Charlotte remembers the occasion as the most awkward first date ever: An Olive Garden in North Jersey, a booth in the back, a "hello" hug that shook with nerves.
And then, lunch with the very pregnant woman whose baby Charlotte and Brian hoped to adopt and raise.
They'd been waiting for this moment -- through a four-year shadow of miscarriages and medications; through a gradual pursuit of open adoption; even through a meeting just like this one, with another nearly due woman who went into labor the next day, then decided to keep her baby.
"I remember the social worker saying she was 'cautiously optimistic,' " Charlotte recalls. "I thought: Is that code for 'This is going to go like the last time?' She said, 'No, I think this is a good situation for you guys.' "
By the end of their Olive Garden lunch, Charlotte and Brian thought so, too. The birth mom talked animatedly about her 2-year-old daughter; she wanted to know what Charlotte and Brian planned to name the baby and was honored that they wanted her to choose the middle name.
It was early April; the baby's due date was the 24th. Charlotte and Brian drove back to Chestnut Hill to wait.
They'd talked for years about having a family -- if not on their first date, a foursome for free tacos at a dive bar in Ann Arbor, Mich., then certainly by their third. Soon they were dating exclusively; then living together in a button-size bungalow; then married, in 2009, on the beach in Truro, Mass., where Charlotte's family had vacationed every summer.
"I wanted to finish my [graduate degree in education] and land wherever we were going to land" before children, Brian says. That moment came in 2010, when he began teaching at the College of New Jersey and the two moved east.
But pregnancy didn't happen as they'd hoped. They endured five miscarriages, countless doctors' appointments and tests. Charlotte stopped attending baby showers. Some friends drifted away, unsure how to respond to her constant sorrow. Their diagnosis -- unexplained infertility -- offered no clue.
"When you love somebody, you want to make a child out of that love together. We felt sad that we weren't going to be able to do that," Charlotte says. "I felt sad that I wouldn't experience pregnancy or breast-feeding."
After they'd attended information sessions and met with a social worker from the Open Arms Adoption Network, they embraced the idea of adoption but still felt anxious about the unknown. "It was clear, early in our research, that responsible agencies promote open adoption," Brian says. "As a social scientist, I responded to that, but on a personal level, what does it mean to have that person in your life?"
One mantra of Open Arms reassured him: "A baby," the social workers kept saying, "can't have too much love in its life."
In preparing the profile book that birth parents would peruse, the two decided to simply be themselves -- no photos of Brian dripping with Eagles gear, because he's not actually much of a football fan. Instead, they included pictures of the niece and nephews who would be their child's cousins.
Six months after "going live" with the profile book, they met with the birth mother who ultimately changed her mind. What surprised Charlotte was that she didn't feel resentful of that choice. "I had compassion for her, empathy for her. I felt like we needed to help her make the right decision."
Nearly 18 months passed before the next call. And two weeks after that Olive Garden lunch, on May 1, they got a text saying Elodie had arrived.
The social worker met them in the lobby of the vast Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. "We came into the room, and she immediately handed me the baby: 'Here's your daughter; she's so beautiful!' " Charlotte recalls. The birth mom coaxed them to unswaddle Elodie and count her toes; Brian just wanted to stare at the baby's ice-blue eyes.
They spent the next 10 days at the hospital -- Elodie was low birth weight and needed to remain in the nursery -- cuddling their daughter in the lactation room's love seat by day and sleeping in a nearby rental house at night. It took five more days for the state-to-state paperwork to clear so they could return to Pennsylvania.
Finally, after a nerve-jangling trip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike -- "I drove more carefully than I've ever driven," Brian says -- they were home. They were parents, complete with sleep deprivation and bottle-feeding and an endless skein of visiting relatives and friends.
It was a sweet arc of summer, with Charlotte on maternity leave and Brian off from teaching: walks and dinners in the neighborhood with Elodie snugged in a front-wrap. "There was a lot of just sitting around looking at her," Brian remembers.
Both noticed subtle shifts in their own gaze. Brian thought about his parents, how he'd taken their affection and support for granted as a child. "I never doubted that my parents loved me, but because of the love I feel for Elodie, I look at it in a new way."
For Charlotte, the journey to parenthood was a tempering one, a reminder of life's thin skin. "When you have a newborn, you're so aware that they're vulnerable, of how much could go wrong. We're lucky that she's happy and healthy."
They won't wait for Elodie to wonder how she came to be their daughter. They've already met with her birth mother several times and will do so again; they hope Elodie will be close with her biological sister. A photograph of Elodie and her birth mother sits prominently in her bedroom.
"We'll tell her what we know about her as she gets older and has questions; she can hopefully ask her birth mom some of those questions herself," Charlotte says. "We tell her all the time that her birth mom loves her. We'll start from there."