THE PARENTS: Maria Laws, 50, and Lynell Laws, 51, of Chadds Ford
THE CHILD: Elijah Lynell, 8 months, adopted May 11, 2016
HOW LONG IT TOOK LYNELL TO PERFECT HIS FAMILY’S RECIPE FOR A MODIFIED BRIOCHE: 27 years
It was her mother who told Maria to stop pushing so hard.
Stop trying - after four miscarriages, one of them life-threatening - to get pregnant, her mother advised. Stop trying - after one birth mother, pregnant with twins, changed her mind - to hurry the adoption process.
"What's meant for you and Lynell to have, you both will have."
That evening, a case worker called from A Baby Step Adoption. "I have a birth mother who would like to meet you," she said. The more Maria heard - the woman was married but did not want to raise the child; she felt certain her unborn baby was a boy - the more firmly she believed that, this time, fate and faith had come calling, and she just had to open the door.
That meant-to-be feeling dated to the start of their relationship 21 years earlier, when Maria was in line at CoreStates Bank in King of Prussia and a new teller enthusiastically motioned her to his window.
"I knew at first look," Lynell says. "I knew right away she was the one."
The two were starkly different - so unlike in their temperaments and upbringings that a mutual friend, three years earlier, had opted not to set them up on a blind date.
Lynell was a disciplined planner, a Marine reservist fresh from Desert Storm, still adjusting to the softer rhythms of civilian life. He could be brutally frank. He'd grown up in a part of Montgomery County that was still farmland and spent his first five years living in a multigenerational household of 25 - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.
Maria was a city girl who produced films for the financial industry, valued emotion over efficiency, cushioned her honesty with tact, and wore stilettos to the supermarket.
After a first date during which she charmed him by ordering two entrées - "I wanted to mix them," she says - Lynell, a prolific cook, wooed her with food, especially a brioche recipe handed down orally from his great-great-great-grandmother.
He proposed at Marabella's, handing over a Hallmark card with each course and finally kneeling tableside as servers delivered a cake that said, "With this ring, I thee wed." A diamond, on the ring he'd buried beneath the frosting, dotted the "I." Maria blurted, "Yes! I do! I want to marry you!"
They figured on five children. But life figured differently. Maria had one miscarriage after another; each time, she'd make it through the first trimester, then learn the fetus had died from lack of nutrients. They tried Clomid; they tried in-vitro fertilization. Maria dramatically changed her diet, shunning starches and sugars for Lynell's meat-and-vegetable-centric menus.
In the meantime, they doted on nieces, nephews, and godchildren, as well as two children from the community whom they mentored and helped with education expenses. "In Lynell's mind, he was already a father to many children that we know. But I wanted us to have our own."
After the final miscarriage - Maria grew so weak she became unresponsive, and Lynell had to decide whether doctors should attempt to save her or the baby - they got serious about adoption.
In their profile book, they fashioned a message for any birth mother who would peruse it: "We promise to share our unconditional love with your baby, to celebrate their success and coach them through their trials. We will use faith, family and fun . . . to raise your child. We promise to nurture them as a baby and to shower them with hugs as they grow older."
When they met the birth mother whom the case worker had described, they fell in love.
She was direct but emotionally reserved, like Lynell. She resembled members of both their families. And she wanted the couple to be involved in her pregnancy - attending ultrasound appointments and being present when she gave birth. Maria couldn't contain her astonishment when she witnessed the sonograms. "I was hollering in the doctor's office: 'Oh, my God!' It was beautiful, to see him sleeping, to hear his heartbeat for the first time."
The text came early on Nov. 16: We're on the way to Reading Hospital. And though Lynell had to step out of the room for a few minutes - he was afraid he might faint - Maria was there for every moment of the 16-hour labor. She was the first to hold Elijah; Lynell was second.
Elijah's birth-grandmother was there, too. "I said, 'Do you want to hold your grandson?' " Maria recalls. "Elijah was crying from birth; I was crying from happiness. Her mother was holding both of us. I looked at the birth mother, and she was crying, as well. She kept saying to me, 'I know. I know.' "
Although the couple had taken baby care and infant CPR classes, Maria felt nervous bringing their son home. But after three days, the family headed back to Chadds Ford, with Elijah in a smart blue outfit and a matching hat. Lynell drove. Maria texted pictures to practically everyone they knew.
More than 100 friends and relatives showed up to their holiday party that year; at one point, the nursery was so stuffed with gifts they had to move Elijah out. He slept in a baby basket in the middle of their king-size bed.
Now, he gobbles organic, homemade baby food and is learning to keep his feet off the dining room table. They're learning, too - how to manage the total upheaval of their former eating and sleeping routines; how to conduct a conference call while holding a hungry infant.
As older parents, they bring a long-arc perspective. Lynell recently retired from banking to start his own bread-making company, called Jon Brioche; Maria can finally shrug off her own minor mistakes.
"I wanted to be perfect by the time I had my first child," she says. "But what he's looking for is Mommy and Dada to be there for him. He does not want perfection. He wants time."