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“Are you nervous about being a dad?” “Yeah.” “Why so?” “They’re so small.”
Joe Housh and Josh Madden didn't seek publicity—but it found them. Cable channel LogoTV approached their adoption agency, Independent Adoption Center, for potential subjects on its new program, The Baby Wait, and the agency happily referred the show's producers to Housh and Madden, who were in the midst of a three-year journey to becoming fathers of a child. Enter Hannah Johnson, a pregnant 19-year-old who did not find it feasible to keep her impending baby. Housh, 44, and Madden, 37, made contact with her through the agency, and on Sept. 10, a baby—Gracelyn Rae Madden-Housh, who shares the middle name of her birth mother—was born.
The rest is history, or will be. But first, it is his story—and also his. Housh and Madden are a gay couple living in downtown Indianapolis, and whether near or far, in the past or present, they experience a range of responses to their relationship, and to their roles now as fathers of three-month-old Gracelyn. And to their newest foray—becoming reality stars of sorts. Here's their episode of The Baby Wait, in its entirety—it originally aired on Nov. 27—and IM's exclusive interview with the pair, which speaks to the surprises and follies of fatherhood, what it means to them, how the show was shot, and what's next for same-sex couples in Indiana:
What catalyzed the desire for each of you to become a father, to parent a child?
Josh Madden: We both didn’t think it’d be possible. We didn’t explore it at all. We’d never known another gay couple who adopted, or that it could happen in Indiana. We thought that you had to accept and forfeit this when you decided to come out. Then our friends adopted a girl, and we saw them go through the process. They didn’t go through the same agency but told us about it and to check it out. We went to a couple weekend informational meetings and thought, We should give this a try. We both love being uncles.
Was one of you ahead of the other with this desire?
Housh: Josh probably had more of the fatherly need. [Madden laughs.] He’s a teacher. He’s younger than I am. I thought I was too old to explore it. I wanted to as well.
Madden: Joe was the task master, thought that he’d do the preliminary stuff, and we had this ideal of how it’d work out. He was gonna do a lot of the upfront stuff and I was going to take care of the website and incoming phone calls.
Did you find the paperwork or red tape in Indiana to be cumbersome or about right, considering the seriousness of the matter of adoption?
Housh: Every state has a lot of paperwork; it does seem a lot. State and federal governments would add background checks, and it took awhile to get the birth mother letter complete.
Madden: It was time-consuming as it should be. You don’t want someone to fly by night and say “I want a baby.” We understood why it was so thorough.
Housh: The process took nine months to a year from the first meeting.
Do you think it more difficult because you are a same-sex couple?
Madden: I don’t.
Housh: Indiana has more of a hands-off approach, makes it pretty easy for same-sex couples to adopt. Florida, Louisiana—there are several states in which a gay couple can’t adopt. And we couldn’t adopt from those states. Here, we’re both able to be on the birth certificate as parents. [Note: That will be finalized on Dec. 28 for the pair.]
Did you have anxiety as the due date approached as to whether Hannah would balk at giving up her child at the 11th hour?
Madden: We weren’t nervous about Hannah. We got to go to doctor visits. Not every adoptive family has the privileges that we had. We built a relationship with Hannah without a child, before. We were more concerned about Hannah. She’s going through this tremendous procedure. We were worried about her health.
Housh: There was some concern. It’s a very serious decision to make. I don’t think anyone takes it lightly. Anyone would have a tough time making that decision. It’d be strange if she didn’t have some kind of concern. She told us this was what she wanted. We weren’t on pins and needles at the hospital, but there was relief when everything was signed.
Hannah called Gracelyn’s birth “the most life-changing thing in [her] entire life.” What were your first thoughts when you saw this baby born?
Madden: There’s a certain amount of disbelief that I had. Holding her, I didn’t think I would ever be a dad.
You got choked up about that on the show.
Madden: Yeah, I just didn’t believe. It took a while for me to say the words “My daughter” and believe it. It’s a sense of wonder, amazement, feeling ridiculously blessed. Lucky. And then, of course, what in the world do we do with her now?
Housh: I was concerned with Hannah’s C-section. The cord around the neck with the baby. In a C-section, they pop you open and you can see internal organs. I know it happens every day, but it’s pretty incredible how it happens. It was a remarkably quick the birth, 10 to 15 minutes. It began at 2:30, and they wheeled her out at 2:46.
Not that you were detail focused or anything, right?
Josh, you said in the episode, at the dinner party with friends, that you thought this would give your lives more meaning or purpose. How is that so now?
