THE PARENTS: Jen Breznicky, 39, and Charlie Breznicky, 38, of Glenside
THE KIDS: Connor Charles, 1; Amelia Rose, 6 months, adopted August 25, 2017
HOW THEY NAMED THEM: "Connor" and "Amelia" were names the couple loved; "Charles" and "Rose" were nods to Charlie's dad (also named Charles) and Jen's mom (Rosalie).
They never did find the tree — the "great beech tree" promised by trail markers in the Wissahickon, where Jen and Charlie were hiking one mild January day. But they did seal their future, right there on a park bench. It was more a conversation than a proposal: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life with me? Because I want to spend it with you."
They'd known each other since middle school: She was the talkative girl, best friends with Charlie's cousin, and he was the boy happy to be holed up in a pal's basement, playing Risk.
When they remet, at a friend's wedding more than a decade after high school, it was easy to dance together and catch up on each other's lives. A few months later, they got together for a midweek dinner, then a family gathering for Jen's grandfather; their third date was at Charlie's sister's wedding.
Soon the pair closed the geographical gap — just three miles between her place in Abington and his in Glenside — when Jen moved in, with her new living room set and her elderly-by-feline-standards cat. They married in 2013, in Jamaica, just before sunset, with 65 friends and relatives surrounding them.
"I was almost 35; I wasn't going to do the big old church wedding with 12 bridesmaids," Jen says. "Why not something a little more relaxing?"
Both wanted kids. And both thought it would be fine to grow their family through conception or adoption. Even in college, Charlie had told buddies about his intention to adopt someday. "I knew there were a lot of kids who needed good homes," he says.
The "natural" route soon became the medical route: fertility medication, consultations with two doctors, a battery of tests. "They try to give you hope," Jen says. "But there was a lot of uncertainty. We could go through the whole process and still not be able to have a child."
At the same time, they gathered information from several adoption agencies. Charlie, a registered nurse and health care consultant, worried about adopting a baby with a hidden genetic disorder; Jen was fearful of a birth mother changing her mind.
The case workers at A Baby Step Adoption helped steady them through the process: a home study, background checks, the creation of a profile book that included a letter to birth mothers who would be reading the book. Jen and Charlie noted their baby would grow up with a close extended family. "We know this isn't an easy decision," they wrote.
They were open to adopting a boy or girl of any ethnicity, even an infant whose birth mother had used drugs or alcohol. An adoption plan — with financial and emotional support for a woman to seek drug treatment or more stable housing — could be a boost for both mother and baby, they thought.
That's why, when the first birth mother to choose them, a woman who already had three children, changed her mind under pressure from the baby's father, the couple felt her loss as well as their own.
"That baby was going to suffer, being her fourth kid, and she could barely survive," Jen says. "I felt like we'd failed at helping her."
Still, the disappointment stung. They packed up the items they'd bought — clothes, car seat, bassinet — and stowed them in a room they rarely entered. "I told my boss, 'I will not be back for a week,' " Charlie says. "We went down the Shore and just spent time with each other, grieving."
They still wanted a child. Both were at work in November 2016 when they got a midday email about a "stork drop" — a baby who'd been born four days earlier and would soon be ready to leave Jefferson Hospital. Jen and Charlie said yes. By 4:30 p.m., they were cradling and diapering their newborn son. "In a matter of four-and-a-half hours, our lives changed forever," Charlie says.
Connor slept through his first night at home, but Jen and Charlie were too buzzed. "What do we do next?" they wondered in the morning. Charlie put on music — it might have been John Legend — and they took turns feeding their tiny son every three hours.
Connor was five months old when they learned that another birth mom had chosen them. She lived on the Kansas-Missouri border and was due on June 17. Or maybe July 8. Or perhaps as early as May 30.
"It was stressful. She had virtually no prenatal care," Jen says. "There were periods of time when she didn't communicate: Was she skipping town? Was she still pregnant? We sent money for her phone and food, but we didn't know if anything was OK."
The call came on June 19: How soon could Jen and Charlie be in Kansas? They flew out the next day — the two of them, along with Jen's mom and Connor — then rented a car for the three-hour drive to the hospital in Wichita.
This time, Charlie held the baby first. "She had these big, bright, blue eyes," he says. Amelia was a hardy, easygoing baby, content to entertain herself, so different from her cuddle-bug of an older brother, who still preferred to sleep in his parents' arms.
Now, it's a strenuous juggling act, with two kids so close in age. Jen recalls one nightmare grocery trip to Giant, with Amelia bundled in a front carrier and an uber-excited Connor in the cart; she tried to steer down the middle of each aisle so he wouldn't grab things from the shelves. It took an hour to buy five items.
But there are placid moments, too, like a recent Sunday, when Charlie was feeding Amelia in a rocker, some classic R&B playing on the speaker, and Connor toddled up to rest his head on his father's leg. "They were calm. I was listening to music. I thought: Yep, this is what I wanted."