THE PARENTS: Alice Worrall, 29, and Jed Shambeda, 29, of Cheltenham
THE CHILD: Nicholas Odin, 5 months, adopted November 28, 2017
EXPERIENCE WITH ADOPTION: Alice’s paternal grandmother, who was born in England, lived in an orphanage until she was adopted at age 10.
Last spring was a season of emotional whiplash for Alice and Jed. First, a potential adoption fell through just two weeks before the baby’s due date, when the birth mother decided she wanted to parent.
In March, Jed went for a routine physical and learned there was a congenital, worsening defect in his mitral valve; the doctor recommended surgery.
They were in the pre-op room at Temple University Hospital, moments before that operation, when Alice got a text from their caseworker at A Baby Step Adoption: A birth mother in Arizona had chosen them.
“Make sure you survive this,” she told her husband. “Because we’re going to get a kid.”
It was a typical Alice-declaration, not unlike the vow she’d made the first time she spotted Jed — he had long flowing hair back then, and a wild beard — walking across the campus of Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “I’m going to be friends with him,” she said to herself.
It was another year before they officially met. Alice was struggling with some homework in analytical chemistry, complaining loudly about the problem sets, when Jed vaulted over a couch in the chemistry building student lounge and said, “I can help with that!”
“I told him we were going to be best friends,” Alice recalls. Jed took some convincing: dates for on-campus movies, a few nature walks. It was after one of those walks, on a frigid winter afternoon, that Alice posed the “status of the relationship” question.
“What is this? What am I going to tell my friends?” she wanted to know.
Jed’s typically tentative response: “I’m not opposed to the idea of dating you.” But he was drawn to her outspokenness. “The more I got to know Alice, the more I thought: I really like this girl. I could stand to be around her for a long time.”
It was fall 2010, between his graduation and hers, when Jed colluded with a few of Alice’s friends. She thought it was a girls’ night out to celebrate her birthday. Then he surprised her at the Harrisburg waterfront with a tiny box and tickets to the symphony.
“I had the ring. She said yes, and we kissed, and all her friends left,” he recalls. They married the following year, on Labor Day, at a bed-and-breakfast in Etters, where Jed was raised. Alice’s brother, a guitarist, played Dave Days’ “Olive You” as she walked down the aisle.
Both come from large families — Jed is the third of seven, and Alice the only girl among five brothers — but they envisioned a more modest brood for themselves. “I’ve always been on ‘Team Two and Through,’ ” Alice laughs.
Both men and women in her family had experienced infertility, so she figured it might be difficult to get pregnant. She’d always considered adoption as another viable path. And because she has a terror of needles, she drew the line at any fertility boost that involved injections.
They’d been trying for two years when Alice broached the topic head-on as the two drove to Harrisburg for a family visit. “I don’t think this is working,” she said. “I think we should start considering other options.”
But Jed wasn’t ready to give up. It took another year — months of hope and disappointment and anger and grief — before he agreed to go to an information session at an adoption agency.
Both had questions: How does adoption work? How long would it take? How much would it cost? What steps would they need to go through?
The case worker at A Baby Step guided them through criminal background checks and fingerprinting, a home study, the profile book that would be shown to birth parents. When that first adoption possibility fell through, “it was devastating,” Alice says. “When I was describing it [to friends], they said, ‘That’s exactly what a miscarriage feels like. You get your hopes up, and then –‘ ”
The second match — the one they learned about just before Jed’s surgery — felt right: the birth parents were in a relationship and already had two children. They were candid about their reasons for making an adoption plan. The baby, Jed and Alice learned, was a boy.
The due date was in early October. But on Sept. 13, a Wednesday, Alice got a phone call: The birth mom’s in labor. You might want to change your plans. Another update, on Friday: She’s in the hospital, giving birth. Get on a plane.
Both recall Sunday’s surreal tableau: They walked into a room at a hospital in Arizona — the birth parents were there, along with their other children and one of the birth grandmothers — to meet their son.
“In some weird way, it’s like meeting a stranger. You know you’re going to be taking this child home and he’s eventually going to be yours,” Alice says. “You’re holding your son for the first time in a roomful of people you don’t know.”
They’d brought gifts: a triple photo frame for the mom to hold pictures of all the children she’d birthed, and a tiny figurine of Swoop, the Eagles’ mascot, for the dad — a joke, because he’s a rabid Cowboys fan. “I like to inject a little bit of humor into any situation,” Alice says. “He thought it was funny.”
They spent 10 days in a hotel, trying to lurch from eastern to Arizona time, handing a wailing infant back and forth at 2 in the morning, feeding and diapering and learning to interpret his cries. Nicholas slept in an open suitcase they’d lined with a hotel blanket and a few pieces of their own clothing.
“It was nice to have that time to ourselves: no interference, no outside forces,” Jed says.
And then it was the first of many firsts — a four-and-a-half-hour plane trip with an infant. Other passengers were stunned: He’s just 10 days old? And you’re going on a trip?
Not exactly, Jed explained over and over. We’re taking him home.