Madden: On a daily basis, coming home from work is so much more exciting. She smiles and responds to smiles. I was telling [friends who appeared on the show] Andy and Frank last night that, a couple Saturdays ago, she had peed and pooped on me before 5 o’clock. And then she smiled. And I thought this is the best thing ever. That’s probably why I went into education, thinking that’s all I’d ever have. It’s mind blowing.
Maybe she’ll play volleyball since you coach it.
Madden: [Laughs.] She is in the 90th percentile height-wise and will play if she decides. She can decide who she wants to be.
And Joe, did you get that Baby Bjorn you coveted?
Housh: Yes. I did!
Madden: And he has been on Mass Ave with it.
You’re social, individually and as a pair—but maybe the two of you aren’t exactly attention seeking, loud people. What compelled you to be on a TV show about this experience?
Housh: [to Madden] You give your answer and I’ll give mine.
Madden: At the time they contacted us, we’d been in the process for three years. We hadn’t talked to Hannah yet about it. It came down to, This is going to be a story of a whole process of where we are and how we got there, and when she starts asking questions years from now—Hannah may have her own family at this point—and [Gracelyn] is going to be able to see the sacrifice her mother made and how courageous it was for her to do what she did. Ultimately, it was so we could have a good record of her birth.
Housh: We didn’t want it to be sensationalized. She’s a positive person and was great with us. We wanted her to be shown as that, the person who brought this miracle to us. For me, on a secondary note, it’s important to see how two guys can adopt and maybe to allow younger gay couples to see us go through it. In our mid-30s and 40s, we didn’t think—even in our early 20s—that it’d be possible. Not that we want to be role models, but it’s good to show younger couples it’s possible.
How long was the episode shooting, in pockets over months?
Madden: It started in July, the first time producer Kat came for five or six days. She was one person taping in two locations, our place and Hannah’s. We only live 10 minutes apart. She lives in Broad Ripple. That made it advantageous to the producer. Pretty much every day we were doing something.
Housh: I was working, Hannah was working. Josh had the summer off. They came back for two or three weeks for the birth and then some more. We didn’t see it until everybody saw it.
Madden: We loved working with the people, too. They were easy to have around, Kat and Janice [a videographer]. They genuinely cared about the project, wanted it to be a story about how our situation is unique in that Hannah’s extended family is so supportive of us as an adoptive couple, and on a personal level, as a gay couple. Her grandmother, someone from that generation—not many from that, not to stereotype, are that way. They didn’t bat an eye. All of them. Mothers and fathers, both sides of the family. They had a cookout to meet us.
Were you pleased then with the result, and the TV depictions of all involved?
Housh: I think so. Most all of it was pretty accurate.
Madden: The relationship and the bond that we have as a group, that’s ultimately what we were concerned about. We felt they did a great job portraying that. From our perspective, it looked kind of like it was a quick process, but it really was a three-year process.
Housh: We previously had an adoption that was close to happening that didn’t work out.
Madden: We know a lot of people interested [in adoption]. It’s a difficult process from both sides. There are still things to be concerned about.
One family member said in the hospital, “It’s official: She’s on social media now.” To that end, I saw that you both joined Twitter. Any connection there?
Housh: He’s been on it a long time. I joined partially because Hannah and her sister said, “You’ve got to use this.” And partially from the show. [You can follow Housh and Madden on Twitter at @IndaHoush and @JDMaddog75.]
Madden: It’s been interesting to see it, the comments. With Hannah, we’ve been interested to see all the [Baby Wait] shows together. I think the show has done a good job showing multiple sides. You see comments on social media that say, I can’t believe she’s doing that, "I could never give up the baby."
Housh: Negative toward the birth mother.
Madden: They can easily do that, randomly. And I told Hannah, you know, some will say that about you. We’ve seen comments that were “I can’t believe she’s giving her up to two guys.” But we’ve kind of dealt with it. We’ve heard that ignorance for years now. And she’s 19.
Housh: She knew it was possible and was fine with that.
Madden: She didn’t care.
Housh: And most comments have been positive. Few negative ones. We started going to a church this past spring, and we’ve gotten letters from people we don’t even know congratulating us and saying what strength it took to go through the process in Indiana, and what barriers there are. People looked us up and it meant a lot to us, people we don’t even know.
Hannah said, “You guys have made me a better person.” Obviously you intend to remain close to the birth mother and her family. This agreement and comradery that you all have seems almost unreal.
Housh: We really do still go to her grandma’s house on Sundays. We’ve ingrained them to our fam and us to theirs. Hannah’s mom and Josh’s stepmom were here, and they held her.
