An American Family

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Overview

What makes a family?

Love makes a family.

This is the story of two gay men who become foster parents to Adam, a premature baby, born with the AIDS virus and addicted to crack, heroin, marijuana, and alcohol. While nursing Adam through the many medical emergencies of his first year and surviving the daily dramas that all new parents go through, they realize that this child, their son, could be taken back from them at any time by the state, and ...

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An American Family

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Overview

What makes a family?

Love makes a family.

This is the story of two gay men who become foster parents to Adam, a premature baby, born with the AIDS virus and addicted to crack, heroin, marijuana, and alcohol. While nursing Adam through the many medical emergencies of his first year and surviving the daily dramas that all new parents go through, they realize that this child, their son, could be taken back from them at any time by the state, and they decide to try to legally adopt him together. Refused by the state—even as it asks them to care for another at-risk infant—they decide to fight for their son in the courts, and win, setting a precedent for all unmarried couples in New Jersey. This book is dramatic proof that the American family is vibrantly alive and extending itself in remarkable new directions.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An American Family—loving, strong, facing all challenges together. Jon and Michael are a model for all American families.” —Betty DeGeneres, author of Love, Ellen

“This moving, often funny, and sometimes quite poignant memoir explores the emotional, psychological, and legal battles that gay couples (and unmarried heterosexual couples) often face when dealing with issues of foster care, adoption, and social intolerance.” —Publishers Weekly

“As a gay rights activist, I know just how important it is that our stories are told. And what a story this is—two loving men and their very, very lucky kids. As a parent of three, I know just how hard gay men and lesbians work to create our families and to ensure the safety and well being of our children. Jon and Michael’s story represents so many of us who carefully, thoughtfully, and lovingly raise children.”—Joan M. Garry, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

“They didn’t start out to change the world, they were just trying to change the life of one little boy. Jon and Michael thought they were making a family, as it turns out they were making history. I have seen these two, Daddy and Father, as hands-on parents offering love, discipline, and hope to their expanding family. Whatever your views on gay rights this is a book that will cause you to question or redefine your notion of family.” —Leeza Gibbons, host and executive producer of Extra

“This book is a must-have for anyone contemplating parenthood or discovering a diverse family based on love.” —Kelly Taylor, editor in chief, Alternative Family Magazine

Newark Advocate
...The American family is not only alive and well, it is strongly committed to the core values which have marked us from the beginning: commitment, fidelity, honesty, equality, care, struggle, hope, love, risk and dreams...Read this book. It's not exactly the Brady Bunch, but everyone who reads it will come away reassured of the same ancient truth: A family is made of love.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Written by two gay men whose court challenge helped rewrite New Jersey law to allow joint adoption by unmarried couples, this moving, often funny and sometimes quite poignant memoir explores the emotional, psychological and legal battles that gay couples (and unmarried heterosexual couples) often face when dealing with issues of foster care, adoption and social intolerance. In 1995, Michael Galluccio and Jon Holden, who had been partners for 16 years, became foster parents to Adam, an HIV+ infant who was also addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol. After they nursed him through his first years, their desire to adopt him was thwarted by state law that did not allow gay (and unmarried straight) couples to co-adopt. The story of how they won their case is only one thread of this engrossing story, for during this time the Galluccios (Jon changed his last name so that their son would have a single name ) also took into foster care and then adopted another at-risk infant as well as that child's 18-year-old sister, who was pregnant. By the end of the book, the Gallucios have become the parents of three children and grandfathers to one. Concurrently, Jon, who was himself adopted, tells the story of his search for his biological mother. Written in a direct, compelling style, the Galluccios' story offers an engaging glimpse into the increasingly complex institution of the family, and should appeal to those who have been touched by adoption, as well as to gay and lesbian readers. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The son of a drug-addicted, alcoholic, HIV-positive mother, Adam was himself born drug-addicted and premature, with a hole in his heart. His foster parents willingly changed their lives for him and nursed him into a healthy child. Adopting Adam should have been straightforward but for one detail: Adam's foster parents were a gay couple, Jon and Michael Galluccio, and New Jersey law did not allow unmarried couples to adopt. With the help of journalist Groff (coauthor, The Crisis of Desire: AIDS and the Fate of the Gay Brotherhood), the Galluccios tell their story from alternating points of view as they create a family, fostering three other children while challenging their state's adoption laws. Commendably, they do not shrink from discussing the spirituality that sustained them nor the difficulties they faced: having to return one of their foster children to relatives, Jon's search for his own biological parents, and Michael's homophobic relations. This heartwarming and inspiring spin on family values compares favorably with such recent gay parenting sagas as Dan Savage's The Kid (LJ 10/1/99) and Kenneth B. Morgen's Getting Simon (Bramble Bks., 1995) and deserves a place in public libraries as well as gay studies collections. Richard J. Violette, Special Libs. Cataloging, Inc., Victoria, BC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312288877
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/20/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon and Michael Galluccio live in Paterson, New Jersey, with their three children Rosa, Adam, and Madison, and granddaughter Maryanna. Their story has been widely followed in the press, with reports in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, Good Morning America, and Larry King Live.

