The Parent Trip: Kristin Romens and Matt Eskin of Mount Airy

parent-trip-6002
Lev Samuel and his sister, Natalie Grace, with parents Kristin Romens and Matt Eskin. (REGINA MILLER / Origin Photo)

Kristin recently found a prayer list she'd made in college. One of the items on it was "my future family and adoption." Back then, it was a whispered entreaty. Now it's the headline of a still-unfolding story.

That story began when Matt knocked on his neighbor's door in Arlington, Va., to confess that he'd borrowed a snow shovel without asking, and then broken it.

Kristin, still in her gym clothes, answered the door. "It was love at first sight," Matt says - never mind the fact that he was involved with someone else. "Soon I decided I was more interested in bumping into my neighbor than dating my girlfriend." Neighborly barbecues stepped up to more intentional get-togethers, and Matt proposed about a year later, followed by dinner at a local diner.

The low-key setting was appropriate. While Matt was raised as a secular Jew and Kristin as an observant Christian, their core principles dovetailed: Both believed in the inherent worth of every person. Both valued substance over sparkle. And both, it turned out, had been exposed to adoption: Kristin's family fostered several children, and some close friends of Matt's parents had adopted.

Their 2005 wedding, in the garden of a school where Matt had taught near Middleburg, Va., wove their faith traditions with their no-frills sensibilities: An Episcopal priest officiated, and Matt's sister read the seven Hebrew blessings that are customary at a Jewish wedding. The reception rocked a wood-framed barn; the groomsmen wore pink ties.

After a year of marriage, Kristin and Matt posed the $64,000 question to couples in their book group: When's the best time to have kids? The emphatic consensus: Wait.

That counsel made sense during a hectic stretch of career shifts, graduate school, and a move from Arlington to Boston. At one point they decided to "pull the goalie," but their semi-intentional efforts at conception didn't yield fruit.

Three years later, it was time for some help. And after four rounds of fertility drugs and intrauterine inseminations, Kristin walked into the couple's bedroom with a pregnancy test and an understated announcement. "It's not negative," she told Matt.

Kristin worried about following in family footsteps; both her mother and aunt had had difficult pregnancies and too-early deliveries. But this baby - a boy, they learned, and resolutely breech from 28 weeks onward - came via C-section just a week ahead of schedule.

Kristin and Matt had rejected most of the male family monikers: Albert, Herbert, Dick, Gerald. And while they'd agreed that their family would be a religious hybrid, attending a progressive church and observing Jewish holidays with Matt's family, both loved a Jewish parable that teaches the most important human trait is a "lev tov," a "good heart." They named their son Lev.

He was not an easy baby: Lev screamed in the car, suffered from reflux, and, during one mind-melting summer in a one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia, woke at 4:30 a.m. every single day.

By the time Lev was 3, though, Kristin and Matt started yearning to do it all over again. "We weren't committed to having a biological child," Matt says, and after four months of unsuccessful fertility treatments, they began working with Open Arms Adoption Network.

They appreciated the agency's focus on birth mothers - a philosophy that "this is not about you getting a baby; this is about a birth mom making the best decision for her child," Kristin says.

The concept of open adoption - in which the child's birth family and adoptive parents are in contact and may even meet - appealed to them. It felt truthful. It honored every person whose life was bound to the baby.

The couple had just returned from vacation in Rhode Island when they got a call: A birth mother had chosen them. Her infant was 9 days old. The mother wanted to meet as soon as possible. Kristin did a mental shuffle of the day: Maybe they could get to Wilmington by 7 that evening.

No, she wants to meet as soon as possible, the social worker repeated. Within hours, Kristin and Matt walked into a sandwich shop where the birth mother, her mother and two social workers were waiting. They hugged. They cried. And the birth mother had questions: Will you ever spank her? Are you going to change her name? Do you think you'll love her as much as you love your son?

"It was so evident to us how much [the birth mother and her mother] cared about this baby, and how hard it was for them," Kristin says.

Their daughter, whom they call "Gracie," was an "angel baby," Kristin says, sleeping peaceably in her bassinet and fussing only when she needed something. Lev was infatuated, pounding through the door after camp to demand, "Where's Sweetie-Bear?"

Since Gracie came home in July, the family has met with her birth mother five times; Kristin and Matt each text her about once a week with a new photo or cute anecdote. And every time they look at their daughter, they are reminded of the cascade of circumstances and choices that make a family.

Gracie's birth mother "is so expressive with us about how grateful she is that Gracie has this wonderful family," Kristin says. Yet on the day the adoption was finalized, Kristin knew that the legal affirmation of their parenthood was also a painful closure for her daughter's birth mother. "We were happy and relieved," Kristin recalls. "But there was also a sense of being aware of her loss and our gain."

Years ago, for Kristin, adoption was a prayer. Now it's the tangled reality of her life. "I've come to this place of feeling that adoption is not a second-rate way of becoming a family. It's also not a second-rate choice for a birth mom to make. For us, this is what life is about: It's rich and complicated and tragic. All of those things, all at the same time."

 


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: parents@phillynews.com.

Giving birth, adopting, or becoming a stepparent or guardian all count.

Unfortunately, we can't respond individually to all submissions. If your story is chosen, you will be contacted.