THE PARENTS: Brigit Barry, 30, and Michael Cottone, 33, of Broomall
THE CHILD: Vincent (Vin) Kai Barry-Cottone, adopted April 27, 2016
WHO PROPOSED TO WHOM: After three years of dating, Brigit said, "Let's go to the ring store."
The new house, the one on which they'd just closed, reeked of smoke. Water pooled in the basement. Firefighters had punched holes in the back in order to fight a smoldering blaze that began when a faulty heat lamp in the bathroom ignited fibers from stripped wallpaper.
Brigit and Michael considered themselves lucky. The fire happened at night, neither they nor their three beloved dogs were there, and they'd only moved in a few cartons of books and decorations.
In fact, the crisis bolstered their partnership and clarified their "just-move-forward" approach to life. There were insurance claims to file, mitigation companies to call, temporary housing to arrange.
"We both kind of roll with the punches," Michael says. "I was able to lean on Brigit, and vice-versa."
Both knew on the first date - they played Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster's, and Brigit won - that this was the "forever" relationship. But it took several years until they felt ready, financially and emotionally, to become engaged. The wedding was a family affair, in the Newtown Square church where Brigit was raised; her uncle officiated, and Michael's dad, a retired florist, arranged the blue, white, and orange blooms.
The couple had always pictured themselves with children: going to the beach, taking hikes, teaching them to be good people. After a few months of trying yielded nothing but disappointment, Brigit was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). For an additional eight months, they tried boosting their chances with fertility medications and intrauterine inseminations.
Brigit wondered whether her body simply wasn't meant to sustain a pregnancy. And neither wanted to risk more money on IVF. "We had the mentality: If it doesn't work, move on," Michael says. "There's another option."
An information session at A Baby Step Adoption left them full of questions: How long did parents typically wait for a match? How much would it cost? How could caseworkers be certain that a birth mother wasn't drinking or using drugs?
After meeting with a caseworker and agreeing that they were open to a baby boy or girl of any race or ethnicity, the couple began receiving weekly emails about various adoption "situations." One caught their eye: The birth mother was healthy, in the Air Force, and taking college classes. She already had a toddler son and was pregnant with another boy.
"The reason she was choosing adoption was because she was in school, trying to get her degree," Brigit says. "I liked that. . . . She was making this choice for herself and her son."
The couple submitted their profile book: 10 pages of photos and captions capturing Brigit's love of swimming and Michael's work as a volunteer firefighter. Their dogs - Riley, Brody, and Guinness - earned star billing, too.
The call came in October: The birth mother had chosen them. Her baby was due in six weeks. Once again, the two swung into determined action: arranging for time off work; gathering a stroller, car seat, and humidifier; decorating a room with wall decals of turtles and whales.
Brigit hesitated to share the news - "I didn't want to tell everyone and jinx it" - but in November, she finally posted an announcement to Facebook, a photo of some baby books with the caption, "Arriving 12/20." A few friends misconstrued the post: "You're not even showing!" they wrote. "You look great!"
The birth, a scheduled C-section, was set for a Monday in December; Brigit and Michael drove to Virginia Beach on Sunday, their car stuffed with baby clothes and bottles, and took the birth mom to dinner.
"It was like a first date," Brigit says. "We were both very nervous. It was a joyous, exciting time for us, but I'm sure there were a lot of mixed emotions for her. She was going to go home from the hospital without a baby." They tried to steer the conversation away from "kid talk," instead chatting about the Air Force, college, and cooking.
The next day, Michael fidgeted in the hospital's waiting room while Brigit stood in the OR, clutching the hand of a woman she'd met only the night before. "She kept asking, 'Tell me what's happening.' I said, 'OK, they have his head. He's out.' He started to cry. She started to cry. I started to cry.
"I was thinking, 'This is such an amazing thing that is happening. This woman is giving birth to a baby and trusting us to care for him.' "
Brigit texted a photo to Michael, who stared at his phone in shock. "Up until that point, it wasn't 100 percent real. Then I saw his picture, and it sank in. The only feeling I had was excitement about the amazing journey we were about to go on, the three of us, together."
For the next three nights, they remained in the hospital, padding back and forth to visit their son's birth mother and to meet her friends. On the final night of her stay, when hospital staff brought a celebratory steak dinner with two plates, the birth mom piled one plate with food and brought it to Michael (she knew Brigit was a vegetarian). "Here, I thought you might want this," she told him. "You're a new dad."
Back at home, Christmas was barely a ripple; they didn't get a tree or buy any gifts. Instead, they stared for hours at their infant son: tiny, intent, alert. They posted photos to the private Facebook page they'd set up with Vin's birth mother.
"I don't want her to feel that a piece of her was lost in this," Brigit says. "She gave life to this baby boy. I want her to know that he's thriving."
They framed one of their favorite pictures for Vin's room: In it, he is 2 days old; his birth mother's palm rests gently on his head. Behind her hand is Brigit's hand, and behind hers is Michael's: luck, loss, and love pressed together, impossible to peel apart.
WELCOME TO PARENTHOOD!