Rick Gress is working from home, and we’re talking on the phone.
“Is this a good time?” we ask.
“Somebody’s finally sleeping,” replies Rick, the father of three. “So it’s a very good time.”
Rick and Christine Gress started their life together 26 years ago. Eventually, they became a family of four, with the births of their sons, Tim and TJ, now 19 and 12.
Then came some difficult times.
“Both boys were high-risk pregnancies,” Rick says, “and we had some losses along the way. But we wanted another child, especially Christine.”
Christine began doing the research to find the right adoption agency. Eventually, she found one they felt comfortable with, and together they created an adoption plan.
“It was a long process,” remembers Rick. “We had about three years of taking classes, working with the agency to get our profiles together, being ‘prospective parents.’ There were some ‘almosts,’ but we knew we needed to be patient, to do what was best for us and best for the baby.”
The Gresses joined the tens of thousands of families who adopt each year and face the emotional, financial and practical questions raised by bringing a new child into their household. How long would they wait? How would it affect their work lives? What adoption-related costs would they encounter? What if there was health or other issues?
Rick, a Senior Software Developer at MetLife, says his company’s adoption- friendly culture helped the Gresses “breathe easier.” MetLife has ranked among the Dave Thomas Foundation’s 100 Best Adoption Friendly Workplaces for nine years. It offers employees an Adoptive Assistance Program that provides reimbursement for adoption-related expenses, flexible work arrangements, parental leave coaching, and child-care support and discounts. “The financial assistance helped, of course,” Rick recalls. “But the support of my coworkers, my manager, the company itself. That mattered.”
Suddenly, 18-month Toby is awake.
He giggles in the background as Christine joins Rick on the speaker phone.
“We got the call on Good Friday,” she recounts. “They said the delivery was going to happen in a week and a half. Six days after that, we brought him home.”
Both Rick and Christine are fairly sure why Toby’s biological mother selected them as adoptive parents. “Among other things, she chose us because we were a family that already had kids. She really wanted that,” Christine says. “We were a little unusual,” says Rick, “because we were already a family of four. But that set us apart.”
By the time Toby came home, Tim was on his way to college. But TJ, used to being “the baby” in the family had to make some adjustments. “TJ’s friends tend to be the youngest in their families,” Rick says. “Then all of a sudden, TJ has a little brother.” “I’m still not sure how he feels about that,” jokes Christine. Toby is now known in the neighborhood as “everybody’s little brother.”
Christine tells the story of Toby spending his first three days in an ICU, with her and Rick staying in the hospital along with him. “We were stressed,” she says. “One night I just started crying, wondering what the heck we were doing. Then I saw this little flutter of light — I don’t know what it was. But after that, I knew it was going to be OK. I thought, it’s over. He’s ours.”
At that moment, Toby’s laughs on the phone, and we laugh, too.
“That giggle,” chuckles Rick. “It’s infectious. He’s a happy, happy kid. And so are we.”