THE PARENTS: Becky Johnson-Lally, 36, and Andrew Johnson-Lally, 38, of Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Emmaline (Emma) Haley, born November 9, 2017
AN EARLY INSIDE JOKE: When it felt too soon to say, “I love you,” the couple opted for a cryptic-cool, “ See you later. It’s … whatever.”
Becky’s job as vice president of a facade-restoration consulting firm required her to hang from ropes over the fronts of old buildings. She competed with the Liberty Belles roller derby travel team. And she’d learned to sit motionless for hours while tattoo needles buzzed her skin 3,000 times per minute.
But the early days with newborn Emma undid her.
On their first night home from the hospital, the baby cried every 45 minutes. She cluster-fed, or refused to eat at all. She didn’t like being swaddled. She wailed in the bassinet.
Finally, at 5 a.m., Emma sank into an exhausted sleep, and Becky burst into tears: “Did we make a mistake? Was this the right thing to do? I don’t know if I can do this.”
It didn’t get better. Emma had reflux; she grunted in her sleep and was sometimes awake until 2 in the morning. Finally, Becky called her midwife in despair. “I’m hanging by a thread,” she said. “Why can’t I be more excited about having this little person?”
The midwife cast out two lifelines of advice: Hire a postpartum doula. And find a therapist.
“Those things saved my sanity,” Becky says. The doula gave the couple a crash course in newborn care — feeding, swaddling, bathing, burping — and the therapist helped her understand that the vortex of exhaustion and insecurity was so common among postpartum women that they had a name for it: “the darkness.”
Slowly, the shadows began to lift.
Initially, neither Becky nor Andrew was interested in having kids. They’d met in 2010, when a mutual friend suggested Becky see Andrew, a tattoo artist, about altering a “tramp stamp” of two winged skulls on her lower back, a tattoo she’d gotten when she was 19.
“The first time I went in to meet him, he looked up at me from his work station, and I immediately knew that I was definitely going to be in this guy’s life one way or another.”
To Andrew, Becky was just one more client with an ill-conceived ink mark. “You have to get that lasered off,” he said after examining the old tattoo. Becky did — and Andrew transformed the faded lines into the image of an ornate Greek vase.
Becky kept coming back for more tattoos: the hand-drawn diagram of the first roller-skate patent on her right thigh; a bass fish emerging from water on her left thigh; the map of Pennsylvania on her left inner arm.
The work took hours. “It’s almost like a hairdresser relationship,” Becky says. “You’re talking, and you develop this really intimate bond.”
Three years of tattoo sessions later, they had their first date: They watched The Conjuring on DVD, and Andrew made red velvet pancakes that turned out orange because he ran out of food coloring.
After months of late-night dates — Becky would ride her scooter from her Fishtown home to Andrew’s place in Queen Village — the two were watching a B-movie one night about BMX biking while savoring an elaborate cheese board Becky had put together with fancy crackers and preserves. Andrew had an epiphany.
“I thought, ‘Man, this is awesome. To be able to meet someone who can enjoy something that silly, legitimately enjoy it, without irony’ … that was a defining moment for me.”
He proposed on a trip to the Grand Canyon in April 2016, while the two tromped around in a limestone ditch after an all-day hike. Then they married twice — privately, in the Botanical Gardens in Asheville, N.C., then with family and friends at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Queen Village.
When Becky first posed the kid question, Andrew was unequivocal. “It seemed ridiculous: Why would we have children? I can barely tie my own shoes in the morning.”
They grew older. They moved from Fishtown to Mount Airy. Becky talked with an acquaintance who thought the pair would make terrific parents; Andrew chatted with a new dad who said fatherhood was rough but rewarding.
At 35, Becky asked again. “Would you ever consider having kids?”
“Sure. Yeah. We can give that a try.”
It took six months to conceive, and half a dozen drugstore tests to convince Becky. Still, the pregnancy seemed unreal. In an early ultrasound, she says, “We saw the little egg thing, the yolk sac. You print it out, put it on the wall. It doesn’t seem like that’s a person, even though you know that’s what it’s going to become.”
She was in labor on Election Day. She was still in labor the following day, when the two headed to Target for loose pants and Popsicles. But the real pain didn’t start until 2 the following morning, when Becky burst into their bedroom — she’d been sleeping in the guest room because she was so restless at night — doubled over with contractions.
At Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, after labor stalled at three centimeters, the midwife recommended a low dose of Pitocin, along with morphine for pain. Hours passed. “Each contraction was making me more exhausted,” Becky says. When the midwife suggested an epidural, the answer was a grateful yes.
Andrew recalls the indelible look on Becky’s face after their daughter emerged: “this sheer excitement, relief, panic, all wrapped up into one raw emotion. It mirrored everything I was feeling, too. Here it is! Here she is!”
That euphoria soon ceded. “The first few days at the hospital, you’re riding this adrenaline wave,” Andrew says. “Then the reality of having a brand-new baby hit.”
It’s become easier — or perhaps they’ve learned to flex their expectations. “When you’re pregnant for the first time, you have these whimsical fantasies of how you’re going to be as a parent,” Becky says. “When it doesn’t work out, you feel like you’ve failed. That was the biggest lesson I had to learn early on: That she’s going to be however she’s going to be, and I’m going to love her no matter what.”