THE PARENTS: Sadie Rose Tettemer, 35, and Chirag Patel, 41, of Northern Liberties
THE CHILD: Niko Dev Patel, born December 19, 2016
CHIRAG’S FIRST PHONE CALL AFTER THE BIRTH: At 5:30 a.m., to his father -- whose birthday was also that day -- to say, “I got you something special. Today, you became a grandfather.”
They wanted a name that was atypical but not hard to spell. A name that might somehow capture the cultural fusion of a Canadian-born mom and a first-generation Indian American dad. A strong name.
They settled on Niko, Greek for “victorious.” They didn’t realize how much their son would need the boost.
He was due on Jan. 14. On Dec. 18, a Sunday evening, Sadie and Chirag sank into bed early after an exhausting weekend; Sadie, a strategic planner by profession and by temperament, had gone on a manic shopping spree, buying a welcome mat, an ottoman, baskets for their baby’s future toys.
She’d prodded a reluctant Chirag -- “He’s not due for another month,” he protested -- to assemble the bassinet and dresser. She’d packed a bag for the hospital.
So when her water broke just after 11 o’clock that night, they were ready. Sort of. “By the time we got to [Pennsylvania Hospital], the doctors and nurses said, ‘You have no more amniotic fluid left. He’s got to come out now,’ ” Chirag recalls.
That scotched Sadie’s vision of a full-term, natural birth with no drugs or epidural. Instead, she found herself in an operating room, shivering uncontrollably, craning to see what was happening on the far side of a blue drape.
What was happening was that their 5-pound, 8-ounce son had arrived. “He looked like a bag of bones,” Chirag remembers. “And he was having trouble breathing. It made me more worried when I saw the doctors’ and nurses’ faces. I could tell: This isn’t right.”
Before doctors shuttled the baby to the NICU, one of them snapped a photo: Chirag in white gown and mask, Sadie still shivering on the operating table, Niko swaddled in a blanket. “Wow,” she remembers thinking. “We made this precious little guy. It’s go time. We’re parents.”
That wasn’t always a given for this couple, who met on a group outing with Sadie’s then-roommates and “American older brothers,” who were college pals of Chirag’s. He asked her out for a Thursday night -- an occasion she suspected (and he later confirmed) was a “trial date,” the let’s-see-how-this-goes option before taking the leap with a Saturday-night outing.
Within a month, they were dating exclusively, enjoying the collision of what Sadie calls “opposite worlds.” She was raised in a Canadian town so tiny it still has no paved roads, in a farmhouse with a garden and chickens, with parents who never married -- “a very untraditional, hippie-dippy upbringing.”
Chirag’s parents immigrated from India in the 1970s. His father, beset with scholarship offers from American universities in towns he’d never heard of, tossed a dart at a U.S. map to decide which offer to accept; he ended up at the University of Iowa.
“I was raised to be skeptical,” Chirag recalls. “And Sadie was a bit naïve. We’d be at a restaurant, and she’d leave her purse wide open.”
Many of Sadie’s friends in Canada had married and begun having children in their early 20s. But that wasn’t the life she envisioned. Instead, she and Chirag squirreled their free time and money for travel: to Thailand, Hong Kong, Italy, Bali, South Africa.
It was on a trip to Tulum, Mexico, that she woke from a nap and found Chirag by the side of the bed, nervously proffering a handmade album titled “The Book of Firsts.” He’d saved everything-- restaurant receipts from their early dates, movie ticket stubs, birthday cards. The final page in the book read, “The first moments of the rest of our lives…” Then he was kneeling, and Sadie was too shocked to speak.
They married twice -- once to make it legal, a brisk City Hall ceremony followed by a bar crawl in Old City; the second time, at an old farm outside Ottawa, a “fusion” ritual in which they exchanged flower garlands and circled a ring of fire seven times, a modernized version of a traditional Indian wedding’s “seven steps.” Sadie changed from a classic white dress to a sari for the reception.
“We still weren’t sure if we wanted kids,” Sadie says. “We weren’t ready to change our lives,” Chirag remembers.
But as he rounded the curve of 40, and the two spent summers at the Jersey Shore with Sadie’s family, they began to change their minds. “It was a realization that there might be more to life than what we were currently having,” Sadie says.
Chirag came home from a work trip last April to find three pregnancy tests lined up on the bed with a card that said, “Congratulations.” They cried, hugged, and told their dog, Bernie, that she was going to be a big sister.
With Chirag’s laissez-faire influence, Sadie had learned to relax a bit when they traveled -- no more obsessive itineraries outlining every museum and meal -- but she still accrued “lists of lists” and a shelf of books on pregnancy, labor, and baby care. “I’m a strategic planner; that’s what I do,” she says. “Our whole birthing lesson was teaching me that I can’t plan.”
Niko, as it turned out, needed more than a temporary breathing assist; he spent three weeks in the NICU, part of that time on a ventilator, being fed first through an IV, then a feeding tube, and finally a bottle. Sadie, determined to breast-feed when he was healthy enough, pumped milk so obsessively the NICU nurses said there was no more room in the hospital freezer.
Now that he’s home, they cherish ordinary moments: a nighttime cuddle on the couch, a family walk. On a recent Saturday morning, Chirag woke up to find the bedroom empty. He shuffled to the nursery, decorated with a woodland theme of bears and foxes, a nod to Sadie’s native “Canadian wilderness.” There was Sadie, conked out in the recliner, Niko in her arms, Bernie snoozing next to the chair.
Chirag snapped a picture. Then he stood still for 10 minutes, memorizing the moment.