THE PARENTS: Megan Soliman, 30, and John Soliman, 32, of Manayunk
THE CHILD: Christian Rizk, born Oct. 28, 2017
BIGGEST STARTLE OF THEIR PREGNANCY: The baby's sex. Every "gender reveal" quiz on Reddit — the ones John did after Megan conked out on the couch at night — had indicated the baby would be a girl.
It was a rainy night last March when John came home after a long day of performing surgery and said, "I have a surprise for you." Then he unveiled a pair of new tennis rackets and a can of chartreuse balls.
It wasn't until after dinner, after John had entered his medical notes from the day, that Megan revealed her own surprise: She handed him a box containing a positive pregnancy test.
"We just sat there and stared at each other and cried," she recalls.
They'd planned on trying to conceive that spring, hoping to time a baby to arrive after John completed his residency in oral surgery that July. On a February trip to Thailand with friends, Megan felt occasionally queasy — was it food poisoning, or just the tumult of travel and unfamiliar cuisine? — but didn't consider pregnancy as the cause.
It wasn't until they were home, and Megan was complaining to a friend about her breast soreness, that she drove to a CVS in the rain and watched one — then a second, then a third — pregnancy test flag the unmistakable news.
She'd known, ever since babysitting and nannying as a teen and young adult that she wanted to be a parent. John imagined weekends of shuttling kids — he half-joked that they should have seven — to soccer games and dance classes, though he did worry about how to sync his career, with 60-hour weeks and on-call stints, with family life.
That career almost became a stumbling block early in their relationship; they met at the oral surgery practice where John was a resident and Megan managed the office. He worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and spent every third night on call; frequently, he'd get buzzed in the middle of a restaurant dinner, and they'd have their meal packed to go.
"My concerns were: If I get involved with this guy, he's going to be in school for six more years, on call all the time, never home. He's not going to be ready to start a family."
But office chat segued into texting that led to group outings in Manayunk to a 20-hour trip in John's Jeep Cherokee when he enrolled in a medical course in Illinois. Megan drove there with him, then flew back; six weeks later, she made the trip in reverse.
"That's what got me thinking long-term: Who would do something like this?" John says. "That was a turning point. She was at my side the whole time."
For a year, the two lived in Megan's parents' house in Broomall, saving money to buy a place of their own; the house they ultimately chose was the one in Manayunk that John had rented with housemates while in college and medical school, the house with dings in the ceiling ("Three guys living in the house; things go flying," John says) that he found nostalgic.
They upgraded the place — new carpet, fresh paint, a full kitchen rehab. Meantime, they got engaged in Key West, Fla., on a trip with both of their families. At a restaurant reachable only by boat, John suggested a beachside walk before dinner; there was a line of rose petals, a pair of beach chairs, a bottle of champagne.
"Hey, this is somebody's spot," Megan said. "We're walking through it." Then John pointed; behind her were both their sisters with their spouses, holding a sign that said, "Will you marry me?" And there was John, on one knee, holding a ring pop.
They married in the fall of 2015, a traditional wedding, complete with crowns and capes for the bridal couple, in the Coptic church where John was raised. Before the ceremony, they walked toward each other for a "first look," with Megan holding a cluster of white balloons to obscure their vision. Together, they let go of the string.
Balloons became their emblem. To announce their pregnancy, they posed behind the Please Touch Museum with their dogs — a bow tie on Tyson, a flower on Lola's collar — and a cluster of gold letter balloons that spelled out "baby," then had friends snap a picture.
The next months were an easy ride —"I loved being pregnant," Megan says — and she felt hardy enough for a trip to Greece, where gravid women are treated with special deference: first-seated on the plane, first-served in restaurants.
John had delivered babies as part of his medical training; Megan had researched labor and delivery. Still, neither was prepared for a 36-hour labor that included induction (because her cord had only two blood vessels instead of the usual three), two epidurals (because the first numbed pain on the right side only), and the surprise of a baby both had assumed would be a girl.
When the nurse offered to take Christian to the nursery that first night, both John and Megan murmured assent, then fell asleep before the two had even left the room. At home, John found that his medical acumen went only so far: "It was a learning experience — feeding, sleeping, figuring out why he was crying. We tried to balance each other so we wouldn't go crazy."
Megan's biggest lesson, from those first nights and weeks, was to discard the barrage of advice — from friends, family and baby books — and, instead, to listen to her baby and herself, whether that meant supplementing nursing with formula or traveling to the Dominican Republic with a 3-month-old.
In some ways, the baby means more baggage — adding diapers and formula to their usual light-packing regimen. In other ways, Christian clears the extraneous from their lives. Where John used to linger at the end of a workday to jot notes or chat with colleagues, he now dashes home to see his son.