THE PARENTS: Joe Sena, 40, and Chris Urban, 44, of Media
THE CHILD: Quinn Sioux, 6 months, adopted May 12, 2017
HOW THEY NAMED HER: They liked the Celtic sound of “Quinn” and its meaning (wisdom; intelligence); the spelling of “Sioux” is a nod to “free spirit and individuality.”
Joe and Chris were about to walk down the aisle at their 2016 wedding when their 4-year-old nephew turned around to look at them. “Are you going to buy a baby?” he asked.
Guests giggled, but the kid was on to something: This ceremony was not just about the relationship the men already had, but the family they hoped to create.
They’d been thinking about parenthood for years, gathering information at annual seminars held at the LGBT community center in New York. But their lives brimmed with busy-ness: their long hours as lawyers, games with Gotham Volleyball, bike rides to that dumpling place in Chinatown, restaurant dinners with pals in the group they dubbed Eating Like Queens.
Then, in the early-morning hours of Jan. 1, 2015, Joe’s heart began fluttering. He was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition and told he would need aortic surgery within six months.
The men had been together for a decade, since meeting online when Joe was in law school in Philadelphia. They’d traveled to every continent except Antarctica. They’d talked about marriage. But this medical crisis changed their calculus.
“It was realizing that life is all too short, that we should start moving on with these things we’d been talking about,” Joe says. He underwent a 13-hour operation in June; later that month, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.
And a year after that, in Chris’ wedding vows, he referred to the pair’s nickname — “Chroe,” a mash-up of “Chris” and “Joe” — and said their next step was to recruit for “Team Chroe.”
They considered using an international surrogate, but the expense and legal barriers put that option out of reach. “The reality of our situation was that a biological child was never going to be 50 percent of one of us and 50 percent of the other,” Joe says. “When we thought about adoption, we thought, ‘We can do something for another family that needs help.’ ”
In the meantime, they talked with other gay and lesbian parents and with kids raised in same-sex households. “We gained a whole bunch of confidence that it can be done and can be done well,” Chris says. His mother had died a few years earlier; Joe’s heart condition was a wake-up for him, as well.
“I thought: Life is too precious. I wanted my own family.” They left New York, bought a house in Media, and signed with A Baby Step Adoption because they liked the agency’s intimacy and informative approach.
Chris had long been the go-to guy for care of his nieces and nephews, but Joe, an only child raised by a single mother, had no experience with babies. “That was my biggest fear,” he remembers. “How the hell am I going to do this right? How am I going to make sure this child survives the day?”
They’d been in the agency’s match program for just three months when the phone call came: a birth mother who specifically wanted profiles from same-sex couples had selected theirs.
Chris was at a meeting in New York; Joe, bursting to share the news, told their golden retriever, Marshmellow. When he finally reached his husband, Chris was on his way home in the car. He had to pull over because his vision was blurred with tears.
“We wanted to be mindful of all the things that could potentially go wrong,” Joe says. “We didn’t want to go out and celebrate in a way that might jinx us.” So they left the baby furniture and clothing — much of it hand-me-downs from Chris’ siblings — in the attic and basement.
They signed an adoption agreement on Friday, March 17; the birth mother was due in three weeks. But the next day, a second phone call came: She’d gone into labor early. Could they get to Reading Hospital as soon as possible?
Joe was home alone; Chris had dashed out to buy paint for the nursery. Once again, Marshmellow was the first to hear the news. It was a tense one-hour drive, with constant phone calls to and from A Baby Step, the hospital, and the agency representing the birth mother.
They knew the baby was a girl and had talked about using some form of “Susan,” the name of both their mothers. “At some point, we asked, ‘Who do we contact when we get to the hospital?’ They said, ‘Sue Love.’ We took that as a complete sign that this was all going to work out,” Joe says.
As they arrived, the birth mother was being wheeled into the operating room for a C-section. Minutes later, the baby, a petite five pounds, seven ounces, was in a nurse’s arms. And Joe, who wasn’t even sure how to hold an infant, found himself reaching out instinctively for his daughter.
“We were both looking at her through tears,” Chris remembers. “We’d read about skin-to-skin contact. She goes right on your chest. And suddenly, she went from sobs to comfort.”
The men, who had talked with the birth mother only by phone, now met her in person. “We thanked her for giving us this gift,” Chris says. “We gave her assurances we’d provide Quinn with a great life, that she didn’t need to worry. We gave her hugs.”
Two days later, it was the three of them, driving home at a cautious 40 miles an hour, walking into a house outfitted by relatives with two diaper-changing stations, a crib, a swing.
“I thought it would be harder,” Joe says. “What was amazing to me was how this little munchkin could be running the show from Day One, giving us the guidance we needed to make her happy.”
Yes, they could have read another four parenting guides or talked to 20 more couples. They could have waited forever for the perfect moment to be parents. But life said, “Now.” Their daughter would teach them all they needed to know.