David Groff is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Men On Men 2 and Men on Men 2000 fiction anthologies, as well as OUT magazine, New York magazine, POZ, and other periodicals. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

FOSTER SON


Michael Galluccio


It was the second day of winter, 1995, and the city snow had melted and refrozen into a jagged crust, the kind of snow that crunches under your feet. Just after dawn, Jon and I were driving carefully through the streets of a run-down neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey—only eight miles from our own suburban Maywood, but a different world. We were on our way to meet our son for the first time.

    The social worker had given us excellent directions—even in the excitement of the previous afternoon's phone call—and we made our way through Paterson's back streets until we found Hine Street, an offshoot of the main avenue. The neighborhood looked unkempt; the sidewalks had buckled, paint was chipping off the houses, fences were rusted, and the trees seemed to sag beneath the weight of more than the winter ice. Even the few Christmas decorations seemed gray. No one was out this early in the morning, as our Grand Am slid silently down the street on fresh snow that coated the frozen tire ruts.

    The O'Neill Center was a typical city row house—three floors, plenty of windows, small front porch. Painted a rusty red, it sat tall and unadorned at the end of the street next to a steel-shuttered pharmacy. Once some family's home, it now housed babies who basically had no families. While they were still in the womb, their mothers had habitually swallowed, injected, snorted, or smoked just about every substance known to damage a developing fetus: alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, crack, cocaine, and heroin.Their children had literally become drug addicts in the womb. They were all also HIV-positive.

    Most of the children living at the O'Neill Center had been abandoned to the state at birth, and New Jersey would be the only parent some of these children would ever know. Their fathers and mothers didn't want them, were too ill or drugged to handle them, or were themselves dying or dead. And because these "medically fragile" children were sick, drug addicted, and might die in two months or two years, few families wanted to adopt them. Some of the kids would spend their entire lives being handled by people wearing disposable latex gloves who had already held hundreds of babies just like them. For the somewhat more fortunate children, the O'Neill Center would be the first stop in an odyssey of foster homes, some of them good, some bad, some perniciously indifferent. Every now and then, a healthy and lucky child would be adopted into a permanent family.

    "We're way too early," Jon said, cracking his knuckles inside his gloves. He drew his overcoat closer. Having been his partner for thirteen years, I could tell when he was tense, even though he tried to hide it beneath a determined efficiency. He was working to stay calm, but excitement and anxiety showed clearly in his usually impish blue eyes. He looked up at the silent house. "Nobody's awake yet. You can't even hear a baby crying."

    "What should we do? Should we go in?" I asked.

    "It's not time yet. Jean was very specific." He paused, looked at me, then back at the house. "We've waited this long. I guess we can wait a little longer."

    We had been anticipating this day for months, and yesterday the call had finally come. I was at the back of the house working in my office—the paneled, shag-rugged space we planned to remake into a family room. In the midst of a conversation with one of my company's most important clients, I heard the house phone ringing and Jon answering it. After a moment, my office door burst open. Jon was standing there with a look of utter happiness on his face. "It's Jean," he blurted out. "She says she has a Christmas present for us."

    Jean was the placement specialist for children with special needs at the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). "Kim," I said into the phone, "I have to go. I think I just became a father."

