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Robin Bates has her hands—and her heart—full, with adopted children ages 4, 5 and 6.

Even after she had an emergency hysterectomy just before her 30th birthday, Robin Bates knew she’d someday be a mother.

“I was laying in the hospital,” Robin says, “and I said to God, ‘You know this is my desire.’ And God said to me, ‘I have other children for you to raise.’”

She wasn’t clear on what that would look like—perhaps she’d marry a man who already had children? She didn’t know. A decade later she married Marc, and they talked about adoption being something to think about when they got settled financially.

Marc and Robin were both 52 when they decided to adopt—many of their peers now have grandkids. And while they admit they don’t have the same energy as 30-something parents might, “I think we’re better parents than we would have been in our 20s,” says Robin. Photo by Ben Macri

“But the older we got, the less likely that seemed,” Robin says. “Most agencies, if you don’t apply before you turn 50, forget it.”

A decade into their marriage, the Bateses moved from California to southern Maine, where Marc was hired as a bank project manager. With the financial piece coming into place, Marc visited North-Deering-Alliance church, where he saw several interracial families—mostly white parents with black children. Marc, whose parents ​were​ Jewish and Japanese, saw a community where he and his African American wife and their adopted child or children—whatever they might look like—wouldn’t be out of place.

And so, when he and his wife were both 52, he popped the question. The adoption question.

“I was kind of shocked, because he knew it was a desire of my heart,” Robin says. “But we never really broached it when we were in California.”

The Bateses told their prayer group they were considering adoption, and another couple advised them to become foster parents. That weekend, they attended a fostering information session, then enrolled in a six-week course.

As they closed in on their foster parenting license, a baby was born—at just 29 weeks gestation.

Marc and Robin Bates enjoy the snow at Mill Creek Park in South Portland with their three children, Itzhak, 6, Elena, 5, and Jewel, 4. Photo by Ben Macri

“When we met him in the hospital, he was almost 2 months old and he was 6 pounds,” Robin says. “He had a feeding tube, and they said that because he was born so young that he’d ​possibly​ have chronic lung issues.”

The social worker asked the Bateses if they were interested. Robin, who had been waiting for this moment nearly half her life, looked to Marc for his reaction.

“Do we have our license?” he asked. And when the social worker nodded, he said, “Then we’ll take him.”

Robin, then 52, laughed with joy and was reminded of the Biblical story of Abraham’s wife Sarah laughing at the news that she’d bear a child in her old age. Sarah’s baby was named Isaac, which means “laughter,” and the Bateses called their little boy, Itzhak, the Hebrew pronunciation.

“You know that Mickey Mouse commercial where the little girl says, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you?’ That was me,” Robin says. “I’d been waiting my whole life to meet him. It was something that I waited for so long that there was nothing negative about it, not even the sleep deprivation.”

Itzhak, whose biological parents were Hispanic and African American, looked like he could have been the Bateses’ biological child. “He does look like Marc,” Robin says. “It’s just too funny.”

For two years, the Bateses doted on a baby boy they weren’t sure would ever be theirs. Other foster children came and—when their parents met the requirements for custody—went.

Robin Bates takes a moment with Itzhak. Photo by Ben Macri

“There are moments that break your heart,” Robin says. “And there are moments that nearly burst your heart with joy you love them so much.”

Within a couple years—before the Bateses adopted Itzhak in March 2014—a social worker called about an 8-month-old girl named Elena.

“They said she’s the most beautiful blonde, blue-eyed little girl, and I started to giggle,” Robin says. “When I met her, she was sitting on the floor, and I said, ‘Hi Pinkalicious,’ and she just grinned.”

“We tell our kids constantly that they’re adopted….but we also tell them it means we chose you because we love you so much.”

The Bateses were fostering Elena with hopes of possibly adopting, and they thought their family would be complete: a boy and a girl. That’s when they got a call saying that Elena’s biological mother had just given birth to another girl in need of a home. Itzhak was still in diapers, and Elena wasn’t walking yet. Robin’s first thought was that she didn’t have room in her car for a third car seat.

“No one from either extended family wanted to take them as a set because they had different fathers,” Robin says. “We looked at Elena and said, ‘How do we tell her someday in the future that she has a sister out there but we didn’t take her because we didn’t have a car big enough?’”

“So we got one,” Marc interjects.

“Two days later, we had a minivan,” Robin says. “And that’s how we ended up with three babies.”

Photo by Ben Macri

A simple playdate these days with the kids—now ages 4, 5 and 6—involves a half-dozen trips to the bathroom, a change of clothing and a few bouts of tears.

“The biggest problem that both of us have is that you don’t have the energy at 50 that you have at 30,” Robin says. “But we’re going to do it. And I think we’re better parents than we would have been in our 20s.”

“We have the stress of having them really young in triplicate,” Marc says. “But we also get the joy in triplicate.”

Friends their age have grandchildren, and friends who are a little younger have teenagers. And Robin, a black woman raising two white girls, has been asked if she’s their nanny. But she lets these details run off like so much rain.

“I look at motherhood differently, because we always think about mothers giving birth,” Robin says. “But we have other mothers in our lives. You have those people in your life who become your mothers. We tell our kids constantly that they’re adopted, so kids can’t make fun of them. But we also tell them it means we chose you because we love you so much.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer, editor and mother who lives in Scarborough.

MORE IMAGES OF THE BATES FAMILY