Robin has a strategy for fielding strangers' queries about her son: She simply answers every question in the affirmative. "Is his father tall?" Yes. "He has so much hair! Did you have a lot of heartburn?" Yes. "Did you have a long labor?" Oh, you have no idea.
She was in her mid-30s before she realized that pregnancy was not a prerequisite for parenting. "I never felt the urge to pop a human out of my body," she says. A genetic legacy wasn't important to her. But, increasingly, she longed to raise a child.
"I spent a lot of time thinking: Is it fair for a kid to have one parent?" She tried out the idea of adoption on colleagues and family; the uniform response was, "You'll be a great mother," she recalls. "No one said, 'Are you crazy?' About a year and a half ago, I decided I was done waiting for Mr. Right. . . . I was done waiting for the perfect life, and it was time to get on with mine."
Robin, a reading specialist for the Philadelphia School District, worked with Open Arms Adoption Network, part of Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia. She attended a class on interracial adoption and a marathon six-hour session that covered everything from legal issues to the contents of an adoptive parent's "to-go" bag.
She was open to a baby of a different race or faith - "if we had to go find a Baptist church so my child could experience that aspect of his culture, then we would go" - but didn't feel equipped, as a solo parent, to adopt an older child.
The adoption process, she says, was "the ultimate blind date" - that is, if a date required FBI checks, child abuse clearances, a 16-page "profile book," and essay questions asking her views on religion, work/life balance, and child discipline.
Robin toiled over the book every night for three weeks - arranging photos, fretting over captions and text - with the knowledge that birth parents would scrutinize every word.
She included pictures of her support network - her parents and the female friends accrued during her 13 years with the school system. There were snapshots of her miniature poodle, Mollie, and glimpses of her past work as a ghost-tour guide and stage manager. She noted her love of books, farmers' markets, and contemporary dance.
"At a certain point, I thought: This is me. These are the things that are important to me, and either it will click with somebody or it won't."
Waiting was the hardest part. Sometimes Robin's social worker let her know that she planned to show the profile book to a birth mother. "Then I'd hold my breath for 24 to 48 hours." Usually, she'd be notified when she wasn't chosen; sometimes, no news simply meant "no."
"It's sort of like endless pregnancy, because you don't know what the end-date is." She prepared anyway: assembling a bag with diapers, wipes, and bottles; buying a portable crib; arranging to stay with her parents in Pine Brook, N.J., once a baby was placed in her care.
On April 17, after seven months of limbo, Robin was at the Broad Street Diner with colleagues when her phone buzzed: a text and a voice mail from the social worker at Open Arms.
"She said, 'Come get your child.' I felt like my brain was humming. At a certain point, I had to sit down or I thought I would pass out."
Robin rushed home to wash a sink full of dishes, grab the to-go bag and Mollie, and stow the porta-crib in her car. She called her mother with a brief, adrenaline-pumped message: "Baby. Today." Then she drove to South Jersey to meet her son.
Robin had imagined calling a baby boy "Jeremy." But as soon as she saw him - 5 days old, 6 pounds and 7 ounces, a dark-haired infant of Ecuadorean ancestry dressed in a too-large onesie, jacket, and hat - he didn't look like a Jeremy. The name Benjamin popped to mind, followed by Aaron, her grandfather's name.
Robin signed a stack of papers, fumbled with the rear-facing car seat, and headed for the New Jersey Turnpike. "I think I was just in awe. He was teeny-tiny, and he needed me. That's all I knew."
At one point, with the car crawling in rush-hour traffic, Benjamin began to shriek. Robin panicked. She had only one 2-ounce bottle of formula that the social worker had given her. She pulled to the shoulder, climbed into the backseat, and fed him, hoping it would be enough.
For the next six weeks, Robin's parents cared for her, doing the laundry and grocery shopping, while she learned to care for Benjamin. It wasn't rocket science, she recalls - he needed food and diapers and cuddling - but she felt slammed by sleep deprivation and the suddenness of her new role. "For the first couple of weeks, there was a lot of: Oh, my God, what did I do?"
Robin has scant information about Benjamin's birth mother, except that she hoped for her son to go to college. "I know that, beyond anything, what she wanted was a life for him that she couldn't give him." She will celebrate Benjamin's birthday, April 12, and when he's older, she'll let him decide whether he also wants to mark his "gotcha" day - five days later - with a party or ritual.
Meanwhile, motherhood has contoured her days and colonized her mind. Once upon a time, Robin was a stage manager who could track dozens of people and props; now, she can barely remember that a pot is on the stove unless she's standing in front of the burner. What fills her brain is this: the baby who laughs when the stuffed Piglet on his mobile tickles his face. The boy who stares in wonder at his hands. "My focus is him. It never occurred to me that my life could change like that, in one phone call."
The Parent Trip
If you've become a parent - for the first, second or fifth time - within the last six months, e-mail us why we should feature your story: email@example.com.
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