    I stood up and rushed into the kitchen, where Jon was already back on the phone with Jean. We moved to the living room and sat together on the couch and I watched as Jon took notes:

    Boy ... Blond ... Brown eyes ... 3 months old ... Preemie ... Hep C ... Hole in heart ... HIV + ... TB+ ... RSV ... Severe drug withdrawal/crack ... Apgar 8/9 ... Birth name ...

    "Jean." Jon's forehead wrinkled and his eyebrows connected at the center with the look I knew meant confusion. "A black baby with blond hair? What did the drugs do to this kid?"

    Jean must have suppressed an urge to laugh. "Oh, no," she told Jon in her usual warm, level, matter-of-fact way, "he's white."

    Since there were so many minority children in the system, we had been certain we would become an interracial family. That is what we had prepared for, but this baby was the son of a thin, red-haired, twenty-six-year-old woman in nearby Paterson. She was an intravenous drug user who had already given up four children to institutional care. The father was unknown.

    I watched as Jon scrawled FOSTER ONLY. We looked into each other's eyes and I could feel my chest tighten. This child could only be temporary in our lives. Not only would we have a medically fragile baby to care for, but as foster parents we would risk having to return a child we had opened our hearts to and wanted to adopt. I realized we were just starting down a long road.

    "When can we see him?" I asked. Jon relayed the question to Jean, and then I saw his face drop. "Not until after Christmas," he told me.

    "No, tomorrow," I insisted. "Honey, beg her." He did. Jean said she would need to make a few calls and get back to us. As it turned out, she had to ask some favors, but she had gotten us a visit—and now here we were, just fifteen hours later, still an agonizing sixty minutes from meeting our son.

    We drove around the block a few times and finally parked right in front, waiting for the O'Neill Center to stir to life. Jean had told us not to come until 8 A.M. at the earliest. We'd both lain awake most of the night, thinking about what might happen today, how our lives and the life of one baby might start to change. We had no choice but to arrive early; there was no way we could just sit home and wait.

    "What do you think he'll look like?" Jon asked me.

    "I guess he'll look like a baby, won't he? A sick baby?"

    "Yeah ... but what exactly does a sick baby look like?"

    I had no real idea. When I thought of babies, I thought of my nieces and nephews, round, little bundles of Italian-American health. This child would not be like that. With all our basic training, did we know enough to care for him? Would this baby even live? Had we let our desire to be parents get us in over our heads? They say God does not give us more than we can handle, but right then I had my doubts.

    We sat there looking at each other, then out through the windshield. The car heater droned on. God, we were so early. Finally, as the winter light brightened, I convinced Jon that we could at least go and wait on the front porch. We looked at each other, took deep breaths, and got out of the car.

    The cat litter and ice remnants on the old wooden porch cracked so loudly under our feet that I was afraid we would wake everyone up—and I kind of hoped we would. I peered in the window next to the door, but the inside was illuminated only by the early-morning light. To one side was a hallway and a door. Right in front of the door was a steep staircase leading up to another door and what looked like another hallway. The upstairs door caught my eye—light was coming from underneath it. I stepped back and shrugged to Jon. We just stood there staring at each other, our breath smoking in the icy early-morning air.

    From behind I heard the crackle of footsteps. We turned to see someone standing with one foot on the bottom step and a hand on the rail. A woman—big, middle-aged, with sharp blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair—looked up at us from under the hood of her tan parka. In the first measured seconds, she looked sturdy and stern. I wondered what she thought as she encountered the two of us, Jon shivering almost motionlessly in his brown overcoat and me pacing about him on the porch, running my hand nervously through my hair. She smiled and her face blossomed. "Oh, I know who you are," she said. "Couldn't wait, could you?"

    Her name was Joanne Harraka. She was the head nurse at the O'Neill Center, for all practical purposes the mother the O'Neill children didn't have. Her job was to oversee the love, care, discipline, and comfort given to children she knew she would, in one way or another, lose. She had come to work on her day off, two days before Christmas, to introduce us to our baby.

    "You boys must be cold. Come on in."

    The hallway we entered was clean but worn, with an infant's car seat and a folded stroller propped in one corner and a stack of boxes filled with used clothing. The air held a combination of several smells—old house, medicine, baby formula, a touch of diaper, and sickness. Joanne indicated we should follow her up the stairs. But she paused at the bottom, and we all looked at each other. "You ready?" She gave us a wry smile.

