THE PARENTS: Katie Ottinger-Ovens, 32, and Jason Ovens, 33, of Manayunk
THE KIDS: Jayson Ralph, 2½; Hudson Charles, born March 26, 2018
WHAT KATIE DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE HAVING CHILDREN: "I thought the hospital was going to be like a stay in a hotel. But I found out they come and check on you every hour."
Katie had never broken a bone or gotten a tattoo. She'd never been a patient overnight. She sobbed in the car on the way to Abington Hospital, begging Jason to drive faster as he was trying to navigate gently around bumps in the road.
And when a triage nurse asked Katie to rate her pain on a scale of one to 10, she said, "I feel like I'm dying!
"I thought it was the worst pain I'd ever experienced," she said. The only thing that helped — besides a well-timed epidural — was having Jason press a small jar of lotion against her lower back, using it as a massage device.
"All the stuff we'd learned in childbirth class totally went out the window," she says. "I took yoga for years and embraced meditation, but I felt like it did not prepare me for any of that [pain]."
Law & Order was on television when she began pushing. At 12:34 — she'll always remember the time, 1, 2, 3, 4 — their first son, Jayson Ralph, called "Roo" because his initials are JROO, entered the world.
Jason and Katie remember their relief, their joy, their tears.
They wanted children — maybe four, Katie used to say — but they weren't that far from childhood themselves when they met; Katie was about to enter Girls High School, and Jason was starting 10th grade at Roxborough. A date back then consisted of talking on the phone while watching The X-Files until both fell asleep.
Jason was impressed by Katie's ambition — she knew as a teen that she wanted to be a school psychologist — and she loved his social ease, a counterpoint to her shyness.
She was 19 when he proposed, at a surprise birthday party complete with jalapeno cheddar poppers and a cadre of enthusiastic friends. Jason had borrowed dress clothes for the occasion — slacks and shirt, shoes and tie — and he wrote his proposal in a card.
But they weren't ready to marry. Jason worked in local restaurants before deciding to start trade school and become a mechanic; Katie started at Community College of Philadelphia before transferring to Temple University, pursuing graduate work in school psychology.
The night before their September 2012 wedding, they rode around Philadelphia on a trolley, stopping for photographs in LOVE Park, in front of City Hall, and at Penn's Landing. At the ceremony, their officiant was 90 minutes late; by the time he arrived, they'd forgotten to tell him they planned to use their own vows.
"We always say we'll have a 10-year anniversary party and say those vows then," Katie says.
Age 30 — at least, for her — seemed like a good target for parenthood. After two months of trying to conceive, Katie felt impatient. They got a Rottweiler puppy. Then she landed a job. Then, naturally, she was pregnant.
"We were at the Mummers Mardi Gras in Manayunk with friends. I went to order a drink and thought, 'This doesn't taste good,' " Katie says. Once the test stick confirmed her hunch with a clear positive reading, Jason wanted to shout their news to the world, but she preferred to keep it quiet at least until the end of the first trimester.
They downloaded an app that tracked the growth of the fetus; each Sunday morning, when the app updated, they'd lie in bed, staring in amazement at their phones. Katie read extensively about breastfeeding — she didn't have any family members who had nursed babies, so she felt she was educating them as well as herself — and compared notes with a close friend who was due around the same time.
Once Jayson — named for his father, but with a spelling variation all his own — was born, Katie revised her "family of four" aspiration. "I was thinking, 'One's plenty. We can still travel. One would be easy.' Then they get to the two-year mark, and you think: I do want another."
The second pregnancy was more uncomfortable, but also more familiar. The baby was breech, and though Katie tried everything to flip him — yoga, acupuncture, moxibustion, chiropractic — he remained resolutely in place.
She scheduled a C-section. But a week before that date, her contractions began. Jason was out with buddies; Katie summoned him home, called her mom to watch Jayson, then drove herself and her not-quite-sober husband to the hospital. They arrived at midnight. Hudson was born, in the operating room, at 4:46. "It was painless. I felt like I'd cheated," Katie says. "This isn't the way you're supposed to give birth."
The first time Jayson met his infant sibling, he pushed the bassinet and announced, "Baby back!" Katie began to worry: What if they don't get along? What if Jayson is overwhelmed with jealousy? She talked with other moms and tried to recall what she'd learned in school about sibling rivalry and toddler development.
She's aware, all the time, of the gap between that theory and the messy, hands-on practice of parenthood. "I studied psychology; I felt like I had a good grasp on things. But it's so different when you're actually in the moment."
Now that they're parents, she and Jason note the sweet spots — and the limitations — of their own childhoods. Both grew up fishing, and now they do that with the kids. But Katie was raised by a single mom who gave birth at 15; she was 21 before she traveled on an airplane. For Jayson and Hudson, she wants a wider world.
"Parenthood teaches you more responsibility, more courage," Jason says. "More worries, too. I think you probably never learn it all. You're a parent until you die."