Parallel Lives

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Nicole is 16 and pregnant. Otto and Chanda are desperate to adopt a baby. A generation ago their paths might have crossed. Today, it's less likely.

The morning's prenatal visit begins just like all the others: Step on the scale, hold out one arm for the blood pressure cuff, pee into a cup. The nurse-midwife feels Nicole's ankles, makes sure they're not swollen. She wags her finger when she learns that Nicole skipped breakfast and reminds her to eat.

Nicole Bussard's due date was yesterday, so she and Ralph Snyder, the baby's father who's sitting nearby, know that labor could begin any time now. What startles her is the midwife's casual comment: "Forty-one and a half weeks."

"It could be, like, next week," Nicole says, surprised. Only a few days' difference, but for the rest of her appointment, she wears a slightly stunned expression. She's a pretty girl-fringed blue eyes, carefully sculpted brows, brown hair that in a certain light glints slightly from a hair color called Plum. Often serious and levelheaded, Nicole can also sometimes drift wordlessly off into an unreachable place, and this news seems to have sent her there: It's really happening. It's happening soon.

"Wow, one week. I've got one week."

This is the second time that Nicole and Ralph, who were sweethearts in eighth grade and have had an off-and-on relationship ever since, have conceived. The first time, when Nicole was 14, their parents persuaded her to have an abortion. She felt pressured into it, grew depressed and angry afterward.

But this time, she reasons, it's a different story. This time she's 16. She can work, she can drive - this time she can take care of her baby.

People have tried to talk her out of it. Nicole has been getting an earful about placing her baby for adoption. "There are so many people out there who want babies and can't have them," her mother, Lisa Hamilton, herself an adopted child, urged. Many adoption agencies would allow her to choose a family for the baby if she relinquished it. At Adoptions Together in Silver Spring, Maryland, just an hour down the interstate, she would receive counseling and could then look through the photo albums that dozens of would-be adoptive parents have assembled, painstakingly, with a yearning that almost radiates from the page.

But for Nicole, adoption has little appeal. "That wouldn't be the same," she says. "I want to be the one to take care of him, to make sure he gets what he needs and he's happy." She's sure it's a boy.

Otto and Chanda Kern put together their own album for Adoptions Together last spring, just about when Nicole ran out of birth control pills, made an appointment at the county health department to get refills and then-in the intervening two weeks-got pregnant.

Credits: Adoptive Families Magazine

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