"Caught on Camera"

Have you ever been at a baby shower where they play a home video of the mother-to-be surprising her partner with news of her pregnancy? As we grappled with infertility, my wife and I hated those videos, even as we desperately hoped for one of our own.

the moment this dad learned about a surprise adoption match was caught on home video

My wife, Laurie, and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what to watch once the kids have gone to bed, but we typically agree on America’s Funniest Home Videos. We have both always loved watching AFV. We’re often especially amused by the TV guide synopsis—“A finicky poodle gets freaked out by piñata” … “Grandpas versus trampolines”—and share a look that says, This oughta be good.

But there’s one type of video that always takes us out of the episode: “Young husband finds out he’s going to be a dad.” The video may feature a woman handing her husband a greeting card. He pulls out a sonogram picture, and cries uncontrollably. Or the husband unwraps a gift to find a little onesie that reads, “Daddy’s Girl,” is obviously confused, and asks, “What’s this for?”


Off the Script

Laurie and I understand that these videos are funny to most people, but we can’t laugh because we’ve never been able to get pregnant. We’ve been married for almost 15 years, and we’ve never been close. What’s especially hurtful is knowing that Laurie was meant to be a mom. When we first met, she had just finished a Bachelor’s degree in childhood development and was working full-time as a nanny. From there, our life went according to plan: get married, buy a house, get a dog, then get off birth control. So the next step was supposed to be “get pregnant.” This script was working out for all of our friends. We went to countless baby showers where we watched countless videos capturing the expectant mother surprising her husband with the news.

We’d been actively trying for a year and a half when Laurie said, “I think something is wrong.” So we saw a couple doctors who couldn’t diagnose anything, and referred us to infertility doctors who also couldn’t diagnose anything but suggested we proceed with treatments. After several years and invasive procedures, we had nothing to show but some pretty heavy medical debt. Meanwhile, we went to more baby showers and watched more home videos of dads learning the happy news.

At one of these baby showers, we met a couple who were foster parents. They told us how the cost to adopt from foster care compared to adopting through an agency. So we got certified and became foster parents. We soon learned that CPS comes with its own element of surprise: A caseworker would call and say, “We have a two-year-old Hispanic girl named Maria who needs a home.” Then, an hour later, we’d get another call from a different caseworker telling us, “Actually, it’s a six-month-old biracial boy named Marcus.” This may not have been what we expected, but that’s how our son Isaac came home. We got a call about a 16-month-old boy who’d been in foster care for almost a year, then one week later he was home. We may have missed videotaping the call, but we got lots of videos of his first day, his first meal with us, and his first bath.

We wanted to become parents again, but none of the other foster-to-adopt placements worked out. After we said goodbye one too many times, the heartbreak took its toll, and we decided to adopt through a private agency. In domestic adoption, the first semi-good news typically comes when the agency calls and says, “We have an expectant mom who wants to look at your profile.” The expectant mom will also be looking at several other profiles, so the adoptive parents stay cautiously optimistic. Then the agency calls to tell you either that she chose you or that she chose someone else. Our daughter’s birth mom chose us a few weeks before her due date. We met her a couple of days later, when she told us, “I haven’t named her yet, because she’s your daughter and you should name her. And you should both be at the hospital in the delivery room when she’s born.” Then she looked at me and said, “You should cut the cord.”

Laurie and I left the meeting in tears. “Why didn’t we get any of that on video!?”

We do have several treasured videos of Vivianna just minutes after being born, Vivi being held by Laurie, Vivi being held by me, Vivi being held by Laurie again.



For a couple of years, we were a family of four. We made lots of home videos of the kids at Christmas, birthdays, and vacations. Then we wanted to become parents again, so we began the process of adopting through our agency. A few days after our first payment cleared, CPS called and informed us that Isaac had a biological younger brother who had gone into foster care. “Would you be interested in being a kinship placement?” they asked. A few weeks later, Jayden came home.

We didn’t know what to do about the adoption agency. It didn’t feel right to let go of that money. Soon enough, however, we were so focused on bonding with Jayden that we all but forgot about it until, nine months later, we got a phone call from the agency: An expectant mom wanted to look at our profile. “She’s pregnant with a boy,” the caseworker told us, “and she’s due in three weeks.” We said, “Sure, she can look at our profile,” but neither of us gave the call a second thought. “We already have three kids,” we told each other. “It just doesn’t seem likely that she’ll choose us.” This was on a Friday.

The following Monday, I got home from work and the kids rushed me as I walked in. They always do this, shouting over one another, “Daddy, look at my dress!” and “Daddy, watch a show with us!” That day, I remember having to go to the bathroom. Bad. I’d been driving in rush hour traffic and couldn’t stand up straight.

“It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” the kids were shouting.

What’s a girl?” I asked, as I tried to get around them.

I noticed Isaac was wearing a “Big Brother” shirt and Vivi was wearing a “Big Sister” shirt, and I said, “That’s nice. You got new shirts.” But then I noticed that baby Jayden was also wearing a shirt that said, “Big Brother.” That’s when I paused and gave Laurie a funny look. She handed me a little pink gift bag. I pulled out a card, but it was clear that I wasn’t registering what I read amidst all that was going on, so Laurie said, “The expectant mom chose us.”

“Wow. That’s exciting,” I said calmly. “Well, we have three weeks to prepare.”

Then Laurie said, “And she was born yesterday.”

“Oh, she…wait, what?!” And my smile turned to shock.

And the reason I know all these details is because Laurie was videotaping. At that moment, she held up the camcorder to show me that we now had our very own surprise video.

That night, there was no need to have any discussion about what to watch. Over and over again we replayed the video documenting how I found out Jasmine was going to be our daughter. As the years have passed, it remains one of our most cherished memories. And it’s one we’ll certainly never forget, because it was caught on camera.


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