It wasn't a date until the seventh inning.
That's when Amy and Brian - grade-school classmates who reconnected in their late 30s - both realized the goofy ease between them might point to something more.
Amy, two grades behind Brian at Mother of Divine Providence in King of Prussia, had kept casual track of him over the years, mostly through her younger brother, Patrick. That's how she heard about his accident: At 27, Brian, then a medical courier, was loading samples into his car when someone tried to parallel park behind him, stepped on the gas instead of the brake, and pinned Brian between the two cars' bumpers.
The news moved fast through their tight-knit community. "It shook us all," Amy remembers. Even after a nine-hour surgery to repair the shattered bones in his legs, doctors cautioned that Brian might never walk. But "Lyons," as Amy's brother called his pal, had grit. He slowly graduated from wheelchair to crutches to cane to a slight limp.
Ten years after the accident, Amy and Brian refound each other through Facebook and made plans to see a Phillies game. After four rainouts in a row, their rendezvous seemed doomed. Finally, both took off work to catch a daytime game. It turned into a 10-hour date.
"We went back to her parents' house for dinner," Brian says. "We were just being our childish selves, laughing and joking. I walked out thinking - hoping - I'd be back there soon."
That was in May. By summer, regular dates had segued into discussions about the future. "It wasn't a forced conversation," Amy says. "It was like talking about what we were going to order for dinner, a natural progression."
On a cool August night, the two found themselves at the top of the Empire State Building - Brian had secured tickets for a 1 a.m. visit to the observatory - once again discussing their next steps. Brian said: "Enough talk. When we get back home, we're going to set a date."
They envisioned an intimate luncheon wedding, but with 36 cousins on Amy's side and an equally sprawling brood on Brian's, "small" meant 200 people. Instead, they jetted off to St. Lucia for a private ceremony followed by a casual backyard party at home.
She was 38, he was 40, and though they wanted children, they knew the odds of conception were not in their favor. Both believed that "whatever happens, happens," Amy says. "If it's in God's plan for us to have children, we will."
For a brief time, it looked as though they might: Amy became pregnant, but when they showed up for their first ultrasound - during which they hoped to hear a fetal heartbeat - there was silence instead.
"It was devastating," Amy says. "That's when we looked at each other and said, 'We're not getting any younger.' We have many friends who have had beautiful children through fertility treatments. But we wanted to explore adoption."
On April 1, 2014, they left a message with Open Arms Adoption Network, part of Jewish Family and Children's Service. Fifteen minutes later, a staff member called them back, and they plunged into the adoption process: classes and clearances, health checks and home visits.
On Sept. 1, they "went live" - meaning, they were authorized to adopt, and birth parents could view their profile book. The agency urged patience; sometimes, they said, it could take 18 to 24 months. But the call came just 30 days later.
"The caseworker said, 'Can you get Brian on the phone? I'd like to speak to you together,'" Amy remembers. "I thought maybe she wanted us to attend another training."
What she actually said was, "A couple chose you." The birth mother was eight months pregnant with a boy. "That's when everything sank in," Amy says. "It was surreal."
It became more surreal when they sat face-to-face with the birth parents - the young woman rubbing her belly and smiling ruefully every time the baby kicked, their own mouths so dry from nervousness they could barely speak.
A second life-shifting phone call came on Oct. 23. Three days earlier, Amy had had bariatric surgery - part of a deliberate campaign to be as healthy a parent as possible - and she called her doctor in a giddy panic.
"How much can I lift?" she asked him. "Ten pounds. How big is the baby?" he responded. Jack weighed in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces. She was safe.
In the hospital room at Inspira Medical Center in Vineland, Brian and Amy tried to contain their ecstasy for Jack's birth mother's sake. "She said: 'Please pick him up. Feel free to hold him,' " Amy recalls. "I had a gush of emotion, but I didn't want to make her feel bad or uncomfortable. So we silently soaked it in."
It wasn't until they had Jack - whose full name is JohnPatrick, for both grandfathers, and Emmett, the name his birth parents chose - in the car that they pulled over and let themselves revel in every detail, counting his toes and fingers, touching his minuscule nose.
For the first few days, no one slept; Jack's wakeful hours were from midnight to 8 a.m., and he ate every 90 minutes. But by the end of the week, Amy says, "We had our groove."
They also had a new branch to their expansive family. While they'd felt some initial wariness about open adoption, JFCS helped them embrace the concept. A warm, ongoing relationship with his birth parents, Amy says, "will help Jack understand that it wasn't because he wasn't loved that he became part of our family - it's because he is loved so much."
Every week, they send photos or a short video to Jack's birth parents: here he is chasing their English bulldog; there he's eating bananas. They end each text with a jot of gratitude to the people who made them parents, who are now their kin: "Happy Friday," Amy writes. "Love you guys."
The Parent Trip
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