THE PARENTS: Lisa Zane, 32, and Bill Zane, 34, of Fishtown
THE KIDS: Boden William, 5; Jack Elliott, 3; Mila Joanne, 2; Fletcher Jude, born March 1, 2018
A "KEEPER" MOMENT: A snapshot taken when the three older ones met Fletcher for the first time. The baby was on the hospital bed; the others, all wide eyes and tentative fingers. Bill often finds himself staring at the photo on his phone.
Lisa figured her first pregnancy would also be her last.
It had taken an arduous year and a half to conceive — trying, at first, on their own, then with the boost of Clomid, intra-uterine inseminations, and finally a round of IVF.
After an egg retrieval that Lisa describes as "crazy-painful," they had three fertilized embryos; the plan was to implant two and freeze one for the future. Just one of the implanted eggs thrived. The one they intended to freeze didn't make it.
"Deciding to do IVF was a very hard decision," Lisa says. "We talked and prayed a lot. It was emotional, and a lot more intense than we thought." When Boden was born, following a three-day induction and a post-partum hemorrhage, they thought, "It's a blessing to have him. But also — we're never doing that again."
They wanted a large family, a tumult of siblings and cousins like the clans in which they'd grown up. At the time they met — Bill was a shaggy-bearded 24-year-old then, cheering too loudly at a church open-mic night, and Lisa was a recent college graduate who knew an impressive amount about football — the chemistry may have been right, but the timing was out of sync.
Bill was soon heading overseas, to Iraq, to do mission work. Lisa was considering adopting a toddler whom she'd met in a foster home for Native American children when the girl was just 7 months old; Lisa had visited the foster home every December, spring break and summer while she was in college.
The pair gave each other their blessing. "I said, 'If you feel like that's where God is taking you, I'm not going to hold you back,'" Lisa remembers.
"I wasn't thinking about kids at all, but the more Lisa told me, the more I thought it was a special and unique thing. I was intrigued and excited," Bill says.
In the end, the child's foster mother decided to adopt her. Meantime, the pair found it so difficult to communicate from half a world apart that they decided to break up.
But they reconnected when Bill returned in 2009. "We really cared for each other. We were best friends," Lisa says. "She was still the woman I remembered falling in love with, even though we'd been through a difficult season together," Bill recalls.
By the spring of 2010, they were engaged; by October of that year, Bill stood at the front of a church, blinking back tears as he turned to see Lisa walk down the aisle. Lisa forgot to toss her bouquet that night; the live band kept them, and everyone else, on the dance floor for hours.
After Boden was born, the couple figured adoption was the way to grow their family. In January 2014 they signed up with an agency. Two months later, Lisa realized she'd only had two periods since she'd stopped nursing. "I took a pregnancy test willy-nilly, threw it in the trash, then peeked at it quickly and realized it was positive. We were completely shocked."
They put the adoption process on hold to have Jack — an easy pregnancy and a fast birth kick-started by a dose of castor oil (it was late November and Lisa didn't want to give birth on Thanksgiving Day). By the time she reached the labor and delivery room at Pennsylvania Hospital, she was already nine centimeters dilated.
"I remember welling up," Bill says, "thinking that I had these two young boys who need to be loved and shepherded and taught what it means to love others well, to love God, to live a life that's not focused on themselves."
When Jack was 16 months old, the adoption agency's director called: "Do you have time to talk? I have a mom who chose you, and she's due in two days. But here's the catch … we're not confident she's actually going to go through with [the adoption] plan."
Despite that uncertainty, Lisa and Bill flew to Charleston, S.C., where the birth mother lived; three days later, Lisa found herself in a hospital room, coaching the young woman through labor, watching Bill cut the cord, then holding the infant — their daughter — skin to skin for the first hour of her life.
Twenty-four hours later, the couple hovered outside the hospital room while the birth mother, the birth father, a lawyer, and a notary public conferred inside. "We were standing in the hallway, praying that she wouldn't change her mind," Lisa says.
She didn't. And by the time they left Charleston with Mila, they all felt bonded. "I was really sad to be leaving [the birth mother]. At that point, she felt like a little sister to me," Lisa says. They visit yearly and text in-between.
They felt content — but not quite complete — with three kids. Still, they weren't sure they could weather the emotional toll of adoption again, or the logistics of maintaining relationships with birth mothers in two different locations.
"We decided, 'Let's just try to have a fourth kid. If it works, great. If it doesn't, OK,'" Lisa says. While in Colorado last summer for Bill's job — he works with a campus ministry organization — Lisa's period was late. She dragged all three kids to Walgreens and picked up a pregnancy test to confirm her hunch.
Fletcher — the only baby whose sex they learned before birth — was breech. Lisa tried standing on her head to make him flip. But at 37 weeks, he turned on his own; she was able to have a vaginal birth, another rapid one with just five minutes of pushing.