THE PARENTS: Darla Himeles, 35, and Betsy Reese, 58, of Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Evelyn Reese Himeles, born August 18, 2017
HOW THEY MANAGED TWO YEARS OF LIVING APART: Weekly dinner dates via Skype: They’d cook together — Betsy in Maine, and Darla in Philadelphia — then eat and talk.
It was July 28, 2007, when Darla and Betsy had The Conversation. Their relationship seemed stuck in colleagues-becoming-friends-falling-in-love limbo until Darla spoke up.
“There was some kind of tension between us,” she recalls. “I said, ‘We either have to go forward or backward.’ By the end of that day, we had kissed. Forward won.”
Darla had been intrigued with Betsy since their first meeting at Bryn Mawr College, where both worked at the time. Betsy felt wary: Darla, 23 years her junior, was recently out of college. Besides, she was married. To a man.
“My marriage was on its way out as my sexual orientation was becoming clearer to both of us,” Darla says. “Why was I depressed? Why was I not at peace in our relationship? That was why.”
After that first kiss, the relationship accelerated; Darla separated from her husband, Betsy left her house in central Pennsylvania, and the pair made a pilgrimage to Ikea with a U-Haul. Both loved the beach, live music, and long, sustained conversations about politics, history, and nature.
Marriage was also a topic of discussion. They wanted a legal imprimatur, which meant a Pennsylvania wedding was out of the question. Each also wanted to propose to the other. Darla did it at Thanksgiving, crouched clumsily halfway under a table ringed with relatives, so nervous she perspired through her shirt and vest.
Betsy delivered her proposal in the form of a collaborative poem a month later, at a “creativity group” the couple hosted monthly. A friend sneaked to the bathroom and called Darla’s mother so she could eavesdrop by speaker-phone.
They married on a pier in Provincetown, Mass.: Darla in a red 1950s party dress, Betsy in a white suit and gold vest, under a chuppah friends had fashioned of fishing net and shells and flowers.
Two weeks later, they took another leap and moved to Castine, Maine. Betsy had landed a university job teaching geographic information systems; Darla longed for time to write poetry and finish a long-distance MFA program. They had deep quiet, a dirt road, night skies loaded with stars.
They also tried conceiving, using donor sperm from a California cryobank. “It was me in welder’s gloves, trying to get a little container of sperm out of a liquid nitrogen tank,” Betsy laughs.
But the process, a year’s worth of at-home inseminations that drained their bank accounts and trampled their optimism, was heartbreaking. When the pair returned to Philadelphia — Darla moved back in 2013 to start a Ph.D. program at Temple University, and Betsy followed two years later — they resumed the process, this time with a fertility doctor, a different sperm bank, and intrauterine inseminations.
They narrowed a list of possible donors to two: an accountant and an aspiring actor/writer/director. The latter’s voice interview “was so much more engaged, full of life and laughter,” Darla says. They bought nine vials of his frozen sperm; it took six tries to conceive.
“I remember standing at the train station at Temple at the end of a day of teaching, talking to the fertility nurse about how excited we were,” Darla recalls. “I was elated, and also really wary of telling people … I was really afraid of miscarriage.”
They watched, transfixed, at weekly ultrasounds: first a speck, then a fetal pole. A heartbeat. A head. Darla was terrified of giving birth. Betsy worried about passing out in the delivery room. And during labor, induced at 39 ½ weeks because Darla’s blood pressure had spiked, there was a terrible moment when the pain was so consuming that she couldn’t answer questions the doula was asking to anchor her: “What color is the ceiling? What color are my glasses?”
An epidural brought relief. “I could take a deep breath and say, ‘I’m about to have a baby,’ ” Darla says. “I had lost sight of my happiness about that. I could feel myself pushing; I loved feeling myself push her out. It was amazing … the experience of feeling her on my body right away.”
Betsy did not faint. Instead, she remained a steady part of the team that included a doctor, a doula, Darla’s mother, and her brother. And when Evelyn emerged, “she was just long. Skinny. All leggy-army,” Betsy remembers. “She was just so cute: this little nugget.”
Darla looked into their daughter’s face and burst into tears. “I was so overwhelmed to see her face, the face I’d been longing to meet for so long. Here she was: She was breathing, and she was looking around, and she was real.”
The circuitous journey to that moment “taught me more about resilience and perseverance,” Darla says. “I think it’s like any challenge in life; it makes you more deeply who you are.”
Now there are new leaps, unfamiliar challenges: For Betsy, how to scrounge enough sleep so she can go to work each day as an administrator at Temple. For Darla, how to carry a poem around in her head for two days with no chance to scribble it down on paper. For both, how to parent wisely in an unsettled world.
“I’ve always been concerned about the environment and social justice,” Betsy says. “Now, I worry about that a little bit more. Part of me thinks: Oh, gosh, what kind of world did we bring you into? I hope we will raise her so that she wants to be a force of change.”
Their daughter’s Hebrew name is Chaya Amira: “Chaya” (alive, living) is related to the name “Chava,” Hebrew for “Eve” (as in Evelyn). Darla’s poetic sensibility loved the way those names linked. And “Amira” means “one who speaks.”
So far, they know that Evelyn loves music; she likes it when her parents dance with her. Some days, she seems to grow visibly between breakfast and dinnertime. Her blue-gray eyes stare intently. “We hope she’ll be somebody who will speak up,” Darla says, “and use her voice for good.”