THE PARENTS: Jane Keating, 36, and Kelly Bird, 45, of Northern Liberties
THE CHILDREN: Oona, 17; Jacquo, 14; Josephine, 10 months, adopted Nov. 1, 2019
THE BABY’S NAME: Jane had always loved the name “Josephine,” her maternal grandmother’s name, and on the day she suggested it, Kelly had just seen a children’s book about Josephine Baker.
They’d been dating for four months — an online swipe followed by a three-hour first date, followed by seeing one another in every available pocket of time — when Kelly decided it was time to come out to her kids.
She traveled to Florida for Thanksgiving with Oona, then 13, and Jacquo, 10, and took the kids to the beach. “Since I separated from your father, I have been dating women,” she explained. “If this is confusing, it’s OK; I’m trying to figure it out, as well.”
Jacquo shrugged: “Yeah, I had a feeling.” Oona said, “It’s no big deal, Mom.” When the kids actually met Jane, the encounters were easy: Jacquo and Jane began an impromptu soccer volley in the street, and on a family ice skating trip, Oona spontaneously reached for Jane’s hand as they circled the rink.
From the start, the women were drawn to one another’s commitment to work that mattered: Jane, as a trauma surgeon; Kelly, as principal of an independent school. “Both of us are incredibly successful people, but will do things like lose our keys,” Kelly says.
They could gently chide each other: Jane scolded Kelly for riding her bike without a helmet; Kelly called Jane out when she thought (mistakenly) that Jane had pitched an ice cream wrapper into the bushes.
After dating for about a year, Jane moved into Kelly’s townhouse. “I remember initially feeling overwhelmed about where my stuff would go and how to feel at home,” Jane recalls. But Kelly made room for Jane’s couch and coffee table, for photos of Jane’s family, and the four eased into a new rhythm: soccer and basketball games with Jacquo; lessons in making ramen with Oona; family dinners.
“It felt natural: meeting each other, moving in, getting married,” Kelly says. “It felt important to exercise this right that has not always been a right for gay people.” One evening, after Jane left for an overnight shift at work, Kelly had Amberella, a local mixed-media artist, install two large black paper “conversation hearts” on a cement wall in their backyard: One read “All I ever wanted,” and the other said “I believe in you.”
Then the artist added a third heart on a side wall. This one read, “Will you marry me?” Kelly covered that heart with butcher paper. She prepared a breakfast of mimosas and croissants. And when Jane came home early the next morning, Kelly tugged down the butcher paper and revealed her proposal.
“Jane said yes. Then she said, ‘Do you want your ring now?’ She ran upstairs and got my ring and asked me to marry her.”
At their May 2018 wedding, at Christ Church in Old City, Oona and Jacquo walked their mother down the aisle. Jane’s parents were at her side. Both women remember a moment when the minister invited them to sit in two throne-like chairs, facing their guests, while she talked about their journey as a couple — a moment when they could witness the ceremony even while they were immersed in it.
Jane wanted a baby, and Kelly felt open to a second round of parenthood. “Growing up in a world where gay marriage wasn’t legal, it was always a little bit of a question mark for me,” Jane says. “How was I going to create a family? Would I be able to get married? I knew I wanted a partner, and I knew I wanted to be a mother.”
Adoption felt right to both of them — and after checking out a couple of agencies, they decided to work with Open Arms Adoption Network. The process was winding to an end when, during their final home study visit, they realized that their smoke detectors weren’t working.
Oona and Jacquo had ribbed Kelly about the adoption plan: “Mom, you’re too old to have a baby.” But that day, they hopped on their skateboards and sped to the nearest CVS, where they bought new smoke detectors, then raced back and managed to install them before the social worker left.
Seven weeks after the family submitted their profile book, Kelly’s phone rang while she was driving home from work. “This is Lisa,” the social worker said. “This is that call.” The baby was a five-day-old girl. The birth parents had chosen Jane and Kelly.
“We were both in go-mode,” Kelly recalls: grabbing baby items at Target, picking up hand-me-downs from a colleague, hustling to find an Airbnb in South Jersey where they could stay until the baby’s interstate paperwork went through.
Finally, the social worker arrived with a blanket-draped car seat. She lifted the blanket to reveal an infant, eyes closed, head capped with dark, straight hair.
“I remember literally bursting into tears the moment I saw her — so moved that this incredible child had joined our lives,” Kelly says. For a week, they huddled in the Airbnb: no mail, no dog, no work. “All we had to worry about was the baby and each other,” Kelly says. Still, with Jacquo at school and Oona with her father, “I was very eager for my whole family to be able to come together.”
Jane found she had to tame the anxieties that came along with her medical expertise. “I was just worried: Is something going to go wrong? But nothing did go wrong.” Instead, there were new relationships: teenagers who doted on their baby sister, double-checking the buckle in her car seat and blowing raspberry kisses.
Before Thanksgiving, the whole crew piled into Jane’s car for a trip to Connecticut: the teens, the baby, the dog, enough gear and snacks for three days. “We were jam-packed into this Jeep, and we were all laughing,” Kelly says. “I felt like: This is my team.