After they found each other on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, after the exchange of phone numbers, after the awkward arm-hug when they met, Dawn and Jimmy realized all the ways their lives coincided.
They’d attended the same high school, Cardinal Dougherty. Jimmy’s aunt owns a store on the street where Dawn’s mother lives. His parents live two blocks from Dawn’s childhood home. And the date they met — March 17, St. Patrick’s Day 2017 — was also the anniversary of the death of Dawn’s older sister, who died as an infant.
“It’s nice to see a date be reassigned from grief to excitement,” she says. As for Jimmy, she concluded later, “We were meant to be.”
Timing also played a role: Dawn was emerging from a year of healing that followed a broken engagement; Jimmy finally felt ready to date after five years as a single parent of his daughter, Kaitlyn. He was also in the process of opening his own contracting business. “I was trying something different, taking more risks,” he recalls.
Within a month, they were dating exclusively. By year’s end, they’d met each other’s families. She said “I love you” on a Labor Day jaunt to the Finger Lakes. He said it in return during a December visit to Mexico — a trip Dawn considers a successful test run of their relationship.
“When you go on a trip together, just you two for a whole week straight, you have to plan things and pay for things together … that kind of solidified it.”
They lived together in a rental apartment for nearly a year while they found a fixer-upper in Abington and Jimmy took six months off work to gut and rehab the place. A month after they moved in, Dawn tried on a blue dress she’d ordered by mail.
“It was really ugly and tacky,” she recalls. “He was laughing and giggling, and all of a sudden he takes my hand and says, ‘I love you and I love what you do for Kaitlyn.’ He was rambling, laughing. Finally he gets down on his knee and proposes with a $30 ring. Of course I said yes.”
A month after that, Jimmy reprised the proposal, with a real ring. They married — an intimate ceremony in front of their living room fireplace — in August 2020. “We did pictures outside the house, got flowers for the mantelpiece, planned it all in three weeks. It was simple. We’re not very show-offy people,” Dawn says.
She’d been frank with Jimmy about her intentions — ”I do want a child and I do want to get married” — though he was more hesitant. “Thinking about starting all over [with a baby] was tough, but I knew Dawn wanted to have a child of her own.”
She missed a period a week before their wedding, but decided to wait until the day after the ceremony to take a test. “We didn’t jump for joy; it was more like: Oh, wow, is this real?” Dawn remembers.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy: She developed gestational diabetes that required insulin, then learned through genetic testing that she was a carrier of muscular dystrophy. At 35, she was considered high-risk and needed monthly ultrasounds.
Dawn plunged into research, following Instagram accounts, joining online moms’ groups, learning about natural birth, doulas, and breast-feeding. “I thought: I’ve been there. I don’t think you need to go overboard with that. Just go with the flow,” Jimmy recalls.
Because Dawn’s blood pressure was high, her doctor urged an induction at 37 weeks. At Jefferson Abington Hospital, “I tried to sleep, but my mind was racing. They decided to break my water, … the contractions started to get intense. I stood up and bent over the bed. Jimmy was feeding me ice chips, rubbing my back, coaching me.”
Two hours of pushing — ”count to eight; OK, good, do that again” — brought Raya into the world. “She literally laid on me and stared at me for a whole hour,” Dawn recalls. “She was really tiny,” Jimmy says — 5 pounds, 11 ounces, to be precise — ”I didn’t expect her to be that small.”
At first, the baby didn’t latch, so Dawn and Jimmy fed her with a syringe of colostrum or formula. At home, she breastfed alternating with a bottle so Jimmy could participate, too. “The sleepless nights were rough, but the joyfulness was seeing him bond with her, seeing a different side of him with the baby. You fall in love with the person all over again.”
Dawn, a Philadelphia public school teacher, was able to continue teaching virtually even after her maternity leave. It helped that Kaitlyn was home, too; Dawn could leave the baby with her sister while she ducked into the shower.
She nursed for 10 weeks — long enough to realize that it was more depleting than nourishing. “It was taking a lot out of me, and I wasn’t enjoying it. When she’s on the bottle, she eats less often, and I can actually play with her,” Dawn says.
Now she’s back in the classroom and Raya is in day care. Occasionally strangers mistake Kaitlyn for her infant sister’s mother. “It’s kind of cool that I’ll be a lot older than her, and more mature,” Kaitlyn says. “Not another mom, but someone else she can talk to.”
Their foursome feels new … and familiar: “A lot of people on both sides of our family have children from when they were young and then had other children later,” Dawn says. “Blended families are normal in our family.”
Jimmy says he feels more stable this time around — financially, emotionally. “I can enjoy [parenthood] more.” And Dawn is glad she held out for the scaffolding of stability — a mate, a house, a job, health insurance — before having a child.
“Me waiting to have her was a good thing,” she says. “I feel like I really got to live my life.”