    "Well, here we go," Jon breathed. He put his arm out to let me go first.

    "Thanks, Dad," I said. His face lit up.

    The steps groaned under our combined weight. I had never been so nervous in my life. During those fifteen seconds, dozens of past scenes flickered through my head: the two of us sitting in parenting classes, taking pages of notes; my last cigarette, on the day we'd decided that the parent of a sick child should not smoke; my mother crying with fear and worry when we'd told her we intended to adopt a baby; my father's look of resignation; the puzzled and aghast looks on the faces of friends; the two of us practicing CPR so we could take on a "special needs" child; and the evening just last week when we'd painted clouds on the sky-blue walls of the room we had just turned into a nursery.

    When Joanne opened the door, it was almost like the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy leaves her house and everything goes from black and white to color. Fluorescent light poured out into hallway. The door opened into a large "all-purpose" room. I barely noticed the white linoleum floors, the white walls, the mismatched furniture, or the television trumpeting the overture of The Lion King. All I saw was one small baby, directly across the room from me, sitting in a loud, windup baby swing.

    I had no doubt he was my son. He was tiny, too tiny for a child three months old. He looked well below the fifteen pounds you would expect for a child his age. He was wearing a red sweatshirt and a blanket over his lap. And he was so bald you could see the veins in his head. The skin of his face was pale and pinkish, shading into gray, which made me wonder if the hole in his heart—common among preemies—was affecting his circulation. His eyes were open almost unnaturally wide and had huge dark circles around them. His lips were pursed into a tight knot. As I walked toward him, his hands clutched frantically in front of him as if he were trying to grasp something only he could discern. He looked like an old man in a nursing home—an old man desperate for his next fix.

    The baby was staring right at me. For what seemed like hours all I beheld was the sight of this child and the click-click, click-click, click-click of the baby swing. I stared at the baby and in an instant I fell deeply in love for the second time in my life. There would be nothing I would not do for him. My son. He was sick, and he might be dying, and he was beautiful.

    Then the world came back in a huge rush. The noise in the room was deafening. Five children, infants and toddlers, were cooing and crying from their cribs and baby chairs. The TV was blaring Disney tunes, and I realized that other adults were at work here—caregivers finishing up their night duty, holding two of the babies and deftly forcing medicine down their throats. I saw another child arching painfully in his rocker as he tried to watch the television. He was two, maybe three years old. One of his arms was constricted. The circles around his eyes showed clearly even through his dark brown skin. HIV had done a job on him.

    He looked at me and gave me the easy smile that comes with the innocence of childhood. Then he rolled his eyes in pain and struggled to focus again on the television. He did not look as if he would last too much longer. My eyes returned to my baby and I prayed silently: Please don't let that be you.

    Finally Joanne asked, "Would you like to meet the baby?" We immediately went to the swing and bent down. The baby looked back and forth between us, curious, vague.

    "Go ahead—you go first," Jon said to me. I had not even taken off my coat yet but I unstrapped the baby and carefully lifted him into my arms. I had never held an infant this small. I could feel the heat from his body in my hands, smell baby lotion on his skin. His breathing was ragged. I cradled him and looked into his face. His little eyes trembled and darted from place to place. They actually shook. This was the pain and panic of drug withdrawal. One arm shot out from his side and he grabbed for one hand with the other. He clumsily guided the thumb of his left hand into his mouth. His breathing sounded almost like grunting while he feverishly sucked his thumb, as if it held a drug he needed more than breathing.

    "Look at him," Jon said as I put the baby in his arms. I watched the same feelings of magic and terror wash over Jon.

    "Would you like to give him his bottle?" Joanne asked.

    "We'd like that very much," Jon said.

    Joanne led us into a small room that housed three cribs. It wasn't a nursery with puffy clouds painted on the walls, but more like a hospital room from the fifties, which is probably when its furnishings had begun their institutional life. The cribs were lined up along the white walls, next to a rocking chair, and between them stood a menacing-looking examining table made of white-enameled metal, chipped in places. On the table sat a black metal baby scale. The only splash of color was a single black, white, and red mobile dangling over one infant's crib.

