THE PARENTS: Brian Collins, 38, and Fred Cusick Jr., 44, of Passyunk Square
THE CHILD: Lincoln Matthew, 1; adopted April 13, 2018
A FUNNY-IN-RETROSPECT STORY: Just before climbing into the car to drive to the hospital, Fred stepped in a pile of dog droppings. In the hospital parking lot, he stomped in puddles while Brian tossed smelly floor mats into the car trunk. “It was fate, making us stop and laugh,” he says.
They’d been on this path before. Twice, Fred and Brian had been matched with a birth mother who planned to relinquish her baby for adoption. Twice — the first time a month before the woman’s due date, and the second time as the men were packing to head to the hospital for the birth — the mothers changed their minds.
“When you get the news that it won’t be happening, that the child’s not going to be yours, it stings,” Brian says. “The floor falls out from under you, and you’re just standing there.”
The two leaned on each other for ballast and half-joked that there should be a support group for prospective adoptive parents, a place to share the herky-jerky emotions that come with the ride.
This third time, all signs pointed toward parenthood. They met the birth mom when she was six months pregnant: the three of them, plus two friends she’d brought for support, chatted nervously at a restaurant in King of Prussia.
Afterward, they kept in touch via text and e-mail. She said she wanted them to be at the birth. As her due date drew closer, Fred leaped for his phone each time it buzzed, even when the screen flashed “unknown number.”
“Every time, my heart would stop,” he says. “Some numbers would be geographically near where the hospital was … but it would be somebody offering me car insurance.”
Finally, on a chilly November morning — they’d raised one last “here comes parenthood” toast the night before — they packed their bags, sent their dachshund, Susie, to Fred’s parents’ house and headed northwest to meet their son.
Both men wanted kids, and adoption made sense; surrogacy was wildly expensive, and asking a friend to carry their baby would introduce the complication of another adult into their family. “We knew we could be a home for a child that needed one,” Fred says.
They’d been together since 2007, ever since locking eyes across a crowded bar at the Tavern on Camac. Fred sleuthed out Brian’s MySpace profile, and their first date, at Tria, set the framework for every anniversary to follow: They order the stuffed figs, some flatbreads, the white bean/asparagus salad, and a turkey sandwich. They share everything.
It’s the sort of ritual they adore, like their habit of wandering Fifth Avenue in New York at Christmastime, ogling the extravagant store windows. They were paused in front of the Cartier store in 2008 when Fred proffered a large red box. Inside was a set of keys. “I’d like you to move in with me,” he said, and other window-shoppers, thinking it was a marriage proposal, broke into cheers.
The “forever” proposal came later — it was Brian who asked, this time, the morning after the 2013 Broad Street Run, which the two had finished hand-in-hand. Fred was on the couch, watching The Golden Girls and nursing his sore calves, when a character on the show began proposing to his boyfriend.
“I was going to propose later in the day, at dinner with his parents,” Brian says. “But that episode came on, and I thought: This is a perfect opportunity.” Marriage equality hadn’t yet come to Pennsylvania, so the men planned a legal ceremony in Rehoboth Beach, Del. But the law changed in 2014; they were married in October of that year, a 175-person wedding on a crystalline fall day. They walked from their Old City condo to the Down Town Club, taking photos on the way.
They got serious about adoption about a year and a half later, working first with an adoption consultant who was a longtime friend of Fred’s, and then with A Baby Step Adoption. But after two disappointments — and one very awkward baby shower, during which Fred and Brian knew the birth mother had backed out, but their friends and family did not — they felt cautious.
“We had that apprehension that she could change her mind at any time,” Brian says. “Not until we walked into the hospital did I feel those fears melt away a little bit.” The birth mother’s induction began at 7 a.m. Twelve hours later, she was fully dilated. “The doctor barely had his gloves on,” Brian remembers. “Two good pushes,” says Fred, “and he was in the world, ready to go.”
The moments after that were a mind-bending blur: Someone handed Brian a pair of surgical shears to cut the cord; someone else ushered the three to another room, where they cradled their baby skin-to-skin.
Fred, a former pediatric nurse who’s now a systems analyst supervisor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, felt comfortable with infant care. But Brian, a CPA, had never changed a diaper, never fed a newborn. He held the baby as though he were a tray of crystal water glasses. He watched the hospital’s educational videos and took tips — “here’s how to do a perfect swaddle” — from Fred.
At this point, both call themselves “Daddy” — they’ll let their son decide how, or whether, to differentiate them — but they note contrasts in their child-care styles. Fred tends to sing and bounce and interact constantly with Lincoln; Brian is more apt to stand back and watch their son explore.
Core values unite them: wanting to carry on cherished childhood traditions, such as dressing up for Halloween. Wanting Lincoln to know he is loved by aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins…and by his birth mother, who gave them a handmade dream catcher at the hospital. “It’s right next to his crib,” Brian says, “so her spirit, what she did, what she made for him, is near him.”
The men say 2017 — their year of waiting to adopt — was the longest 12 months of their lives, like an amusement park ride’s sluggish upward crawl. And then came the stomach-lurching curve when Lincoln entered the world.