THE PARENTS: Stacie Farrell, 42, and Michael Farrell, 48, of Mayfair
THE KIDS: Lillyanna, 6; Michael, 5; Quadree, 4; Gabrielle, 3, adopted May 9, 2018; Brendan, born April 24, 2018
TAKE-HOMES FROM PARENTING (BESIDES HOW TO LIVE WITH LACK OF SLEEP): "Being a parent takes lots of patience," Stacie says. "Some days I have it; some days I don't. But there are days when I know I love life, and it's because of them."
From her bedroom window, she could see his bedroom window. But she was 6 and he was 12, and no one was thinking about romance until more than a decade later, when Michael knocked, Stacie opened the door, and something — it felt like Cupid's arrow, he says — bolted through him.
For a few months, all they did was walk their dogs together. Then Michael proposed a movie date — Interview with the Vampire — and later that evening, he upped the ante with, "Would you like to be my girlfriend?"
Stacie, still in college, was casually dating three other guys at the time. But she and Michael discovered common ground: horror flicks, roller coasters, dogs. Both were the middle children of five. "After a while, he was somebody I could spend the rest of my life with," Stacie says.
After four years of dating, Michael found himself browsing a jewelry store for a birthday gift for Stacie. He was thinking of earrings. But Stacie's sister, along for the errand, persuaded him otherwise.
After dinner that night, Michael blindfolded Stacie and brought out a cake; the frosting script said, "Will you marry me?" Then the blinders were off, and he was on one knee, ring in hand.
The couple opted for a simple ceremony, officiated by a judge, at an American Legion post. One moment is stamped into their memories: when the judge handed each a red rose, then told them to exchange the blooms, their first gift to each other as a married couple. They repeat the ritual on every anniversary.
Both come from large families: Stacie's grandmother had 63 grandchildren, and her youngest sister has a passel of eight. But early on, Michael told her frankly what doctors had told him: because he was born premature, with undescended testicles, it was unlikely he would ever father children.
That didn't stop them from trying, with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection, in which a single sperm cell is injected directly into an egg), then five cycles of IVF using donor sperm. Their six-year saga of infertility included absurd moments — the time Michael drove to the urologist with a semen sample in a jar that had once held pureed banana baby food — and crushing ones, when every procedure ended in failure to conceive.
"We were older. We were ready. I really felt like something was missing for us," Stacie recalls. So they became foster parents. "It was the idea of making a difference in a child's life," she says.
The first was Lillyanna, a 2-day-old infant who arrived in a city van with a handful of diapers and some formula. "They delivered her like a pizza," Michael says. Lillyanna's biological mother was barely more than a child herself, a 16-year-old who had been in the foster care system since age 12.
At 10 months, Lillyanna was reunited with her mother. But when Michael spotted the two downtown a few months later, he was jolted. "Lillyanna had been a happy, bright-eyed little girl. The girl I saw in the stroller looked broken."
For nearly a year, he and Stacie housed both mother and baby; they believed that offered the best chance for Lillyanna to thrive. What they didn't know was that her birth mother was pregnant again. That baby was Quadree.
It took several more years — and one more attempt by their birth mom to raise the children on her own — until a court terminated her rights and Stacie and Michael adopted them.
By then, they were also parents to the boy they call "little Mike." That call came just before Lillyanna left for the first time, when Michael wasn't sure he could bear the anguish of loving and losing another child. But Stacie had already said yes to the 18-day-old infant, then trembling through drug withdrawal in the NICU at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
They adopted Mike in 2014. There were other foster children — a brother and sister who stayed for just two weeks, and a little girl who remained for several months — but Michael figured their long-haul family was complete.
Until the call came about Gabby — just 10 days old, another drug-affected infant in an isolette at HUP. She lived with the family for a scant three months before returning to an aunt and uncle. Michael's mother, who had cared for Gabby while the couple worked and who adored the child, tried to console them: "Don't worry. She'll be back."
In February 2017, a year and a half after saying goodbye, Stacie and Michael agreed to provide a few days of respite care for Gabby. She never left.
In the meantime, they'd ridden another roller-coaster of family-making. Michael's mother died in December 2015; a year later, Stacie was stunned to learn she was pregnant. Was this a message from her mother-in-law? But at the 12-week ultrasound, there was silence where a heartbeat should have been.
Last summer, the inconceivable happened again. The couple, anxious because of the earlier miscarriage, waited until Christmas to snap a family picture of everyone in matching pajamas under a banner reading, "It's a boy!"
That boy was born, via scheduled C-section, two weeks before Gabby's adoption. Like all their adoption finalizations, that hearing had a theme. For Lillyanna and Quadree, it was "O-fish-ally Farrells," with shirts depicting images of fish. For Mike, a "building our nest" motif with wooden eggs on which guests could write messages. For Disney-obsessed Gabby, everyone — grandparents included — dressed as princes and princesses; their attorney even hired a Little Mermaid character who swished into the courtroom in a seashell bra.