    Joanne handed me the bottle, and sitting in the rocking chair, I fed the baby. Jon was getting over a cold and we had decided it was safer for the baby if Jon kept a little distance. I could feel the baby's throat working against my wrist as he furiously swallowed the formula. It seemed as if he'd never encountered food before. Joanne said he weighed only eleven pounds, and he had to use huge amounts of fuel to support his precarious lungs and his liver. Three months after his birth, his organs had to work overtime to filter out the deadly toxins that still raged in his system.

    "So, you boys are adopting him, right?"

    Our eyes shot up to meet Joanne's gaze. Was this a trick question? Yesterday on the phone, and all the while we'd been seeking to take a baby into our home, Jean, the DYFS placement specialist, had drummed into our heads that at best we'd be getting a foster child. Adoption was such a distant possibility that we barely allowed ourselves to think about it. Like many couples before us, we had decided to take the risk of being foster parents first, even if we didn't get to have that child permanently as our own. Now Joanne was making it sound as though our parenting this baby for good was a given.

    "Yes," Jon said sharply, "we intend to adopt him."

    "Are you going to keep his name, or are you going to change it?" Joanne asked.

    Here was another question that we thought spoke more to our dreams than reality. Before surrendering him to the state, this infant's mother had given the baby a name. Jon and I had discussed for a long time what name we would like our son to have. I looked at Jon, who nodded slightly, and I spoke up. "We have a name for him. Adam."

    "Adam stands for Adolph, Dorothy, Donato, and Ann Mary," Jon added. "Michael's father and mother, my late father, and my mother."

    Joanne gave us a big smile. "Adam is a beautiful name. You know, we'd better get the staff to start using it." Before we could react, she stuck her head into the other room called out to the other nurses in a loud voice. "Ladies, from now on, this boy's name is Adam. Got it?"

    I looked down, stunned, at the child who lay against my chest. Had we actually just been able to name this baby? That was a breathtaking notion.

    "When can we take him home?" Jon asked.

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Joanne held up her hand and let out a belly laugh. "You have no idea how long a road you've got ahead of you. First we have to teach you everything you need to know about Adam—food stuff, how to bathe him, how to change an infectious diaper, all that. Then you have to get past Dr. Hutcheons—she's the medical director for all these kids—and convince her that you can care for Adam on your own, even for a single day visit. You've never had a baby of your own before, either of you?"

    We shook our heads no.

    "No? Well, boys, you've got a lot to learn. We're going to take this nice and slow and make sure you know what you're doing before you have to face Dr. Hutcheons. She's not too keen on handing out her children to just anybody. You'll have to spend some time with Adam, get more of his medical history, learn to give him his medication. Ever squirt medication down a baby's throat? It's easier doing it to a cat."

    "Can we start now?" Jon was never the kind to be shy about asking for what he wanted.

    "You are eager, aren't you. It would be best to wait a day or two, I think," Joanne said.

    "Can we come back tomorrow to see him?"

    "Christmas Eve?" Joanne frowned, thinking.

    "We have presents for him," I said, putting Adam on my shoulder as I began patting his back.

    "Well, I won't be here until the day after Christmas, but I'll let them know that you'll be visiting. How about Christmas Day? You can wish Adam a merry Christmas." She smiled at us. "Then the next day we'll start your orientation to little Adam here."

    At that moment Adam let out an adult-sized burp of satisfaction, huge and healthy and ordinary, against my shoulder.

    Joanne looked at him and then at us. "That was one phenomenal burp. I think you boys are going to be just fine."


On Christmas morning, Jon and I got up early so that we could be at the O'Neill Center when Adam woke up. I had a Santa Claus hat on and Jon carried a teddy bear, a gift from my parents. My mother and father were still uncomfortable with the whole idea of their son adopting a child, but they were trying to be supportive. They'd provided their prospective new grandchild with a stuffed animal bigger than he was.

    When Adam opened his eyes, he smiled at us. I decided he was glad to see the two guys who had bounced him on their knees just forty-eight hours earlier. He held out his arms, and I lifted him out of his crib, all eleven pounds of him. He didn't hesitate or hold back from me, and within a minute he was happily nestled against my shoulder, drooling down my back. "Merry Christmas, Son," Jon said as he rubbed Adam along his disturbingly protrusive spine. Adam was bleating, cooing, making sounds like a regular baby. But with the other kids crying and the fluorescent lighting and the linoleum, this Christmas morning felt like something out of a modern Christmas Carol, complete with half a dozen Tiny Tims.

