Natalia didn’t really have tickets to an Arizona Diamondbacks game. But it was a conversational gambit, a flirtatious offer to the new nursing assistant with the crazy blond hair. “If you’ve never been to a baseball game …”
He said yes. She bought tickets. It was their first date.
But Natalia was about to graduate from nursing school, and after dating for a while, the two parted ways. She saved the ticket stub from that Diamondbacks game, though. And when Lucas called her, a few years later, they decided to go out for dinner.
They met at a Cuban restaurant in Phoenix. “He got out of the car, gave me this big kiss and said, ‘I’ve really missed you, and I’m so glad we’re here.’ We’ve never taken a break since,” Natalia says.
They dated long-distance — she moved to Philadelphia for graduate school, while he remained in Arizona — and got engaged on Pearl Harbor’s anniversary in 2007, in the park behind Independence Hall, after wandering a lit-for-Christmas Elfreth’s Alley.
They planned a wedding for the following November, but in August, Lucas learned that his Army Reserve unit was going to be mobilized to Afghanistan. They hastily moved up the date. In the end, his unit was sent to Washington instead; they spent their first year of marriage living apart. Finally, in 2013, Lucas started a nurse-practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania, and they landed in Philadelphia.
Natalia wanted a bunch of kids, a contrast to her own family of just one sibling. But that was before she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, before they tried a few rounds of Clomid, and acupuncture, and a couple of intrauterine inseminations, one of which led to a chemical pregnancy.
“The physician said, ‘Given your age and how long you guys have been trying, we should go down the road of IVF,’ ” Natalia recalls. They did. She had another miscarriage two days before Christmas 2015.
“I was devastated. My hope was that we’d taken all the guesswork out of this, we’d let science take over. … I was pretty confident that it would stick. It was a lousy holiday, with no time to really grieve or process it.”
But soon they were ready to try again, with frozen embryo number two. One February night, they went to see Deadpool; the next day was the embryo transfer. Natalia’s HCG levels kept rising. On the ultrasound, the heartbeat looked like a tiny flicker.
They’d already booked a trip to Japan, and they went, though Natalia was miserable with morning sickness; she missed the entire city of Kyoto, felt nauseated by the sight of fish, and could tolerate only mango juice and McDonald’s takeout.
Once they returned, though, “I loved the idea that I was finally pregnant. Growing a human: that was pretty cool.”
James came early — a brief scare three weeks before his due date, because the baby seemed to have stopped moving, leading to an induction, an epidural, “the most amazing nap ever,” and 15 minutes of active labor.
“I thought, holy cow, this is our child,” Natalia says. “He had crystal blue eyes and brownish hair with blond frosted tips, little highlights, like he was in a boy band.”
Within half a day of James’ birth, Lucas says, Natalia was talking about having another baby. Given their track record, IVF seemed the most likely prospect, but embryo number three didn’t take. They had one more: an implantation in March 2018, a pregnancy, a heartbeat … and then, silence.
“For me, that was the hardest,” Natalia says. “There was this decision point: Do we go through IVF again? Do we accept that we’re going to have one child? Do we look into the adoption process?”
They decided on the latter: information sessions with A Baby Step Adoption, a pile of paperwork, a home study in 2019, then three months of reading birth mothers’ profiles and submitting their own.
“With every profile we came across, we felt so empathetic: Oh my gosh, how could we help?” Natalia says. The phone call came in September: They’d been matched with a woman in Mississippi, due at the end of January. Later, they learned she was pregnant with a girl.
Early on Jan. 19, after working a night shift in critical care at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Natalia came home, turned off her phone, and collapsed into bed. She woke to a deluge of voice mails and texts: How soon can you get to Mississippi?
They decided to drive — with James and his collection of plastic dinosaurs, with stops only for water, gas, and a quick overnight in Knoxville, Tenn. By the time they reached Hattiesburg, Charlotte had already been born.
“One minute we were barreling down a freeway; the next we were in the hospital, picking up a baby,” Lucas says. “James said, ‘Hello, Charlotte,’ and when she started to fuss or cry, he’d say, ‘It’s OK, Charlotte. We’re going to take care of you. Don’t be sad.’ ”
Once they’d signed paperwork and appeared before a judge in Tupelo, they were cleared to leave — an 1,100-mile drive home, in two-hour increments, between feedings.
“I think that the incredible privilege of being a parent is taken for granted by a lot of people. You don’t know how hard it is for some people to get there, and some people never do,” Lucas says.
But here they are: with a toddler who misses his karate and swim classes, a baby who won’t remember the pandemic … and that ticket stub from the Diamondbacks game, now holding Natalia’s place in her Harry Potter book.