THE PARENTS: Rebecca Sheehan, 32, and Derek Sheehan, 35, of Wernersville
THE CHILD: Lincoln Grey, 10 months, adopted June 25, 2018
AN EARLY LIVING-TOGETHER SNAG: "I'm a clean freak," Rebecca says, "and he would leave his socks everywhere. He'd say, 'You have makeup everywhere.' It was an ongoing battle."
About a year into their relationship — they were already living together, along with Rebecca's dachshund, Nina — Rebecca started asking, "Don't you want to get married?"
Derek's stock answer: "Someday. Down the road."
It wasn't that he had doubts about Rebecca. Within a month of meeting — both were sales reps for Penske Truck Leasing — Derek knew he would marry her someday. Both were fervent Eagles fans; Derek even drove a green Audi. Both loved dogs, movies, and eating out.
Occasionally, Rebecca sleuthed the house, looking for an engagement ring. But she never checked the pocket of Derek's just-back-from-the-cleaners suit.
"I was ready," he says. "I just wanted to wait for the right time."
That moment came in June 2012, on a Wildwood vacation with Rebecca's family. The two took a walk on the beach, and he proffered the ring, a princess-cut diamond with a double band.
The first dance, at their May 2014 wedding, was to the Tim McMorris song "Overwhelmed." And the next item on the agenda? Start a family. Rebecca recalls visiting her sister and spending a long day in Washington; when her oldest nephew was exhausted from walking, Derek scooped up the child and carried him all the way to the car. "I remember that moment, thinking: He's going to make such a great dad."
Rebecca knew conception might be difficult; she'd had severe endometriosis, with painful and heavy periods, since age 21. They tried on their own, then with drugs to induce ovulation. They tried two intra-uterine inseminations.
"It puts a toll on your relationship," Rebecca says. "Why am I not able to give you the family you want? Why can other people have babies so easily, and I can't? I had a lot of doubts: Maybe we're just meant to be great aunts and uncles to our nieces and nephews."
But Derek remained the glass-half-full guy, reassuring her that there were other ways to bring a baby into their lives.
In 2016, their fertility specialist recommended hysterectomy; Rebecca had the surgery that fall. "I was happy I wouldn't be in so much pain anymore," she remembers. "But this was final. There was no going back."
She and Derek took a few months to heal and spend time together without the stress of trying to conceive. Then they began to explore adoption. Both had questions: How would they communicate with prospective birth moms? How long would it take? Could they afford the legal and other fees?
The caseworkers at A Baby Step Adoption explained everything and guided them through the next steps: a home study, background checks, physicals to ensure they were in good health.
Each Tuesday, they'd hover over the computer, waiting for the weekly email outlining birth mothers' "situations." They submitted their profile to a few of them. "Then it was a waiting game. If you never heard anything, or if the next Tuesday the mom was no longer on the e-mail, you knew she'd chosen someone else," Rebecca says.
Last October, both were drawn to the description of a birth mother who was seven months pregnant with a boy and in a relationship with the baby's father. There were no red flags. "Let's do this," they said. The next day, in the car, a call pinged on Rebecca's Bluetooth: "Juliana caseworker calling." Minutes later, Rebecca phoned her husband. "They chose us," she said.
"We went into full-on parent mode," she recalls — making a GoFundMe page that ultimately raised $7,000 toward adoption expenses; finishing the baby's room; having a shower at which family and friends presented with a crib, stroller, infant clothes, toys, and enough diapers to last for seven months.
The birth mother's due date was Dec. 30. Early on the 18th, she called them: "I'm dilated!" By 9 a.m., they were in Rebecca's mother's SUV, headed for Iowa. It was a nerve-rattling drive, with periodic updates on how the birth mom's labor was progressing.
They were still six hours away when a text came with a photo attached: an infant in a Christmas-theme hat, his mouth wide open. "It was the most surreal thing. Tears flooded," Rebecca says.
Then they were at the hospital, meeting the birth parents and shaking their hands and saying the only thing they could think to say: "Thank you." Nurses rolled their son down the hall: Here he is.
"It was crazy," Rebecca recalls. "The amount of love that you instantly receive … I never knew you could have feelings like that."
"I'm not a crier at all," Derek says. "But I was definitely getting watery eyes. I couldn't wait to start this journey with him."
After several days — their lawyer rushed the paperwork because a winter storm was forecast — they headed East. Rebecca rode in the backseat; when Lincoln was hungry, they'd stop at a rest area so she could feed him while Derek took a brief nap.
"Then Derek would wake up, I'd give him an espresso, and he'd start driving." Twenty-four hours later, they were home. "It felt like a dream: Is this really happening? Is this our life?" Rebecca recalls. "It was a couple days until it really sunk in."
Derek had never held a newborn. Rebecca remembers the stress of bathing a slippery infant, trimming tiny fingernails, learning to change a diaper without getting splashed. "I remember thinking: Will I ever sleep again?"
There are moments both parents cherish: the first time Lincoln sat on his father's lap, grabbed for his face and said, "Dada." Or the way he calms down when Rebecca puts on the Crosby, Stills & Nash tune "Southern Cross." Or the astonishment they still feel when they read their son Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, a children's book about being adopted.