When the baby came, no one was ready. Not the birth mother, who was still three weeks out from her C-section date. And certainly not the adoptive parents, Kris Hoogerhyde and Nate Matthisen, who had crossed their fingers and picked out a name for their baby boy—Dashiell, Dash for short—but who knew that nothing was certain, and had barely a car seat prepped for his arrival. The patent irony was that Kris and Nate had been working towards Dash’s appearance for more than five years.
Kris, 45, is the founder and owner of Bi-Rite Creamery, and Nate, also 45, is a bartender at Charles Phan’s flagship restaurant The Slanted Door. They had spent more than three years in the fertility spin cycle, trying to get pregnant on their own before Kris went on fertility meds for about a year and a half (Nate also had a small procedure). They were interested in adopting, even if they were able to have their own, and were considering in vitro fertilization. “But when we went to the fertility doctor to talk about IVF, one of the first things he did was put down the idea of adopting, “ Nate says. “He talked about the problems associated with it, and said it’s not that easy—he made it seem really hard. But when we looked at the science of in vitro, that wasn’t necessarily any easier,” he says.
Following the disheartening fertility clinic visits, the couple turned to Independent Adoption Center in Concord, Calif., two years ago. “I’ve never been one of those women who felt I had to be pregnant,” Kris says. “I just wanted a family. And I was on lots of fertility drugs at the time, so I was like ‘Yay! Let’s do it!’”
The couple opted for an open adoption, in which both the biological and adoptive families possess each other’s personal information and the option to initiate contact. The agency helped Kris and Nate build a massive profile that might appeal to possible birth mothers, including information about their backgrounds and finances as well as their fingerprints, letters of recommendation and a “Dear Birth Mother Letter” selling themselves and their lifestyle.
It was an overwhelming amount of information to put on display, and Kris and Nate crafted their profile in the knowledge that the smallest detail of their lives could mean success or failure in attracting a birth mother. “You never know what that may be. It takes a lot of patience and strength to not go crazy obsessing over every detail,” Kris says. “I had my good days and some bad ones too. It’s a rabbit hole that is not fun to go down.”
They promoted themselves on adoption web sites, posting photos and using family and friends to spread the word on their search. And then they waited. For more than a year and a half, the couple received no inquiries save one, from a woman who emotionally conned them into developing a relationship while having no intention of becoming a birth mother. Kris says it’s a common type of scam in the adoption world—lonely people just wanting to talk. “I felt very taken advantage of,” Kris says. “I was telling her things about our struggle to get pregnant that I wouldn’t normally tell anyone.” So even as they doubled down on the self-promotion—putting themselves on more websites, using any in-person connections they could—they prepared for the possibility that an adoption might not work out. “I was in the mindset that it would never happen,” Kris says. “You don’t prepare yourself for anything, because you don’t know how long it could be. You could be staring at an empty nursery for years.”
But then they matched with a potential birth mother, an older woman with several children who wasn’t equipped to handle another child. They spoke on the phone and met in person soon afterwards. “We were all a little shy,” says Nate of their first meeting. “We had lunch with her and some of her family, and her sister talked more than she did.” The couple met with their birth mother several more times during the pregnancy, taking her to doctor’s appointments and running errands and growing more comfortable with one another. Throughout, says Nate, “She was always laser focused on Dash being adopted by us.”
Yet when the baby finally came, early and unexpected, no one was all that well prepared. Kris had just gotten home from work, and both she and Nate had been fielding calls throughout the day from the birth mother, who was feeling unwell. At 5 p.m., a call came in from an unknown number: “You need to get in the car right now.” A relative of their child’s birth mother was letting them know that, due to high blood pressure, the birthmother was being prepped for a C-section three weeks ahead of schedule in a Sacramento hospital. Their baby was coming now.
Scrambling to get on the road to Sacramento at the onset of weekday rush hour, Kris and Nate panicked. “We didn’t have anything ready,” Kris says. “Our friends had given us a crib, but it was broken down in the closet. We had a car seat that we had bought the day before on a whim, but that was it.” They wasted precious minutes struggling to install the car seat before giving up and hitting the highway, and started receiving text photos of their son while still in the car. They made it to the hospital 45 minutes after Dash was born.
“We were the first to hold him,” Kris says. “We were right there, in the room where he was born. It was such an amazing experience.”
To both friends and strangers, Kris and Nate are disarmingly open when talking about their struggle to build a family—sharing stories of uncertainty, hopelessness, and, ultimately, elation. And Dash’s presence seems inevitable today as his parents delight in each new facial expression and personality trait. “He’s got a great smile, and he’s really goofy,” Nate says. “And all that stuff that I thought was going to be really hard—all the diapers and getting up in the middle of the night—has actually been a real joy,” he says.
Kris and Nate are leaving it up to Dash’s birth mother to initiate in-person contact, but send her photo updates and hope Dash will know his birth family. And on the topic of adopting again, they are hesitant. “It’s a long process,” Kris says. “I don’t know if it’s in me to do it again.” Adds Nate, “We’re getting a bit older. So I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We never know.”
Following her four-month maternity leave, Kris is easing back into her job at Bi-Rite, and Nate will continue to work a weekly schedule of two lunch shifts and two dinner shifts at Slanted Door. The fact that Dash is adopted, and so doesn’t breastfeed, makes feedings a breeze, says Nate, “It’s all bottles, so it’s really easy.” He’ll get home from a dinner shift around midnight and let his wife sleep while he takes care of Dash’s late-night bottle, then Kris handles the morning feeding around 5 or 6 a.m. The handoffs work well so far, but the couple isn’t sure how they’ll negotiate things once Kris is working normal hours again. “I think I have blinders on about that fact that I’ll be going back fulltime,” she says. “Not to mention the impossibility of leaving him. He’s just so cute.”