THE PARENTS: Zakiyyah Wagerle, 42, and Ty Wagerle, 42, of West Chester
THE KIDS: Zoe Tyler Trust, 4: Olivia Gabrielle, 13 months (as of March 20), adopted October 16, 2018
AN ADOPTION REVEAL: The “Big Sister 2018” T-shirt they bought for Zoe to wear to preschool after Olivia was born. “She was so excited, so happy to meet her sister,” Zakiyyah says.
Hurricane Irene scotched their plans for an outdoor wedding. The hotel lost power. Ty flubbed part of his vows, and both forgot the choreography they’d practiced in a couple of hasty dance lessons.
None of that mattered, Zakiyyah says. “We were focused on the ceremony. You could see the rain hitting the windows, but it seemed beautiful: the calm inside with the storm outside.”
They met in 2008, an online “hello” that led to a three-hour phone conversation. The first date — dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, followed by a terrible horror movie called The Eye — segued to baseball games, comedy shows, and concerts. Soon, they had inside jokes, pretending to be telemarketers on the phone, calling each other “sir” and “ma’am.”
On a trip to San Diego in 2010 — both are Phillies fans, and they planned to catch two games against the Padres — Ty figured he’d propose at the top of Mount La Jolla, the start of a bicycle tour on the stunning coast north of the city. But he was too nervous to pop the question in front of other bikers; instead, he suggested a quiet walk on the beach.
“I was completely surprised,” Zakiyyah says. “He dropped on one knee. It was the sweetest moment.”
Zakiyyah remembers fantasizing as a teenager about a “United Nations kind of family, children from all across the world. I always wanted to adopt.” Despite that vision, they tried to conceive. Zakiyyah was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, and a doctor recommended intrauterine inseminations to boost their chances. One round resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. Then they upped the ante to IVF — three unsuccessful rounds.
“Each month, it felt like a huge loss, like a big kick in the gut,” Zakiyyah recalls. As Ty watched his wife ride that sine wave of emotion — hope followed by crushing disappointment — he felt helpless, “like I couldn’t do anything for her.”
In 2013, a surgeon attempted to remove some of the fibroids and delivered grim news: There was no way for an embryo to attach anywhere in Zakiyyah’s womb. If they wanted a child who was genetically related, they would have to use a gestational surrogate.
They tried. Zakiyyah’s mother took hormones to prepare her uterus for pregnancy; one of the couple’s fertilized eggs was transferred, but it didn’t implant. After that, Zakiyyah says, “I had to face the truth. I knew that with adoption, there’s always a baby at the end of that journey.”
As they worked with Open Arms Adoption Network, the couple faced soul-searching questions: Could they parent a baby with a genetic abnormality? How about one whose mother had used drugs or drunk alcohol while pregnant?
“You don’t like to say no to anything, but you have to be realistic,” Ty says. They learned that infants affected by fetal alcohol syndrome often suffer more behavioral and cognitive delays than those whose mothers used other drugs. For many of the questions, their answer was neither a definitive “yes” or “no,” but “willing to consider.”
Their profile book went live. The home study was finished. They waited. Three months later, the agency called about a birth mother who was eight months pregnant; the three met and liked one another. The next call was to meet their daughter at the hospital, where both Ty and Zakiyyah held the baby.
But the birth mother had second thoughts. After a harrowing weekend of waiting, an adoption coordinator phoned again, her voice sober. Zakiyyah dropped the phone and crumpled to her knees in tears.
“Logically, I knew it was going to work out,” says Ty. “But irrationally, I thought: What is happening to us?” A therapist suggested a ritual to put closure on their grief: they bought a cluster of pink balloons and released them in a field near their house.
“It was a way to set the baby free, to say goodbye to her and let her move on to her new family,” Ty says.
A month later, Memorial Day weekend 2014, Zakiyyah called Ty at the gym, crying so hard he thought she was saying, “Our parents.” He panicked: Was someone ill? Then he realized his wife was saying, “We’re parents."
"I went from foreboding to joy in two seconds,” he says. The baby was nine days old, and her parents had already signed papers relinquishing their rights. They met her in the NICU at Jersey City Medical Center, a morsel of an infant who weighed barely five pounds. Her birth mother had named her “Trust,” which seemed to fit; they added “Zoe” and “Tyler,” one name for each of their initials.
Then they bonded — sweet time, at first, then exasperating not to be at home — in a hotel room for 10 days.
They wanted a sibling for Zoe, but they needed time to adjust to parenthood and to recoup the financial hit of fertility treatments and adoption. Zoe was a little older than 2 when they started the process again.
Again, there was a disappointment: a woman pregnant with a boy who sounded positive on the phone then dropped out of touch for a week. She ultimately had the child at home and decided to parent him herself.
In March 2018, the adoption coordinator called: “Guess what?” They could tell by her tone: a baby girl, 9 days old, born in Newark. Her eyes were wide and alert. They nicknamed her “Little Nugget.”
Now, the house feels full, complete. The girls are different — Olivia’s been crawling for a while, though her sister skipped that stage and went straight to walking. Zoe jumps around and makes goofy sounds to entertain her sister, who obliges with hysterical giggles.