Alex Costa and David Novak both wanted to have children. But the two men ran up against an unexpected barrier: their wives.
It wasn’t until the two had divorced their spouses and became a couple that parenthood became an achievable goal -- through the Florida foster care system. The two are among several families featured in the upcoming documentary "Finding Life." Their journey shows the simple power of wanting to form a family, no matter the obstacles.
"We both had relationships in which we wanted to build a family," Alex says. "Unfortunately, that was not what our ex-wives wanted."
"I loved my wife, but I hated my life," David says of his life before meeting Alex. "Instead of doing something for everyone else, I had to do something for myself."
Alex, for his part, was worried about what being gay would mean. He wanted to start a family with his then-wife, he says, but she had figured out that he was gay. But he was afraid of the negative stereotypes – promiscuity, AIDS, dying alone.
Meeting David made all the difference. “It just made me happy just to have him next to me and supporting my life," Alex says.
But how did the story start? And how did David (photo above, right) and Alex (photo above, left), together for some four years, end up as the doting parents of a 2-year-old son named Ashton?
It started in the gym.
"We were working out,” Alex says today. “I was very, very shy and on my own, and David approached me and started helping me with the weights and some exercising."
Amid the weights and treadmills, elliptical machines and exercise bikes, the two became friends. At the time, David was separated from his wife, and Alex was divorced. They had much to discuss.
"We had a lot in common, core interests to talk about," David says. One thing led to another, and the two quickly became a couple. And they found that they had another shared goal.
"We both really wanted children," David says. "We basically already knew."
They decided to act after seeing a setup for a foster agency at a pride festival. They hadn’t realized all the possibilities – the display highlighted the opportunity to foster older kids, for example – and they decided to take action.
They went to a free foster care orientation, and both were hooked. They knew this was how they wanted to start their family.
"It was emotional," Alex says. "It really got our attention."
But they realized that they weren’t quite ready. They wanted to be somewhat more prepared to welcome a child into their world. "We were living in an apartment at the time,” David says, “and we knew it was a temporary home."
The couple ultimately took about a year getting things in order. They bought a home in a short sale, finished up the state foster care classes and got their license.
David and Alex were now prepared – at least as much as most parents-to-be.
Their first placement
Actually finding a child to foster, though, took some time. The couple had to turn down the first few placements they were offered. They were going to be out of the state, or the placement was of a sibling group.
"They start to call you right away, for anything," Alex says, even though would-be foster parents can state preferences for gender, age and other factors. "Every time that the phone call would come up, we would be shaking."
But they finally got the right call at the right time, asking if they could foster an infant boy.
"We didn't know anything about him, other than he was 3 months old," David says.
That boy turned out to be Ashton.
It was a challenging but rewarding experience. They had contact with the boy’s family, making sure that his relatives knew he was being well taken care of. They dealt with the constant visits from foster agency workers and others.
"Every month you have three people visiting your house," David says.
"There's a lot of invasion of privacy as well,” Alex says. “It's totally life-changing."
The biggest challenge, though, was simply time. If they hoped to adopt the child, both David and Alex would need to take care of him for longer than six months, the point at which Florida law would no longer automatically prefer his relatives for placement. But should that even be something they hoped for? It was difficult, David says today.
Each morning when he woke up, David says, he told himself, "‘I'm doing this for him, not for myself.’ I did not want to be hurt so bad if he were to leave.”
Several times they thought Ashton might be heading somewhere else. David says he was faced with agonizing choices. He didn’t buy a 9-month outfit when his son was 6 months old, because he didn’t know if he would still be living with them.
But the time passed. They passed the 6-month mark. And by the time his son was 1, David says, it was all over. "I could no longer remind myself this wasn't my child."
The Florida courts agreed. On Oct. 31, Ashton was formally adopted. He will turn 2 this month.
"That child brought a lot of happiness and light to our life," Alex says.
Now, the couple is encouraging others to become foster parents. They’re among the same-sex parents featured in Carlton Smith and John Duffy’s “Finding Life.” And while they’re taking some time to enjoy their family now, Alex says they would work with the foster care system again.
For his part, David says people sometimes misunderstand the system and those it cares for, worrying that the children might have issues of one kind or another. Of course, there are no guarantees with any children.
But they all need love.