"An 18-year-old girl walks into a Methodist hospital in Philadelphia and she says, 'I'm pregnant.' And she literally almost delivers me in the elevator. As she's going to the hospital, she tells the nurses and everybody else that she wants to put the baby up for adoption, and that she doesn't want to see the baby, she can't see the baby. She's with her mother. And her mom is surprised that she's pregnant, she literally just learned that day, that she's pregnant. She hid me from her parents and her sister for the entire pregnancy."
Dennis Gerber, 37, is telling me the story of his birth.
While Gerber's mother was giving birth, there was a couple in town -- the people who would become his parents. "They were down in Philadelphia staying at my aunt and uncle's house." His uncle was an OB-GYN and was helping Gerber's future parents connect with a fertility expert. That was the plan, anyway, before the uncle's practice partner delivered Dennis.
"He told my uncle about this baby who was just born. The mother wants to put him up for adoption." He immediately called home and asked: "Dennis and Marianne, would you like to adopt a baby?"
Before they bothered to ask a single detail about the child, they said yes. They found a lawyer through other family connections and within three days, they were parents.
They had no idea it was going to go so quickly and really did nothing to prepare for it. Back home in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, they lived in modest quarters. "All of my grandparents lived there. Our house was like the demilitarized zone," Gerber jokes about Sicilians and Germans living together. On the day of the adoption, Gerber's new parents pretended to go to work when they were actually going to the hospital. The birth mother "was about to leave the hospital, and she handed me to the attorney, and then the attorney took me out the doors and handed me to my parents. And my parents were able to bring me home that day."
Having no car seat, the new parents used a large wicker basket, lining it with blankets to bring him home.
By the time they got back, there were upwards of 200 people in the house -- an impromptu baby shower. In three hours, they had a painted bedroom, a crib all set up, and toys.
After Gerber came into their lives, they were able to have two biological children. Two years after his birth, his brother was born. Gerber is living, breathing thanksgiving. A few years ago, he even threw a party for birth mothers through an organization called Brave Love.
Since then, he's thanked his birth mother.
When Pennsylvania opened up its adoption records, a neighbor told him about it. He had never really thought to search for his birth mother. But he'd long had a recurring dream. "Me walking up the stairs, and there's my birth mother, and I don't know what she looks like. I don't know if she's OK or anything. It wasn't quite fearful, it was -- it was just nagging." Right before Christmas last year, he got a letter in the mail with the name of his birth mother. He and his wife, Elise, of course Googled her, and found her on Facebook.
Gerber ended up meeting both his birth parents. For the first time, he saw someone who shared his DNA. For the first time, he would thank his birth mother in person for the incredible gift of his life -- including his adoptive parents.
"She loved me so much that she knew that she could give me the best option, the best life," he tells me about his birth mother.
I ask him what he wants birth mothers to know and he says: "You're just multiplying grace, and you're multiplying love.
"Your decision can change the lives of so many people. You make a husband and wife parents. You make siblings. You make houses whole. You make spouses find each other. You make more life. It's this multiplying factor of grace." Parents who give their children up for adoption take something "people see as a mistake or violence or something horrible that happened to somebody, and turn it into something just amazing."
In a season of thanksgiving and gifts, Gerber has had the best, and gives the rest of us the gift of a reminder to cherish life and love, including in the most intimate sacrifices.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org