    We fed Adam, then sat with him on the couch to play. He seemed to be connecting with us, gripping our fingers, squirming happily when we moved his arms and legs. He went for his thumb again like a drunk aching for a bottle, and that scared us both. I could tell Jon was examining him carefully to see how he reacted to us and to stimulation in general.

    "He seems like he's basically a pretty good baby," I said.

    "Yeah, well, is he a good baby, or is it the phenobarbital?" Jon muttered. It was a serious question. Both Jean and Joanne had already told us about the medication being used to ease Adam's withdrawal from his prenatal infusion of hard drugs. It was possible that right now this baby was just high and floating; so far, we had no way to figure out his natural disposition. It would take several more months and a complete detox before we would feel any confidence that we knew the personality of our baby. We did everything we could to keep him engaged: we sang to him, made silly noises, laughed, and hugged him hard so that he'd get more familiar with the warmth of another body.

    Of course, before long Adam spit up on my sweater. (For some reason, I have always been the one he spits up on.) I was standing across the room cleaning myself off when I heard an odd sound. I glanced over at Jon. He and the baby were "talking." "Gitty—gitty—gitty—gitty—goo," Jon would say, and Adam would respond with some strange sort of chatter; and then they would giggle together as if they had just shared a delicious secret. For a long time, I stood back and watched as the two of them "spoke" to each other, cooing and laughing in the private language of parent and infant. Any question I might have had about Jon's ability to be a parent, or our decision that he would be the "stay-at-home" dad, was answered in that moment. Jon had taken a fitful shadow of an infant and brought him to life in no time. A wave of love and gratitude swept over me.

    "Next Christmas he's at our house," Jon told me. I nodded. Within a year, if we could satisfy the state, and if Adam lived, he would be our son. As we left, Jon began to cry. He would cry every time we left until the day we brought Adam home for good.

    The first thing the following morning we went back to the O'Neill House to work—learning how to care for a baby we desperately wanted to take home. Amid the roar of the other children playing and being cared for by the nurse's aides, Joanne took us into the bathroom, an all-white, L-shaped room with one small window, also painted white, at the far end. I noticed an oversize porcelain tub that looked as if it had stood there for at least a hundred years. A separate wall-mounted, metal bathing sink, hovering just below a large industrial-style mirror, was far more hospital-like than the old tub. Below the sink sat a light blue wastebasket marked BIOLOGICAL HAZARD, and affixed beside the basin was a large metal, cylindrical pump that sprayed an oily, pink disinfectant that stung our skin upon contact. After we washed our hands, Joanne instructed us on what she was doing as she bathed Adam in the infant sink. "You wash him with Dove soap—he's too sensitive for anything else. All right, boys, now you take over." She stood back, appraising our technique. "Don't be too cautious with him. These kids aren't breakable, even the sick ones. You just grab him and hold him like a football."

    Fortunately, Adam loved the bath. Unlike Joanne, who had worn white latex gloves, Jon and I washed Adam with our bare hands. We had decided we would not keep a layer of latex between us and our baby, except when we were dealing with bodily fluids and had no choice. It seemed important to make sure he felt warmth.

    When Jon told his mother about our decision, she had looked at him startled—less by the risk we were taking than by the fact that a parent would even have to consider whether to wear gloves while bathing a child. She too had adopted a child: Jon himself. She and her husband had become his adoptive parents when he was only eleven days old.

    Jon's mother and all of us had needed a lot Of time and effort to get used to the implications of parenting a foster child. The consequences had hit home the day six months before when Jon and I had sat on our living room couch and filled out the four-page questionnaire the state Division of Youth and Family Services handed out to prospective foster parents. Some of the questions had to do with our income, our home life, education, and child-care plans, our psychological preparedness, and our motivations to be parents. We could answer those questions with confidence. The state did not challenge us at all about our fitness as a gay couple to be parents. Other questions were more daunting. Would we accept a boy or girl, an African-American or Latino child, one whose health was robust or one who was "medically fragile"? Would we take a child if he had cerebral palsy? Would we take a child if his mother had been diagnosed with syphilis? With herpes? Hepatitis? HIV? What if the father had been diagnosed with any of these maladies? What if the parents had lived on the streets, been unmarried, worked as prostitutes, or served time in prison? Would we accept a foster child with one schizophrenic parent? With two?

