THE PARENTS: Haley Hellmann, 34, and Jason Hellmann, 35 of Chestnut Hill
THE CHILDREN: Eli Julian, 3; Louie Oliver, born March 27, 2020
WHAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW BEFORE BECOMING PARENTS: How emotional they would feel: Jason with Eli on his lap and a thousand-yard stare that said, “I’m in love with this kid … what have we done?” or Haley, sobbing while watching beach volleyball during the 2016 summer Olympics.
Jason was working at home when the clinic called. “Hi, this is Shady Grove Fertility. Congratulations, Mr. Hellmann!”
“I thought: You congratulate people on starting Clomid?”
What Jason didn’t know — because Haley was on her way back to work from the clinic, ultrasound photo in her pocket and two more hours of Macbeth to teach to high school students — was that she didn’t need to start the fertility drug. She was already pregnant.
They’d been trying for a year. They’d been together since college, when Jason came down from Penn State to visit his high school pal at George Washington University; that pal happened to be Haley’s roommate.
“He was wearing this vintage blazer, inside-out,” she says. “I remember thinking: That’s interesting. In a good way.”
Soon they were dating intercontinentally while Haley spent the spring semester in London. Both liked the Beatles and the Decemberists. She was touched by his sincerity; he valued her compassion. They made each other laugh.
Through two visits to London, a trip to Israel to see Jason’s sister, and, later, weekends in Haley’s “dreadful, tiny apartment” in New York while she attended graduate school, they also discovered temperamental differences: Jason likes to have a plan, while Haley is more spontaneous.
Finally, both landed in Washington — across town, then across the street, then together in a series of apartments as rising prices pushed them farther and farther east. In 2011, Jason hid a ring in the big glass jar of wrapped hotel soaps — souvenirs saved by Haley’s beloved maternal grandmother, Nonny, and passed along after she died — then proposed a walk in the rain along the Tidal Basin.
At one point, Haley peered at the dark water and said, “This is like an SVU episode when somebody sees a body floating.” Jason proposed. She said yes. They celebrated at the Blue Duck Tavern.
The following June, a freak storm wiped out power at their wedding venue in Annapolis; Jason threw up from the cigar his father insisted they smoke in celebration. Then he realized he’d forgotten to pack underwear, and raced out to buy boxers — a preppy print, with images of dogs — from a tourist shop.
“I don’t think we ever talked about kids,” Jason says. “We were very in love and figured we would be young and live forever.” But at some point, just before Haley turned 30, they realized their priorities had shifted away from weekend partying, toward home.
“We looked at each other and thought: We need something else,” she says. “We had zero idea of what we were getting into.” The day they learned about the pregnancy, they also decided to move to Philadelphia, where Haley was born and Jason had grown up.
“Haley’s way to cope with anxiety is to pretend it doesn’t exist,” Jason says. So when people asked about their birth plan, her response was, “To get it out.” The pregnancy was long — 41 and a half weeks — and the labor slow, with one false start, then a return to the hospital for 20 hours of Pitocin.
But it was the first weeks of parenthood that truly overwhelmed them. “You go from zero to baby; that transition was crazy,” Haley recalls. “I didn’t know babies had to nap. I didn’t know anything.”
They figured they were “one and done.” They gave away Eli’s baby clothes. And then, when he was a little over 2, Haley recalls, “it hit me, like the initial decision to have Eli: I need a baby.”
This time, conception happened quickly, and they shared the news with Eli as soon as they learned the baby was a boy. Eli would ask periodically, “Is the baby coming?” He named his sibling “Trashcan Pineapple.”
All was well, until suddenly, it wasn’t. At 33 weeks, Haley slipped while descending the stairs with Eli in her arms. Both kids were fine, but her ankle shattered in the fall; she had surgery on Feb. 18 and was sent home in a boot, with a knee scooter. Shortly afterward, Haley’s father underwent emergency surgery to regraft his aorta.
And then came coronavirus, shelter-in-place orders, and a raft of new hospital procedures. It felt, Jason says, “like being in a pot of water and it just gets hotter and hotter.”
Their plan had been to let labor begin naturally. “But we ended up scheduling a C-section for March 26 because I was so terrified,” Haley says.
As they left home for Pennsylvania Hospital, the doorknob came off in Jason’s hand. Their room number, 326, matched the calendar date, and the midwife noted that this would be her 1,526th delivery. Jason’s not superstitious, but those coincidences were hard to ignore … especially after Haley’s contractions began on their own, the C-section was canceled, and she labored into the wee hours of March 27, by which point the midwife had attended another birth, making theirs her 1,527th.
Louie spent four days in the NICU, where Haley could visit him after surrendering her cell phone for disinfection, washing her hands, and, of course, refraining from grateful hugs to hospital staff.
When they finally brought him home from a strangely quiet hospital, Jason says, “There was this palpable feeling of: This is good news. We like when people leave here with healthy babies.”
He saved the newspaper from the day of Louie’s birth and has been jotting thoughts about these unnerving, tender times. Family members — Haley’s dad, still in a rehab facility, and her mom, quarantined at home — “welcomed” Louie with a group FaceTime call. No one can predict when they’ll be able to visit in person.