THE PARENTS: Greg Yorgey-Girdy, 48, and Paul Yorgey-Girdy, 32, of South Philadelphia
THE KIDS: Anabella (Bella) Marie, 6; Xander Cole, 2, adopted Aug. 16, 2017; Trevor Austin, 2, adopted Aug. 16, 2017.
HOW GREG FIRST NOTICED PAUL: He was wearing a University of Texas T-shirt (Greg’s alma mater) — not because he was an alum, but because it matched his outfit.
Bella waved goodbye to her caseworker, then turned back to the kid-size wagon and the blocks.
In that moment, Paul and Greg realized they were parents.
Earlier, Paul had felt so unsure of himself: Was it OK to let this dark-haired toddler climb the stairs to her bedroom? If she stumbled, should he catch her? “I didn’t know if I could touch her. I didn’t know what the rules were. But as soon as [the caseworker] left, the awkwardness went away: OK, you’re my baby girl.”
The men had met seven years before, at Woody’s. Paul was so young Greg asked to see his ID before they started dating. “But even with the age difference, we immediately talked about family,” Greg says. Both men liked to laugh, and both wanted children — even if they felt a bit vague about how that might happen.
Six months later, they moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Graduate Hospital area. It wasn’t easy. Greg was accustomed to living solo, and Paul was a neat freak who would toss out a piece of mail if it wasn’t opened quickly enough. “We’d yell and scream at each other, then get over it,” Paul says. “That’s when it hit me: This might be lifelong.”
They talked about finding a gestational surrogate and an egg donor: too expensive and too risky. A family member to bear the child? Greg’s sister already had three kids, and Paul’s sister was in middle school.
Then Greg spotted a flier for a gay and lesbian adoption seminar, a Thursday evening, with free snacks and drinks. “We sat there and listened to people who’d actually adopted kids. We found out that in Philadelphia, the city recognizes the couple as ‘parent’ and ‘parent.’ ”
The men filled out endless forms and attended preadoption classes. And then they waited — until the day a caseworker called to describe a 2-year-old whose teenage mother was willing to meet them. “The mom looked just like Paul’s sister,” Greg says. “We just hit it off. At the end, she gave us a picture of Bella, her only picture of her when she was a baby.”
Greg, a lawyer, took a three-month leave to care for Bella when she arrived. Paul became “drama dad,” singing and dancing with her, reading at bedtime in exaggerated character voices. A few months before the adoption was finalized, the couple married — an emotional ceremony, with Paul’s whole family in attendance, before a Delaware justice of the peace.
Greg had wanted just one child. Paul thought five might be ideal. After a few months with Bella, they agreed that she would be less lonely with a sibling. One night, Greg dreamed about a dark-skinned baby boy. “I think we’re going to have another kid,” he told his husband.
A few days later, he described that dream to their caseworker. “Are you psychic?” she asked. “We have a little boy who’s just been born. Are you interested?”
At St. Christopher’s Hospital, a pediatric nephrologist delivered sober news: The baby’s kidneys were abnormal, and his ureters were distorted. Paul struggled to hold back tears, but Greg got close to the baby and whispered, “Boy, you’ve got to fight. Some people here don’t believe in you, but I do.”
While they waited, another baby in the NICU died. “We thought: Xander’s here, he’s alive, he’s breathing. He’s coming home with us,” Paul says. And sometime in his first weeks — a blur of diaper-changing and round-the-clock feedings, appointments with nephrologists and urologists — Paul watched as a tech did an abdominal ultrasound. “I’m not a spiritual person at all, but in [the ultrasound], it looked like a hand was holding his kidney. It gave me comfort — that somebody was looking out for this boy.”
This time, Paul stayed home for three months as both men gradually eased into the rhythm of caring for a toddler and an infant. “The crying was difficult,” Greg says. “Bella, if she was hurt, could tell us or point to it. But when Xander cried, I didn’t know what was going on with him.”
Their social circles shifted, too. Invitations to parties and nights on the town dwindled —“people assume we’re too busy,” Greg says — while, at the same time, they found themselves bonding with straight friends and relatives who were also parents.
Over time, their worries about Xander subsided — one kidney is 95 percent functional, and the other is normal. He toddled around after Bella; it was her name he called when he woke up at night.
And then, on mischief night 2015, Paul came home from work to a familiar scene: Bella home from school, Xander babbling in his playpen –and a 10-month-old boy dressed in a tot-size flannel shirt. Their caseworker had called: this time about a baby, his name and birth date uncertain, whose mother was addicted to drugs. Once again, the men said yes.
Paul worries sometimes about the trauma their children have already experienced and what that will mean as their lives unfold. “They’re not living with their biological parents. We’re going to have to cross that hurdle. I worry about that: Will my child be bullied, or be a bully?”
At the same time, the pair know how love can change a person. Paul no longer goes ballistic if an envelope lingers for days. He has given up his rainbow of color-coordinated shoes in favor of $10 sneakers from Walmart. Greg, who grew up thinking a good father went to work and paid the bills, has learned how to nurture children with kisses and patience.
Not long ago, their kids’ day-care offered a “date night” — bring your pajama-clad children for movies and games while parents catch a rare evening alone. Greg and Paul dashed out to a movie and dinner at Ruby Buffet. “It was weird,” Greg says. “We didn’t know what to do. Our first thought was: ‘We miss the kids.’ ”