THE PARENTS: Rebecca Brumble, 35, and Eric Brumble, 47, of Essington
THE KIDS: Olivia Anne, 4
Kennedy Jordyn Faith, 5 months, adopted Sept. 11, 2019
SIGNS OF CONTINUITY: A friend illustrated lines from their wedding readings — quotes from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories — that now hang in the nursery.
Never mind the camouflage pants and the combat boots. Never mind that the hotel restaurant required men to wear jackets. Eric walked in after driving from Boston to Philadelphia — he’d been summoned by Rebecca’s boss to help with the production of her internet radio show — and sparks danced in both directions.
“It was one of those things where you look across the room and think, ‘I want to know that person.’ Something about them seems captivating and interesting,” Rebecca recalls of that day in October 2011.
“The fireworks were there,” Eric agrees.
He came back two weeks later for a Rebecca-directed tour of Philly on a frosty Halloween weekend. Their first date was to Eastern State Penitentiary; they also tramped through a nearly empty Philadelphia Zoo in snow and ice.
Four months later, Eric packed his Honda Civic, and the two moved in together — first, to Rebecca’s Upper Darby townhouse and, later, to a home in Essington. They married in 2013, in front of a lit-up carousel at the Please Touch Museum, a ceremony that included those excerpts from Milne’s stories.
Rebecca’s Italian family is enormous — 48 people typically crowd the table at Christmas — and she used to tell her mother that she planned to have six boys.
“For the longest time,” Eric says, “I never wanted kids. I looked at it as a lot of responsibility, and I can barely take care of myself. I met Rebecca when I was 39. I thought: At this point, I’m not having kids. But Rebecca turned that around. It took a little mental wrangling — a matter of saying, ‘It’s OK to be well into my retirement when my daughters go to college.’ ”
They agreed that sooner was better, so when conception didn’t happen, they turned to adoption rather than to fertility treatment. “We thought: We can put all our money into medical testing, or we can put it into adoption,” Rebecca says. “And there are kids out there who need us.”
Still, they were full of questions: What would the adoption journey be like, emotionally? Would they feel attached to a baby right away? How would they explain open adoption to their hypothetical children?
They signed with an agency in November 2014: parenting classes, a home study, a sea of paperwork including tax records and leases for every apartment either had lived in for the past five years. They made a profile book that included descriptions of what each loved about the other: Eric’s Boston accent, Rebecca’s obsession with history and museums.
They’d been waiting for six months when the phone call came: a “stork drop,” agency lingo for emergency placement of a baby who had already been born. Olivia was eight days old, in the NICU at Jefferson University Hospital being treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome. “The social worker rambled off a whole bunch of information and all I heard was, ‘You have a baby girl,’ ” Rebecca says.
They spent the weekend racing to get baby gear. On Monday morning, they met their daughter. “All you could see was a nose, a shock of black hair. She was all swaddled up. I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to touch her,” Rebecca remembers.
The two spent the next month taking shifts in the NICU — Rebecca worked overnight so she could be at the hospital during the day, then Eric would sit vigil from 5 to 11 p.m. They held Olivia as she cried, moaned, and sometimes convulsed from withdrawal.
“I could put her head in the palm of my hand; her feet didn’t even reach my elbow,” Eric remembers. “We’d just hold her and say, ‘It’s OK. Daddy’s here. Mommy’s here.’ ”
They brought Olivia home the day before her one-month birthday. Suddenly, it was just the three of them: no wires, no feeding tubes, no nurses. Rebecca felt hypervigilant at first about the baby’s health. But gradually, they relaxed into parenthood. At age 3, when some of Olivia’s friends began talking about little brothers and sisters, she began to ask, “Where’s my baby?” The couple contacted A Baby Step Adoption and started the process again.
After two failed matches — one birth mother decided she wanted to parent, while another chose them, then stopped communicating with the agency — they were matched with a woman in Arizona; she was five months pregnant and committed to an adoption plan.
Every weekend, Rebecca and Eric tackled their lists: get baby clothes down from the attic; reattach the rail to the crib; fix the backyard fence. “It’s anxiety-inducing,” Eric says. “You want to jump up and down, but you have three months where you can’t do anything. You prepare for the baby, but the baby’s not here.”
The birth mother was due on June 18; on the 8th, they got a call: “When can you get here?” She was scheduled for a C-section on the 12th.
The night before the birth, Rebecca and Eric met the birth mother and birth father for dinner. A few minutes of stilted chitchat soon gave way to common ground — sports, hot rod cars, parenting — and questions. The birth parents were curious about Rebecca’s and Eric’s families, about how they spent weekends with Olivia. So they described trips to Sesame Place and the Ventnor shore.
They met Kennedy moments after her birth: a chubby-cheeked infant with startling blue eyes. She, too, was withdrawing from in-utero drug exposure, and remained in the hospital for 15 days. Finally, they brought her home; a photo captures Kennedy sound asleep on her first cross-country trip, clouds framed behind her in the airplane’s window.
And then, a moment of fusion — a moment, Rebecca says, that counterbalanced every month of waiting, every sheet of adoption paperwork. There was Olivia — eyes wide, mouth agape — asking, “Is she real? Can I touch her?” as she reached toward her baby sister.