THE PARENTS: Jamel Hicks, 43, and Orrie Hicks, 48, of Claymont, Del.
THE CHILD: Amir, 10 months, adopted Sept. 30, 2022
Jamel figured her fertility prognosis might just be Orrie’s exit ramp from the relationship. They’d been dating for nearly three years — ever since both were in the wedding party for mutual friends — and Jamel had just undergone surgery to remove several large uterine fibroids.
Afterwards, the doctor advised that she might need more follow-up surgeries, that conception would be difficult and would probably require using IVF or other forms of assisted reproduction.
“I can’t guarantee you kids,” Jamel told Orrie. “I will not take it personally if you say, ‘This is a little bit much for me. I don’t think I want to do this.’ I released you.”
His response: “I wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted to be with her. If we have kids, if we don’t have kids, I’m here; we’re together.”
Jamel felt sure about Orrie from their first date in October 2010, an hours-long stroll around the National Harbor area near Washington. He wasn’t her usual type — not a “cookie-cutter DC guy who works in government” — and his warmth impressed her.
She helped him buy shoes for their friends’ wedding; they alternated weekends at Orrie’s place in Baltimore and hers in Northern Virginia. “Even though we’d been dating only a few weeks, it was like I’d known him forever. It just felt comfortable.”
At Christmas, he signed his card to her, “Love, Orrie.”
After her surgery, the next turning point in their relationship came in early 2014. Jamel had just moved into Orrie’s house when he got a job offer from NBC-10 — he’s a newscast director — in Philadelphia.
“I was very emphatic that I did not want to lose her over a job,” he recalls. “I remember being very emotional about it.”
Jamel was clear: “I’m not going to hold you back,” she told him, “but I’m not moving to a strange new city as your girlfriend.”
For nearly two years, they forged a compromise: Orrie took the job and stayed at his mother’s house on the days he worked; every Sunday night, he’d drive back to Baltimore and stay until Wednesday morning.
“We were determined to make this work,” he says, even if the plan was unconventional. “It’s our thing, our relationship.”
In December 2014, he told Jamel they had reservations at a special restaurant. But when she rushed into the house after doing errands, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, she opened the door to the walk-in closet in their bedroom — and there was Orrie, kneeling, ring in hand.
“It kind of scared her,” he remembers, “seeing me on the ground. I said, ‘Will you marry me?’ ”
They married the following October, on the anniversary of their first date. Orrie recalls his preoccupation beforehand: “I didn’t want to trip, I didn’t want to fall, I didn’t want to stutter.” For Jamel, a treasured interlude came on the morning of the ceremony, when she woke up, alone, in her hotel room and savored “those last moments of being single and being by myself.”
Two months after the wedding, they were finally living together in Philadelphia. And in early 2017, they tried one cycle of IVF: eight egg follicles retrieved; four fertilized embryos; two that survived almost long enough to be frozen for a later transfer.
“They died just short of that deadline,” Jamel says. “That was hard. We had the insurance coverage to do another cycle, but the doctors were saying we were very likely to get the same results. So then it was: Are we going to use donor eggs? Do we need a surrogate and donor eggs? Do we have that kind of money?”
Adoption was already part of her realm: A relative had placed her baby for adoption after becoming pregnant as a teenager, and Jamel’s mother, orphaned as a child, had been placed for a “kinship adoption.”
“For me,” Jamel says, “adoption wasn’t the last resort. The last resort was not to be a parent. And that wasn’t my plan.”
They submitted an initial application to the Open Arms Adoption Network in the fall of 2020; by the following April, their paperwork was complete. And although it felt like forever, Jamel says, it was actually just nine months until the email from Open Arms: A baby boy born the previous month. The mom had chosen them.
“I was a little bit in shock,” Jamel recalls. “By the end of the week, we got the call: You can come pick him up.”
That first meeting with their son felt both surreal and inevitable, Orrie says. “It was like: Wow. OK. This is happening. I had to get the car cleaned. It was raining. We pulled up, parked, walked in, and… I just started smiling. He was so beautiful. It just felt right.”
After three days in Pennsylvania, they received the all-clear to bring Amir home. While Orrie carted gear into the house, Jamel gave the baby a tour: This is where we hang out. This is your room. “Then we were just sitting on the couch, holding and snuggling with him.”
Amir’s is an open adoption; the couple will send monthly photos and updates to his birth relatives. Meanwhile, they are trying to walk the line between full disclosure — especially to dismantle the myth that Black people don’t adopt — and respect for their son’s privacy. What they’ve learned by sharing their infertility struggles is that there’s power, and plentiful company, in those candid conversations.
“It’s up to him to decide who he wants to tell in detail,” Jamel says. “It’s his story to tell. I think the adoption will be more open over time. We want him to have that connection to his birth family, to the mom who held him first. Adoption is very complex, but one of the positive things — it can be a challenge, but there’s beauty in the challenge — is expanding your definition of family.”