THE PARENTS: Brittany Frank, 27, and Chris O’Hey, 28, of Trevose
THE KIDS: Jaxon Richard, 4; Jace Jonathan, 3; Adalei Mae, born November 8, 2018
SOURCE OF HER NAME: Brittany and Chris like the Sam Hunt song “Drinkin’ Too Much,” whose lyrics include a name they heard as “Adalei.” Later they learned it was “Hannah Lee” in the song, but they’d already fallen in love with the unique name.
There was a moment after Jace was born when Brittany realized there was only one way to save herself and her children.
She’d maxed out her credit, her patience, and her compassion for Rich, the father of her boys. When they met at a church Brittany was visiting with a friend, he’d had six years of sobriety. Everyone thought they were a perfect match.
The first pregnancy happened sooner than they’d planned, and they felt nervous about telling their parents, but both families reacted with excitement. It was an easy nine months. The only food Brittany craved was egg and cheese on a bagel; Rich would bring her the sandwiches without fail.
Partway through the pregnancy, Brittany switched from an OB to a midwife; the doctors were frightening her with their talk of risks and medications. “Birth was scary to me,” she says. But a documentary about midwife Ina May Gaskin altered her perspective. “I thought, ‘Wow, why am I doing this to myself when birth is supposed to be beautiful?’ ”
And it was — 12 hours of hard labor, two pushes, and Jaxon was there, with astonishingly large hands. “I looked back on the experience and said, ‘My body did that. That’s great.’ ”
But Rich was struggling. He’d fallen from a roof while working when Brittany was pregnant, and doctors prescribed opiates for the pain. When the prescriptions ran out, he sought street drugs. Heroin. “There were glimpses of happiness, the old person I fell in love with,” Brittany says. There were stints in rehab, a six-month stretch of sobriety. That’s when Brittany learned she was pregnant again.
“I wanted Rich to be more stable in his recovery. But I thought: God has a plan for everything.”
This labor was even more tranquil: a water delivery at a birth center; an infant with a full head of hair. Four hours later, they were home again, greeting a groggy, confused toddler: “Where’s Mommy’s belly?”
“After I had Jace, Rich’s addiction was pretty bad. I stood by him for a really long time while he struggled. Then I made the decision that it was unhealthy for me and for the kids.” Brittany packed up the boys and moved in with her grandparents. Rich entered drug treatment, stayed sober for 90 days, then relapsed — this time, with a bad batch of heroin. He died in July 2016. Jace was five months old.
“It was a dark time for me,” Brittany says. “And it’s what brought Chris and me together.”
She’d known Chris since they were 14. Then, he was a dedicated mixed martial arts fighter and she was a cheerleader who aspired to become a journalist. They kept in touch after high school, checking in via Facebook, chatting on the phone now and then. Chris knew about Rich — his addiction and death.
One day, a Facebook posting of Brittany’s caught his eye: She’d written about potty-training Jaxon with a frog-shaped toilet seat. He commented, “That thing’s awesome.” And the two started talking again: a movie date at home. A kiss.
One night , they ate dinner at a little restaurant off Delaware Avenue, at a sidewalk table. “This is a date,” Brittany remembers thinking. The next time they planned to get together, her babysitter cancelled, so she met Chris at Friendly’s with the boys. Jace spilled his water and couldn’t stop crying. But Chris calmed him with funny videos on his phone.
They took things slowly: foursome dates to the park, daily conversations. Brittany loved how caring Chris was with the boys and how he, too, believed things happened for a reason. One day, when Jace was just over a year old, he called Chris “Dad.”
“I realized I was either going to be all-in or out. I was already in love with her,” Chris recalls. “So I went all-in.”
“That’s the day it became official,” Brittany says. They moved in together in the fall of 2017. Brittany jokes about having a no-frills courthouse wedding, but Chris is holding out for something splashier. Meantime, on his birthday last year, Brittany handed over a wrapped box. Inside was a test stick announcing “pregnant.”
For a gender reveal party, they slipped a sealed note to the vendor at a local fireworks store, then set off the sparklers — pink! — during a backyard luau. Brittany hoped for another birth center delivery, but she needed iron infusions toward the end of her pregnancy and gave birth to Adalei at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
Before the birth, Chris worried about his low tolerance for blood and gore. “Those things gross me out. But I had to look. She was born, and I just started crying. It was the greatest and the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Jace doesn’t remember Rich. But Jaxon does — “My daddy in heaven,” he calls him, the one who used to buy him toy trucks from the rack at 7-Eleven. When the boys are older, Brittany and Chris will tell them the truth. “I think addiction is something people are scared to talk about. But I want them to understand. I want them to be open,” Brittany says.
For now, when Jaxon asks why Rich died, she says, “God thought it was his time to be able to see the world from up there. Your dad is watching over you.” For now, Chris wants to be a more present, more patient father than his own. “It won’t always be rainbows,” he says. “They’re going to get in trouble. They’re going to need guidance. I’m just going to be there for them.”
Recently, he came home from work to hear the boys squabbling. “I want to hold the baby … No, I do! … I’m going to protect her more! … No, I’m going to!”