THE PARENTS: Jennifer Coe, 37, and Ozzie Coe, 36, of East Mount Airy.
THE KIDS: Yanoria, 2½; Eren, born March 28, 2018.
MOMENT THAT REDEEMS THE WORK OF PARENTHOOD: “The first time you see them do something — walking, singing — it’s the most amazing thing,” Ozzie says. “Like getting an award.”
He’s Turkish. She’s African American. He’s bilingual; she speaks only English. He’s a woodworker and musician; she joined the National Guard at 17 and later served with the Army in Iraq. She can draw. He can’t.
But in the course of a 45-minute pedicab ride in New York City’s Central Park (he was the pedaler; she was the passenger), something sparked. By the end of the tour — Bethesda Fountain and the band shell, the Sheep Meadow and Strawberry Fields — Ozzie knew he wanted to see Jennifer again.
He dropped her off at the Seventh Avenue entrance to the park and asked for her phone number.
Jennifer was just returning to civilian life. She’d left the Army in 2012 after being injured, then bounced from Fort Dix to Fort Meade to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for back surgeries and rehab.
“I was gone for a long time. It was a surprise to me to relate to a civilian,” she recalls. And despite their apparent differences, “we had a lot of things in common. We love music. Traveling. New things in our lives.”
They met in March 2013. Within weeks, they were saying, “I love you.” In May, Ozzie proposed. And the following month, they were married, by a pastor who stood implacably as they giggled through their vows.
For Ozzie, the experience was a refreshing departure from Turkish marriage customs, which call for the man to ask permission from the woman’s parents, followed by two small ceremonies before the final wedding.
“People are more relaxed here than in Turkey,” he says — an ease especially apparent on the dance floor at their reception. “Some people want everything to be perfect at their wedding,” Jennifer says. “We wanted it to be fun.”
Children were the next logical step. “After I got out of the military, I didn’t feel like I had a great purpose,” Jennifer says. “Then Ozzie said: ‘We’re married. Why not have kids?’ ”
But her mind — “it’s very military of me,” she says — refused jubilance about the pregnancy until she’d confirmed the drugstore test results with a doctor’s appointment and a 12-week ultrasound, when the two stared at a vague dot while a tech declared, “That’s your baby!”
The pregnancy was healthy: Jennifer swam often for exercise, and the couple traveled to the Bahamas in her sixth month. But by 41 weeks and four days, she felt miserable. When she went for a final checkup at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and her blood pressure was elevated, her OB recommended an induction. That day.
“They broke my water, gave me Pitocin. Because of my back surgeries, I couldn’t get an epidural,” Jennifer says. She labored for 12 painful hours and pushed for 30 minutes.
“When she finally came out, she was screaming, and then she peed on me,” Jennifer said of Yanoria. “People said, ‘Oh, that’s good luck!’ Then they put her on me, and we were hugged up together, and I thought, ‘Oh, I made this person.’ ”
Ozzie had been staring at the wall, trying not to faint, weakly declining the doctors’ efforts to involve him: “Do you want to touch [the head]? Do you want to look in the mirror?”
The moment of birth, he recalls, “was like time paused. Your brain kind of stops working. Then slowly you think: OK, this is another stage in my life.”
The first week of parenthood was a haze: Diapers. Doctor’s appointments. Exhaustion. But on the ninth day of Yanoria’s life, Ozzie’s parents arrived from Turkey. His mother taught them how to bathe the baby, how to treat cradle cap. She cooked dolmas and tzatziki, stuffed peppers with rice and ground beef. “I breastfed, so she was giving me foods to keep up my milk supply,” Jennifer says.
They wanted a second child, but Jennifer felt the stern metronome of her biological clock. “Age 37 was our deadline. I thought: If I’m not pregnant by then, she’ll be an only child.”
She was pregnant within a few months of trying to conceive. This time was both harder — she suffered heartburn and was told to avoid chocolate and coffee because the baby had a heart arrhythmia — and easier, because labor started naturally, without an induction.
Jennifer had taken “The Mind in Labor” course through Penn Medicine; that gave her strategies to relax through the physical pain and find positions that eased discomfort. At HUP once again, birth came fast; Jennifer went from three to six centimeters of dilation within half an hour. She pushed three times.
They’d named Yanoria for a Cambodian friend from Jennifer’s Army days. Eren’s name is Turkish (it’s also a character in an anime series Jennifer loves); it means “person who finishes his journey.”
Now, even with help from Ozzie’s mother, the drill is relentless. “There’s no such thing as getting rest. When the baby sleeps, I have another kid I have to play with and give attention to,” Jennifer says. Sometimes Yanoria fetches diapers or even pretends to breastfeed her baby brother. Other times, she says: “Why is the baby still here?”
For Ozzie, the current challenge is guiding his daughter. “Sometimes I’m telling her, ‘Don’t do this,’ and she looks at me with those eyes. This is the hardest part of parenting — to try to teach her without breaking her heart.”
He and Jennifer draw on their disparate backgrounds for ballast and contrast. “I didn’t have an amazing childhood,” Jennifer says, though she found solace in drawing and reading. “In Turkey, there’s so much emphasis on family. It’s all about showing love, being affectionate, all these things I didn’t necessarily grow up with.”
Ozzie wants his children to feel the security of their parents’ love while also being responsible and self-sufficient. “It’s hard,” he says of parenting. “It’s so much work. This is the nature of all the creatures in the earth: having a baby and preparing them for their lives, teaching them what you know.”