THE PARENTS: Christina Mosteller, 33, and Roger Mosteller, 40, of Pennington, N.J.
THE CHILD: Isabella Rose, 8 months, adopted Aug. 23, 2019
THEIR ENGAGEMENT STORY: Roger had planned to propose at the top of the lighthouse in Cape May, but when they arrived, Christina developed a sudden terror of heights. He chose a marshy overlook instead.
Roger knew Christina’s decision-making mode: “Jump on board! Let’s do it.”
It happened with their engagement: Christina showed friends photos of a ring she loved and told them, “If he asks, this is what I want.”
It happened with the kittens: They’d agreed to rescue a cat, but Christina read that two kittens would play together and be less lonely, so she announced one day, “I’m going to get them.” Them? he thought.
It even happened with the house: Christina learned that neighbors were going to move and that the asking price had dropped into their range. She came home with the news: “Let’s buy a house!”
But where children were concerned, if Christina had her foot on the accelerator, Roger was determined to apply the brakes. Her enthusiasm for adoption was no secret; she was adopted herself, from El Salvador, and had always figured on building a family the same way.
“I always knew I wanted to have kids at some point in my life,” Roger says. “But it was hard for me to think about adoption. I got scared. I didn’t know what to expect. It was … the unknown. Not knowing much about the birth parents, their history. That unexpected feeling.”
Christina’s own history helped ease those worries. “I come from a very loving adoptive family,” she says. “I came over with three parasites in my gut. If they hadn’t adopted me, I don’t know how it would have panned out. There’s so much [my parents] gave to me: traveling, education, support, good memories. I could never repay my parents. But it made me want to give back.”
Roger knew all that. He also wanted to try having kids the conventional way, just like all the cousins in his large extended family. So, after their 2014 wedding, they agreed to pursue both avenues at once.
They’d met on the tennis courts at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), where Roger transferred after four years in the Marines and a year at community college. When he visited the school during Christina’s freshman year, “he had a super-low haircut because he was pretty fresh from the Marines. He was big and bulky. And he was so nice. I had a huge crush on him when he first came.”
But it wasn’t until the summer after sophomore year, when both taught tennis at a club in South Jersey, that they became close. Their first phone call lasted three hours. Their first date, at the Olive Garden — the tennis team’s go-to spot — was the start of constant companionship. A year after graduation, they were living together, somehow finding concord between Christina’s “organized mess” and Roger’s military precision.
They got the kittens — the one already named Bandit and the one Roger refused to call Butterball (now Bagheera, the name of the black panther from The Jungle Book). They got engaged on an overlook in Cape May; at their wedding, the “first look” photos were snapped on the tennis courts at TCNJ.
They tried to conceive, without success, so Christina began pushing the adoption path. They considered an international adoption, perhaps even a child from El Salvador, but learned they would be unlikely to adopt an infant that way.
Then Christina went to an information session for A Baby Step Adoption. “They took our feelings and insecurities into account,” she says, and explained each step of the process: the profile book, the emails describing birth parents’ situations, the timeline, the costs.
“I was like, ‘Sure, let’s go!’" Christina says. “I know Roger questioned whether he would connect [with an adopted child], but I didn’t question it.”
Late in 2017, they matched: a birth mother who was pregnant with a boy. They even spoke with her on the phone. “But there was something pulling at our hearts that this was not the right situation for us. The birth mother had been on methadone. It’s not terrible, but it’s something that’s an unknown,” Christina says. Sorrowfully, they said no to the match.
About four months later, they were matched again: This time, a birth mom in Las Vegas, due in October 2018. They were poised to get plane tickets when the agency called: The birth mother had changed her mind. “It was a big emotional hit,” Christina recalls.
Last Thanksgiving, they were matched once more. The baby — a girl — was due in February. They talked on the phone with the birth mother, and Christina met her for lunch; she seemed outgoing, healthy, and committed to an adoption plan.
“All of December and the beginning of January was a huge rush to get everything we needed: bassinet, clothing, car seat, formula,” Christina says. A friend had already helped her paint the nursery an ombre of blues, reminiscent of the sea or the sky.
On a Friday in mid-January, the birth mother phoned: She was heading to the hospital for an induction. Christina, who teaches middle-school health and physical education, waved down a colleague across a crowded cafeteria: “She called!”
Christina explained to her students — they’d just been studying pregnancy, birth and adoption — that she wouldn’t be back at school until April. That night — what she and Roger figured would be their last solid night of sleep for a while — she remained awake, phone by her side.
The text came on Saturday evening: “She’s pushing.” They drove to Capital Health Regional Medical Center and sprinted across the parking lot. When they entered the room, Isabella was already there, a 6-pound, 2-ounce infant with a full head of hair. Roger cut the umbilical cord.