THE PARENTS: Erin Dischinger, 33, and Bill Dischinger, 32, of Andorra
THE KIDS: Ophelia Margaret, 2; Charlotte Claire, born October 22, 2018
WHO GOT THE FIRST ANNOUNCEMENT OF THEIR PREGNANCY: “I remember being so excited that I had to tell somebody,” Bill recalls. “I told my physical therapist that my wife was pregnant and that we’d just found out that morning.”
Bill whispered to his best man to make him laugh; it was the only way to stanch the tears. “I’m normally a pretty stoic guy,” he says. “I don’t show too much emotion. But seeing Erin for the first time in her wedding gown, coming down the aisle with her dad —”
His pal complied, cracking a joke about Erin’s father’s orange-tinted sunglasses. A few minutes later, Bill and Erin were giggling through the sand-mixing ritual — appropriate for a seaside wedding in Wildwood Crest — as they layered pink sand (hers) and green sand (his) into a glass cylinder as a symbol of merging their lives. She used up her sand first, so he dumped the rest of his unceremoniously onto the beach.
They’d met on St. Patrick’s Day 2009 at a post-parade pub crawl in New York; Erin’s father, now a retired firefighter, used to organize annual trips for members of the fire department, their family members, and friends. At one point, the pair slipped away from the crowd and sneaked a kiss. On the way home, they swapped phone numbers.
What clinched the courtship was a shared understanding of the firefighting life: the long, erratic hours; the fierce, family-like bonds firefighters had with one another; the shadow of risk and loss.
“It was attractive that she kind of ‘got it,’ ” Bill says. “That there would be nights I wasn’t going to be around, holidays when I wasn’t going to be able to be at family stuff.”
Erin knew the drill well; as a child, her family planned Christmas celebrations around her father’s work schedule. Firefighting, she says, “is not like a regular job. It’s more of a lifestyle.”
Nonetheless, on the January night when Bill was planning to propose over dinner at Del Frisco’s, Erin convinced herself that he was about to end the relationship. “He was acting weird in the weeks leading up to it,” she recalls, so when he said, “I want to talk to you,” and began fumbling with his jacket pocket, she was certain the next words were going to be bad news.
“I got down on one knee in the middle of the restaurant, and she said, ‘What’s wrong?’ ” Moments later, she was exclaiming over the ring — sold to Bill, coincidentally, by the same salesman who had sold Bill’s father an engagement ring 25 years earlier — and saying, “Of course.”
They were so in sync about wanting kids they bought a house large enough for three or four. Bill envisioned those future children stampeding down the steps on Christmas morning; he imagined ferrying them to sports practices or dance classes.
And despite his stoic nature, he grew teary-eyed the morning Erin phoned — he was on Kelly Drive, en route to a physical therapy appointment — to say she was holding a test stick with an unequivocal yes.
The pregnancy was healthy — a little nausea at the start, some round ligament pain near the end — and Erin was hoping for a natural, drug-free delivery. But Ophelia (they’d agreed on the name as they drove home from their baby shower) had other ideas. At 42 weeks, a non-stress test showed the baby’s heart rate was alarmingly low.
When her heart rate rose, then dropped again, what began as an induced labor suddenly became an emergency C-section. Bill, who had gone home for their overnight bags, was pulling back into the hospital parking lot when Erin called in tears. He parked and sprinted inside. Put on these scrubs, someone told him, then wait. “It felt like five hours had gone by. I called my mom and was starting to cry on the phone with her. She said, ‘I’m going to pray that everything’s OK.’ ” Ten minutes later, he was in the OR, listening to his daughter’s first cries.
They brought Ophelia home on Valentine’s Day 2017. Exactly a year later, Erin walked into the bedroom and woke Bill, a positive pregnancy test in her hands. This time, she hoped for a vaginal birth. But at 40 weeks, she wasn’t even dilated.
“We scheduled a C-section for a week after that, and I did everything to try to have this baby. A certain type of tea. I moved furniture, I went to the chiropractor. We were doing reflexology, eating spicy food. I even took castor oil.”
Nothing worked. A scheduled C-section, Erin learned, is different from an emergency procedure: She walked to the operating room, and the whole experience felt calmer than her first. Charlotte looked like her sister but had a quieter, less ear-piercing cry.
Even the transition from one child to two felt easier. With Ophelia, “we were so scared,” Erin recalls. “If we weren’t holding her, we were thinking: Is she breathing? Is she warm enough? Is she too warm? We had no clue. With Charlotte, we weren’t as nervous.”
Now, she says, there’s a discernible foursome vibe: all of them are night owls, all have a laid-back demeanor spiked by occasional tempers. And, like their determined, inquisitive, can’t-sit-still parents, the girls “want to be in the know,” Erin says.
For Bill, parenthood means seeing the world — and his firefighting work — through a more fraught lens. “Before we had kids, I never really thought about how dangerous our job really is. … One moment, I’m at work, and we might be crawling down a smoke-filled hallway. An hour later, I’m home playing princess with my daughter.”