    We were happy to accept what the social workers called a special-needs child. Our only limitation was that we wanted to parent a child who had a reasonable chance of growing up to live independently. Now, as we held Adam in our arms, the reality of a medically fragile child was truly brought home to us.

    "We haven't yet given Adam his meds," Joanne said. "We decided to hold off until you got here so that you two could learn to do it. Here's his med chart." She handed us a thick clipboard with a grid on it where she and other nurses had scrawled the thrice-daily medical regimen Adam had to follow. From birth to six weeks old he was on AZT, the antiviral drug that has been shown to keep HIV from taking hold in the bodies of antibody-positive fetuses and newborns. The virus might have been thwarted, but only time would tell. He was still on a prophylactic dose of Bactrim, a drug that suppresses HIV-related pneumonia. He was also on Proventil, a drug that would treat the meconium aspiration syndrome in his lungs which had been detected at his birth and which had been complicated by an RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infection only a month later. The drug had to be inhaled as a mist via a noisy, nasty-looking machine called a nebulizer. Maybe most vital to Adam's immediate well-being was the phenobarbital, which reduced the physical symptoms of his drug withdrawal. Without it, Adam would still suffer from tremors and seizures as the cocaine, heroin, and other drugs drained from his body.

    So many drugs for such a little boy. Jon sat Adam down in a bouncy chair in front of The Lion King as Joanne prepared the needleless syringes that would shoot the drugs into Adam's mouth. You can't exactly hand a three-month-old baby a handful of pills and ask him to swallow them. This meant holding Adam still and getting his mouth open—and that entailed a fierce struggle to keep Adam's thumb out of his mouth. Holding Adam's mouth open, Jon would slowly release the syringe of phenobarbital against the side of Adam's lower jaw. The Bactrim was as pink and viscous as Pepto-Bismol, and when I gave it to him, Adam spat most of it out. That happens, Joanne told us.

    Next Joanne introduced us to the nebulizer, a machine that looked like a small portable air conditioner, only noisier. She briefed us on the controls and the various cords and attachments. Then she said we had the option of holding the mask over Adam's face or just getting his mouth and nose directly into the mist, which was almost as effective a way of providing him the dose he needed. I decided to test out the contraption and held the mask to my face and inhaled the medicine. It tasted salty, and the mask made me feel as if I couldn't breathe. We decided immediately not to use the mask. The last thing this kid needed was one more scary, unnecessary, and even mildly invasive procedure. Then Joanne told us that the medicine was absorbed best when Adam was crying, as he would be taking deeper breaths. With a quick jounce of his chair she startled him into tears, and soon he was inhaling his Proventil. I secretly resolved that Jon and I would try never to make Adam cry—we'd use the nebulizer on him during his normal baby-crying.

    Already we were overwhelmed. There was so much to remember. Would we know how to do all this when we got home? "You gotta know what to do in a crisis. You know how to rescue him if he's choking?" Joanne asked. We did, and we knew CPR too. "You know how to protect yourselves from his fluids?" Joanne showed us all her cleanup precautions and held up the container of bleach she used to clean the table area after she changed Adam's diapers. "You gotta keep everything in the house dry," she said, "and I mean very dry. Bacteria can live in a puddle for ten hours, and that's the last thing you need around a sick kid, right?" I felt as though we were back in the third grade with our teacher rehearsing the steps for a fire drill.

    She looked us square in the eye. "With all this medicine to administer, plus diapers and the sleep patterns of a three-month-old—you realize you're going to be up every two hours doing something for Adam, right?"

    "What will it take before Dr. Hutcheons lets us take him home overnight?" Jon asked.

    Joanne sighed. "Lots of practice. In the meantime, I suggest you guys stock up on sleep."

(Continues...)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2003

    Wonderful heartfelt story of two dads!!!!

    This book is a heartfelt look at two gay men wanting to start a family. Jon and Michael Galluccio want to start a family, and become foster parents to a challenged infant boy named Adam. This story tells how Jon and Michael fight the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, to jointly adopt Adam. This book makes you laugh and cry. 'An American Family', is wonderfully told by two remarkably loving men. It's definately worth reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2014

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