THE PARENTS: Jeff DeVault, 44, and Herbie Sayles, 35, of Deptford
THE CHILD: Nathan Jonathan, 7 months, adopted September 7, 2016
HOW THEY WELCOMED THE BABY: Their families threw a party — just 100 people or so — when Nathan was two months old.
Some people have nine months to get ready.
Jeff and Herbie had 18 hours.
That's how much time elapsed from the social worker's phone call - the baby had already been born, and his birth mother had selected them to be his parents - to the surreal moment when they stood at the door of a hotel room in Philadelphia, waiting to meet their 4-day-old son.
For this couple, fatherhood was not inevitable. "From a young age, I wanted parenthood more than anything," Herbie says. "But I realized I was gay, and I never thought it was going to be an option." Instead, he showered affection on his godchildren, nieces, and nephews.
Jeff also knew he was gay, but he remained closeted until about 10 years ago. "I was afraid of how my friends and family would react," he says. Then he took a job as manager of payroll systems at LGBT-friendly Urban Outfitters. "It allowed me the opportunity to be who I am."
Still, partnership and parenthood seemed impossibly remote. Even after he and Herbie met, on a blind date arranged by mutual friends, Jeff remained dubious. "The first time I saw him, I thought: There's no way this great-looking, young-looking guy has any interest in me."
A venture to the mall - Herbie needed to buy a shirt for a wedding the next day - followed by dinner convinced both of them otherwise. Jeff's sarcastic wit and confidence were the perfect counterpoint to Herbie's more patient, subdued style.
"From the start, it was an instant relationship, not on-and-off dating," Jeff says. Within a year, Herbie moved into Jeff's Deptford house, bringing dramatic flair to the place by painting yellow stripes on formerly beige walls.
The men celebrated Christmas with meticulous ritual - partly in memory of Herbie's father, who adored the holiday - decorating their tree with ornaments gathered from travels to Ireland and elsewhere.
"In 2012, I put a ring inside a Christmas ball box," Jeff recalls. "But he didn't open it. He put the box inside another box and went to put it away in the basement. I said, 'Open it.' He said, 'There's nothing in there.' "
Finally, Herbie peeked under the lid to find a circlet of white gold set with three diamonds. And that moment launched a two-year odyssey of wedding planning that culminated in a 265-person celebration on 12/13/14.
Jeff, a former DJ, supervised the musical direction. Herbie handled the decor: a 16-person wedding party outfitted in crimson and black, tables dusted with artificial snow, place cards that resembled Christmas stockings, signature drinks dubbed the "Jolly Jeff" and "Ho-Ho Herbie." The grooms wore gray.
What most guests didn't know was that the wedding wasn't the only new chapter in the men's lives. A few months before the ceremony, in the car, Jeff ventured, "What would you think if we looked into adoption?" He remembers Herbie's look of stunned delight: "It was what he'd wanted all along."
They'd talked about surrogacy (too expensive; besides, how would they decide whose sperm to use?) and foster care (Jeff figured it would break his heart to embrace a child then have to say goodbye).
The two attended an information session at Open Arms Adoption Network about six weeks after their wedding, then plunged into the process: home studies, background checks, and a profile book that described their families, their vacation adventures, their love of softball.
"We thought we'd get picked right away," Jeff says. Instead, 10 months crept by, punctuated by the occasional trip to buy a car seat or attend an Open Arms support meeting with other waiting parents.
Then - it was a Monday night in February - their social worker called. "What do you think? Are you guys ready to be parents?" Herbie wanted all the details: weight (9 pounds), length (22 inches), time of birth (10:20 a.m. the previous Friday).
"Then it just got into crazy mode," Jeff recalls. They would need to check into a Philadelphia hotel - the baby was born in Pennsylvania, so they had to remain in the state with him for a week - with enough diapers, bottles, formula, burp cloths, and food for the duration. They sprinted through Target and Babies R Us, called their parents, and made hasty arrangements with their employers.
Less than 24 hours later, they stood anxiously in their hotel room, waiting for their social worker to knock at the door. Then the baby was in Herbie's arms: cerulean eyes, black hair, long lashes . . . and a gush of moisture.
"He peed right through the diaper," Herbie laughs. "I felt like he was mine from the second I held him."
"Just seeing him in Herbie's arms was such a relief," says Jeff. "It completed our family."
The next days were a steep, sleepless learning curve: diapers and crying jags and bottle-washing in an efficiency kitchen. They were relieved to bring Nathan home at the end of that week, to his sports-theme nursery and chestnut-color crib.
"He was colicky," Jeff remembers. "There were times when I'd question: What are we doing? I'm too old for this." But they learned the tricks: that the whir of the vacuum cleaner soothed their son; that taking turns with parental leave allowed each of them time to bond.
They haven't met Nathan's birth mother, though they expect to do that in the future. They don't want any closed doors in his life. "We don't use the term 'given up' for adoption," Jeff says. "His birth mom made an adoption plan because she wanted to give him a better life. We want to make sure he knows who she is, and to leave that door open."