Roman Gokhman remembers the day clearly. He and wife Jennifer were painting a wall in their Concord, Calif. home in preparation for the birth of their first child when he received an email from a young woman in Michigan.
She explained she was expecting a healthy baby girl, and thought Roman and Jennifer would be good parents for the child she was carrying after reading their profile on an adoption website.
Roman began pacing back and forth. Were they prepared to welcome two infants within weeks of each other? Within a couple of hours, they had decided: yes.
Roman and Jennifer, who met in a journalism class at the University of Oregon in 2002, married four years later with the expectation of having children and showing them the world. But fertility struggles put them on a path to parenthood led them to not one, but two babies arriving within weeks of each other.
Now both 40, Roman, who works in health media and writes about music, and Jennifer, who works in editing and marketing, spoke to PEOPLE about becoming parents to their seven-year-old children: son August, conceived through in-vitro fertilization, and daughter Isabel, welcomed via adoption.
Jennifer: Our story began with news that it was very unlikely we could conceive a child on our own. We looked into our options and initially decided that medical intervention was too expensive.
Listen below to Me Becoming Mom to hear Jillian Michaels’ adoption journey and her unique road to motherhood.
Both of us had been interested in adoption. I always wanted to adopt a child and have a biological child. After signing up with the agency in early 2013, we were told that it could take an average of 15 months to be contacted by a birthmother, so we figured it would take years.
Roman: We started the adoption process, and we (specifically me) got impatient, so we started the IVF process at about the same time.
Jennifer: We met with a fertility doctor. Our only option was IVF, and we had a 30 percent chance that I could get pregnant. With those odds, we figured it wouldn’t happen — but I became pregnant in October 2013.
Two months later, on Christmas day, we were contacted by a birth mom who chose us to be the parents of her child.
November is National Adoption Month, and PEOPLE is celebrating by highlighting the many extraordinary ways families can grow via adoption, featuring real stories from celebrities, everyday parents and adoptees, as well as information on the varied ways to adopt. For more heartwarming, heartbreaking and happy-ending stories, visit our Adoption page.
Roman: For us, adoption was never a backup plan. We wanted to adopt. There’s no lesser meaning to an adopted child than a biological one.
Jennifer: We talked to our birth mom on the phone, made connections with adoption agencies in Michigan, and eventually visited our birth mom and her grandma a month and a half before the baby was due.
Roman: Our timing was extremely difficult. Isabel ended up coming first, and then we had August seven weeks after that.
We had our bags packed, ready to go, but the birth mom’s C-section kept getting delayed. Then it was scheduled. We got a flight but missed the birth by about 20 minutes. We were speeding all the way through Michigan. We are lucky we didn’t get pulled over.
Jennifer: We arrived in Michigan on April 29, 2014 and drove from Grand Rapids to Midland. When the nurses wheeled Isabel into our hospital room, my first thought was, “I can’t believe this is really happening!” And my second — and Roman’s first thought — was, “She’s beautiful. I love her.”
I was 33 weeks pregnant at the time. My husband and I had taken the newborn care class a couple weeks prior to our trip to Michigan for our adoption.
We stayed with friends in Michigan for three weeks and returned home just before my flight cutoff date [due to my pregnancy].
Isabel was an easy baby who slept a lot at night. As my own due date grew closer, I began to worry about adding another baby.
Our son August was born June 24, 2014. He was a more challenging baby.
Roman: Isabel was a good sleeper. August was not. What we always tell each other privately is that if August had come first, it would have been a lot scarier for us because we would have expected that Isabel would have been as difficult.
Jennifer: As soon as he was born, the doctor recommended that we see a geneticist. We were able to see that he was meeting his milestones much later than his sister, and we eventually signed up with the Regional Center of California to get occupational and speech therapy.
He was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and a half years old.
Jennifer: August and Isabel are a great sibling team. August has learned a lot from his slightly older sister. They care about each other and play together. They have the usual sibling squabbles, and they have the amazing ability to make giant messes together.
Roman: Isabel knows how to work with his emotions. For example, August was having a tantrum this morning, and it was Isabel who could calm him down. She sat with him on his bed, played with him and now they are watching TV together.
Jennifer: Taking care of “twins” has required strength and patience. We are thankful for our children, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We have kept in touch with Isabel’s birth mom since Isabel was born. We have kept Isabel informed about her adoption in age-appropriate ways and let her know that more people love her than she realizes.
Roman: August and Isabel are their own kids, their own people. Their likes are different and their interests are different.
My passion is to expose them to as much of the world as possible and I hope that August, with his special needs, will learn more about the world by experiencing it. We are going to South Africa next summer.
Jennifer: Somebody made a remark to me. They said, You’re gonna love your biological child a little bit more than your adopted child. And I thought to myself, I don’t think so.
And the truth is it’s not that way at all. They’re each unique and they’re equally loved.