THE PARENTS: Meredith Mann, 42, and Jordan Mann, 42, of Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Benjamin Arthur Perry, born March 11, 2017
UNEXPECTED PAYOFF OF THEIR PARENTHOOD ORDEALS: That “normal parenting,” such as changing endless poopy diapers, feels utterly do-able.
The numbers were not trending in their favor: Three miscarriages, each at about the 10-week mark, the latter two caused by flawed genetic calculus -- too many chromosomes, or too few. An IVF cycle that produced 11 eggs but not a single fertilized embryo healthy enough to implant.
Now they were on IVF Round 2. Meredith was in the elevator at Temple University Hospital, where she works in the communications office, when she got her doctor’s call: Six eggs had yielded a single viable blastocyst.
“I remember saying, ‘Come on, little embryo; you’re our only hope.’ ”
“People kept telling us, ‘You only need one,’ ” Jordan recalls. “We kept repeating that to ourselves: All right. Let’s see what happens.”
That leap-of-faith outlook had propelled their relationship from its start: a dinner date, arranged after meeting on the online site HowAboutWe…, for which Meredith was nearly an hour late. “I called the restaurant to say, ‘There’s a guy waiting for me; I don’t know what he looks like.’ ”
They chatted over Italian food and parted with a handshake. But something kept them coming back for more. “Meredith was outside my normal parameters: a non-Jewish divorcee with a cat,” Jordan recalls. “But for whatever reason, we just kept clicking.”
They discovered a shared sense of humor (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a mutual fave), as well as disparate passions -- musical theater (Jordan) and bird-watching (Meredith) that drew them into each other’s worlds. “We’re both quirky, nerdy people,” Meredith says. “We appreciated doing a lot of things we’d never done before.”
The topic of children came up on their second date. After a Thai dinner, they were walking to the subway, hands nestled inside a shared mitten, when Meredith explained that parenthood had become the deal-breaker in her first marriage. “I remember being pretty clear: If this is something you’re adamantly against, we should know that, so we’re not wasting our time.”
Jordan had just emerged from a year of bunking on his parents’ couch while cobbling together a writing career. The notion of marriage, let alone children, jolted him. “I thought, ‘Am I ready to do this?’ But if I waited until I was ready, I’d never get anything done.”
That’s why he decided to follow Meredith from New York to Chicago after she landed a job there; it’s why he proposed, in front of the Chagall windows at the Art Institute, on the second anniversary of their initial date.
They were married a year later, with a ceremony and reception that intentionally flouted what Meredith calls the “wedding-industrial complex.” She wore a vintage, beaded sheath; a sister-in-law made fabric flowers because Jordan is allergic to real blooms; they entered to the Blues Brothers version of “Everybody Needs Somebody.”
Moving to Philadelphia without jobs was another jump of faith. And though Meredith was ready to try conceiving immediately -- “my clock had been ticking for a long time” -- Jordan wanted to be married for a while first.
They became pregnant in May 2015. In July, at the 10-week scan, a doctor delivered jarring news: The baby had stopped developing. “That just destroyed me,” Meredith says. “A feeling that this was someone growing inside me that I couldn’t keep alive.”
A second loss happened later that year: a pregnancy, a heartbeat, then silence. After the third miscarriage, the pair sought counseling from a fertility clinic, where doctors advised IVF as their best hope of attaining an embryo free of genetic abnormalities.
Now, Jordan jokes that they can pinpoint the exact moment of their son’s start. “I got to watch it on the screen,” he says, “and I got a receipt for his conception.” But at the time, even after getting news of a successful implantation, they were shaken by their earlier losses.
“It was pins and needles, living day by day,” Meredith says. “I’d think to myself, ‘OK, I’m still pregnant today; that’s all I know for sure.’ ” Physically, though, her pregnancy was an easy ride; hormones cleared her skin and put an end to her migraines. “Just feeling him move -- the whole time I was pregnant, I thought, ‘I’m going to miss this.’ ”
For Jordan, it was a more nerve-wracking story. “Through the entire pregnancy, I thought: Can I handle this? Am I going to be able to do this?” It helped to read some “dad books” with a wry take on parenthood, and to talk with guys in his martial arts class, one of whom advised, “Being a dad is going to help you be a better person.”
Meredith had hoped for a drug-free birth. What she got was 24 hours of Pitocin-induced contractions, an achingly slow labor, and, finally, a C-section she experienced through a medicated haze.
“There was a cry, then Jordan said, ‘It’s a boy,’ and we both broke into tears.”
They brought their son home, only to whisk him to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia the next day -- driving 20 miles per hour on the snow-packed Schuylkill Expressway -- because he was screaming inconsolably and had a fever of 101.1.
What amazed Jordan at the moment of birth -- what amazes him still, after the 12-day hospital stay and the blood infection and the diaper rash that turned out to be fungal -- is how serene and sturdy this baby is, how sturdy they all are.
“There were plenty of moments when either or both of us could have caved,” he says. “We went from Parenting 101 to 401 in three days. And we came out the other side.”
They named their son, in part, for that emergence. He is Benjamin Arthur Perry: “Benjamin” for the biblical son who was the offspring of Jacob’s old age, “Arthur” for Jordan’s great-uncle, and “Perry” for Meredith’s mom, Patricia.
The Hebrew version of “Perry” is “Peretz.” It means “to burst forth.” Jordan remembers thinking, as he held his moments-old son skin-to-skin, “Oh, my God, we made a person. This is real. This feels right.”