THE PARENTS: Karen Heck, 31, and Mark Heck, 32, of Middletown, Del.
THE CHILD: Connor Phillip, born June 15, 2021
A POSTPARTUM OUTLOOK CHANGE: “There’s less time for trauma or pettiness; it seems pointless,” Karen says. “It gives you a new view on life when you have to take care of someone who’s still learning the ways of the world,” says Mark.
The ring was ready. In fact, he’d hidden it on the edge of a mirror that topped one of their dressers. Karen knew it was in the house, and she’d just begun to snoop. Mark was waiting for the perfect moment and the ideal spot.
In August 2019, he suggested a walk along the C&D canal at sunset. But every time he dropped to one knee, a biker came hurtling past, and he’d hop up again. Finally the path was clear. He proffered the ring. She said yes.
They began planning a wedding for Halloween 2020. And even as COVID-19 precipitated lockdowns and scotched travel plans, they hoped they could somehow salvage the occasion.
In the end, they were married on that date — a backyard wedding with the bridal party and their immediate families, a crisp day with cerulean skies, ruby foliage, and relatives they hadn’t seen for more than six months.
They’d met online, then segued to texts, phone calls, and a brief meetup on the neutral ground of the Christiana Mall. Their first actual date was opening day of the Phillies 2015 season.
“Sometimes you go out with someone and, after a couple dates, you run out of stuff to talk about,” Mark says. “That didn’t happen.” On the contrary: The relationship grew serious enough that when Karen’s lease was about to end that fall, Mark proposed that she move in with him. “That kind of horrified her for a week,” he says. “But everything worked out,” even the acclimation of her miniature pinscher, Teddy, to his house.
“I was worried about the transition, so we did it slowly,” Karen remembers. “I’d stay the weekend, then start to stay over on Thursday night, then Wednesday. By the time I moved, I felt comfortable that it would be OK.” Even the difference in their faiths — Mark is Catholic, while Karen was raised Jewish — turned out not to be a stumbling block for them, or for their families.
They wanted children; Karen was eager to start sooner rather than later, but Mark kept punting the plan, saying he wanted to be settled in a job he loved. “We finally had a conversation: There really is no right time,” he says, and his mind-set about children had changed. “It seemed really cool to think: I can bring life into the world.”
The positive pregnancy test was no surprise — there had been boxes of them on the dresser for a while — but it was a treat to share the news of a first grandchild with both sets of parents. The physical stresses of pregnancy — first-trimester nausea, persistent heartburn — were counterbalanced by milestones like the first ultrasound, “this little human form dancing around,” Karen says, and the 20-week anatomy scan that showed their baby was a boy.
“A few of my closer friends had kids, so I was digging for info: What should I expect?” Mark says. “They said it was going to be stressful at the beginning. They said, ‘Cherish the moments while you can, because they grow so fast.’ ”
When Karen peppered friends with anxious questions about labor, they reminded her that labor lasts a matter of hours; what matters are all the years afterward.
They cleaned out a spare room of their ranch house and painted it light gray, with animal decals on one wall. They tossed around names to honor family members: perhaps something starting with a C, for Mark’s great-grandmother, Catherine, and a P, for Karen’s grandmother, Phyllis.
Doctors wanted to induce labor at 39 weeks because ultrasounds indicated the baby could be large. Karen remembers thinking, at some point between 10 at night and Connor’s birth at 9:30 the next morning, “I can’t do this for hours.” Now, she’s sanguine: “It was a long night, but you really do forget.”
When doctors nestled the baby on Karen’s chest, both she and Mark began crying. Two days later, they bundled him in a zip-up hooded onesie patterned with dinosaurs and brought him home to meet his grandparents.
“When we were leaving, the doc said, ‘Recommendation: no large groups.’ We said, ‘He’s the first grandkid on both sides,’ and she said, ‘Well, then there’s no stopping them.’ ”
No matter what friends or books had told them, there was no preparation for the body-slamming fatigue of waking up to infant wails every two hours, or the initial struggle of breastfeeding. “I was so hungry and thirsty,” Karen says. “I didn’t think it was going to be so hard.”
Now the spells of exhaustion and helplessness — ”sometimes we can’t figure out why he’s crying, and we just don’t know what to do next,” Karen says — are tempered by the astonishment of Connor’s giggle, or his recent discovery (and rediscovery) that he has hands. He’ll roll over, then look simultaneously proud of his feat and perplexed about how he ended up in that position. “That’s all fun to watch,” she says.
Last month, they had the wedding celebration they’d postponed due to COVID: a party for 120 people in Chadds Ford. This time, there was a baby for the sitter to parade among the guests.
Mark says his pals were right about one thing: The time wheels by so fast. They take monthly photos of Connor with a teddy bear that was a gift from friends. At first, he was half the size of the stuffed animal; now, he’s nearly as big as the bear.
Neither Karen nor Mark can remember who won that Phillies game back in 2015. But they enrolled Connor in the team’s Newborn Club, which includes a birth announcement signed by the Phanatic, a onesie with striped sleeves, and a blanket to use for first-year photo ops. “I’ve been a Phillies fan for ___ months,” it reads, with numbers 1 through 12 listed in red — a reminder to pause, and marvel, and mark the time.