THE PARENTS: Candice Gallagher, 32, and Mike Gallagher, 35, of Shillington
THE KIDS: Chance Michael, 6; Quinn Melinda, 7 months, adopted December 26, 2018
HOW THEY ANNOUNCED THE FIRST PREGNANCY: It was at Mike’s parents’ annual Christmas party, and his mother was so ecstatic with the news that she rang a giant cowbell to get guests’ attention; afterward were Irish whiskey shots for everyone but Candice.
After the first failed adoption, just before Christmas 2017, Candice and Mike explained to Chance that his sibling wasn’t ready yet. The second time a birth mom had a change of heart — with the due date so near that Candice had already tossed in a load of laundry, preparing to pack for Arizona — they didn’t even tell their son.
But the third disappointment was the most wrenching. Candice had been in the delivery room during the birth mother’s C-section; she, Mike and even Chance had held the infant. But birth mothers in Pennsylvania have 30 days in which to change their minds, and it happened again, on the day they were to bring the baby home.
“It was like he had passed away, for us; he was there, and then he wasn’t,” Candice says. “When Chance was at school, I would fall apart, cry and mourn.”
Although Mike is usually the calm counterweight to his wife’s intense emotions, he felt rattled, too. “There was always a little bit of hope, but after every [failure], it dwindled down. Weeks after, Chance would continue to say, ‘When’s my baby brother coming home?’ As much as it hurt me, it was harder to see him struggling.”
The two don’t recall a specific conversation about kids when they were dating, just the certainty that they wanted at least two. They’d known each other since high school, when Mike was the shy, just-transferred-in junior and Candice was the gregarious ninth grader who carried a bag polka-dotted with patches from travel soccer tournaments.
They ran into each other a few years later at an AT&T store, and Mike used the then-fledgling Facebook app to ask her out. When Candice’s mom inquired about the date, her daughter said, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” This was the boy, she recalled, who never just brushed by classmates in the high school corridor; he always stopped to talk. Now, he was the man who waited, idling his car’s engine, until she was safely inside the house.
They married in 2011, with a friend ordained for the occasion and the surprise visit of a bagpiper who offered tunes and an Irish blessing. Mike’s brothers initiated Candice into the family by making her hoist a stuffed lobster from a cooler (she was relieved it wasn’t a live one) as a nod to the clan’s annual Maine vacations.
Eight months after the wedding, Candice shook Mike awake at 6 o’clock one morning. The line on the pregnancy test was faint, but a clinic visit a few days later confirmed the news. “I called Mike, sobbing hysterically, trying to put it into words: I’m pregnant.”
Mostly, Candice remembers the fatigue, so enveloping she would sometimes fall asleep at dinner, with a plate still on her lap. She stockpiled shampoo, deodorant and other essentials, fearing she’d never be able to leave the house to go shopping with an infant.
After an induction at Reading Hospital — she was one week overdue — and a few scary moments when the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating enough to alarm the doctor, Chance arrived, a 7-pound, 12-ounce baby born at 12:07 p.m. “I remember I was looking at him and said to Mike, ‘Look what we created,’” Candice says.
For the most part, Chance was an easy baby — a sound sleeper, a hearty eater — though he hated the monster costume his parents bought for his first Halloween. They were busy with work and content with parenthood; it wasn’t until Candice had a miscarriage in early 2016 that both realized how much they yearned for a second child.
When she visited the doctor after the miscarriage, the doctor delivered a grim bulletin: Candice had cervical cancer. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m so young. I have my son. I can’t leave him without a mommy.’” She had a hysterectomy, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation.
She often parented from the couch, reading and doing tic-tac-toe games with Chance. “He could tell I was in pain, that there was something wrong. One day he said, ‘Mommy, if you don’t like your doctor, you can come to my doctor. He’s really nice.’ He was always so eager to help.”
Candice, fiercely independent, learned to ask for and accept help: the nightly meals delivered by friends, the rides to and from appointments. A year after her diagnosis, they were ready to pursue adoption. “We both have siblings,” Candice says, “and we never wanted Chance not to have his special person.”
But each failure seemed to shrink that possibility. “It was emotionally terrifying and difficult,” she says. “You put yourself out there with people, then beat yourself up a little when it falls apart.”
About a month after the third disappointment, Candice was driving home from work when a caseworker from A Baby Step Adoption called: It was a “stork drop,” agency terminology for a sudden adoption plan from a woman who’d already given birth. A girl. And the birth mom had chosen them.
Within hours, they’d tossed baby gear in the car, arranged child care, and were headed to Phoenixville Hospital to meet their daughter. “She had this little smirk on her face, cute little rosy cheeks,” Candice recalls. “Once I saw her, this calm came over me. I was picturing everything I was going to do with her: getting manicures, watching her play sports.”
When Chance first saw his sister, he walked over and stroked her cheek. Now he’s the one — the only one — who can reliably make Quinn smile for pictures.