THE PARENTS: Keri Schaeffer, 37, and Mike Schaeffer, 41, of Lewes, Delaware
THE KIDS: Joshua Thomas, 12; Hannah Grace, 10; Jackson Gregory, 7 months, adopted April 5, 2019
A DOUBLE MILESTONE: Joshua was born a day before their first anniversary; they sipped wine and watched their wedding video on the hospital room’s black-and-white TV.
The Catholic church required Pre-Cana counseling: Who will manage your family’s finances? Where do you see yourselves 10 years from now? If Mike fell off the roof of a house and became paralyzed, would you still love him?
One question was an easy ask. Both envisioned a family of four. Mike was the youngest of seven kids; Keri was sandwiched between two sisters. Four was a balanced dynamic that, they hoped, wouldn’t result in anyone feeling left out. They were pregnant within a few months of their 2005 wedding.
Except for a halting start — Mike persistently sat in Keri’s section at Whiskey Joe’s, the Delaware restaurant where she had a second job, asking her out for more than a year before she said yes — their relationship had unfolded quickly.
“I knew right away, within weeks,” Keri says, “but Mike was adamant that we needed to date for at least a year” before getting engaged. His mantra was “undyingly, undoubtedly” —meaning that when they did decide to marry, that bond would be forever.
He proposed, they bought a house in Lewes and were married at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church. That morning, he sent flowers with a card that bore her soon-to-be name, Keri Schaeffer. Their first dance — they’d taken rhumba lessons — was to “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5.
“We wanted to be young parents. We started trying right on our honeymoon,” Keri recalls, and soon both were teary-eyed over a table at Fish On, Mike smiling and crying and saying, “It worked.”
Keri gained 80 pounds, developed high blood pressure and kidney problems; still, she loved being pregnant. “There was nothing like feeling another life inside you,” she says. They read books and followed apps on the baby’s development; they prepped a room with a Winnie-the-Pooh theme and painted clouds on the ceiling; they packed a hospital bag two months before the due date.
But the baby was resting on Keri’s kidneys in a way that caused blinding pain; that, combined with a spike in her blood pressure, led to a C-section at 36 weeks. “I remember the doctor pulling him out,” Mike says. “The initial crying. Then I counted fingers and toes.”
After the birth, Keri developed a spinal leak and was in too much pain to sit up. Joshua suffered reflux and needed to be held upright after each feeding. But they wanted a second, preferably close in age.
“I thought something was wrong because it took three months [to conceive] this time,” Keri says. This pregnancy brought nine months of nausea so debilitating that she needed medication. Both worked full-time: Mike for a national homebuilding company and Keri as owner of a physical therapy clinic with three different sites.
Once Hannah was born — three weeks early and two days before Christmas — life grew more hectic. Until the infant was old enough for day care, Keri brought her to work, treating patients, then dashing upstairs to nurse her daughter. “We were both at our limit,” she recalls. “And everything was good with a family of four.”
But in 2015, Keri decided to stop working. “I wanted to have another child,” she says. “I wanted to do everything differently — to be home with them, to not do day care.”
They tried for nine months. She had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured and required emergency surgery. They upped the ante to IVF: six embryo transfers in all, another ectopic pregnancy followed by surgery to remove her fallopian tubes. Two-and-a-half years of expectation and crushed hopes.
“Every time we would transfer an embryo, there was that dreaded two weeks of not knowing,” Keri says. “I was so depressed from the constant negativity.” Finally, after the sixth failed transfer, Keri felt ready to pursue adoption.
“Our goal was to have another child; how important was it that it was a biological child?” she recalls thinking. “At the end of the day, that was not important.”
Once they decided to work with A Baby Step Adoption, the process sped forward: a home study, a profile book, and a match within two months of “going live.” They talked with the birth mother by text and telephone; Keri accompanied her to some prenatal appointments.
“For a time, I was her only support system,” she says. The birth mom, who already had an 8-month-old son, even came to stay with Keri, Mike, and the kids for a week last summer. And when news came that she was headed for the hospital, it was Mike who made the three-and-a-half hour drive to Reading, picked up the birth mother’s son, and drove him to Mike’s parents’ house so they could care for him.
Keri dropped the older kids with friends and sped to the hospital; she got there a few hours before Jackson was born. Since her own births had both been C-sections, “I’d never seen a vaginal delivery. It was awesome to be there and experience it.” The baby’s first footprints were taken in the birth mother’s room; then the hospital gave Keri a room next door. She’d managed to induce lactation by taking hormones and using a breast pump for several months, so she was able to nurse her just-born son.
Still, there were tense moments. “As soon as she delivered, she broke down and said, ‘I cannot give you this kid after going through this,’ ” Keri recalls. “I walked out of the room. But five minutes later, she said, ‘Where did Keri go?’ She ended up coming around.”