Updated: Monday, November 27, 2017, 3:01 AM
THE PARENTS: Lindsay Herbein, 29, and John Herbein, 30, of Mohnton, Pa.
THE CHILD: Vivian Caroline, 9 months, adopted July 25, 2017
A HIGHLIGHT OF THEIR FIRST DATE: Fireworks — literally. It was the Fourth of July, 2006, and they watched the sky light up over Shillington.
For five years, they fielded questions: Are you guys going to have kids? Don’t you want to have kids?
“I think people thought we weren’t interested in kids or were too selfish,” Lindsay says.
But those questioners didn’t know the story: how Lindsay, at 17, consulted a doctor because she hadn’t started menstruating. How she underwent a series of ultrasounds and MRIs. How she learned that her uterus had never developed, that she didn’t have a cervix, that pregnancy was out of the question.
“I instantly thought: When the time comes, there are options,” she recalls. “I knew it wasn’t the end-all of me having a family.”
At the time, she’d just begun dating John, a high school pal whose troublemaker insouciance was an appealing foil. Lindsay never got in trouble, never had a teacher yell at her; John drove a Camaro each day to Twin Valley High School, highlighted his shaggy hair, and sometimes cut class to go fishing.
But underneath the rebel stance was a core of kindness. “When I found out I wasn’t able to have children, he was really supportive and sweet,” Lindsay says. “He helped me find balance.”
After graduation, the two began working for Lindsay’s brother’s landscaping company; a few years later, John moved in with Lindsay and her parents. The two had their own bedroom and bathroom but ate dinner with the family every weeknight.
It was in the kitchen of that house where John proposed; Lindsay had just pulled laundry off the line, and her parents were there, watching, as John dropped to one knee.
At their 2011 wedding, John remembers standing at the head of the aisle, hearing Lindsay’s sobs through the doors of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. “I’m not really an emotional person,” she says, “but I just started bawling. I didn’t realize anyone could hear.”
Their cake was red velvet swirl with strawberry cream. Lindsay succeeded in smearing it on John’s face. He managed not to get any on her white dress. Then they spent a few years just savoring their work and friends, nieces and nephews.
Adoption was foreign territory to John, but Lindsay had some familiarity: When she was a baby, her grandparents took her in, then adopted her, because her mother couldn’t afford to raise a child. Lindsay sees her mother occasionally but considers her grandparents “Mom” and “Dad.”
At information sessions offered by various adoption agencies, she and John learned about home studies, background checks, and the requirement that a baby have her or his own bedroom (their condo, one room with a loft, wouldn’t make the cut).
They checked out some faith-based agencies, but they all wanted testimony from a pastor, and Lindsay and John don’t attend church regularly. Some prohibited same-sex couples, which Lindsay thought was unfair.
A Baby Step Adoption felt like the right fit. “You could be young or older; you didn’t have to be married for a certain amount of time. It didn’t feel like you had to be somebody else. It was a really nice, down-to-earth experience,” Lindsay says.
They sold the condo and moved to a larger place; they bought carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers and had a handrail installed on the basement stairs. They filled out 36 pages of background questions and prepared a profile book with photos of family and friends.
At first, they shunned descriptions of birth mothers who had any previous drug use; they wanted a healthy baby. But then they read one woman’s profile, and intuition overrode their doubts. Yes, this mom had used drugs in the first half of her pregnancy, and she’d been treated for both hepatitis C and herpes. But she sounded so familiar: She enjoyed music and art. She’d played softball, just like Lindsay. She loved Halloween.
What’s more, the baby’s prenatal medical tests were glowing. Her heartbeat was strong. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is the baby,’ ” John recalls.
It was the end of February when they got the caseworker’s call: “She picked you.” The baby was due March 22, but it was just over a week later when Lindsay and John got another phone call: “She’s in labor.”
“We didn’t even have bottles. It was 24 to 48 hours of quickly baby-prepping,” Lindsay says.
And then, the surreal moment at Reading Hospital when they held their daughter — a 4-pound, 4-ounce “lima bean” with heart-monitor sensors on both minuscule feet — for the first time. “The only thing I wanted to do was stay there [in the NICU] and keep watching over her,” John says.
After three days, they took her home, driving at a tentative 35 miles per hour, with Lindsay hovering over the baby in the back seat. The first night, when Vivian peed through her diaper and the gown she’d worn home from the hospital, they were petrified to pull it off. “She was so delicate. It made me so nervous to put something over the top of her head,” Lindsay says. “After that, we only did zippers and buttons.”
For John, the sweetest moments are also the most excruciating ones: When Vivian smiles at him in the morning, just before he has to wrench himself out the door for work. For Lindsay, there’s a sense of completion: They’re a family now, traipsing with a baby and a car seat to the orchard or the beach or the cheese festival or the noisy, weekly dinners at her sister’s house.
They’ve never met Vivian’s birth mother, but they have a letter from her sister, Vivian’s birth aunt. “It’s very well-written. It’s very sweet,” Lindsay says. “She mentions that [the birth mom] picked us because we reminded her of their parents.” She imagines sharing that letter when Vivian is 12 or 13.
“I want adoption to be very out in the open,” Lindsay says. “We’ll explain it to her young,” says John. “That we adopted her for the right reasons. That she’s our child.”
Read full story: The Parent Trip: Lindsay and John Herbein of Mohnton, Pa.