THE PARENTS: Gwyn MacDonald, 43, and Scott MacDonald, 46, of Bella Vista
THE CHILD: Khali Lee, 12 months, adopted February 14, 2017
A UNIQUE TOUCH TO THEIR ADOPTION PROFILE BOOK: Each wrote a mini-biography of the other -- “a lovely reminder,” Gwyn says, “of why we were moving forward.”
They fell in love over tempeh lasagna and miso soup.
The year was 1994, and Scott and Gwyn were working at Essene Market & Cafe. The kitchen vibe was playful; the staff of young, environmentally conscious vegan/vegetarians teased one another by putting oddly shaped vegetables -- an eggplant with a bulbous “nose” or a carrot that appeared to have two legs -- on colleagues’ cutting boards.
But there were also solemn, soulful moments: when Scott gave Gwyn a CD of modern chamber music, Evan Lurie’s “Selling Water by the Side of the River,” or when he gazed at her with empathy as she talked about an ill relative.
“I remember him really looking at me, looking into my soul. I distinctly remember thinking, ‘I could marry this guy.’ ”
The two were walking by St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church on Montrose Street on a July evening when Scott blurted, “We should do this.”
“I wasn’t even sure what ‘this’ was,” Gwyn says. "I thought, ‘That?’”
“It wasn’t even a thought. It was this spontaneous moment: We should get married,” Scott says.
They did -- in September 1997, on the Pine Barrens property of Gwyn’s parents, with chairs set up between the rows of day lilies her dad cultivated, near her mother’s perennial garden, with pals playing music and a family friend providing the tent.
They wanted children … someday. Both gravitated toward friends’ kids, and Scott had long admired the maternal grandfather who helped raise him -- a quiet, hardworking man who let his grandson shadow him in his basement tool shop.
Gwyn became a massage therapist, and Scott pursued a master’s in music therapy. She worried about whether they were ready for a child -- emotionally, financially. Scott wondered what “readiness” really meant.
“As the years went by, I had this idea that my life didn’t need to be extravagant or have a prestigious career,” he says, “but being a good father seemed like the greatest thing to aspire to.”
First, they tried “the old-fashioned way” for a year, Gwyn says, using acupuncture, massage, and herbal supplements that were supposed to boost fertility. Then they raised the stakes with intrauterine inseminations and two cycles of IVF. But the path of medical intervention wasn’t comfortable for either of them: too cold, too clinical, too full of emotional peaks and pits. “Our whole lives were dictated by this schedule,” Scott says. "OK: ovulation’s happening. Then two weeks later, we’d get tentative. The build-up, and the disappointment.”
After the second IVF attempt failed -- fertilized embryos were transferred but didn’t attach -- they began to rethink their plan. “We thought: We could go through this again and still not get pregnant,” Gwyn says. “But if we consider adoption, there is a baby at the end of that.”
Still, she needed to mourn the lost dream of pregnancy and birth. For a while, it was hard for Gwyn to care for prenatal clients or coach new moms in how to massage their infants. “I definitely went through a grieving process,” she says.
An information session at Open Arms Adoption Network nudged them toward a new path. They liked the agency’s intimacy and its commitment to open adoption. At one of the “coffee talks” with other prospective adoptive parents, a woman said, “The right child always finds the right parent.” That mantra stuck in Gwyn’s mind as they filled out stacks of paperwork, prepared their profile book, and answered tough questions about what kind of child they could parent.
A baby with a serious congenital disability? They didn’t think they could manage that. A child of another race? Yes. Scott already had a nephew who is biracial, and both were open to raising a child who would belong to two cultures.
“I remember Scott saying, ‘If we want to be part of change in the world, where people are often divided by race, this is a way to begin. This is a way to open ourselves up.’ We wanted to reach beyond our community and comfort zone.”
They attended Open Arms’ seminar “The Weight of the Wait,” and after a year of adoption limbo, they began to doubt themselves. “You start to think, ‘Why isn’t anybody picking us?’ ” Scott says.
The call came March 25, 2016. “How do you feel about a little girl?” the adoption worker asked. Khali was 3 days old; they could get her the following day.
“I was excited, anxious, overwhelmed. I’d cry, and then I’d be happy -- this whirlwind of feeling,” Gwyn says. And then, after a dash through Target for baby clothes and a drive to South Orange, N.J., they were holding their daughter, a whisper-light infant in a lilac hat and a onesie with a design of cupcakes.
They spent the next week cocooned in a hotel, holding Khali skin-to-skin and staring at her fuzz of black hair, her Cupid’s-bow mouth. At night, they mouthed to each other in amazement: Hey, there’s a baby here.
That spring, they learned to live on Khali-time, their days parsed by bottles and diapers, naps, and infant massages. Outside, the tulips and daffodils popped. Their daughter mesmerized strangers with her dark-eyed gaze. “She has this way of looking deeply at whomever she meets," Gwyn says, "this way of seeing into you.”
And then, due to a snow squall that postponed their adoption date, they found themselves in a Camden courthouse on Valentine’s Day, along with a handful of other couples and kids. Despite the morning’s frazzle -- they were running late and couldn’t find parking -- Khali remained quiet as they waited in the hallway for their turn.
But once they were in the courtroom, she asserted herself. The judge grinned and the lawyers tried to ask questions over Khali’s baby-babble, punctuated by the occasional sweet-tempered growl. Court stenographers couldn’t help snickering, hands poised over their keyboards as the MacDonalds officially became a family and the room bubbled with a language impossible to transcribe.