THE PARENTS: Ericka Ortega, 23, and Joshua Morales, 21, of Southwest Philadelphia

THE KIDS: Leilanies Maris, 1; Mateo Manuel, born Jan. 3, 2022

THE ENGAGEMENT: When their firstborn foiled Joshua’s plans for a proposal, he held onto the ring for another few months, then popped the question in their bedroom; the baby’s video monitor caught the moment on camera.

It sounds crazy, Ericka and Joshua say, but they fell in love with one another’s voices: His, on the loudspeaker in the drive-through at McDonald’s on Whitaker Avenue; hers, ordering the 10-piece meal for herself, her aunt, and her cousin.

That was four years ago. They were 17 and 18. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Ericka says. “It felt right to ask for his number. I just knew there was going to be something there.”

After that, though, she was wary. Would Joshua be just like any other teenage guy? What if she fell for him, only to end up getting hurt? “She made it hard for me to come into her life,” Joshua says. “I knew that was a good sign; it meant she was being very careful of who she wanted in her life. It made me work a little harder.”

On their first date — which was Ericka’s first date with anyone, ever — Joshua showed up characteristically early at Applebee’s. Ericka came in; he stood up to hug her. “And there was her aunt; there’s her cousin. They sat down and said, ‘Just act like we’re not here.’

“But even though there were two family members across from us, we had a really good conversation. We all talked.” The two discovered overlapping experiences: both emigrated from Puerto Rico as children; both were close with siblings and extended family.

When Ericka’s family moved to New York, Joshua saved up for a car so he could visit every other month. Nearly three years of switchbacking between states persuaded the two that they needed to live together. They split the geographic distance and settled in New Jersey.

Cohabitation meant discovering each other’s quirks — What, you like your ketchup cold? You don’t leave your toothbrush on top of the sink? — and learning to trust. For the first two months, Joshua felt too shy to use the bathroom in their one-bedroom apartment; he would duck downstairs in the apartment complex to use the guest restroom.

They talked about children — Ericka used to say she wanted four — but agreed to wait a few years. Then, after a stint of babysitting their nieces, they realized the apartment felt too quiet. “There were no kids running around saying, ‘Let’s do cartwheels!’ That was an empty void I felt,” Joshua says.

They figured conception would happen as soon as they started trying. But after several months of negative tests, they were riddled with doubt. “I was more scared; I thought there was something wrong with me,” Ericka recalls. “Can I not have kids? Is this going to affect our relationship in the long-term?”

The one month they decided to relax — no ovulation kits, no careful timing — Ericka took a digital pregnancy test that read “invalid.” When she tried to open the stick, her hands shook so much that the test fell to the bathroom floor and broke. The strip inside showed two lines.

“I ended up texting [Joshua]: When you come home, bring 12 more tests. I think I’m pregnant.”

“It was a shocker,” he recalls. “This one month we decided to take it easy, it was positive.”

It was summer 2020, with COVID-19 raging across the world. “I was sick 24/7,” Ericka says. “I lost a lot of weight. Everything I ate came up. Even water.” At 19 weeks, she fainted; a visit to the emergency room ended with a COVID diagnosis and four days in the hospital.

“I couldn’t eat, I could barely walk. I remember crying to Joshua. COVID was new. We didn’t know what could happen.”

Joshua felt certain they were having a girl: a dream he’d had when they began trying to conceive featured a toddler who resembled Ericka saying “hi” to him, then running away. On a fall visit to Puerto Rico, friends and family pranked them twice at the gender reveal: one balloon released white confetti, and a second released both blue and pink until the third — the true reveal — showered them in petal-pink.

Meantime, Joshua had ordered a ring and planned to propose just after Ericka gave birth in March. But their daughter had other plans: Ericka developed preeclampsia at 34 weeks, and doctors ordered an immediate, emergency C-section.

“I wasn’t allowed to be in the OR,” Joshua remembers. “I was waiting in the patient room, then I see these doctors running down the hallway with a baby in an incubator. Another doctor came behind: ‘Congratulations! Your daughter was born!’ ”

Ericka didn’t see Leilanies until her third day — a tiny, fragile infant in the NICU, tethered to three different monitors. After two weeks, they brought her home, where parenting felt like a natural rhythm: Ericka would feed the baby at night, then Joshua would change her diaper, or Joshua would give her a bottle of pumped milk, then Ericka would do the diaper change while he went back to sleep.

They wanted another. Joshua remembers chasing lizards and climbing mango trees with his brother, who is only a year apart. “I couldn’t imagine Leilanies doing everything on her own.” They figured conception might take five or six months. But Leilanies was less than six weeks old when Ericka watched a pregnancy test turn positive within seconds.

This pregnancy, she says, was a breeze, and during the birth at Pennsylvania Hospital — a planned C-section at 37 weeks — both of them were present, and awake. “This time around, I needed to be there,” Joshua says. “Hearing him cry. I got to cut the umbilical cord.”

It’s not the family they planned — they’ve downsized their ideal number of kids from four to the current two — but it’s the family they cherish. They gave their children names that anchor them to their parents’ birthplace. They speak Spanish at home.

“I know that, over time, English will be picked up so easily,” Joshua says. “We wanted to make sure our kids had something that resembled where we come from.”