THE PARENTS: Soleil Bacho, 24, and Eoin Halpin, 20, of Ardmore
THE CHILD: Mānoa Harper Bacho Halpin, born September 1, 2018
WHAT THEY MISS ABOUT HAWAII: The weather. The beauty. The diversity. (And what they don’t miss: the overcrowding, the tourists, the traffic.)
Eoin and Soleil returned from Hawaii — the close of a December vacation for her, an abrupt end to the first semester of sophomore year for him — with souvenirs of the island’s most stunning bounty: two bare-root plumeria cuttings and a creeping epiphyte, a drought-tolerant native plant. Eoin had packed the flora in damp peat moss, bundled them in plastic bags, and stowed them in his carry-on.
Soleil was carrying her own microscopic cargo. But they didn’t know that yet.
The two had been dating for about six months, since the summer after Eoin’s freshman year. It was a Tinder swipe, then serendipity, that brought them together: Soleil, it turned out, lived in North Jersey, not far from where Eoin was soon headed to attend his uncle’s wedding.
They met for sushi, watched the sunset, and stayed up talking until dawn. “I felt like I’d been friends with him for a long time,” Soleil remembers. After that, Eoin says, “We went on weekend-long dates every single weekend for the rest of the summer.”
Soleil, who emigrated from the Philippines with her mother and younger brother in 2016, wasn’t interested in a long-distance relationship. But when it was time for Eoin to head back to school at the University of Hawaii, she reconsidered. The two talked via FaceTime every day, despite the five-hour time difference. In December, Soleil wangled two weeks off from her job as a hospital phlebotomist and flew out to visit.
Eoin was already weighing the idea of leaving school. Although he loved Hawaii’s polyglot culture and his work in a state-run arboretum in the Mānoa Valley, his classwork felt too easy and uninspiring.
“I had decided, all of a sudden, around the time Soleil came to visit, that I was going home,” says Eoin, who grew up on the Main Line. “I really wasn’t enjoying school.”
For the next few months, the couple bounced from house to house: from Eoin’s mother’s home to his father’s home, both in Bala Cynwyd, to Soleil’s mother’s place in Eatonton, N.J. Soleil lost her job; Eoin struggled to pay the bills with part-time landscaping and work in a plant nursery.
And then, in February, Soleil noticed she couldn’t stand the smell of cheese. “I was just feeling … different,” she says. The possibility of pregnancy hadn’t occurred to her because she’d been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome; doctors both here and in the Philippines had told her it would be nearly impossible for her to conceive. Besides, she was on birth control pills.
The positive pregnancy test stunned them both. “I was happy, but I was more worried and terrified,” Soleil says. “I didn’t have a job. I was going through my savings.”
“It was hard for me, at first, to figure out what to think,” recalls Eoin. “I’d come home from school to focus on making a business” in agroscaping, transforming residential and community spaces into gardens and micro-farms. “How was I going to make a successful business if I was going to have a child? Then I realized: Why wait? It’s going to be hard, no matter what.”
It took several months — and numerous drives in their sputtering 1998 Dodge Caravan for job interviews — until Soleil landed a position as a quality control chemist in Linden, N.J. To be closer to her work, the two lived in a motel, fashioning meals with a Walmart griddle, a microwave, and an electric rice cooker. In the meantime, Eoin’s father was rehabbing a house he owned in Ardmore so the two could live there once the baby was born.
They had just moved to that house — their clothes and kitchenware still in boxes — when Soleil’s labor began in the middle of the night. The Dodge Caravan rumbled them to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Soleil had been getting prenatal care there for what had become a high-risk pregnancy; excess fluid in the womb raised the risk of stillbirth and other complications.
She labored for 14 hours. Eoin held her hand. And then their daughter emerged: red, wiggly, staring wide-eyed around the room. “I was in love,” Eoin says. “Completely. I didn’t fully understand that until it happened.”
“After an hour of pushing, I was exhausted,” says Soleil. “But seeing her — every single hardship I had to go through didn’t matter.”
The baby’s first name was Eoin’s idea. “We figured that she probably came back from Hawaii with us,” he says. “We figured it was fitting to name her after the beautiful valley she came from.”
Mānoa has recalibrated their lives. Eoin wrestles with a working dad’s dilemma: how much time to spend providing financially for the family, and how much time to spend at home, offering hands-on care. “It’s made me more responsible, more caring, more focused on my goals, a little more productive, a little more motivated,” he says.
Soleil sees her own parents in a new and grateful light. “I’m slowly learning that the things they did were all for me. And how [life] is never going to be just about me. It’s always going to be about the three of us, the package deal.”
Soleil hopes her daughter will play outdoors, as she did growing up in a village in the Philippines. She hopes she’ll value nature more than gadgets. Eoin wants to pass on the resources his own family gave him: Creativity. Communication skills. Self-trust. “I want her to follow her own advice from within,” he says. “That’s how you get to being where you want to be.”
For now, their lives are measured in several-hour increments; Mānoa wakes up hungry and flashes them a tiny grin or makes adorable “grumpy noises." Meanwhile, the cuttings Eoin spirited back from Hawaii are tamped into pots on the windowsill, nursed through a Mid-Atlantic winter. It’s hard to note their growth day to day, Eoin says, but over the months he can see it: They’re not just surviving. They’re thriving.