THE PARENTS: Tiffany Guerreiro, 30, and Gregg Guerreiro, of Souderton
THE CHILDREN: Alice, 6; Belle, 5; and Gracen, 4, all adopted Sept. 19, 2019; Everest, 2
A MEMORABLE MOMENT: When Gracen, fiercely independent even as a toddler, called Tiffany “Mama” for the first time.
Even before their first date — an Italian restaurant, where Gregg brought yellow roses and Tiffany splashed red sauce all over her shirt — the two wrote letters to each other confiding their mutual attraction.
He was a good listener with a solid work ethic; she had a winning smile and a dedication to other people. Both loved skiing, snowmobiling, and mountain-biking. They’d known each other practically all their lives, since Tiffany was 7 and Gregg, then 12, became best friends with her brother.
The first summer they dated, Gregg was driving home one day and heard a song on the radio by Steven Curtis Chapman, a contemporary Christian songwriter who adopted three girls from China: “When love takes you home and says you belong here. …”
Gregg told Tiffany about his reaction. “I feel like God wants me to adopt. Is that something you’ve ever thought about before?” Tiffany nearly wept. “I’ve been thinking about it for 10 years,” she said.
When Tiffany was a child — the middle of seven siblings — her family welcomed foster children, young refugees from Sudan, pregnant women who were making adoption plans for their babies, people who needed a refuge.
“I had that culture in my home of welcoming people who could be family but were not related biologically. It was part of our heartbeat for many years,” she says.
The couple married in 2009: a winter wedding featuring homemade soups, apple crisp, and a hot chocolate bar, 12 months after their leap-year-day engagement. At one point, the couple paused for a moment on the second-story loft of their reception venue, a historic barn in Dublin, Pa. “We had two minutes of quiet, looking out over the reception hall with all the people who love us,” Gregg recalls.
Over the next eight years, Tiffany built a practice as a nutritional therapist; Gregg worked in insurance. They researched adoption and learned that sibling groups and “older” children — those over age 2 — had a hard time finding permanent homes. “That really hit our hearts,” Gregg says.
The agency they chose, Bethany Christian Services, required 24 hours of training, including sessions on neurobiology and the impact of early childhood neglect. They learned that separation from biological parents, even if those parents aren’t able to meet a child’s needs, is always a traumatic event.
“It takes the heroism out of adoption,” says Tiffany. “Adoptive parents may think, ‘Oh, I’m rescuing them.’ But that’s not it. They just have needs that are not being met, that you can meet.”
One day they read a description of three sisters — aged 3, 2, and 14 months — on the state adoption network’s website. “I just felt like these are our little people,” Tiffany says. The girls were in two different foster homes, the older two separated from their younger sister, and case workers wanted them to be together.
Tiffany and Gregg drove to Somerset for an interview. On the way home, Tiffany started vomiting: car sickness, she figured. But a pregnancy test the next morning said otherwise — a surprise, since she’d been diagnosed with infertility early in their marriage.
Case workers said the pregnancy wouldn’t change their eligibility to foster the three girls. So, for the next five months, the couple drove their Honda minivan every other weekend to Pittsburgh to fetch the girls for a four-day visit.
The first trip was strangely smooth: the girls were happy with stickers and books and a stop at Chick-fil-A, bedtime with songs, and teeth-brushing. “It was this weird feeling: nice and cozy but also … we have three strangers in our house,” Tiffany recalls. “We didn’t know what their needs were, what their personalities were.”
As their relationship with the girls grew, so did Tiffany’s belly; the girls would lift her shirt and blow kisses to “Baby G” or suggest books to read to their unborn sibling. “We talked about how Baby G would come into the world, how there would be bear hugs around my belly and it would get tight and a little painful,” Tiffany says.
In the fall of 2017, a judge decided the girls could move in permanently with Tiffany and Gregg and changed their goal from reunification to adoption, a shift that surprised Tiffany with its swirl of relief and sorrow. Adoption meant a rupture for the girls’ biological parents, a loss for the foster families who had nurtured them. “We were all crying,” she says.
Two months later, after going outside with Gregg to gaze at the full moon, Tiffany felt decisive contractions, different from the every-20-minutes variety she’d had previously. She labored in a rocker from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. Everest was born, at home, at 6:10. Tiffany remembers reaching down to kiss his head, then watching the baby open his eyes, arch his back, and gaze at Gregg.
“If you ask Alice, Belle, and Gracen how babies are born, they say, ‘You go to sleep, then you wake up and you meet your brother,’ ” Tiffany said with a laugh.
Now, with four children close in age, the hardest part of parenting is the endless need. “No one can do anything for themselves. I have to help with socks and shoes and hair and clothes and food.”
A “slow Sunday” may be upended because one child decides to plug the sink and play in water. Getting all four kids out of the house is a monumental task. But then they pile into the van for a camping trip or a drive to Vermont, and some tiny “aha” — a child blissfully covered in mud or chasing a tadpole — makes the effort worthwhile.