Signs blanket the garage of a large contemporary home in south Lexington: "It's a boy," "It's a girl," "Welcome Home! Christopher and Elizabeth" and "You made it!"
Inside, the earthy smell of baby formula wafts through the den, where a pair of stuffed bears adorn a side chair.
Inside, the wailing from two sets of lungs signify that small people in the house need attention.
Jeffrey Rice, 47, and LaRaine Dail Rice, 43, had faced the possibility that they might not have any babies. Nevertheless, they just brought home two adopted babies within eight days. They are stunned, surprised, often sleepless and immensely grateful.
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The babies are Christopher, born June 30, a wide-eyed boy who reaches out, smiling and gurgling; and Elizabeth, born Nov. 1, a tiny bundle in pink with masses of fine, dark hair.
The Rices married in 2007 — after being matched up by friends and a dating service in 2006 — and knew they did not have the luxury of waiting to become parents.
It was often an exhausting journey, with dead end after dead end.
They discovered that LaRaine had endometriosis, and a September adoption attempt fell through after the biological mother changed her mind.
The couple sent the mother flowers and wished her the best.
"It's not an easy road," LaRaine said.
LaRaine, who works for the Woman's Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention and teaches a Sunday school class of teenage girls at Immanuel Baptist Church, asked herself whether God had forgotten her.
"Something deep down said, this is what your faith is for," she said. "People pray for miracles and for God to intervene, but God says no."
The two figured that God had another path for them.
"Your faith is the one thing that does not change," Jeff said. "Faith becomes real to you all over again."
They returned to work — she to the WMU, he to his job in the water quality division of Lexington's Urban County Government — and waited. They had taken foster-parenting classes and were prepared to be foster parents if adoption didn't work.
Bringing home Christopher and Elizabeth was, the Rices say, an exercise in the persistence of faith.
Adopting two babies who are close in age — called "artificial twinning" in adoption circles — is unusual but not unheard-of.
"It is rare, definitely rare," said Brenda Riddle, executive director of AdoptInc., a Lexington adoption agency.
The adoption process depends on a variety of factors, Riddle said, including whether the parents want to adopt domestically or internationally, and how willing they are to face health problems in the baby or the mother.
Leigh Shapiro, owner of Heart to Home Adoption Agency in Lexington, did the Rices' home study. Their two-pronged adoption, she said, is something she has never seen in the United States. She has seen couples who are prepared to adopt and then find themselves pregnant, but nothing like the Rices' situation of adopting two babies in eight days.
Still, Shapiro said, if an adoption sweep was going to happen, she is glad it happened for the Rices.
"Their days are a little bit numbered in the adoption world" because of their ages, she said. "And they are so sweet."
The Rices elected to work with Rob Harrell, an attorney who founded Adoption Center, a private northwest Florida adoption agency. Harrell, an adoptive parent and president of the Florida Adoption Council, said he had never seen a situation such as the Rices' in his 25 years of adoption-law experience; he had seen sets of twins adopted, but never two babies who were not related adopted by the same couple in such a tight time span.
'An intense experience'
In mid-October, the Rices received a phone call from their adoption attorney. A 3-month-old boy in foster care in Florida might be coming up for adoption. Were they interested?
They were, even after hearing that the baby might have some hearing loss. The baby already had been named Christopher, to the delight of the Rices, who had discussed naming a son Christopher.
And then the process inexplicably slowed. The Florida foster attorney said he was going to place Christopher with another family.
Meanwhile, a second woman in Florida, pregnant with a girl, had appeared. Were the Rices interested in that child?
They decided they wanted to continue to try to adopt Christopher. Then the girl was born Nov. 1, three weeks early. She was, as LaRaine wrote in a Facebook post, "a sure thing."
They decided to adopt the girl, bought baby clothes, and got on the road to Florida, planning to decide in person whether the baby looked like an Elizabeth or a Caroline.
And then they waited as their attorney tried to sort out what the baby's biological parents wanted to do.
The mother allowed the Rices to visit the baby in the hospital nursery. LaRaine said the baby immediately bonded with them: "She looked at us like she knew who we were," LaRaine said. "It was a really intense experience."
And she looked like an Elizabeth.
Diapers and formula
The next day, a Wednesday, the Rices picked up their baby girl and began the wait for interstate adoption paperwork to allow them to return home from Florida to Kentucky.
But they felt something was missing — Elizabeth's big brother. They could not forget about Christopher.
On Friday, the adoption attorney called again. Christopher was available.
"As soon as I tell LaRaine, there's no way we're not coming home with both babies," Jeff said.
The couple got Christopher on Nov. 11, Jeff's 47th birthday. They also got another pleasant surprise when Christopher was checked out medically: The baby has a slight hearing loss in only one ear.
The Rices brought their children home on their third anniversary, Nov. 17.
In a Facebook posting, LaRaine wrote that adoption was not God's alternate plan for the Rices; it was his first plan.
So the Rices haven't had much time for holiday decor or menus or anything besides diapers and formula and spit-up.
They finally have their family.
"Christopher led us to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth led us right back to Christopher," LaRaine said.
They wouldn't have it any other way.
"We just feel like we're complete right now, like it was all meant to be, the way it happened," LaRaine said.