Two months ago, my life partner and I became proud parents again, this time of a beautiful baby girl, Eliana Chaya. Our son, Ethan Zvi, was born three years ago. Our children call me Abba and call my partner Papa.
Both our children are and will be fully bilingual. Jack came from Mexico to this country 20 years ago to attend graduate school at Cornell after finishing college and a year in Israel. He has since become a naturalized citizen.
Jack and I have been together for 15 years and just celebrated what we consider to be our sixth wedding anniversary. We stood under the huppa together in 2004, when New Jersey adopted its Domestic Partnership Law (only to be replaced a couple of years later with the Civil Union Law). The Civil Union Law was intended to give equal protection to gay and lesbian relationships without calling it “marriage,” so as not to offend the religious objections of “traditionalists.” So much for not offending an entire class of gay and lesbian citizens and for breaching the very principles of our constitution — separation of church and state.
Our journey toward parenthood has traversed several years, from when we first considered the gift and blessing of adoption to finally having our two beautiful children through surrogacy.
Both our children share the same biological egg donor, Auntie Talia, a Jewish woman from Los Angeles who wanted to help a family like ours have a child. Our children were brought into this world by two different gestational carriers, one from Columbus, Ohio, and another woman from southern New Jersey. Both women, whom our children will call Aunt Colleen and Aunt Becky, gave us the greatest gift any person could — their ability to bring forth new life and the possibility of creating our own nuclear family. Each is what we call in Jewish tradition an eshet hayil — a woman of valor.
My husband and I are our children’s biological fathers, having conceived both of them together on the same day, although they were born three years and four months apart. After we became pregnant with Ethan, the remaining fertilized embryos were frozen and stored for future use.
We picked names starting with the letter “E” as a tribute to my late mother Ethel. She would have been the proudest bubbe alive; she would have eaten Ethan up and would have been overjoyed to welcome Eliana into the world. I know that she is looking down from the heavens with complete approval.
At the recent baby naming ceremony for Eliana, I explained that Ethan’s name means “strength” and Eliana’s name means “God has answered me.” Ethan’s middle name is Zvi after his great-grandfather on Jack’s side, and Eliana’s middle name is Chaya, which means “life.” Therefore, Eliana’s full name means “God has answered me with life.”
My sister died at birth. I choose to believe that Eliana carries a piece of her aunt’s soul in her. I know that their blessings for Eliana and for Ethan be that they both live healthy, happy, honest lives and pursue all their dreams.
For Eliana’s baby naming, I took the liberty of adapting a poem from one of my favorite poets. It reads in part:
Your grandmother murmurs devoutly,
My precious granddaughter be blessed.
My prayers have been answered and now I may rest.
As night descends and twilight arrives,
The face of your grandmother within me revives.
A prayer on her lips, “O Almighty be blessed,
For sending my dear Eliana, her face I caress.”
The beauty and joy we celebrated at Eliana’s baby-naming, our sense of family, community, and tradition, are worlds away from the discrimination we face under laws that relegate us to second-class status.
There are hundreds of legal rights and responsibilities that we lack, including all of the child custody and inheritance rights that are automatic for married couples at both the state and national levels, let alone the emotional and psychological impact such discrimination can cause for our children and the thousands of others who live in same-sex households throughout this great state. I certainly urge all state legislators —including my own senator, Shirley Turner (D-Dist. 15) — to support marriage equality.
It is my hope that people will appreciate the diversity of our community and respect the myriad ways loving, committed families are being created each and every day. In this spirit, I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.