THE PARENTS: Kristen Shahverdian, 43, and Lisa Gochee, 44, of Point Breeze
THE KIDS: Quinn Simon, 7; Luca Dustin, 1 year, adopted July 19, 2017
A TURNING POINT IN THE KID-CONVERSATION: “When Kristen started talking about getting a dog,” Lisa says, “I thought: If we’re going to have a being that depends on us to take it to the bathroom, we might as well have kids.”
Kristen and Lisa like to joke that former President George W. Bush deserves some credit for their first-born son.
As part of the Economic Stimulus Act, which Bush signed in February 2008, most Americans received tax rebate checks for $600 — enough for the couple to buy three vials of sperm from a tall, blond, blue-eyed donor whose written essay had made them laugh.
They’d begun the project with questions — What is donor sperm? What does insurance cover? How much can we afford? — then spent hours scrutinizing lists of donors. They narrowed their choices to 10, then to four.
Eventually, they landed on one man’s profile — his physical traits chimed with Lisa’s (she would be the nonbiological mother) and his story about vomiting while on a roller-coaster “seemed human; it seemed real,” Kristen recalls.
By that point, they’d spent three years contemplating parenthood — something they’d vowed, on one of their first dates, never to undertake. “Both of us were like, ‘We don’t believe in marriage. No kids. None of that,’ ” Lisa remembers.
They met at the Morning Glory Diner in Bella Vista, where Lisa was cooking, waiting tables … and noticing Kristen, a frequent customer who lived just around the corner. One day, after leaving the cafe to buy $40 worth of oranges from a nearby supermarket, Lisa ran into Kristen and finally summoned the nerve to ask for her number. She scribbled it on the grocery receipt.
Their first phone conversation lasted nearly two hours. “Within two minutes, I called Lisa back and said, ‘Why don’t we just go out tonight?’ ” They shared a vegetarian platter from an Asian soul food restaurant on South Street, followed by ice cream in Rittenhouse Square.
After about 18 months, they rented a house together — a rough adjustment, both women recall, after living alone for most of their 20s. Painting the place — multiple times, including a coat of sea foam green and one of primary blue — helped, as did cooking elaborate recipes from Bon Appétit.
When they bought a house in 2005, they imagined a gathering to consecrate the home … and their relationship. They’d thought about escaping to the beach or the woods to exchange private vows. “But I remember my mother saying, ‘If you really want your extended family to see this as a marriage, you might need to do it in front of them,’ ” Kristen says.
So they rented a room at the William Way Community Center for a commitment ceremony (marriage equality wouldn’t come to Pennsylvania for eight more years), followed by a reception at home. Kristen’s uncle drummed on an overturned trash can while friends hoisted the women aloft in chairs.
And that resolution about not having kids? It began to weaken, especially for Kristen, who discovered she really wanted to experience pregnancy and birth.
It took two tries. Kristen remembers the Friday she used one of the drugstore tests. “I was by myself. It showed two lines. I didn’t even know what that meant: Am I pregnant or not?”
Her doubt didn’t last long. “I hated the first half of pregnancy,” she says. “All I wanted to do was eat bread. I looked chubby, but not pregnant. At 20 weeks, I thought, ‘Thank God this is half over.’ Right after that, I started to feel great.”
Kristen was determined — almost fanatical, she says now — about having an unmedicated birth at Lifecycle WomanCare rather than in a hospital. She labored at home through a day of erratic contractions, a sudden burst when her water broke, and a harrowing midnight drive to Bryn Mawr. Quinn was born three hours after they arrived.
Twelve hours later, they were on their way home. “They let us leave?” Lisa remembers thinking. “We’re parents? We didn’t know anything — what to do, what not to do.” Kristen recalls being so delirious from exhaustion she couldn’t remember whether she’d put the baby in the car.
By the time Quinn was almost 3 — Lisa had left her longtime work in technical theater for a job at Microsoft — they began planning for a second child: two tries with sperm from Quinn’s donor, then several with another donor, then a few more attempts boosted by fertility medications.
Finally, a doctor told Kristen the grim news: “I had almost no eggs left. I was mourning the fact that I wasn’t going to get pregnant again. It was a really hard year.”
A gay male couple told Kristen about their positive experience with adoption; once again, the pair plunged into research mode. It took a year to complete the home visit, all the paperwork, and their profile book that would be shown to birth parents.
In November 2016, the coordinator from Open Arms Adoption Network called: “Are you ready? You have a baby boy.” The pair recall that whole month as a blur: a frantic trip to Target for a car seat and diapers, a first encounter with their tiny son in a Mount Laurel hotel lobby.
The day they told Quinn he was going to have a little brother, he asked, “What’s the baby called?” They went through the short list of boys’ names they were considering. “Those are terrible names,” their son replied.
“Well, what would you call him?”
“We didn’t say one word, but we looked at each other,” Kristen says. “I thought: I really like that name.”
Now the boys crawl-chase each other around the house and make tickle-piles in the morning. Kristen, who used to cherish spontaneity, uses a written schedule to chart the family’s every move.
In June, they decamped to a larger house, near a park, where the boys can have separate rooms. Parenthood, the state they once shunned, now urges them forward, shaping their hours and their futures. Kristen recalls a recent moment in the car: she glanced in the rearview mirror to see two faces looking at her, and at the road ahead. She turned to Lisa: “Now, we’re a family.”