Madden: Hannah’s mom said, “I would never take a baby from a grandma.” Kathy my stepmom was here, and they had banter. They both know they’re a part of the family now. People ask you questions early on of how close you’ll be to the birth parents. And you don’t know, don’t know how you’ll match up. Neither of us ever thought it could be like this, this close. It’s hard to explain to people. When you see us, you understand it. It makes sense. A lot has to do with her family. It’d be easy for them to be standoffish to us, have reservations. They invited us to Thanksgiving. And—
Housh: And Hannah wasn’t even there, out of town with her boyfriend. Josh’s stepmom—you know, half-brothers and -sisters, step-siblings these days—this is a divorced family, but all sides like each other. It’s just another type of extended family.
Going on 10 years is a healthy duration for any relationship. Do you two have designs of marrying sometime in the future? Have you talked about it?
Madden: We’ve talked about it. We joke about it.
Housh: He hasn’t put a ring on it yet.
Madden: Oh, lord.
Housh: Part of it seems silly when in indiana it isn’t recognized.
Madden: We feel married already. Only in the legalities are we different from other couples. In the future, we will have to take extra steps to ensure we’re both protected, particularly with her now, that [heterosexual] couples, just by being married, don’t have to take. It seems weird that you can’t call us a family, that legally we’re not recognized. It is very frustrating, but at the same time, it doesn’t diminish our relationship.
The state of Indiana doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, and a new Republican super-majority in the Statehouse intends to push forward a marriage amendment to the state constitution in the coming year or two. What’s your response to that?
Housh: It came up on day 4 in the hospital. I made the comment that it seems crazy that we can go through this process and adopt a child in Indiana but potentially can’t visit each other there, that there’d be a law against that. It seems incongruent. Seems odd. That part is frustrating.
Madden: We’ve experienced some people who don’t support our relationship and we’ve heard that our entire lives for whatever reason. More for me, faith based.
Housh: Yet it’s fine if people get divorced and remarried five times. If [marriage] is truly for the protection of children, there shouldn’t be that many divorces.
With this fulfilled, what’s your greatest desire in life now?
Madden: This is exciting, keeping her afloat. Giving her the best. We're in a position now that we’ve never been in professionally and personally. The community that we have built over a number of years, we’re in a great spot right now. We’re gonna be able to give her so many things. We’re not gonna stop and stay here. We’re gonna travel and see it through her eyes, and do all the things parents love to do. We have a number of our friends who are giving birth, too. It's neat to go through the experience with them. I still love my job as teacher and coach. It makes life more full.
Housh: And we haven’t really stopped the social things we do.
Madden: We take her pretty much anywhere.
Housh: That’s what’s great about our group of friends. We don’t feel like we’re intruding. We know when it’s appropriate to have a child there and not. So many people want to celebrate with us, and we want them to be a part, too.
Madden: People ask, Are you gonna have another kid now? We haven’t let this one survive yet. We’ll look into that when the time is right, and financially, the best thing for the three of us. We both have siblings and understand the importance of siblings. Whether it's feasible or not, we will see. She needs to sleep throught the night first. She has been a good baby, and we've been lucky.
Housh: She’s perfect.
And what’s your greatest desire for your child, in her life?
The ability to pursue her dreams, whatever she wants—because she can.
I just want her to be happy. We know she’ll get comments at school that she has two dads, and we'll take that as it comes. I want her to have every opportunity that we had in middle-class families. Our parents did their best to give us good educations, and to have it better than they did. That’s what we want for her.
You have said that you’re going to raise Gracelyn downtown, and some people have commented to you, Why would you do that? How have you responded, or what’s your mentality on raising a young child in downtown Indy?
Madden: Our first thought is the diversity that’s here. We can walk doto mass ave. there’s everything. Everybody of all walks. Plus parents. Downtown indy is a great place to be. So much going on.
Housh: I think sometimes midweste ppl think you need property and room for them to run. Cities likeNY and DC ppl are brought up in downtowns and otwnhosues allteh time. Downtown is very vibrant right now. School she could walk to is one of state’s best. There’s parks nearby. I think it’ll be fun for us and for her.
Anything else on your mind that you’d like to add or say?
Housh: Josh looked fabulous on TV. [Both laugh.]
Madden: You do get hypercritical of yourself on TV. But the response has been amazing, from childhood friends to colleagues. We're appreciative of the final product. It was much better than we anticipated. We just didn’t think we would be entertainment—or entertaining. They did a good job showing the emotions.
Housh: I saw a comment that people want to see where we are a year from now, how we’re dealing with being parents and how close we are with the birth mom. In one episode, the birth mother moved closer to have a relationship with the family. I think it’ll be interesting to see how those relationships progress or digress or change over the years. There’s no right or wrong way. Some mothers separate selves entirely from the situation. Sometimes it’s easier to be away. It’s different for every adoptive couple.
Video courtesy LogoTV and The Baby Wait
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