THE PARENT: Latisha (Tish) Johnson, 45, of Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Wynn Victoria, 9 months, adopted December 26, 2018
HER NAME: Tish was going to call her daughter “Willa,” a feminized version of her dad’s name, “William,” but at the last minute, opted for the gender-neutral “Wynn.”
It took three months of being an aunt to convince Tish that she was ready to be a mother.
She was in the delivery room when her sister delivered Sydney. Soon, Tish was routinely picking up her niece from day care, babysitting, or taking her to the mall.
“I was very involved with her, helping my sister navigate motherhood,” Tish says. “I was 42. Mr. Right wasn’t here. I thought: What am I waiting for?”
Tish grew up in Downingtown, part of a close-knit foursome — parents who came to every soccer and field hockey game, a sister she considers her best friend. When she was an adolescent, she wished for a younger brother and urged her parents to adopt (they didn’t).
Decades later — after moving to Philadelphia, studying nursing, and becoming a nurse-anesthetist — Tish circled back to the idea of adoption. With her sister in tow, she went to agencies’ open houses. One felt too sterile. Another seemed a bit warmer. Then she tried A Baby Step Adoption: a gathering in the director’s home, with homemade cookies and four social workers eager to answer her questions.
“I was asking, ‘Are there African American children out there? What barriers do I have as a single woman?’ They said there were no barriers. They gave me hope.”
Tish plowed through the paperwork during one long weekend when she was on call at the hospital. She prepared a profile book, her life story in a succinct 15 pages, with photos of her family, her friends, her dogs —Polly, a mixed-breed she’d had for 10 years, and Sebastian, a “gentle giant” of a Shar-Pei who’d recently died.
“My biggest concern was finding someone to help me with child care for 14-hour days,” Tish says. “I knew emotionally I was ready. My home was ready. My parents are retired, so they are there for me. My job was amazingly supportive.”
She was certain she wanted a boy; her extended family already had plenty of girls, and she could picture herself as the mother of a son. But one afternoon, browsing through A Baby Step’s profiles, a description snagged her attention: a 27-year-old African American woman, an artist, 6½ months pregnant with a girl.
“I remember reading it multiple times. I let the idea marinate all day,” Tish says. At home that night, with minutes left before the midnight deadline to submit her response, she clicked “send.” She was at a Chestnut Hill playground with her niece the next day when the social worker called: “The birth mom wants to talk to you.”
Tish felt anxious before the phone call. “But we just took off. We bonded about politics, about life, about movies, about food. We’re both pretty well-educated. Both animal-lovers.” At the end of two hours, the social worker participating in the call said, “Can I confidently say this is a match?”
Another connection came from the birth mother’s own history: She had been adopted and raised by a single African American woman. “She said I reminded her of her mom.”
They spoke regularly on the phone: news from the birth mom’s prenatal appointments, chit-chat about their lives. Then, about a month before the Aug. 31 due date, the woman stopped returning Tish’s texts and calls. That had happened before — the reason was a stolen cell phone — so, initially, Tish didn’t worry. But as one week incommunicado turned into two, then three, she panicked.
“I’d come to the resolution that this was over. I was preparing myself that it wasn’t going to happen.” Then she woke up on Sept. 1 to a text that had arrived at 1 a.m.: “Hi Tish, I’m on my way to the hospital.”
Tish and her sister headed for Jersey City; at one point, they pulled off the turnpike to read the texts that kept buzzing Tish’s phone: her daughter had been born at 8:38 a.m. A few hours later, the sisters walked hand-in-hand into a hospital room.
“Wynn was in the bassinet. We walked in and all of us started crying. I said, ‘Can I hold her?’ She said, ‘She’s yours.’” Later, the birth mom explained her failure to text back during those August weeks: She was struggling with how to tell her own mother about the decision to make an adoption plan; she feared she’d be letting her mother down.
“There was a time when I was really angry with her,” Tish says. “But walking into the hospital, I had to put that aside and learn to love her again. And I do love her. When we were in there, she thanked me. She said, ‘You’re going to raise her and be a good mom to her.’”
Tish remained in Jersey City for three days. It was hard, she says, watching the birth mom nurse Wynn — even though Tish felt strongly that it was best for her daughter’s health to get her biological mother’s colostrum. And she’ll never forget the complicated moment when they left the hospital.
“I have a picture of all of us: my mom and dad with Wynn in her car seat and the birth mom in the background, wiping her tears. It was one of my parents’ happiest days, and one of her saddest days. We just hugged and promised to keep in touch and thanked each other.”