THE PARENTS: Carrie Tobin, 40, and Ryan Tobin, 35, of Port Richmond
THE CHILD: Benjamin Ryder, born January 22, 2019
A PLEASANT SURPRISE: In the ultrasound pictures, they thought the baby looked like “a little gremlin,” Ryan says. “We were even told by a doctor that he wasn’t the Brad Pitt of fetuses. The first thing I said [when he was born] was, ‘He’s actually cute.’”
Ryan knew he loved Carrie when she volunteered, with no prompt from him, to convert to Judaism. Actually, he loved her before that, when she suggested he move into her Manayunk townhouse with its single bathroom sink.
Maybe it was even earlier: the time she passed out at a funk concert, and he caught her before she hit the ground. Or perhaps love sparked the first time they met, at the music festival in Virginia, when Carrie offered to give Ryan her VIP wristband. To transfer the band without cutting it, he rubbed her wrist with cooking oil — and, in the process, sneaked in a hand massage.
That festival led to another music festival, which led to an “official” first date at Pizzeria Stella. “We walked over to Manny Brown’s, and we closed the place down,” Ryan remembers. “It was constant from there.”
Carrie was struck by his kindness; he was impressed by her upbeat demeanor and ability to laugh at herself. Their dates didn’t require an elaborate itinerary; an evening at home with take-out and movies was enough for both.
So when Ryan’s lease was about to expire — and with his Fishtown digs far from ideal, since he’d been bunking on a couch in a townhouse he shared with his ex-girlfriend and two male housemates — Carrie suggested he move into her place.
It was snug — the two of them plus Ryan’s pit bull mix, Louie, and Carrie’s Boston terrier, Lenny — “but, if anything, it brought us closer together,” Ryan says. Around the same time, Carrie broached the idea of conversion, a process that felt to her like “fulfilling my destiny.”
The decision was a relief to Ryan, who had worried about telling his grandmother he was dating a non-Jewish woman. “I said, ‘I’ve been seeing somebody, her name is Carrie, and she’s converting.’ Once Grandma Esther gave her approval, we were good from there.”
They joined Reconstructionist synagogue Mishkan Shalom, and Carrie began meeting with the rabbi to learn about Jewish theology and traditions.
Meanwhile, they talked about children. Ryan wanted kids, but Carrie had begun to abandon the idea as she passed age 35 without a partner. Meeting Ryan was a game-changer. They weren’t ready to start conceiving — they weren’t even engaged — but Carrie decided to have her eggs extracted and frozen at Society Hill Reproductive Medicine. “It’s a backup plan,” she says of the eggs, now suspended in liquid nitrogen.
Ryan proposed later that year, the day after Thanksgiving. He’d been saving ticket stubs and concert memorabilia; while Carrie was out getting a manicure, he filled the house with markers in a “musical memory lane,” beginning with the VIP bracelet from that first festival and ending in the basement, where Carrie found him kneeling, ring in hand, wearing a T-shirt that read “Perfect Husband Material.”
Baby-making trumped wedding plans. After three months with no luck, they returned to the fertility clinic for one intrauterine insemination. In the meantime, Carrie’s conversion process was nearing its finish — a visit to a mikveh, a ritual bath, and an appearance before a beit din, or three-person rabbinical court, who would authorize the conversion.
Carrie was morose last Mother’s Day: She wasn’t pregnant, and the world seemed full of joyful women and their children. But the next day, she went to the clinic for a blood test; an hour later, the nurse called with good news.
By the time she visited the mikveh later that week, “I was very emotional and excited. I was three weeks pregnant. Everything was coming together: all the things I had wanted and hoped for.”
They began planning a low-key wedding but soon found themselves awash in guest lists, catering proposals, and arguments over whether they needed enough chairs for everyone to sit.
“We thought, ‘This is exactly what we didn’t want to do,’” Ryan says. So they downsized: a small synagogue ceremony with 14 guests, followed by lunch at a Manayunk restaurant, then a weekend with friends at Curveball, a three-day Phish festival in New York’s Finger Lakes district.
But a power outage on Main Street left the restaurant shuttered, and a water contamination problem scotched the festival. Undaunted, they found another restaurant that could accommodate them on short notice, and their friends trooped upstate anyway to celebrate in a big rented house.
In July, when Carrie learned the baby’s sex, she told Ryan by spelling out “It’s a boy” in alphabet cookies on a tray in the oven. They took some infant care classes — Ryan, a teacher of kids with special needs, found it unnerving to read about possible pregnancy complications — but their general approach toward birth and parenting was, “We’ll figure this out.”
Carrie’s labor began on Jan. 21, just after the super blood wolf moon eclipse. After three hours of pushing at Lankenau Medical Center, the baby’s heart rate began to dip with each contraction. He was face up, the “stargazer” position, and the doctor called for a C-section.
Ryan grasped her hand and held his breath. “We heard him cry, and we both started to cry. I brought him over to her and said, ‘Look at your new baby.’” Carrie recalls a woozy glimpse, then a wave of nausea from the anesthesia before she vomited. “I was sad because I missed the first hour of his life; I was so loopy, and it wasn’t the birth I’d planned. But it was love at first sight.”
It still is, even when days are such an endless loop of feeding, burping, changing, pumping, and holding that she can barely manage a shower. Even when Ryan comes home from work, wanting only to plop on the couch and watch Jeopardy, but instead finds himself juggling baby care, laundry, and dinner prep.