THE PARENTS: Shantra Rogers, 39, and Richard Rogers, 39, of Oxford
THE KIDS: Adelaide, 18; Trinity, 15; Levi, 14; Selah, 12; Zion, 8; Eden, 7; Faith, 7; Cambria, 6; Emma, 5; Amelia, 21 months, adopted October 27, 2016
FAVORITE FAMILY ACTIVITY: A "people-pile" on the couch, Richard says, "just to connect and remind each other, 'We're in this together.'"
To an outsider, it seemed incomprehensible: a woman who already had seven children - four of them adopted, three of whom had special needs - and who was pregnant with twins she was carrying as a gestational surrogate, driving alone to Orlando to adopt a 3-year-old with a serious heart condition.
But to Shantra and Richard, the trip made perfect sense.
Their relationship had always defied logic, from the moment they met in a St. Petersburg coffeehouse, became engaged 15 days later, and married - once in a Florida state park with Richard's family, then three months after that at a friend's farm in Chester County.
"I remember looking back and thinking: I'm so glad to get this day out of the way," Shantra says. "Now I get to live the rest of my life."
She had made it clear to Richard that life would include children. A lot of children. "I wanted a large family. My parents were foster parents, and both of my sisters were adopted. And he was on board with it."
Within four months of their marriage, Shantra was pregnant. That baby, Trinity, was 17 months old when brother Levi arrived. And Levi was still a toddler when their second daughter, Selah, came along. Shantra remembers chasing three little kids around their stamp-size Sharon Hill rowhouse, tearfully clocking the minutes until Richard would come home from work. "We were completely overwhelmed. We were done. Richard had a vasectomy at that point."
But the dream of foster care and adoption remained. When Selah was 3, the couple took foster-parenting classes and completed a home study. Within days, Shantra was at Temple University Hospital, picking up a 5-pound infant girl. "I said, 'OK, God, you need to guide my hand. Give me the strength to walk however you want me to walk.' That started our foster process."
The baby eventually went back to her biological mother - "that broke my heart," Shantra says - but by then, the couple had Zion, a 3-month-old who barely responded for most of his first year. "He didn't turn his head. He didn't cry. Doctors said, 'He's been through some sort of trauma.' Then one day, my dad yelled for something, and his head turned to the side. That was the day Zion woke up."
Next was Eden, a baby born premature with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Shortly afterward, the couple learned that Zion's mother, who was in prison, had had a baby girl. Once again, Shantra found herself at a hospital picking up another infant.
"Here I was, with three infants again. Life was crazy, our house was crazy," she says. By then, the family had moved to Oxford, where they converted a third floor into a loft, built a huge addition, and turned a Victorian living room into a medical nursery.
Other people looked askance. "Here I am, pretty young, and I've got between three and six kids with me, and half of them are biracial or African American. I remember going to use clothing vouchers for one of the kids, and somebody making a comment like, 'There are my tax dollars going to waste.' I thought: If you only knew."
Once they'd opened the door to children with special needs, there was no reason to close it. "I use the word compelled a lot when it comes to my children," Richard says. "I've had several friends tell me flat out that I'm crazy. But there are a host of kids who have special needs, and they just keep getting passed over and passed over because someone isn't willing to sacrifice a little bit more."
Each time the couple contemplated another child, they would sit the older kids down for a family meeting. "We have an inventory: Where's everybody at? How's everyone doing?" Shantra says. "My kids have a lot of compassion. When they see a need, when they see injustice in the world, they want to make it right."
They said yes to Emma, a fragile preemie whose birth mom begged Shantra, "Please tell me you're not changing your mind." For months, Shantra and Richard took turns visiting Emma at Hershey Medical Center, watching her defy a cascade of life-threatening crises: heart surgery, an infection, a fever of 104.
Sometimes, Shantra prayed for the baby's survival. "Sometimes, I'd come up when the doctors stopped working on her and say, 'If you're tired of fighting, it's OK. You can let go.' And it wasn't her time.'"
After Emma was Cambria, the baby Shantra fetched from Florida. Then they adopted an older child, a 15-year-old from China who had spina bifida and whose first adoption placement wasn't working out.
A friend who worked with Special Angels Adoption called about an infant with a congenital heart defect that would require surgery; the birth mother was just 17. "Her biggest fear is that no one will love her baby," the friend told Shantra.
The couple squeezed a third crib into their nursery.
Shantra is the full-time parent, the one who shuttles the kids to medical appointments and keeps track of the staggering paperwork for their schools, at-home nurses, and insurance companies. Richard, who works for his father-in-law's remodeling company, is the family cook.
"I'll come home and help the kids do vocabulary in the kitchen while I'm cooking supper," he says. "This one's on her laptop; this one's trying not to color on the wall. . . . I've learned that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was - not physically but emotionally, spiritually."
There are days, Shantra says, when one child has a medical setback and another is haunted by nightmares, when she's struggling with a teenager or rushing a toddler to the hospital, days "when I just want to lock myself in the bathroom. . . . Then there is that moment when God says, 'I'm going to shine a little bit of light so you have an idea where you're going.' "