "momma’s boy" who is charming, loving and playful.

The moms describe Ashleigh as the sweet and loud one, but with good pitch, who is probably going to make them a lot of money with her singing. Ashleigh was born prematurely to a drug-addicted mother and is slightly slow in her development.

Mia is sweet and quiet. The foster moms describe her as "the little observer" because she watches everything.

Wolfer did a second-parent adoption in Texas with Sydni, Paul and Ashleigh. She plans to do a second-parent adoption with Mia when the time comes.

Ashleigh and Mia have been with Wolfer and Stephens since each child was born.

Paul came to live with them when he was six months old.

Stephens, a stay-at-home mom, thought in order to be a mother that she would have to get married to a man and have children. That idea didn’t work for her.

Then at 38, she and her partner decided to find a donor and start a family.

They used frozen sperm from a anonymous donors six times — each time unsuccessfully — before meeting Mickey Howell, who wanted to be a father.

Howell became the donor and not long after, Stephens was pregnant.

Stephens admits she wasn’t too sure at first about sharing parenting with someone other than her partner.

"Going in, we thought we wanted complete control," Stephens said. "But it worked out wonderful. We love it that they have a daddy in their life."

While Howell is Sydni’s biological father, he is also a surrogate father to the other three.

"I always wanted to have kids," Howell said. "It has been a neat accomplishment for us. I don’t know if it looks like what we thought it would five years ago, but we’re very happy with the outcome."

Howell’s partner, Jeff Schultz, also dotes on the children. Howell and Schultz became partners a few months prior to Sydni’s birth.

Stephens said Howell is very involved in the children’s lives. He talks to them on the phone and visits them two to three times a week. The moms say he pitches in to help care for the children and buys them things.

Wolfer and Stephens agree that Howell is an "equal part" of their family.

So how did they collect all the children?

When their daughter was three, they opted to give her a sibling. So they signed up for Pride Foster/Adopt parent training.

"This was a real viable way to parent," Stephens said. "There are so many children out there who need homes."

She said and there are so many gay and lesbian couples and singles that think they can’t parent because of their sexual orientation. But the Pride Foster parent training and foster/adopt training can help.

Through their experience with foster care, Wolfer and Stephens said they’ve found that Tarrant County foster care caseworkers are very gay-friendly.

"The case workers want the kids in the best environment," Wolfer said. "They don’t care if you are gay, they only care if you can provide a good, loving home."

Shortly after Stephens and Wolfer were licensed foster parents, they received a call about a six-month-old named Paul. The couple didn’t hesitate to foster him with hopes of later adopting him.

But when they didn’t think they would be able to adopt Paul, they heard about a baby girl that was just born two-months premature and decided to foster her with the hopes of later adopting.

But when they learned that they were going to be able to adopt Paul they quickly decided to keep both the children.

Then seven months later another baby girl was born and the couple got another phone call asking if they would foster her. They agreed and the baby girl, Mia, turned out to be Paul’s biological sister.

The same day they got the call about Mia, Wolfer was laid off as a training engineer. But, six weeks later she was called back to the company and promoted to a sales engineer making more money.

Wolfer said the extra money definitely helps with the large family

Stephens, 45, and Wolfer, 50 say in five years they haven’t taken a vacation by themselves or done many social things with friends without the children. But they aren’t complaining.

"We wouldn’t trade what we are doing for anything," Stephens said, with Wolfer nodding in agreement.

While the couple says they don’t plan on adopting more children after Mia, they do hope to continue fostering children as their own get a little older.

The couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Sydni, happily tells everyone that she is lucky and special because she has two mommies and a dad, but Stephens and Wolfer suspect the time will come when they have to talk to their children about the diversity of their family.

They know they will have to teach them to handle what others might say to them about their family. Both moms say they think about what they are going to tell their children when that time comes.

"We’ll just talk about how there are all different kinds of families," Wolfer said.

Both moms say they want their children to know they can be anything they want and they hope they instill tolerance, patience and respect.

What does being a mom mean to them personally?

"The most rewarding thing about being a mom is watching them grow into their personality," Stephens said. "I’m living my dream and watching them grow and evolve."

Wolfer said, "For me I think it’s just watching them develop and grow and supporting them to be who they are. Knowing you are making a difference."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 9, 2008.

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