THE PARENTS: Jerry Brennian, 33, and April Brennian, 34, of Mayfair
THE CHILD: Elizabeth Carol, born November 5, 2017
WHY THEY NEVER CROSSED PATHS IN HIGH SCHOOL: April studied environmental science and took part in band, choir, and volleyball; Jerry spent every spare minute in the school’s computer lab.
April and Jerry had only one argument while doing a near-total rehab of their Mayfair house: She wanted to beat the table with chains — the farm table he’d spent a month constructing from sanded pine — for a “distressed” look.
Other than that, the living together was easy. They took down walls, gutted bathrooms, and found a middle ground between April’s taste for the rustic and Jerry’s love for contemporary decor.
“That was the thing: We work well together,” April says.
They’d known each other since their student days at Lincoln High School, though they didn’t date until after graduation, when April found Jerry’s scribbled note in her yearbook and decided, on a whim, to give him a call.
For a while, their relationship was confined to holiday breaks and instant-message chats; April was at Bloomsburg University, and Jerry attended Penn State Abington. When she transferred to West Chester University, they could see each other more often — provided April’s lemon of a car, a 1995 Mitsubishi, hadn’t sprung another oil leak.
About a year after moving in together — the Mayfair house had belonged to Jerry’s grandparents — he conspired with a staff member at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to arrange a proposal in one of the galleries.
The pair had dinner in the museum restaurant, then strolled into a gallery where a corner table held a sunflower and an open ring box. Jerry picked up the box. April panicked.
“You’re not supposed to be touching things in the museum!” she warned.
He was already on one knee. “This is your ring, honey,” he said, as other museumgoers snapped pictures.
They were married in 2014, a September day both remember for its spectacular weather, vases of calla lilies, and DIY vibe; the two arrived by 7 a.m. to hang a wreath, place baskets of toiletries in the restrooms, and plug in fans in case the day grew muggy.
Jerry knew he wanted to be a father — he hoped to recreate fond childhood memories of camping and woodworking with his own dad — but April wasn’t sure. “Some people really love children and want to be around them. I am not that person,” she says. “But as time went on, I thought: I could see life with a child.”
They hoped to time conception so a baby would come before April started a graduate program in counseling, and after a trip to San Francisco — riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, taking a night tour of Alcatraz, sampling wine at a vineyard.
“But it never works out the way you plan,” April says. They’d been trying for eight or nine months when she consulted her doctor: She felt PMS-like symptoms that weren’t going away, but she hadn’t gained weight and didn’t feel nauseated.
A pregnancy test showed she was near the end of her first trimester. “I went to the store and bought a box of baby items and put the pregnancy test in there, then recorded Jerry opening the box and seeing the items.”
They brought an entourage of family members to two private, 3D ultrasound appointments; April closed her eyes when the tech wrote the baby’s sex with a dry-erase marker then wiped the screen clean. She wanted to be surprised.
The pregnancy was uneventful — unless you count the toe April stubbed on the bed frame or the pinky finger she cut on a mandoline slicer while prepping crookneck squash. Those injuries were a kind of blessing, she says, forcing her to slow down.
In the meantime, they prepared for labor and birth: Jerry attended DadLab meetings at Abington Hospital, and April picked out a six-hour meditation DVD, hired a doula, did prenatal yoga, and read all the pamphlets the Maternity Care Coalition had to offer.
It was 12:30 in the morning when her contractions began. It was shortly afterward that her water broke. On the way downstairs, April found herself grabbing random items — a box of tissues, an apple — while fighting the urge to push.
And then, half a block from home, while lying diagonally in the backseat of their Hyundai, April felt the need to push one more time. “She slid right out of me. It was dark. I couldn’t see. I felt her, and everything else that comes with it. Jerry pulled over. Once he opened the door, the light came on. He handed her to me: Oop, it’s a girl! With a full head of hair.”
Jerry remembers his wife’s scream, followed by an infant’s cry. “I thought: OK, keep it together. I was elated. We had that baby really quickly, and she’s fine.”
At Holy Redeemer Hospital on the day they were to be discharged, Elizabeth’s oxygen levels were low; she spent five days in the NICU while April and Jerry shuttled back and forth twice each day. In between, April pored over textbooks on counseling theory; it was her first semester of graduate school, and midterms were approaching.
So far, parenthood has been an upper-level course in patience and equanimity. “The big lesson I learned is to pay attention to your family history,” April laughs. “All the women in my family have given birth very quickly. I was born in the house because my mother couldn’t make it to the hospital. I didn’t think history would repeat itself.”
Even in a few months, Jerry says, they’ve learned to read their daughter’s cues more accurately. “When you get to the point when she’s frustrating you because she won’t go to sleep or she won’t take the bottle, you just have to take a breath.”
And April has been surprised to learn that parenthood offsets exasperation with a kind of loopy joy. “I thought I would be more frustrated with trying to get her to bed,” she says. “But I keep looking at her and saying, ‘I can’t believe I have you. I’m tired, it’s 4 in the morning, and you’re such a blessing. I love you. You’re safe.’ ”