THE PARENTS: Jessica Spiegler, 41, and Andrew Spiegler, 47, of Hatboro
THE CHILDREN: Andrew (Drew) Joseph, Jr., 7; Blair Elizabeth, born Dec. 23, 2019
THEIR NAMES: Drew is named for his father. For Blair, they wanted a one-syllable first name, and when Jessica learned that Saint Elizabeth had difficulty becoming pregnant, that seemed an apt middle name for their “rainbow baby.”
After one healthy birth — their son, Drew — and two miscarriages, they were finally pregnant again, and Jessica’s due date was Sept. 26. She tried not to think of it as a bad omen: the date on which both her grandfather and a beloved cousin had passed away. Maybe it was actually a good sign: a soul-connection, some kind of signal from beyond.
Maybe. But early in her pregnancy, Jessica was bitten by a tick and diagnosed with Lyme disease; she was hospitalized overnight with numbness in her left arm. Then an ultrasound detected a spot on the baby’s heart. Further testing indicated a 90% chance that the baby had Down syndrome.
Doctors advised amniocentesis. Jessica declined: She didn’t want to risk another miscarriage. “I was asked if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. That did not cross our minds,” she said. “We were starting to accept our life with a special-needs child.”
At 21 weeks, an EKG showed the baby’s heart was healthy. A week later, the heartbeat stopped. Jessica delivered their son stillborn. They named him John Stephen, and they buried him, in a small graveside service, in the cemetery where both his great-grandfathers rest.
When they told Drew, then 3, that Baby John was in heaven, he began to wail. “We felt a terrible loss,” Andrew says. “We didn’t sugarcoat it.”
A support group helped. So did Jessica’s college roommate, who had given birth to a stillborn daughter and came down from New Jersey one day to talk, listen, and cry. About a month after John died, the family decided to slip away for a vacation, just the three of them. Someone suggested Disney World, but they opted for a tranquil trip to Maine instead.
Kennebunkport was peaceful and relaxing — a time to grieve, play, and think about what to do next, Jessica says. “We wanted to try again.”
They’d been talking about children as an inevitability, not an “if,” ever since their “engagement honeymoon” to Clearwater, Fla., for baseball spring training. Jessica was clear that she wanted kids and hoped not to work full-time when they were young. Before she switched careers from accounting to teaching, she saw women with children slogging through 17-hour days. “I knew I would want to be home, at least having dinner with my family.”
Andrew had coached sports teams and taught high school English. “Even though it took me a long time to get married, I always knew I wanted to be a dad,” he says.
They met because their friend circles overlapped, and though Jessica doesn’t actually remember their initial encounter — Jan. 1, 2007, Andrew reports, at a Center City bar where he was standing around aimlessly until Jessica came by with her friends — she does recall their first actual date, a birthday dinner at which Andrew ordered chicken Parmesan and gave her a present.
They were engaged eight months later and married in June 2011 — sterling weather, a Springsteen cover band, and a rented trolley whose driver had a knack for restarting the vehicle with a screwdriver when it repeatedly broke down.
They got pregnant, found a house in Hatboro, invited immediate family over to slice a cake with blue frosting — “It’s a boy!” — between the layers. Jessica’s labor began with a surge of heartburn and progressed slowly at Abington-Jefferson Hospital. When the baby’s heart rate began decelerating, doctors recommended a C-section. “I was totally, totally wiped out,” Jessica recalls. “I was shaking. But I stopped shaking when they put him on me, skin-to-skin.”
Despite a rough start — Drew had pyloric stenosis, an intestinal blockage that caused projectile vomiting and required surgery at three months — they began trying to conceive again. One miscarriage. Then another. And then, John Stephen.
“People who love us said, ‘Oh, you have one healthy child. Just be happy with that,' ” Jessica recalls. “I thought: Do we really want to do this again?”
But then, after phone calls to two different fertility specialists, Jessica recalls a sense of clarity, “like a voice inside me.” She called one of the clinics back, arranged for a consult, and a procedure to flush her fallopian tubes with saline. She was pregnant the next month.
After some prenatal testing — no chromosomal abnormalities, to their relief — also revealed the baby’s sex, Jessica bought pink cupcakes at Acme and delivered the news at home to her husband and son.
“Early in the pregnancy, I was nervous,” Andrew says. “But I felt more and more confident that Blair was going to come through.”
This time, they opted for a scheduled C-section at Holy Redeemer Hospital. The anesthesiologist cracked jokes, and Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” was playing in the recovery room.
Their parenthood journey — the struggles to conceive, the early pregnancy losses, the baby who is buried next to his great-grandfather — is a story of resilience, Andrew says. “It put a strain on our marriage. We were fortunate that we had good people surrounding us, giving us sound advice, telling us not to give up.”
It’s also a story of complicated feelings, even now: their delight in Blair, their “rainbow baby,” their undertow of grief about John, the hesitation Jessica feels when someone asks, “How many children do you have?” She knows women who would answer, “Two here, and one in heaven,” but that’s not a topic she cares to broach with strangers.
At home, though, they talk frequently about Baby John. His blanket hangs in Drew’s room. His memory box — ultrasound photos, cards — sits on a shelf in the kitchen. Drew asks from time to time, “What would life be like with John?” Or he’ll remind his parents, “Don’t forget about Baby Brother.”