Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 26th, 2020.
THE PARENTS: Stacey Fay, 39, and Dan Fay, 38, of Penn Valley
THE CHILDREN: Julian Bowie, 2 1/2; Evalina Anastasia, born May 9, 2020
FIRST THOUGHTS WHEN THEY MET ONLINE: Stacey thought Dan seemed “funny, honest and kind, communicative and open.” Dan’s take: “She’s well-read, well-written; she worked for a nonprofit. I’ve got to bring my A-game and be the best version of me.”
The drive home from Panama City Beach, Fla., where Dan had just run an Ironman triathlon, took 18 hours — plenty of time to brainstorm about Christmas gifts for family members.
“We got to my dad,” Dan recalls. “What should we get for him? Then we said, ‘Why don’t we just get married?‘ ”
They’d been engaged for five months, ever since Dan arranged for lunch at Sabrina’s Cafe on a Friday afternoon, then hired a guitarist to strum their song — the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” — in the community garden across from Stacey’s Fairmount apartment.
“I was so clueless,” she says. “I walked in and thought: Oh, there’s just a guy playing music.” There was more: a planter with seeds for a katsura tree, a note about establishing roots … and then Dan on one knee, proffering his grandmother’s diamond wedding band.
They planned a DIY wedding in six weeks. At the time, Stacey was studying to be a Zen Buddhist priest, and Dan, who describes himself as a lapsed Catholic, felt a kinship with Buddhist beliefs. The ceremony included an exchange of white scarves, the burning of incense, a ritual involving a pot of bitter tea, and a moment when they passed their rings through the crowd of 50 friends and relatives, asking each person to whisper a prayer over the bands.
They’d been talking about children since day one. Even before they met face-to-face, Stacey used eHarmony’s “ask your own question” feature to query Dan about his readiness to have children.
Dan wasn’t fazed. In fact, he says, “I appreciated her forthrightness in asking something that directly.” His answer? “Of course.”
But after the wedding, they kept finding reasons to wait. Stacey’s mother died in early 2014. Stacey launched a jewelry business. They planned a belated honeymoon in France, and she wanted to drink wine.
Finally, both felt ready; they became pregnant quickly, but miscarried at eight weeks. Then came more upheaval: a diagnosis of adnexal carcinoma, a rare skin cancer, for Dan; multiple biopsies, surgeries, and treatment; another pregnancy followed by another miscarriage.
It took six months to feel ready to try again. And when they looked at the positive pregnancy test, their excitement was tempered by that year of loss. Their reaction, Stacey says, “was not like ‘whoo!’ but ‘Hopefully, this goes the right way.’ ”
Stacey’s due date was in late January 2018; Dan hoped the baby would hold off until after Super Bowl Sunday. But the game came and went, as did the full moon. Finally, two weeks overdue, she scheduled an induction.
The labor was long and painful, but the most frightening part was the 30 minutes after Julian’s birth; he’d swallowed meconium and wasn’t breathing on his own. “They’re stitching me up, and I can’t see [the baby], but he’s right there, five feet from the bed, on the little table, not crying for an extended period of time. It was very, very traumatic,” Stacey says.
Julian recovered after a few days in the NICU but required monthly visits to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — comprehensive exams that took up to two hours — for the first year of his life.
“I’d never had a baby before, so I didn’t know, on any given day: Is this normal?” Stacey says. Julian was curious and alert, a light sleeper who needed to nurse frequently. Dan recalls one night when he put the baby in his car seat and leaned against the wall downstairs at 3 a.m., swinging the seat back and forth like a pendulum.
“I’d hold Julian, and he’d start crying because he was hungry. It was hard … hearing him crying for something I couldn’t provide,” Dan says.
At the same time, both felt happily stunned by their son’s existence, especially after all they’d endured: the death of Stacey’s older sister, Donna, in 2008; the passing of her mother; the miscarriages; the trauma of Julian’s birth.
“We had a lot of gratitude. A lot of amazement. We understood that we could have lost him entirely,” Stacey says.
Were they willing to risk another difficult birth? It took nearly two years, including visits to a therapist and many soul-searching talks, to say yes. “To have an only child didn’t fit with who we were,” Stacey says. “We wanted Julian to have a play partner.”
Once again, they became pregnant quickly; this time, though, Stacey opted to find out the baby’s sex and told Dan with a pink frosting-filled cupcake and a matching Eagles onesie.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, and a fear of once again carrying past her due date, they scheduled an induction for the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend. The waiting room at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was empty; Stacey sat alone, masked, while Dan waited in the car until she was admitted to a room.
Compared to the long labor with Julian, Evalina arrived in a rush: a Pitocin drip, an epidural, and a one-hour ramp-up to full dilation and pushing. Just after the epidural, though, Stacey felt her anxiety spike, and it took a Zoom session with her doula to help her calm down.
It happened again just after the baby emerged, and once again at home — sensations of dread, shivering, and shortness of breath that Stacey later recognized as panic attacks. “It was the accumulation of all the residual trauma: the miscarriages, the birth experience with Julian,” she says.