If Our Son Is Happy, What Else Matters?

My son had a spate of bad falls. His black eye and leg cast made him look like he escaped a car crash, but just barely. People asked at every turn, "What happened to him?"

The honest answer would have been "What didn't happen to him?" He's had a rough life.

But since the truth is complicated, my answers tended to be flip. "You should see the other guy!" At one point, I said to my partner: "It's amazing no one's reported us for child abuse."

Then someone did. Unfortunately, it may not have been out of concern for our child's well-being, but because of bias toward his parents.

I had adopted Sasha seven months earlier from Eastern Europe. While we knew that not everyone approved of "gay adoption" as a concept, we couldn't believe that anyone would prefer that this specific child had been left in his orphanage. He wasn't exactly thriving there. At 17 months, Sasha was the size of an American 5-month-old. While most kids walk by 12 months, Sasha could barely crawl. He didn't babble or coo. His eyes were vacant and haunted.

Born 10 weeks premature and at less than four pounds, Sasha would have benefited from early intervention. But he spent his first 17 months lying alone in a crib. He was sickly and withdrawn. I asked one of the orphanage workers if Sasha ever smiled, and she replied "No, he's a serious child." Imagine a child who's never smiled.

When children aren't loved, they drift away. Sasha lived in his own world. He cared for no one. It didn't matter who held him--we were all the same. Toys slipped unnoticed from his hands. Even when no longer confined to a crib, he just lay on his back sucking his thumb. At the orphanage, they told me he had "normal curiosity," but I think they meant normal for a stone. When I brought Sasha to an expert in the psychological assessment of orphaned children, he diagnosed Sasha as having institutional autism.

Sasha's story would be unbearably sad if it weren't for how well he's done since coming home. By his 2d birthday, he was grinning and laughing all the time. He went from being severely underweight to downright chubby. He's engaged and affectionate, and every day he wakes up happy.

A speech therapist told us that, given Sasha's background, we shouldn't expect any words until 2. But when that birthday arrived, Sasha already had 60 words and phrases. He even says "please!"

Sadly, Sasha's walking is still impeded by a congenital condition. But he's tenacious in his attempts to toddle around, and we encourage his trying. This leads to lots of bumps and bruises.

Given his appearance, we weren't totally surprised that someone called the authorities. Done for the right reasons, that's the smart thing to do. But were the motivations here right?

State investigators concealed the complainant's identity, but friends who knew her filled us in on what had happened. They said that the complainant had told them how terrible she thought it was that Sasha had two daddies. They believed her bias was what motivated her to call the authorities. My partner and I hope that's not true, but we may never know.

To close the investigation, we had to take Sasha to a hospital for an assessment. We were there for six hours. He was kept up past his bedtime and endlessly poked and prodded. Worse, even after the attending physician was convinced that there was no mistreatment, hospital rules required that Sasha undergo a full-body skeletal exam. So, our hysterical, tired child was held down for half an hour, twisted this way and that on a cold metal table for 15 X-rays he never needed. At 2, my son learned how prejudice can--literally--hurt.

But anti-gay prejudice hurts many children. Hundreds of thousands of them need homes. Yet some people would prefer that children be stuck in foster care or institutions rather than live with two loving parents of the same sex. I can't decide if that's more crazy or cruel.

My partner and I don't feel like heroes for adopting Sasha. We're the lucky ones to have this wonderful child. But had we not taken a risk on a kid who wasn't looking too good at the time, Sasha might still be in that orphanage. His beautiful, inspiring light would have been lost. For the person who reported us for abuse and for the lawyers for the state of Florida (who recently defended that state's ban on gay adoption by claiming "there is not a fundamental right to adopt or to be adopted"), that loss would have been acceptable. If they really cared about kids, just one of Sasha's smiles would change their minds.