A love story

Toddler Phebe Leeds Southwell Bates. Photo courtesy of Nancy Rogers
Toddler Phebe was all dressed up for tea time in this photo, used in a 1991 ad for the Edgartown shop, Tashtego. Photos courtesy of Nancy Rogers

By Wendy Arnell Brophy - March 9, 2006

"I don't know what it's like not to be adopted. My parents told me I was adopted ever since I can remember, from day two I think," said 15-year-old Phebe Leeds Southwell Bates, daughter of Nancy Rogers and Eric Bates of West Tisbury.

The way people parent, the way they perceive of how to handle the weighty question of "Do you tell your child from the beginning, or do you wait to tell her that she was adopted?" never really entered into Phebe's life.

Nancy and Eric knew right from the beginning that upfront honesty, caring from the heart, and love were going to be the keynotes in raising their daughter, and with her it has worked wonderfully well. There has been no crisis of Phebe's feeling alone in the world, no fear that she would be abandoned, two issues that can be a problem in the eight-to-ten-year-old age range in adopted children. Phebe knew from the get-go she was adopted and more than that, that her adopted parents wanted her, chose her.

Nancy Rogers and Phebe Leeds Southwell Bates in the judge's chambers at the Edgartown Courthouse. Photo courtesy of Nancy Rogers
Nancy and Phebe in the judge's chambers at the Edgartown Courthouse on July 17, 1991, the day the adoption became final.

Getting started, switching gears
Nancy and Eric met while they both worked at South Mountain in those halcyon days of the late eighties. Their wedding was a lovely, bucolic Island affair, the filtered fall sunlight turning the day into a series of sepia photomontages. It was a joyous celebration with food constantly arriving from the kitchen, music, and lots of laughter. Nancy wore a white Victorian dress with a wreath of flowers in her hair and Eric was in his suit with a boutonnière. It was an idyllic beginning to a new life with the hope of children to come. But things don't always go as planned.

"One in seven couples in the United States is infertile," said Eric, "We had plumbing issues."

"No, we didn't," countered Nancy. "The plumbing was fine, it's that I went through an early menopause."

Nancy had gone to a couple of different doctors, including one in Boston who was an infertility specialist. She was given megadoses of fertility drugs with all the deleterious side effects.

After a certain amount of time her physician determined that it was not possible for Nancy to conceive; there simply were no eggs left. After receiving this devastating news, the couple shed some tears. But while still in Boston they decided to look for adoption agencies in the phone book and see if that was an alternative path for them.

They had previously talked about adoption, but had kept hoping for a biological child. Now, that was no longer an option. Their goal was to have a child, and they went to work to achieve that aim within 24 hours of finding out there was no chance of conceiving. Making things work was, and continues to be, their MO.

The search was on
They went to the first agency they called, and as it turned out that was the one they used in adopting Phebe. It was not all that simple, of course, there were reams of forms to be filled out. After the initial interview they put the questionnaire aside - it was just too daunting. But when the agency called and said they had several infants who were in need of homes, Nancy and Eric pulled out the papers and began the arduous task of filling them out, going to interviews, getting character reference letters. They took photos to be submitted to the birth mothers, and they had many meetings with Island social worker Deb Withers to determine if they would be fit parents.

Both Nancy and Eric wanted an infant. "The thought of trying to fix what someone else had broken was just too much for us," Eric said. If they had not wanted an infant, or if they could have waited five or so years, they might have gone through Catholic Services, one of many places they checked out. The expense is minimal by comparison to using a private agency. If it hadn't been for an anonymous loan, they could not have afforded all the costs involved in a private adoption.

They were leery of a foreign adoption, "That was just too scary at the time," said Nancy. Remember, this was 16 years ago and adoptions in other countries were not quite as stable as they are now.

During the adoption process Eric recalls thinking, over and over, about the poem that Robert Frost wrote, "It's the one about the road less taken" - that's what we chose to do."

from "The Road Not Taken" (1916)

". . . I shall be telling
this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the
difference."

"Chris Abrams was wonderful. One of her bits of information was that if you look at the genetics, the random crapshoot that is the mixing of the chromosomes, it's just such a huge set of numbers in terms of what you're going to get that there probably, statistically, isn't a noticeable difference between adopting and having your own biological child," recalled Eric. Chris's words eased the fears that every couple faces when adopting/parenting, the "what if" syndrome.

A perfect match
The match was a very good one; people are forever commenting on how much Phebe looks like her mom, even their birthdays are close to one another, both Capricorns. "Phebe was born nine months after I found out I couldn't have a child," said Nancy.

When Phebe was very young, people used to stop Nan in the grocery store to comment on how much Phebe looked like her - most of them didn't know she had been adopted. People at school mentioned their likeness, and even Phebe's friends say she looks like Nancy.

And when she was about two or three, Nancy remembers her own father's comments and speaks to Phebe across the coffee table.

"Even grandpa [the late John Rogers] just stopped dead in his tracks and said, 'My God, she looks just like you!'"

Perhaps it is a chromosome leap? Or is it six degrees of separation? Or is it just that the Universe determined they were meant to be together?

When asked about her thoughts on being adopted, Phebe said, "I just ask questions when I have them, if we're in the car or something. It's just normal for us to talk about it. It's not uncomfortable, it's just another subject to talk about."

As a freshman at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, Phebe is no slouch. She plays ice hockey and field hockey. She is one of three freshmen to make the varsity team and has spent a lot of time on the field this year. And just for good measure, she made the honor roll last quarter.

Now at age 15, Phebe has three more years before she can contact her birth mother through the adoption agency. At this time, if the birth mother also seeks to meet Phebe, they will come together. Phebe will also be able to meet her half sister, who is approximately a year younger.

"Well, I kind of want to contact my birth mother, but I don't want to make her feel uncomfortable. Right now I think I want to meet her, but I don't know, I'll see. I really want to contact my sister - that would be cool. I want to know if she looks like me." Spoken like a true teenager!

Our interview took place with lots of laughter bouncing off the walls of the cozy living room of the Rogers-Bates home. In the end, these comments were about the best summation anyone could make about their daughter, adopted or not: "I feel so privileged to be her mom, she's a great kid," said Nan. And Eric chimed in with, "We got a wonderful kid."

Wendy Brophy, former Times Calendar Editor, lives and writes in San Francisco.