Sean’s first attempt at proposing was a washout. He’d planned to pop the question in front of the light show at Hersheypark, but it rained the day they went, and Katy wasn’t interested in hopping out of the car in a downpour.
So he waited a few more weeks, until Christmas Eve 2014, when Katy unwrapped an ornament to which Sean had hot-glued Scrabble tiles reading “Marry me?” He’d tied a ring to the base of the sphere.
It was reminiscent of their relationship’s start: Their senior year at Hatboro-Horsham High School, when Katy borrowed Sean’s physics lab reports and he asked her out repeatedly until she finally said yes. Their first date was to the Army-Navy game in December 2008. They’ve been a couple ever since.
When they graduated, she headed to the University of Delaware, certain that she wanted to be a nurse and work in women’s health. He started at Boston University, set on a career in teaching, then transferred to Delaware, drawn by significantly lower tuition … and Katy’s proximity.
“Nursing school was really hard,” she recalls. Sean made sure I had food and coffee, he did my laundry, he took really good care of me." He, in turn, loved her offbeat sense of humor and her obvious devotion to her patients and her work.
When Katy landed a job at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery and Sean began teaching in New Jersey, they split the difference, took an apartment in Lambertville, married on a sweltering August day in 2016 — he recalls sweating into his gray suit in the unair-conditioned limousine — and got a dog, a mini Labradoodle they named Aria.
“I always wanted kids,” Sean says. “It was about wanting to start a family with Katy, being excited about having the opportunity to do that on our own.”
Katy’s work had sobered her about the risks of pregnancy and birth — “I was a little terrified because you see everything that could go wrong ”— but she, too, always yearned to be a parent. It was Valentine’s Day of this year when Katy said she didn’t feel well, then took a pregnancy test — and another, and another — until they were convinced.
They didn’t tell anyone — not family, not coworkers — which became harder once the pandemic began. “I knew that I had to work, no matter what,” Katy says. “But I didn’t tell people at work [about the pregnancy] until I passed out in the OR during a C-section.”
Sean had pivoted to online teaching; when Katy arrived home from a 12-hour shift, he’d have the door open and the shower running. “I’d get out of my scrubs, get in the shower, then sanitize my phone and anything that had been with me that day. It was scary at the beginning, for everyone.”
At 23 weeks, she developed kidney stones and spent four days in the hospital; Sean was not permitted to visit. At 33 weeks, she developed another kidney stone, which she passed without needing hospital care. She worked 70 to 80 hours per week as a midwife both at Einstein and at Hunterdon Medical Center.
That’s where she planned to give birth. “I wanted a healthy baby; I didn’t really care how I got her. Ideally, I would not have any pain medication, and I wanted a vaginal birth, but I know how things can change in the blink of an eye.”
The baby was due on Oct. 23. But on Sept. 28, following two small socially distant baby showers that weekend, Katy’s water broke at 3 a.m. She sat on a towel while Sean hustled to pack an overnight bag.
“I called my midwife. I was hysterical: This isn’t supposed to happen,” Katy recalls.
At the hospital, their labor-and-delivery playlist shuffled through Motown and Billy Joel tunes while Katy labored on a Pitocin drip and through a brief scare when the baby’s heart rate dropped. The room filled with medical personnel: Katy’s colleagues, along with extra nurses in case an emergency C-section was needed.
“Just knowing about labor — that this is normal and it’s going to end — I was able to get through it,” Katy says.
Sean remembers watching Katy struggle, feeling the tense anticipation in the room. “The baby came out, and they swooped in to get the cord from around her neck. I was in awe of everything Katy had just gone through. This was a reminder that life is a long journey, and you experience new things with that partner.”
When he searches for a word to capture the experience, he comes back to the same term he uses to describe their wedding and the moment when he first saw Katy step down the aisle: overwhelmed.
Katy recalls their mutual shock when Helen emerged; she’d been certain the baby would be a boy, especially after the ultrasound tech, a coworker, gave her a blue outfit as a shower gift. “When she came out, they said, ‘What is it?’ We both stared and couldn’t answer.”
Now they are navigating parenthood amid an ongoing pandemic. Katy’s parents recently quarantined, then tested negative for COVID-19 and held their granddaughter for the first time; Sean’s mom will soon do the same. Their siblings have seen the baby from a distance.
Katy says parenthood will make her a more empathetic midwife, more sensitive to the rocky, hormone-laced transition from pregnancy to motherhood. “I’ve also learned that I’m a big planner, and your kid calls the shots.”
They both want to chronicle this tender time: Sean, with written reflections on Helen’s milestones and his thoughts about fatherhood, and Katy with a scrapbook that includes Helen’s birth story, documented by the midwife who delivered her, and the news clippings her mother has been saving.