The Parent Trip: Ginny Kleinert and Erika Lopez of Haddon Township

by Anndee Hochman, For The Inquirer

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-3-54-12-pmTHE PARENTS: Ginny Kleinert, 42, and Erika Lopez, 41, of Haddon Township

THE KIDS: Evan Angel and Easton Ashe, 8 ½ months, adopted Sept. 7, 2016

THE THEME OF THEIR BABY SHOWER, attended by friends, relatives and their entire softball team: Dr. Seuss, with — naturally — Thing 1 and Thing 2 as a recurring motif.

The event wasn’t billed as a coming-out party. But after dating secretly for a year, Ginny and Erika decided to spill the news at a farewell fest for a mutual friend who was moving to Greece.

“We took aside a few of our closest friends and said, ‘Hey, we just want to share with you that we are dating,’ ” Ginny recalls. “Everyone was like, ‘OK.’ “

Telling family members felt more treacherous – but the response, on both sides, was warm. Ginny’s mother said, “We knew there was something different about you,” and Erika’s mother, who lived in a nursing home, slipped a photo of the couple into a small purse she wore around her neck.

Each was the other’s first girlfriend – an “instant connection,” Ginny says, made during a night of clubbing in South Beach. Erika, who had been living in Florida, soon moved back to the Philly area, taking a room in the Skippack house where Ginny lived with friends.

The next milestone was an apartment of their own on Spring Garden Street. They quenched their travel thirst with trips to Mexico, the Bahamas, Key West, Las Vegas and Athens, where that mutual friend was living. Ginny still remembers a glimpse of little white houses terraced on an island they approached by ferry. “It was picture-perfect.”

Back home, they nursed their own fantasy: What if they got pregnant at the same time, each woman gestating the other’s fertilized egg? Ginny’s grandmother had had twins, and family lore held that multiple births would skip a generation. Ginny believed she would be the one.

She was so convinced, in fact, that she stored her grandmother’s rocker, a chair with scrolled arms worn down from cradling five children and 20 grandchildren, in her shed.

In pursuit of parenthood, the women had moved to Haddon Township – a house with space to garden, in a solid public school system, and, to their delighted surprise, in the midst of a thriving lesbian and gay community; five other same-sex couples live on their block.

Financial realities soon scotched their dream of swapping eggs for simultaneous pregnancies – that would have been treated as surrogacy by their insurance company – so they perused catalogs of donor sperm and decided Ginny, who had longed for pregnancy, would be the one to carry.

They wanted a donor with Latino roots – Erika is Puerto Rican and Colombian – and found a Peruvian man so “perfect” they kept his baby pictures on their refrigerator. Ginny became pregnant on the second try – “wow, that was easy,” she recalls thinking – only to learn, at seven weeks, that her hormone levels were sinking, a sign of an “unlocated pregnancy” that was unsafe to continue.

“It was devastating – the opposite of anything we’d planned,” she says.

They tried five more times, using the same donor’s sperm . . . until the day they contacted the sperm bank to order more and learned the supply was gone. Three rounds with a second donor, then two rounds with a third: 11 tries over nearly four years.

“The doctors would say, ‘Everything is perfect.’ There wasn’t a medical issue,” Ginny says. “Every try cost thousands of dollars, and that was part of the stress every time it didn’t work.”

Finally, they needed a break. They joined a softball league and threw themselves into the game: the camaraderie and the physical joy, a release from years of hormone-amped anticipation and anxiety.

Then they talked with a lesbian couple who had adopted through the Open Arms Adoption Network; within days, they’d plunged into the process, spending every evening filling out background checks, writing autobiographical statements, and seeking references from coworkers and friends.

They hoped for twin boys with Hispanic heritage. Agency staff chuckled at that: Open Arms hadn’t facilitated an adoption of twins in five years. “Don’t get your hearts set on that,” Ginny remembers them saying.

It was a Sunday in February, just days after their home study, when the social worker called. Ginny and Erika could barely absorb her news through the buzz in their ears: A preterm birth. A baby that weighed only 1.9 pounds. Puerto Rican. Oh, and there were two of them. Twins.“I remember holding onto Erika, and I started crying,” Ginny says. Her partner, in contrast, remained calm and sure: “These are the boys for us.”

They believed that even more emphatically when they saw the babies the next morning, in the NICU of the Jersey City Medical Center. With their eyes closed and their tiny bodies tethered to machines, they looked more like tadpoles than infants. For four days, they’d been “Baby A” and “Baby B.” Now they had names – Evan and Easton, with middle names that start with A, an initial they share with their birth mother. “We wanted to honor her,” Ginny says.

For 7½ weeks, while Erika worked, Ginny – who was serendipitously between jobs then – drove every day to Jersey City to hold each baby for an hour and get updates from a team of neonatologists. She won’t forget those moments: how nurses had to unleash each infant from his monitors before placing him on Ginny’s bare chest; how the baby would seem to melt toward her heartbeat, soothed by the warmth of her skin.

And neither will forget another indelible moment – after they brought their five-pound sons home, after the first tense nights, when they set their alarms to ring every 45 minutes so they could make sure the boys were still breathing, after the rocking chair came out of storage – when they stood before a Camden judge and officially became a family.

To celebrate, they took Evan and Easton to Asbury Park, where they’d often sought respite and comfort during the hard years of trying to conceive. Back then, they’d sit on a bench and watch the ocean rise and crash. “I’d dream: Someday, I’ll bring my son or daughter here,” Ginny says. “And we did.”


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