THE PARENTS: Andrea Harenza, 32, and Michael Harenza, 40, of Douglassville

THE CHILD: Chase Alexander, 6 months, adopted Oct. 8, 2019

HARD-EARNED PARENTAL WISDOM: “That it’s really important to be an advocate for yourself, with your own health,” Andrea says. “I want Chase to know that if something’s hurting him, we’re going to believe that.”

One day, they were at home in Douglassville. The next night — after a 17-hour drive and an emotional handoff at an Arkansas lawyer’s office — they were driving around Little Rock with a six-week-old who couldn’t stop crying.

They’d had 15 minutes to say yes or no when the caseworker called from A Baby Step Adoption: a mixed-race infant whose 18-year-old mother planned to enter the military.

Earlier that week, a potential adoption, in Reading, had fallen through when the birth father declined to relinquish his rights. Now it was 9:45 a.m. on Sunday. The deadline to submit their prospective-parent profile was 10. They hit “send.”

The next day, the caseworker asked if Andrea could write a letter to the birth mom, who was close to making a decision. “I talked about how incredibly brave and selfless her decisions were … that the baby would look up to her as someone strong and brave.”

Three days later, they were on their way to Arkansas, the final lap of a several-year journey toward parenthood. They began discussing family early in their relationship, when both worked for a residential drug and alcohol treatment center — she with teen girls, he with young adult men.

Back then, Andrea introduced Michael to new experiences: sushi, the rock band Fall Out Boy. She made him laugh. “I think I knew right away that I wanted to be serious,” he says. After dating for just over a year, he proposed one night at a restaurant in Avalon, a beloved summer refuge for Andrea’s family.

The forecast called for rain on the day of their wedding, Oct. 10, 2015. But the day broke cloudless. A harpist played “Wonder Wall” as they walked down the aisle — the same song they chose for their first dance.

Andrea had always fantasized about having twins or triplets; Michael didn’t have a target number in mind, but definitely wanted to be a parent. They tried on their own. They tried using fertility medication. They tried one intrauterine insemination — no luck — then a cycle of IVF.

That worked … but the fetus was measuring small, and at less than six weeks, the ultrasound tech couldn’t find a heartbeat. Andrea still held hope — they could try IVF again, or use donor eggs — but both struggled with feelings of grief. “It was pretty hard-core devastating,” Michael recalls. “I tried to keep positive for Andrea. I didn’t want to show her that I was struggling, but it was really, really hard.”

For the next cycle, doctors genetically screened the embryo before the transfer and found a number of chromosomal abnormalities. The next step was to try using donor eggs, but just before that cycle was to begin, Andrea finally got a diagnosis of the lower back pain she’d been enduring for nearly a year: She had anal cancer and would need chemotherapy and radiation.

In some ways, the news was a relief: Her pain wasn’t imaginary, and pregnancy was now out of the question. Andrea’s cancer “took other options off the table,” Michael says. Their question became: “What are we going to do once you’re better?”

She was nearly a year cancer-free when they attended an informational meeting at A Baby Step Adoption. Michael recalls his naivete about how the process worked: “I thought, you’re on a list, and when your number gets called, they give you a child.”

Instead, they had to furnish a pile of paperwork — financial documents, even pet records for their cocker spaniel, Aspen — and create a video and profile book to be shown to birth parents. Andrea wrote about Michael: how hardworking he was. Michael described his wife’s loving, caring nature. They wrote about the three kittens they’d rescued from under the porch, about the home they’d purposely chosen as a safe place to raise a child.

The first match came last August; a month later, on a Tuesday, they learned that it had fallen through. The call about Chase came on Sunday. And then they were in that attorney’s office, face to face with a young, shy, nervous birth mom and a tiny, blotchy-faced infant asleep in his car seat.

“I was immediately in love with him,” Michael says. “It felt like this was supposed to be.”

Chase slept in three-hour stretches on the long drive home; when they arrived, Andrea carried him around the house, into his blue-and-beige room with his name in wooden letters on the wall. “This is your home,” she murmured.

The baby’s birth mom had given him his name, and the couple decided to keep it. “Apparently she was concerned that Chase would think she didn’t love him. It’s important to us that he know his mother did a very loving thing, that she made the best decision possible both for her and for him,” Andrea says.

Meantime, they have a son who loves elephants and bright colors and things that make noise. He sleeps through the night and tries to pull himself to a standing position. “I love hanging out with him,” Michael says. “That cute little smile and laugh.”

He remembers the anxious period after Andrea’s diagnosis and treatment, when they took the first steps toward adoption. “Before that, I wasn’t sure Andrea was going to live. So I was excited about being a family.”

Now, they imagine the future: springs of Little League, summer trips to Avalon, the kind of full-tilt Christmas that is traditional in Andrea’s family. Their circuitous journey toward parenthood — the months of fertility treatment, the miscarriage, the disrupted adoption — now feels meant-to-be.

Including this detail: Chase’s birth mother tried to make an adoption plan shortly after he was born, but relatives talked her out of it, Michael says. “Had that happened, when he was born, he wouldn’t be with us. Things will happen when they’re supposed to happen.”