THE PARENTS: Kristie McCourt, 36, and Mike McCourt, 41, of Haverford
THE KIDS: Mackenzie Patrice, 18; Tiana Marie, 5 months, adopted December 27, 2017
AN EARLY "YOU'VE GOT ME" MOMENT: When Mike called the day after their first date to say, "My sister told me I should wait a certain number of days before calling, but I don't play games."
Maybe the universe was giving them a message.
By the summer of 2017, Kristie and Mike had experienced three miscarriages, along with several rounds of failed fertility treatments — intrauterine inseminations and hormone injections. A doctor had pronounced Kristie's ovaries "odd-shaped" or "irregular" — they can't recall the exact word, but it wasn't good news — and predicted low odds of a successful pregnancy.
They attempted to adopt a baby from Nicaragua, but several years into the process, that country changed its policies, prohibiting adoptions to U.S. couples who were neither Nicaraguan citizens nor had a permanent residence there.
Meanwhile, they acquired a dog, a schnoodle named Snoop, and a teenager, Mike's daughter from a previous relationship, who decided at age 13 that she wanted to leave her mother's home in Texas and live with the couple full-time.
Finally, they turned to domestic adoption. They matched quickly, but six weeks before the baby was due, the birth mother changed her mind and decided she wanted to parent.
On an anniversary trip last August to St. Michaels, Md., Kristie and Mike pondered a different kind of future. If they didn't have a baby, perhaps they'd buy a vacation condo in that waterfront town; once Mackenzie left for college in fall 2018, they'd be free to travel.
"We thought, 'We've put five or six years into this kid-journey. Maybe that was enough,' " Mike says.
"If this isn't meant to be, then what?" Kristie wondered.
A month later, she got a jolting answer: a positive pregnancy test. And shortly after that, she found herself accompanying a birth mother — a woman who'd chosen Kristie and Mike to parent her baby — to her final ultrasound appointment.
The take-home? "You can't make this stuff up," Kristie says. "You could never in a million years predict this."
Their first meeting was planned happenstance: Mike's roommate, who worked with Kristie in the Colonial School District, knew she would be at Flanigan's Boathouse in Conshohocken that night and persuaded Mike to go to happy hour.
"I remember his roommate coming to me later, like a middle-schooler, and saying, 'My friend wants your number,' " Kristie says.
After that, it took Mike three attempts to snag a date. Kristie had slipped on spilled milk in a supermarket, banged up her knee, and was hitching around on crutches; she didn't want to hobble through their first encounter.
"I cancelled on him three times," she recalls. But once they did go out, both sensed a magnetism from their contrasting traits: Mike is more extroverted, while Kristie is a quiet thinker. She cooks; he's adept with a budget. He's a neat-freak, wanting objects in their proper place; her housekeeping is more laissez-faire.
Mackenzie was 5 at the time, and Mike felt sure enough about this relationship to introduce Kristie to his daughter — something he'd never done with a girlfriend. "I showed up with a lollipop bigger than her head," Kristie recalls. "I remember thinking she had a natural connection to children," Mike says. "That made me think of her differently."
He proposed at home, with the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere" playing in the background. They married in 2008; outside the Northeast Philadelphia union hall where they held their reception, a giant sign congratulated the plumber of the year.
Mike hoped for a passel of kids; Kristie wasn't sure she even wanted to be pregnant. The miscarriages tested both of them — she tended to withdraw, while Mike threw himself into work — and Mackenzie's move to live with them, in 2013, jostled the couple into new roles.
"I had been less the disciplinarian and more the fun dad," Mike says, but that changed when he was no longer the weekends-and-summers parent, needing to remind Mackenzie about chores, homework, and bedtime. Kristie, meanwhile, struggled to discern her role as a stepparent, "trying to be supportive without stepping on toes."
Initially, Mike was leery of open adoption, but Kristie gradually convinced him that such arrangements were best for children. And when she found herself pregnant (despite the fertility doctor's prediction) in the midst of working with A Baby Step, the couple decided to remain in the adoption process, even though it might mean having "unofficial twins."
Kristie met their daughter's birth mom for the first time at the woman's final prenatal appointment. She recalls a nervous "hi" and the awkwardness of accompanying a stranger in such a vulnerable moment. "I was definitely scared and unsure of what to expect," she says.
Because of the past miscarriages, neither she nor Mike trusted that her pregnancy would endure. They didn't share the news with family, or with case workers at A Baby Step, until the beginning of the second trimester. The baby — a boy, they learned — is due in May.
Both were in the delivery room the day Tiana was born. Kristie cut the umbilical cord. Mike remembers an infant with huge eyes, staring at everyone as though to say: "I'm here. What do you have for me?"
Kristie, an inveterate researcher, did her homework about "unofficial twins." But in the end, it was instinct that told the couple this path would somehow work. "I'd come to a point where I was comfortable with pursuing adoption and knowing I was pregnant at the same time."
Still, there are times when the prospect of two children, born six months apart, feels overwhelming. "We'll see what happens when one's waking the other up in the middle of the night," Mike laughs.
For the moment — at least, until she graduates from Haverford High School in June — they have help from Mackenzie, the household's designated "baby whisperer." She even told her psychology teacher she was suffering "postpartum depression" — meaning she loved Tiana so much she didn't want to leave her to go to school.