THE PARENTS: Brittany Lodise, 33, and Nick Lodise, 34, of Manayunk
THE CHILD: Wren Harper, born Dec. 14, 2017
A PRE-PARENTHOOD TEST: They got a miniature poodle in 2013. “That was something we worked on together: Let’s keep the dog alive,” says Brittany. “The dog’s still here.”
People said to sleep when the baby sleeps. But the baby doesn’t sleep noiselessly, like the American Girl doll Brittany used to tuck into bed before walking away to play with something else.
The real baby makes incomprehensible sounds. There’s a burble from the general area of her diaper: Did she poop? Does the blanket need changing? Sure, she burped once after feeding, but was that enough? Does she need to burp again?
“You can’t relax,” Brittany says. “You’re always on. That’s hard. In order to be a good mom, I have to be on my A-game. But when you’re tired, that’s another thing.”
Their decision to have children was like their decision to get married, their choice to be together in the first place: an intuitive, almost unspoken “yes.” They met for the first time in 2003, when Brittany — home from college and helping her parents with a remodeling project — stopped at the house of a childhood friend to recruit help for stripping wallpaper and painting a bathroom.
Nick, a friend of that friend, volunteered. Brittany remembers hearing him sing along with the radio while he worked. “I thought: Wow, this person’s so comfortable here. It was really intriguing to me that someone would be willing to help without asking anything in return.”
But she was still an undergraduate, and Nick was about to leave for a few years of wandering around the United States — stints in Georgia and Texas, a circuitous path toward figuring out whom and what he wanted to be. The two reconnected in 2007. The timing was right.
Moving in together, to a row house in Roxborough, was a swift introduction to one another’s quirks. Nick drank a gallon of milk a week; when he offered to make Brittany breakfast — he was thinking eggs or French toast — she said she wanted cereal. Still, “I felt comfortable with Brittany in a way I hadn’t before with anybody else,” Nick says.
They celebrated their 2015 engagement with midnight pancakes at the Tiffany Diner; their wedding at Skytop Lodge the following fall brought a weekend-long panoply of weather: a snow squall, an afternoon mild enough for outdoor pictures. A honeymoon in Tanzania brought them face to beast with leopards, wild ostrich, even an elephant that lumbered by their tent one night.
“I don’t know that I spent time thinking about being a parent,” Nick remembers. “It was the next thing, just part of life.”
They were at Ikea one day when Brittany noticed that her jeans felt tight. “The store was overrun with adorable children,” she remembers. “A small child was singing in one of the displays. Another was trying out all the different beds.”
It took a trio of pregnancy sticks and a phone call to the doctor to convince her that she was pregnant. “She said, ‘There’s no such thing as a false positive three times in a row. Congratulations.’”
During pregnancy, Brittany kept Googling “acid reflux” and “swelling.” The baby was curled so far on Brittany’s left side that she dislocated her right hip, but doctors assured her that her plan for an epidural meant delivery would be easy. “I didn’t want to watch a birth video and see someone scream in agony and be more scared,” Brittany says.
By the time they reached Lankenau Medical Center — after eight hours of contractions that began while Brittany was on a conference call for work — she was five centimeters dilated. After nine more hours of labor, the baby was still resolutely tucked on the left.
“The doctor said, ‘We’re recommending a C-section.’ I almost lost my mind: Why did I go through this for 17 hours? I’m not prepared to be cut open. Nick kept saying, ‘It’s going to be fine.’”
But then a second doctor suggested one last-resort move, something he’d learned while training in Ireland: using a suction cup on the baby’s head, not to pull her out, but to reposition her for a vaginal birth. If that didn’t work, Brittany would likely be whisked to the operating room for an immediate C-section.
“In the room was the C-section team, the pediatric team — over 20 doctors. A lot of people waiting for something to happen,” Brittany says. The maneuver worked; Wren was born five minutes later. And pushing — at least compared with the pain of contractions — wasn’t a terrible ordeal.
“I couldn’t believe how round her face was,” Brittany says. “She had nails. She looked really healthy.”
At home, their goal was for Brittany to feed the baby and pump enough milk so that Nick could spell her for one “Wren-cycle” — that is, a prized four-to-six-hour stretch of sleep. He keeps Brittany supplied with hot oatmeal and cold water; this parenthood gig, they’ve discovered, is definitely an exercise for two.
“Working together, being super-considerate of each other, is very important,” Brittany says. “You learn to appreciate patience,” Nick adds.
Along with the jolts — how many hours a day she spends nursing or pumping; how impossible it feels to get enough sleep — are sweet surprises, like the first time Wren fell asleep on Brittany’s chest. “I didn’t even know if you were allowed to do that,” Brittany says. “She was sort of in-between asleep and awake, and she snuggled in a little bit harder.”
Nick remembers speculating about their daughter before she was born: Would she be left-brained or right-brained? Would she have his eyes or Brittany’s? They’d chosen her name early on, but didn’t tell anyone until after the birth. Friends and family kept trying to guess. No one ever came close.
“We were so excited,” he remembers. “We were about to bring a new person into the world.” Now she’s here — the baby who, so far, seems determined, agile and physically strong. Every night, they wrap her snugly, just like the books advise. Every night, Wren works to wrest her tiny arms from the swaddle. By morning, her hands are free.