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Published December 24, 2013, 04:51 PM

After years of hoping, New Year’s Eve email leads to baby for Moorhead couple

MOORHEAD - The email came when they least expected it. It was Dec. 31, 2012. Erick and Nicky Nelson were heading to Moorhead following Christmas vacation with Erick’s mom in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa. They were exhausted after the holidays, and Erick was battling a bad case of the flu.

By: Tammy Swift, INFORUM

MOORHEAD - The email came when they least expected it.

It was Dec. 31, 2012. Erick and Nicky Nelson were heading to Moorhead following Christmas vacation with Erick’s mom in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa. They were exhausted after the holidays, and Erick was battling a bad case of the flu.

Then Nicky’s phone beeped. It was an email from a 19-year-old woman in Minneapolis. She told them she was pregnant and had noticed their story on parentprofiles.com, a national adoption website to connect birth parents with prospective parents.

“I am due June 24. I read your profile and (am) still looking but I read that you two love to do things outdoors, which is a huge requirement for my boyfriend and (me). I sent my cell number but I’d prefer if you texted me please.”

At that point, the Moorhead couple had been trying to adopt a baby for 2½ years. They had been featured in two Forum stories after resorting to public “outreach” methods – ranging from social media to window slicks on their vehicles – to find an interested birth mother. In the fall of 2012, their search took a nightmarish turn when a woman lured them to another state to adopt twin babies who possibly didn’t even exist.

Although devastated by that experience, the Nelsons had continued on with their lives. By that Christmas, Nicky decided she would return to college in January 2013 to earn her registered nurse degree. They both had begun to think that, despite all of their efforts, maybe they weren’t meant to have children.

Then the text came, holding all the promise of new beginnings one would expect from a message arriving on New Year’s Eve.

A search goes public

For as long as they were together, the Nelsons had wanted kids. They were in their 30s, and had a stable home life and good jobs – Nicky as an obstetrics licensed practical nurse, Erick as a retail sales supervisor. But they also knew they couldn’t have children the traditional way. Nicky has a genetic condition called premature ovarian failure, which required a hysterectomy in 2005.

They began working on an adoption plan with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota in the summer of 2010. Initially, the couple tried traditional avenues – being listed on the LSS adoption website and “the book,” a catalog that birth parents peruse to help find the ideal adoptive family for their children.

But after a year went by with no nibbles, their LSS social worker, Vicki Haugen, encouraged them to use more public methods to attract birth parents. It’s a national trend for prospective parents to be more aggressive in wooing the ever-dwindling pool of birth parents who wish to make adoption plans, Haugen says.

Although the reserved Midwesterners initially balked at making their search so public, they also worried they only had so much time left before they were no longer young enough to adopt a newborn.

And so they agreed to try more proactive methods, such as leaving “Looking to adopt” business cards in mall restrooms, posting a video on Youtube and displaying fliers on public bulletin boards. They also maintained a Facebook page, built an adoption-minded website and listed themselves on a national website for interested prospective parents, www.parentprofiles.com

The decision to cast a wider net yielded more results, but it also took them on unpredictable, sometimes painful detours.

That included the episode in late autumn of 2012 in which a woman spotted the couple on parentprofiles.com, claimed she was about to give birth to twins and asked them to travel to Des Moines to begin adoption arrangements. They made the trip, only to discover she was a no-show scam artist who had neither given birth at the hospital she listed nor worked with the adoption agency she’d allegedly contacted.

After the incident they call “the Iowa fiasco,” the Nelsons began to wonder if adoption simply wouldn’t work for them. Together, they agreed if they didn’t receive any legitimate leads by their wedding anniversary in April 2013, they would give up. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

Hope on New Year’s Eve

Then Natalia and Chris entered their lives. Natalia had been adopted herself as a young child in Peru. Now she was a hard-working high school senior who had always dreamed of going to college to become an environmental biologist. She was dating her steady boyfriend, Chris, when she found out she was pregnant. Both knew they weren’t ready to start a family.

“If they had been four or five years older, they would have made amazing parents,” Nicky says.

After Natalia sent that first message, a texting relationship ensued. Nicky felt an immediate connection with the young woman. So much so that, when another birth mom contacted them just days after Natalia did, Nicky couldn’t consider another option.

“We just knew Natalia was it,” she says.

In the past, their adoption journey had been fraught with unpredictability and disappointment. But their interactions with Natalia seemed so easy and natural – as if it was all meant to be. In their first face-to-face meeting in the Twin Cities, Natalia’s adoption social worker had to leave early. It didn’t matter, Nicky says. They felt so comfortable with each other that they didn’t need a third party to break the ice.

The Nelsons never doubted Natalia’s commitment to the adoption. They were there for her first ultrasound on Feb. 7. They met both Chris’ and Natalia’s parents and were greeted with open arms. They bought maternity clothes for her and even went bowling together.

Everything went smoothly until Natalia’s actual delivery. Her water broke at 11 p.m. June 19. A full day later, she still hadn’t given birth. The young woman was given antibiotics for a uterine infection.

Finally, a baby girl was born on June 21. As Natalia had wanted it, Nicky was right there in the delivery room. Ainsleigh was a strapping 8-pound, 4-ounce baby with big cheeks and loads of black hair.

But she also bore the after-effects of her birth mom’s infection. Her heart was beating, but she couldn’t breathe alone. She ranked a feeble 2 out of 10 on the all-important APGAR scores, the immediate post-delivery assessment that determines a newborn’s health. She spent a few days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

The little girl soon rallied. The Nelsons took her home, and found themselves experiencing that universal “new parent” fear of caring for a tiny, new, completely helpless human being.

As important adoption deadlines approached – the 10-day waiting period after the birth, the legal termination of parental rights – they felt the same twinges of anxiety that any potential parents might experience. But Natalia and Chris seemed committed to follow through. On July 9 – 10 business days after Ainsleigh’s birth – Natalia sent them a message.

“Congratulations on your new daughter,” it read.

And baby makes three

Christmas is always a big occasion at the Nelson house. It’s Erick’s favorite holiday, so they always put up a big tree, hang lots of lights and arrange an elaborate village of collectible holiday houses atop the kitchen cabinets. This year, there aren’t many gifts under the tree, and neither Erick nor Nicky seem to mind a wink. Their gift is 6-month-old Ainsleigh, who sports cocoa-brown eyes, an impressive head of hair and a cherub’s grin.

The couple beams with happiness as they show off Ainsleigh’s perfectly appointed brown-and-pink nursery. Erick feeds and holds his daughter with the confidence of a seasoned pro. The couple shares the shorthand language known only to parents: “Do you want the pink thing?” Erick asks, referring to some mystery piece of baby equipment. They good-naturedly banter over whose turn it is to change the baby.

They have maintained their strong relationship with Natalia, Chris and their families. The birth parents’ families attended her baptism and periodically ask for new photos of the little girl. Upon noticing that Natalia often wore a white flower in her hair, Nicky arranged to have Ainsleigh wear a white flower for her own baby photos. She then gave the flower to Natalia as a memento.

Erick and Nicky sometimes wondered how their own parents would react to their new granddaughter. They were especially curious about how Nicky’s dad felt, as he didn’t say much during the adoption process.

They needn’t have worried. A week after Ainsleigh came home, Nicky’s usually reserved father held his granddaughter and announced: “I didn’t know it was possible to love someone who isn’t your biological child so much.”

The Nelsons didn’t know it was possible either.

Three-and-a-half years after their journey started, they finally have a child. It feels right, like a family should.

“I can’t imagine life without her,” Nicky says. “At all.”