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For Hannah Mayer and Eric Peterson, having a daughter shifts everything - for the good

Charlotte was born 20 minutes after the midwife arrived. Hannah never even had time to use the birth pool her mother and friend had filled with water.

Eric Peterson, Hannah Mayer, and baby Charlotte.
Eric Peterson, Hannah Mayer, and baby Charlotte.Read moreElizabeth Piersol Schmidt

THE PARENTS: Hannah Mayer, 34, and Eric Peterson, 32, of West Philadelphia

THE CHILD: Charlotte Elizabeth Pod, born Aug. 5, 2020

THAT NAME: Charlotte (Charley) for Eric’s grandfather; Elizabeth for a six-generation tradition among Hannah’s maternal relatives; Pod for “Podmayer,” Eric’s mother’s maiden name.

She was the one who became visibly distraught at the Quaker retreat, after the panel on climate justice.

He was the one who wasn’t scared of her tears.

Hannah and Eric, both raised Quaker, met at a gathering for young adults that included time for spiritual sharing in small groups. “Hannah spoke about the problems of the world, about wanting to make it all better,” Eric remembers.

Her takeaway: “Oh, he’s not scared away by somebody having feelings.”

That was May 2013. “We noted each other, we felt excited by each other, and then we didn’t see each other again for nine months,” she says.

When they did, at another Quaker event, they slipped away from the gathering to wander around the nearby town. As they parted in a stairwell, Hannah called out, “I really like you!” Eric responded, “Well, if you want to do something about it, let me know!”

Their first official date began with rock climbing at a Spring Garden gym, then segued to beers at Yards Brewing, dinner in Northern Liberties — where the tiki torch caught on fire and Hannah took a phone call from her best friend during the meal — then dancing at The 700 and making out on a street corner.

Hannah felt intrigued by Eric’s travel experiences — he’d lived in China and had a life goal of visiting every city of 10 million people or more. And thanks to her reading suggestions — selections from her women’s studies syllabi in college — he began paying more attention to articles about gender.

After two years of shuttling back and forth between each other’s places, they bought a house — a fixer-upper where they sometimes camped on a mattress that they dragged to whichever room wasn’t under construction.

“We knew that this was possibly a more serious commitment than getting married,” Hannah says. “It can be harder to disentangle.” Meantime, though, the calendar was ticking: Hannah knew she wanted a baby, and Eric was determined to be married before they got pregnant.

“We should probably get engaged now,” Hannah declared one day in early 2017. “Sure,” Eric said. Later, on a visit to Montpelier, Vt., they ducked spontaneously into a jewelry store and bought a ring that was on sale. Eric recited the Mary Oliver poem he’d been practicing for that moment, the one that ends, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”

“We had a moment of taking a selfie, saying, ‘Hey, world, we’re engaged now,’ ” Hannah says. They married in May 2018 at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square — a Quaker ceremony that included guests signing their marriage certificate and an aunt from each side of the family posing “relationship questions” for the couple to answer.

Hannah was clear that she wanted to be a mom — “I was thinking, ‘OK, how am I going to have a kid?’ all through my 20s” — while Eric, initially worried about the financial and emotional aspects of parenthood, came around to the idea of falling in love with their hypothetical child.

After several disappointments — chemical pregnancies that ended in early miscarriages — they endured a terrifying break-in at their home; the burglar pulled a gun on them, stole their computers, and left them unnerved for months afterward.

By summer 2019, they were ready to try again. They were certain Hannah was having another chemical pregnancy; then she vomited one morning after a run. When the vomiting episodes recurred, she finally called her doctor, who wrote a prescription for an ultrasound.

“I got the ultrasound on a sick day. She said, ‘You’re 10 weeks pregnant,’ and I burst into tears.” Her excitement persisted through the “glowy” second trimester, through the onset of gestational diabetes, through a sprained ankle and pulled muscles.

Hannah wanted a home birth — not because of COVID-19 and fears of being in a hospital, but because she herself was born at home and believed that scenario had the best potential “for being a really powerful and empowering experience.”

She and her midwife made a plan: Four days after the due date, Hannah would drink two castor oil milkshakes in the hope of kick-starting labor. Hours after the first shake — chocolate with a dash of ginger — she vomited. As she was preparing the second shake, her water broke.

By dinnertime, she began calling her 40-second-long “cramps” contractions. She lay on the couch in their kitchen, trying to relax. “I was thinking: Is it another 10 hours of this, or 12? Then, all of a sudden, I was pushing.”

Charlotte was born 20 minutes after the midwife arrived. Hannah never even had time to use the birth pool her mother and friend had filled with water.

“I was mainly at Hannah’s head, coaching her,” Eric says. “The midwife said, ‘Do you want to catch? Go wash your hands.’ I came back from the sink; after a contraction or two, this head appears between Hannah’s legs. I gasped.”

When Charlotte emerged, she was quiet. She opened her eyes. “I remember feeling so attached and infatuated with her,” Eric says. Meantime, Hannah recalls being gripped by a ferocious desire to cradle her daughter. “I wanted her in my arms so badly at that moment.”

The baby has shifted everything: When Eric’s parents share stories about his childhood, he hears them from a father’s vantage point as well as a son’s. Hannah admires her mother’s parenting even more than she did before becoming a mom herself.

“I get to try to be as amazing a mom for this young person as I can figure out how to be,” she says. “Living it is the sleepless nights, the screaming in your ear, the really sore nipples, all incorporated into the dream of this delightful relationship and bond. It’s not going to be an easy dream, here. This is real life. It’s hard, and it’s beautiful.”