Same-sex couple adopt infant girl, find community network essential
By Rhonda Morin
One would think that years of studying early childhood education, a doctorate in family studies and intervention, and 17 years working in the profession would prepare a man for parenthood. But for Clark alumnus Andrew Garland-Forshee, the true education came during the 3 a.m. feedings of his 16-month-old daughter.
“I handed her off to my husband,” he said jokingly, but with a hint of veracity in his voice.
Garland-Forshee, 41, and his husband Rodney Garland-Forshee, 46, adopted Ariella from Boys & Girls Aid, an infant adoption, foster care and pregnancy counseling service in Portland, Ore. As an academic, partner in a gay relationship, and someone who follows the Jewish faith, Garland-Forshee was prepared to scrutinize any possible missteps. As it turned out, he didn’t need to worry. They were treated with full respect during the adoption process, down to the brochures they received of two men lighting Shabbat candles.
The couple allowed the adoption process to happen organically; they weren’t in a rush. “As gay men, we weren’t struggling to get pregnant. We weren’t going into this desperate. We were willing to embrace the adoption when it happened,” he said. Bringing Ari— Ariella’s nickname—home was the joy of their lives and the start of a new chapter.
“I have much more empathy for parents,” he said, adding, “My training has helped me; the mixing of the theory and the practice. I know not to sweat the small stuff, but the training isn’t so helpful at 3 a.m.”
A former Clark College Early Learning specialist, Child Education and Family Studies program supervisor, faculty and later state licensing regulator, Garland-Forshee said being a parent has also taught him about timing. “Parents need information when they need it; not before, not after. They do the best they can with the tools they have at any given time.”
He’s taking these life lessons back to his classroom at Portland Community College (PCC) where he’s one of four full time Early Learning faculty members. He teaches courses in infant and toddler early education, family partnerships and multi-cultural studies.
Garland-Forshee now incorporates his life experiences about raising a child within his extended family, and interpretations of same-sex parenting and adoption. He has an interest in lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender parenting and now as a parent of an infant, he can speak from a practical, as well as an academic perspective.
The couple has strong communities that play a vital role in enhancing the couple’s parenting abilities: Garland-Forshee’s mother provides remedies for healing a diaper rash, their Jewish community holds playdates and celebrations, and a dads’ group offers time for gay families to gather.
“There are facts you read in a book, but then there are the family traditions that lead us to a point of critical reflection: What is it that I want to pass on to my child?”
His educational trajectory started in Clark’s theatre department in 1991. As a theatre major, he was required to take elective courses, so he signed up for human development and early childhood education. It stuck. He switched his major to early childhood education. He was the only male student in his class. Transferring to The Evergreen State College in Washington, he got his bachelor’s in 1997.
Garland-Forshee came out as a gay man when he was in high school in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until he enrolled at Clark that he discovered and joined a welcoming group of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender for support. The Green on Thursdays group, today known as Queer Penguins and Allies, boosted his self-confidence and helped him forge meaningful relationships with students, faculty and staff.
Over time as he connected with mentors and gained self-confidence, he discovered that he could publicly announce that he was a gay man and wanted to work with children. A stigma that gay men were pedophiles permeated the general public’s perception in the 1980s and 1990s, according to Garland-Forshee, making it difficult to work in the field of early learning.
“Gaining confidence in myself as a gay man allowed me to see the possibility of having a career working with young children,” he said.
During his undergraduate studies, Garland-Forshee traveled to Israel, living in a Kibbutz while studying the commune’s children and family support system, as well as contemporary Israeli politics, art and culture.
He returned to Portland after his short journey and found work at Clark’s Early Learning Center as a specialist in the laboratory school. Eventually, he was promoted to part-time faculty and took part in a project that integrated a full-day Head Start program at Clark and other education centers across Clark County.
More education followed: a master’s in human development and a doctorate in human services. While studying, he left Clark to venture into license regulation with the Department of Early Learning in Washington.
Garland-Forshee then joined PCC’s faculty in 2007, where once again, he is the only male full-time member in the department. He’s also the interim department chair.
Once some time passes and Garland-Forshee can string together more full nights of sleep, he intends to dive into new research, perhaps perceptions that clinicians have about same-sex adoptions. He’s curious about the types of training, if any, clinicians receive when working with same sex couples. Additionally, there are subtle comments or body language that can be seen as aggressive toward same sex couples going through the adoption process. These encounters are known as micro aggressions, according to Garland-Forshee.
At the end of the day, whether in a gay marriage or a heterosexual one while raising children, Garland-Forshee believes family is the common thread. “Family is created in lots of different ways.”