THE PARENTS: Emily Felty, 36, and Matt Felty, 40, of Delta, Pa.
THE CHILDREN: Weston Ralph, 3, and Hannah Joy, 6 months, adopted Nov. 1, 2019
WEDDING MEMORIES: The storm that raged until just before it was time for photographs … and the 214 guests, including many of Emily’s maternal grandmother’s 14 brothers and sisters, their children, and grandchildren.
Their first conversations cost $1,600. It was 17 years ago, when cellphone carriers charged extra to talk with people outside the network. And after their first meeting, at a pool hall in Newark, Del., the two couldn’t stop talking.
“Matt’s cellphone bill ran to $1,200, and mine was $400. We were astounded when those bills rolled in. That was before our first date,” Emily says.
After that, the relationship moved briskly. “From the beginning, we were very honest with each other. We were not dating just to date; we were dating with the intent of looking for our spouse.” So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Matt invited her over one night: candles flickering, the smell of lasagna, and a small box tucked under the couch.
They married four months later. “A lot of people thought we were pregnant,” Emily says. “But we weren’t.”
Children, though, were at the top of their life plan. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do — to be able to have kids and show them different things in life,” Matt says.
Emily delighted in watching her older cousins become parents. She babysat as much for the love of children as for the pocket money. And in high school, when an English teacher asked for a paper on students’ ambitions, Emily wrote that she wanted to get married and have children.
The paper came back with a comment scrawled in red ink. “She wrote that I needed to pick something else, that [marriage and parenthood] was not going to satisfy me in life.” Emily took the note as a slap … and a challenge. “People think getting married and having children is old-fashioned. But that was what I wanted to do.”
The first obstacle was an ovarian cyst — a large one that had nearly swallowed Emily’s right ovary. The surgeon who removed it assured the couple they could still get pregnant. But less than two years later, another cyst and another surgery left Emily with just half of her left ovary.
They tried intrauterine inseminations. They considered IVF. They continued trying on their own. “Nothing ever came of it,” Emily says. “I was completely devastated over the fact that I was going to have to walk away from one of the only things I ever wanted.”
“I don’t want to say I ever gave up hope, but it was fading. It was hard,” Matt says.
Finally, a friend asked Emily, “Have you guys thought about adoption?” They hadn’t — not because they were wary of the process, but because it simply hadn’t occurred to them. They didn’t know anyone who’d adopted.
They lingered on one agency’s waiting list for three years; they paid adoption consultants for another year with no results. Finally, in desperation, Emily asked a friend to post something on a Facebook group for mothers in her Maryland town. A young woman messaged back.
“She said, ‘I just found out I’m pregnant, 8 or 10 weeks along. We’re at a spot where we can’t afford to have another child.’ She and I e-mailed back and forth every two to three days for two months, maybe more.”
Then they met — an hour-long visit at the birth mother’s home, where her 2-year-old daughter was eager to play with Emily. “I left, and she sent me this email about how great it was to meet me, and that she knew we were the ones who were supposed to adopt this baby.”
Early one August morning, Emily’s phone rang. “I’m at the hospital,” the birth mother said. “You need to get down here.” Emily made it to the hospital in time to witness a rapid labor; Matt lingered just outside the room’s door.
“I was so nervous and knew that life was about to change,” he says. “I remember Emily coming out and saying we had a son. Then the nurse came out, opened the door … and placed him in my arms.”
After a flurry of visits from the grandparents, the room cleared, leaving Emily, Matt, the birth parents, and the baby. They ate chicken nuggets from McDonald’s — it was the birth mother’s only craving — and talked for two hours. “We were just laughing, getting to know each other as couples,” Emily says.
Their bond endured. Emily and Matt bought the birth mother a Pandora bracelet, with a promise to add a charm each Christmas. The birth mother pumped milk for Weston. And when he was about 6 months old, she asked the couple, “Would you ever want to do this again?”
By last Thanksgiving, the birth parents were pregnant again. They announced it with a T-shirt for Weston that read, “I’m going to be a big brother,” and a gender reveal at Matt’s surprise 40th birthday party announced the news with a huge pink balloon.
This time, the birth mother invited both Emily and Matt to be present as she labored. “When the midwife said it was time to start pushing, Matt headed for the door,” Emily recalls. “I said, ‘This is it. If you want to see one of our kids be born, this is it.’ He stood behind the curtain but inched his way around.”
This birth was more difficult than the first. “I was sobbing. If I could have taken that pain from her, I would have,” Emily says. “When Hannah popped out, it was this absolute relief. We were complete. And her pain was done.”
There was a time — Emily recalls it vividly — when she sat in the bathroom, weeping over one more failed attempt at conception. “I got very angry at God at one point, thinking ‘Why are you making this so hard for me?’ ”