THE PARENTS: Anne Daly, 34, and Pete Daly, 34, of Phoenixville
THE KIDS: Vaughn Raymond, 18 months; Camille Paz, 6 months, adopted July 25, 2017
ONE HOPE FOR THEIR CHILDREN: That because Pete speaks Spanish, and Anne's father is fluent in French, the kids might be trilingual.
They were thinking about a second child — but not at that moment, not with Anne home nursing a five-day flu and Pete in the emergency room with a screaming, vomiting 1-year-old.
Amid the ER clatter, Pete's cellphone rang; it was their caseworker from A Baby Step Adoption. "She said, 'Baby girl. Parents chose you because they want her to be with her brother.' I didn't get a word in edgewise. What this woman just told me didn't compute in my brain."
It was only a year earlier that they'd gotten the first phone call from A Baby Step. They'd been in the adoption program for less than two months and both figured it was too soon for them to be chosen.
"Are you sitting down?" the caseworker asked then. "Well, I'm driving," Anne replied.
"You were picked. How quickly can you fly out to Arizona?"
Three days later, the pair boarded a plane, one-way tickets and notarized documents in hand. They took selfies, brainstormed baby names, and tried to stay calm. "We were definitely freaking out but trying to remain level-headed," Anne says. In Phoenix, they went straight to the hospital to meet their son.
Anne and Pete were both certain about parenthood; that was just one piece of the common ground they discovered when they began dating — they were classmates at LaSalle University who reconnected after graduation — in 2006. Both had been raised Catholic; both loved travel, restaurants, and music.
In 2009, Anne moved into the Conshohocken house Pete shared with a childhood pal. Despite the bachelor-pad entropy — she remembers heaps of laundry and towers of undone dishes — they cohabited easily and moved to their own apartment the following year.
That's where Pete proposed. "Once I got the ring, quite frankly, I was terrified of losing it. At one point, I had it in the trunk of my car, under the floorboard where you keep the spare tire. I was eager to propose to Anne." So he popped the question in the kitchen of their tiny apartment.
The wedding was an extension of that low-key vibe: a ceremony at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Andorra, Pete's home parish, with Anne in a simple dress, her hair in 1920s-style finger waves. The tables were named for concerts they'd attended: Black Keys, Coldplay, Arcade Fire. Anne's 94-year-old grandfather flew out from Minnesota and managed, despite two recent knee replacements, to dance at the reception.
They tried to conceive but soon learned that Anne had low levels of anti-mullerian hormone, an indicator of ovarian reserve and a sign that in vitro fertilization might not be successful. "We had to think about whether or not it was worth it to gamble that," she says. "We decided it wasn't. We decided to pursue adoption."
They knew almost nothing about the process, and some of what they learned was daunting: the expense, the varying states' rules about when a birth mother can change her mind, the uncertainties about a baby's in utero exposure to drugs.
But when that first phone call came, Anne recalls, "I was all-in. Pete had more reservations, but the agency said, 'This is a perfect situation.' " And there, in the Phoenix NICU, was their son, a 5-pound, 1-ounce morsel in a nest of wires and tubes; he had a rare bowel condition, Hirschsprung's disease, which affects the large intestine and causes problems with passing stool.
For three weeks, the pair spent 12 hours a day at the hospital, learning to do bowel irrigations and waiting for Vaughn to take in more than two ounces of formula at a time.
They were ecstatic to bring him home in March. But several days later, on Anne's birthday, they were rushing him to CHOP because of projectile vomiting. This time, he needed surgery and a colostomy bag. "We had to learn how to put the bag on, how to empty it, how to clean it," Pete remembers. "After a month, we had a system down."
But Vaughn remained susceptible to intestinal bugs, and he must have picked up something at day care in February. That's when Pete took him again to CHOP, where he was admitted. Anne was too sick to even visit the hospital, so the two had to decide by phone how to respond to A Baby Step's call.
"The pros were: This is Vaughn's full biological sister. And even though our situation at the time was very chaotic, that was temporary," Anne says.
Pete worried about the cost of a second adoption, the stress of raising another child — even a seemingly healthy one — along with Vaughn and his medical needs.
By the end of the weekend, they'd decided. Sibling bonds won. They could do this. And to spare them another journey to Phoenix, the agency offered to have a caseworker fly east with the baby.
"When we saw the two of them together, it felt like it was definitely the right decision," Anne says. The children have similar chins and large eyes; their cries and laughs are indistinguishable. At first, Vaughn was uninterested in his baby sister; now, he toddles to her high chair every morning to give her a kiss.
"When he walks in the room, she follows him with her eyes," Anne says. "It's cool to see how connected they are."
The name Camille "appeared in Anne's head the way the baby appeared in our lives," Pete says. And her middle name, "peace" in Spanish to reflect the kids' Hispanic heritage, also seemed a fitting counterpoint to the country's tumultuous times.