THE PARENTS: Heather Bargeron, 43, and Katie Aikins, 37, of Germantown
THE CHILD: Oscar Emmanuel, 6 months, adopted May 18, 2018
A MEMORY FROM HIS HOMECOMING: "You're driving away from the hospital thinking, 'Are you sure we're authorized to do this?' " Heather remembers thinking.
They were first-year students at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. They were friends who shared a tendency to look aslant at American habits and values. And then, in the middle of their second year of seminary, they were something more.
"For both of us, it was our first same-sex relationship," Heather says. "There was the tumultuousness of both falling in love and dealing with coming out to ourselves, family, and community."
Katie felt drawn to Heather's critical perspective on the academic world and the ways she walked her faith as a member of the Open Door Community, a radical Christian community that embraced people living on the street. To Heather, Katie's childhood as a missionary kid in Iceland made her seem exotic; she was also creative, musical, and, at times, unapologetically silly.
While both families — Katie's more conservative clan, especially — struggled to make peace with the women's relationship, Katie and Heather navigated new-couple challenges: Living together. Looking ahead. They were from such different places — Iceland, Georgia — that it was hard to decide where to call home.
Heather proposed at the base of Mount Olympus; they'd traveled to Greece to visit Katie's sister and slipped away to a bed-and-breakfast with a balcony, in view of the mountain. It was Easter 2010: They shared wine, split a chocolate egg, and Heather proffered a Celtic ring she'd had resized.
They wed twice: the first time in Atlanta, a sticky-hot June day Heather remembers for her father's touching toast. Two months later, they married in Iceland — same-sex marriage was legal there — in a ceremony conducted in Icelandic, except for the translated homily and the moment when they both said, "Yes."
"As people of faith, it felt really important to make that covenant to one another before our God and before our community, and to have that life commitment affirmed in a public way," Heather says.
They moved to Philadelphia for Katie's job as pastor of Tabernacle United Church; Heather works in the advocacy and public policy department at Project H.O.M.E. They yearned to live in community, perhaps with Katie's sister, her husband, and their children. But did they want kids of their own?
"One of the things I wrestled with was: Do I really need to be a mom, or is it important to me that I am a significant part of some child's life?" Heather says.
When Katie was first coming out, the prospect of children seemed remote: one significant life change at a time, she remembers thinking. Later, "I had a strong desire to be a parent. I didn't have a strong desire to carry a child. Neither one of us felt that was a priority. So adoption was a natural next step to consider."
That path called for more candor, more discernment: Could they imagine parenting a child with medical issues? With a disability? A child who was not white?
Adoption meant "coming to terms with your hopes and dreams but also with your limitations," Heather says. "You have to say yes or no to these things ahead of time."
They knew they wanted to raise a child from infancy, they believed in open adoption, and they liked the approach of Adoptions from the Heart — how birth mothers as well as prospective parents received support from social workers and advocates throughout the process.
They were "on the books" — meaning they'd completed background checks, a home study, and a profile book to be shown to birth parents — for just a few months when they were matched. But that birth mother decided just before Christmas 2016 that she wanted to parent.
Nearly a year later, the phone rang on a Thursday evening. "This is the call you want to get," the social worker said. The baby, a boy, was three days old. Could they come to Wilkes-Barre the following day at noon to meet him?
"It was amazing and slightly terrifying," Katie recalls. That feeling only intensified when they glimpsed their son, a 3-pound, 12-ounce preemie, in the NICU at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. Heather reached through the hand holes in the incubator to caress his head, to cradle his tiny, diapered bottom.
"He had a lot of hair," she recalls. "Big eyes. Some of the nurses called him their boyfriend."
Just before meeting Oscar — a name they chose because it works in all the languages they speak: English, Icelandic, and Spanish — they met his birth mother for the first time. She was exhausted. They were grateful, tentative, and painfully aware of how fraught that moment was.
Then Katie blurted, "I just want to acknowledge that we're white, and we're aware of that." The birth mother, who is Puerto Rican and Jamaican, laughed; the tension eased. "And that did open up a moment for her to say what some of her concerns were about us raising a child, particularly a boy of color," Heather says.
The birth mother talked about the current political climate, Katie recalls, "how it's a scary time for black boys and men, that it's not an easy world, and that it was important to know about that, and to have people who wouldn't be naïve about that teaching Oscar and helping him."
They know that parenthood will take a village, one that includes people of color as mentors and friends. They've already surrounded themselves with guides, including the four families who live with them in an intentional Christian community called Vine and Fig Tree. Katie's sister is a doula; another community member is a pediatric nurse. Their nieces made a huge banner, still hanging in their hallway, to welcome Oscar home.